Last night I spoke with Rex and Keiko, the husband-wife duo behind OBON 2015. Before I chatted with them I had no clue what to expect, because up to that point, information about who I was communicating with was pretty sparse. One of my friends even joked that maybe all this was some sort of elaborate sequel to the movie Catfish. 

I really had no clue who I would be speaking with. Rex & Keiko were all I had to go on. Were they two Americas with good intentions? Two people from Japan who barely spoke English? (I thought this because their Facebook page is written in Japanese.) Was it the KGB? NSA? No clue.

When the call came in last night, I found myself speaking with a calm and gentle man whose speech was relaxed, deliberate and very well-thought out. Turns out he’s American, and his wife, Keiko, is from Kyoto, Japan. We hadn’t been into the conversation more than a minute or two when he asked me what my intentions with the yosegaki hinomaru were. And not only did he want to know my intentions, he wanted detailed intentions.

Intentions is such a heavy word. It turns a casual sentence into one with huge significance. Take the following question for example: “What are you going to do with that spoon?” Retrofit it with ‘intentions,’ and you can feel the pronounced transformation: “What are your intentions with that spoon?” If that word has that much power over a question about an eating utensil, imagine how things change when you’re talking about returning a flag to the family of a fallen soldier. 

So when Rex asked me what my intentions were I became a little nervous, intimidated even, wondering if my answer would be satisfactory. But rather than try to feed him some words I thought he’d want to hear I just decided to be as candid with him as he was with me. It’s better to be honest and find out if we’re aligned in our goals as quickly as possible than waste each other’s time. In a nutshell, I told him I wanted to return the flag to the family. And preferably do it in person. 

I must have passed the test, because Rex began telling me more about OBON 2015’s mission. Take a listen to what he had to say. 

The level of candor and sincerity in Rex’s voice was overwhelmingly reassuring. It was the type of authenticity you wish everyone in this world would speak with, and it made me feel even better about this whole process. But then Rex said something that made me question everything. He said they’d only work with me if they had the flag in their possession. Hearing that made me skeptical, and it was the one condition my dad said he wouldn’t compromise on, understandably so. The Internet can be like a dark alley in the worst part of town, because you never know who or what you’ll run into the moment you let your guard down. But that skepticism is a two-way street, which is why Rex and his team have this policy in place. He makes a pretty solid case in this next clip.

The more he talked with such unapologetic authenticity, the more my apprehension melted away. I was still curious, though, and admittedly, maybe a bit wary. Forty minutes into the conversation, and I still didn’t really know who I was talking with. What was their story? Who were they? What did they get out of this? And most importantly, what proof did they have that I wasn’t going to get scammed? Turns out they had plenty of reason behind their actions and some reputable proof. As you listen to Rex and Keiko (who comes in during the last part of this clip) explain why they’re doing what they are, you’ll hear Rex mention a letter he emailed me while we’re talking.You can see it below the audio clip of their story.

Embassy Letter.jpg

After the conversation, I had no doubt in my mind that Rex and Keiko were who they said they were. I just had one problem: This was going to be a tough sell to my dad. So I emailed everything to my parents, closed my laptop and then watched an episode of Archer on Netflix before going to bed. When I woke up this morning I had a text from my mom that said, “Go ahead and do whatever needs to be done to get the flag returned to the family.”

That was certainly easier than I had anticipated! I remembered them both being much harder to persuade during my high school and college years. 

Now I’m just waiting to hear back from Rex and Keiko with further instructions. In the mean time, I’ll leave you with one last little, big thing Rex said. I think it’s something we all feel no matter who we are or where we live.