Last month, on my mom's birthday, I posted the following as my Facebook status:
Happy Birthday, Mom, once the biggest enemy but always the biggest support and inspiration. I love you.
I had already wished her a happy birthday in the morning before I left for work, but a hint of sentiment that crept into my mind on my lunch break made me post this. There also was an urge to express my feeling in English, for, strange as it is, I sometimes feel it easier to express my feelings in this second language than my own.
People "liked" it, and it made me happy; but then, I realized there was no point in writing something like this on a semi-public place without sharing it with the person it was addressed to. So I forwarded this to her, saying, "This is the message I put on Facebook."
When I came home, she told me she didn't understand it, reasonably, for she hardly speaks or reads English. I translated it for her.
"Uh-huh," she said.
"Yeah, I just thought it would be only fair to share it with you because it's to you."
"You're right. There's no point just showing it to strangers."
We laughed and the talk ended there.
The thing is that I didn't include the "I love you" part in my translation. I assumed she would know, which she most likely did, but I also didn't know how to translate it. Sure, I could have translated it literally or chosen a phrase with similar meaning that is more commonly used in Japanese, but that wouldn't have conveyed what I meant in the English "I love you," the casual yet meaningful expression of affection.
So I just opted out not to include it in my Japanese translation, and my mom, clearly aware of the fact I did, also left it unmentioned. "I love you" floated around for a little while in the somehow comfortably awkward air between us and dissipated as my mom went back to folding clean laundry and I turned to go up to my room to put my backpack down, first feeling a bit sad we seemingly couldn't exchange words of love directly but then realizing that it was how love always had worked between us most of the time; unsaid and sometimes hidden, but constantly floating around us like the sweet scent of orange osmanthus in autumn so we notice only if we pay attention.
True, a part of me still prefers straightforward exchanges of "I love you"s and hugs, but now I can say, no, the Japanese way of love isn't bad, either. Not at all. Because it's there, if you're willing to breathe it in.