Confessions & Confusions: Taking My Adopted Son ‘Home’ For A Visit

A visit to the institution where we adopted our son from

By Melodie Cook
April 8, 2018

Another ‘rite-of-passage’ we all needed to go through as a family.

This past weekend, I took our son Shinji back to the institution in the prefecture where he spent the first three years of his life. He had just graduated from elementary school and I’d promised him a trip, so although we had other things to do there and many friends to visit, that was the primary purpose of our visit. He has been asking about his birth mother from time to time and we felt that before he started junior high school, and fully entered adolescence, he should know a little about his roots.

I confess thought that I was a little worried about him before we went, just in case he’d be confused, but he seemed fine. I asked him if he was nervous and he said he wasn’t. We took a long train ride to the institution where we were met by the staff and our return “home” began.

Memories and the lack of them

One of the women who was there nine years ago when he left, came up to us with tears in her eyes and we embraced. Shinji stood silent, not remembering her or really anything else about the place. Several other staff, who had seen his pictures from when he lived there, came up to see him and everyone exclaimed how tall and grown-up he looked. Unfortunately, each time someone asked him “Do you remember me/this/that?” he’d just shake his head. I felt a bit sad for them because they were the first people who raised him, and I could see the love and joy in their faces.

Unfortunately for them, he had forgotten everything about living there.

He has been asking about his birth mother from time to time and we felt that before he started junior high, and fully entered adolescence, he should know a little about his roots.

In spite of this, and perhaps to jar his memory, each staff member who had been there when he had told a story or two about his exploits as a baby. We were later joined by the cook/nutritionist who told us about Shinji’s favorite meals.

To our surprise, all the current staff had all made a memorial book with pictures of Shinji when he lived there, some of which we hadn’t seen before. They all wrote notes to him in the back of the book, too and gave him some book tokens, postcards, and the remaining cake they had given us during our visit.

Since the buildings had been renovated since he lived there, we could see photos of the new rooms, but could not take a tour. One older boy, who had been close to Shinji was still living there, but no offer was made for us to meet him. (I asked my husband about that when we came back and he said it was to protect the children’s privacy that we weren’t allowed to walk around inside or meet kids.)

A (lost) opportunity to ask what’s on his mind

At one point, the staff offered to answer any questions Shinji might have had. I told him I could go outside so that he could speak freely to them, but he didn’t want to do that.

After enjoying chatting (primarily between the staff and me) and cake, we all went outside to take photos in the new playground. Shinji hates having his photo taken but obliged everyone and even managed to conjure up some smiles for the camera.

On our way back home, Shinji asked, “Do they know about my mother?” I answered, “You should have asked them that while we were there!”

“I just thought of it now,” he said. I guess perhaps it was a bit overwhelming for him at the time.

My feelings

I was still concerned that the visit might have been confusing for him and asked him again how he felt and he said he was fine. He might have been doing the “Kyushu guy” thing (Kyushu guys are famous for their stoicism/stubbornness), or he might really have been fine and it’s one of those boy-girl things.

While at the institution, I felt positive about the experience and was amazed by the reception we received. We have kept up a (sporadic) email correspondence since Shinji joined our family and I’m glad that we had a chance for both him to know something about the people who cared for him when he was little, and for them to see how well he was doing.

Unfortunately for them, he had forgotten everything about living there.

During our visit, we also visited Mrs. N. and her foster son, who supported us when we were taking our first steps towards adoption. She, too, was overly-generous, taking us out for lunch, buying us souvenirs to bring back, and offering to purchase Shinji anything he wanted – he showed uncharacteristic restraint, which I was glad for, because otherwise, we’d have to send back a whole truckload of souvenirs from where we live now to show our appreciation!

That evening, we went out with one of my old friends and her soon-to-be-a-high schooler giant of a son; when the boys were younger they enjoyed playing together. Both boys ate to their heart’s content at a buffet restaurant my friend recommended, then we walked around, and my friend gave us a tour of the new buildings that have gone up since we were last there.

When we got back to the hotel, we were exhausted, but happy, and watched TV, while playing with our respective tech toys until bedtime. Shinji was chatty, happy, and uncharacteristically snuggly (yay!), so I felt the trip was worthwhile for both of us.

Shinji will probably have to wait until he’s an adult and can go to the child guidance center in that prefecture to get more information about his birth mother, if she is willing to provide it. I think for now, though, that he is satisfied, but I know he wonders about her from time to time and always will.

While we had a good experience, I wouldn’t recommend wholesale that adoptive parents do this unless they have always had a good experience with the institutions their children have come from. It is also important to know your children and suss out whether or not they would benefit from the experience. As they say, “Timing is everything!”

Confessions & Confusions” is Melodie Cook’s regular column on adoption and fostering in Japan. Here, she answers questions from potential adoptive or foster parents, those who have already been through the system or any parents who just need to let off some steam. Got a question? Leave a comment or send us an email at

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