Departing Reflections

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

I’m sitting in Narita International Airport with a few minutes before my connection and reflecting on the Tsunami I lived through, well, the Tsumani I created for myself, in Japan. An obvious question is what I will miss most.

Some things are obvious. Living a 50 second walk from a convenience store, and a 90 second walk to my

preferred

Konbini, or 90 seconds in the other direction to a huge used Manga/Anime/CD store. Or the fact that you can eat amazing food for less than $10 almost anywhere. Netcafes, Anime at the Theater, Band-aids that kick way more ass than American Band-aids, Milk Tea, brown rice tuna mayonnaise onigiri, no tipping anywhere, etc.

And of course I’ll miss the fact that my greatest daily worry was getting my –te form conjugations corrrect. As difficult as Japanese is, finally having students to struggle next to was fun. There’s no way to explain to you dear readers why the word “Gerbil-tachi” still makes me laugh uncontrollably.

Of course, it will also be the little things. I’m dreading the silence of walking in and out of a convenience store the first time I go in. I have a feeling it will be a little haunting. All after I've finally figured out how the odd shower/bath combination works. After stumping me for 5 days, I realized the genius of the Japanese shower - it's built for you to take a shower while sitting down. Think that's ridiculous? Well, after having the kinds of days I had, sitting down was a dramatic luxury.

Maybe I’ll miss just how safe Japan is. Moving out, I left my keys in the mailbox for the Apartment management, and it was the first time I realized that the mailboxes were set up so that I could have taken any mail from any mailbox at any time. The office mailbox wasn’t even locked. And aside from crime, despite the tiny streets and complete lack of traffic enforcement, I saw nary an accident or near collision. The care everyone takes for each others safety is staggering for a former New York City regular.

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Of course, one factor that has driven this trip for me is being willing to try new and crazy things. Pictured to the right is me, in my apartment in Tenjin, Daimyo, doing something called "ironing." When you are out of school clothes (ok, 5.11 pants, but still...) and don't have a dryer, this is a great way to quickly get clothes ready for class. Man, I did some crazy new things on the other side of the world!

Maybe what will shock me the most is the general disorder of everyday American behaviour. Right now I’m watching a 4 year old kid walk over and deposit his plastic water bottle in one of the 4 impossibly complicated trash dividers all by himself. My connection from Fukuoka boarded and cleared out so fast I was stunned – I briefly wondered whether Japanese people drill getting in and out of planes regularly as children to prepare them for daily life.

Ever wonder why it takes so long for people to get on and off a plane? I now know the answer. It’s because they are not Japanese. The solution to quick boarding and disembarking is to only allow Japanese people to travel on airplanes.

On an escalator they line up meticulously on the left (drive on the left, stand on the left, I guess.) No one has to tell them, they just do. On a jog one day I ran past a group of 13-year old kids putting up a tent for a track meet. One of had taken charge and was directing the group, who in complete unison on her order lifted the tent into the air to complete its construction. Watching the cabin crew demonstrate the safety drill on the plane was like watching a Kabuki performance, all of them moving simultaneously with precision.

Sure, the Japanese economy is obviously bloated with idiotic and duplicative jobs that are a complete waste. But every one of those needlessly duplicative or pointless employees busts their ass at their job anyway. I’ve grown so used to employees of the book store, fast food restaurant, or bakery bolt across store at top speed to complete some quotidian task that I have almost grown to ignore it.

But this concern for order is coupled with a concomitant concern for the well-being of others. And the truth is simply that I’m going to miss the Japanese people the most. They have survived for thousands of years as a unique and resilient culture by constantly adapting, growing, and reinventing themselves while remaining true to their true nature, a nature that as generous and welcoming as I’ve experienced. I left home expecting a week of crazy robots and silly “Engrish” signs and am leaving deeply grateful for a genuinely wonderful journey.

When I boarded my connection from Fukuoka, I watched a teenage kid walk up to an old woman who was obviously confused about her seat and walk her all the way to the other end of the plane where her seat was. Total strangers will do that for one another and I’ve seen it repeatedly.

Hell, if nothing else they were incredibly forgiving of my idiotic mistakes. It wasn’t until my third day that I realized I had been handing store clerks money while simultaneously saying “here, give me this.” The bus driver finally gave up trying to explain how to use the unnecessarily complicated payment box and carefully took my coins one by one from my hand, all the while apologizing and bowing. While sitting next to a woman on the train, I proceeded to ask her incessant questions, if only to practice my vocabularly and grammar, until I discovered that she was dying of cancer. Never meaning to pry, of course, I was speechless; something I should have been to start with, really, but I was being an eager student…

Still, it’s a good thing I’m returning to America. First of all, I’m sure that Sonia is ready to kill me. Secondly, my spelling is already starting to deteriorate. I struggled over the spelling of “parallel” last night (I finally had to google it) and I just noticed I spelled “behavior” with the British spelling above. Language immersion is the only way to learn a language and a surefire way to ruin your own.

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Well, that’s all for now. I’ve already started the progress of re-acclimation to the states. Step one: One order of mikusu pisa (mixed-topping pizza) and Potaato (fries). Delicious-janai, but it’s a first step.

Ja, Mata!