The summer I graduated high school (in Berkley, Michigan), I spent two months in Japan through the YFU program. That summer I fell in love with Japan and with my host family, especially my Japanese “mother”. Thanks to that experience, Japan has become my second home and that family my second family, up to this day. I have lived in Japan twice, for two years apiece – once in a tiny farming village at the foot of Mt. Fuji and once in the center of Tokyo. Thanks to these experiences, my Japanese is fluent. I have also maintained a close relationship with my Japanese family (my “mother” in particular) and have visited there fourteen times in the last 30 years, usually for a full month. Beyond that, my seminal experience in Japan as a 17-year-old ignited an interest in other cultures in general, and I have spent a total of 10 years living abroad, in such countries as Nepal, India, Spain, and Latin America. I also spent ten years in San Francisco teaching English to immigrants and refugees.
The most enduring and enriching legacy of my time as a YFU exchange student has been my relationship with my Japanese mother. Aside from being a well-known crusader for the peace movement, she is an avid appreciator of all things human – culture, history, art, cuisine, you name it. Her enthusiasm for so many things has inspired me and enriched my life. My first visit to Japan was 52 years ago – in 1965. My most recent visit with my Japanese mother – now 98 – was this month. She is failing, physically and mentally, and I am now the one who takes care of her – I cook her meals, prepare her baths, clean her house. I couldn’t possibly repay all that she has given me. Nor could I repay what YFU gave me that first summer abroad.
Eric Burton (YFU Japan ’65)