The final overall JYA episode, which serves as a review of all the cast trips:
Things are easier on this side. I realized that when I woke up and, in my persistently active manner, decided I had to go the bank and settle some business. I spent at least a full minute worrying about how I would say what I needed to say in Japanese. Once I realized that wasn’t much necessary, it occurred to me that I have begun a nice grace period where everything I do is going to be awfully simple in comparison to my maneuvering and studying and eating and buying and banking in Tokyo.
The question I am almost always asked is if it is “strange” to be back in the United States. Of course, mostly it isn’t. I am a man of limited means so, while I most certainly have done a lot for what I have been offered, I have spent a great deal of my life wherever my family considered home. It is not strange to return to what I have known for two decades. I may have to readjust and rediscover, but strange is unknown and different. To be sure, in a grand sense, there is nothing different about the America I have found.
I have an embarrassing admission. It took far too long for several sources to explain to me what is up with Japanese names. Names are one of a handful of cultural issues I readily acknowledged as being different than my Western tradition before I began preparing for my trip here, but, it took me some time asking questions here in Japan before I developed an understanding, so I thought it might be worthwhile to try explain what I’ve learned, if only to hasten my comprehension.
Alright, well, we all have this vague understanding that given names come after family names in Japan, making our contemporary American conception of “first” name fairly meaningless and confusing. Moreover, the family name taking its place in the front of a person’s name is a firmly Asian tradition, from China to Indonesia to most Middle Eastern countries of which I can speak.
Before I could even begin to compress and react to returning to the United States of America, please indulge me. May I mention what already appear to be my lasting memories of Japan and its baby, Tokyo?
Japanese kids love their school uniforms, and you see packs of them walking through the streets. This, I suppose, is a fine image for a people that still reject individualism in preference of obedience and communal living. There are more pet grooming shops and pachinko parlors than Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Tokyo. In the United States, I expect to get beeped at if I cross a red light into traffic on my bicycle. In Tokyo, they will simply drive at me. I felt four earthquakes, lived through one typhoon season, and had one tsunami warning on my four months on that weather-pestered island.
Tomorrow is December 16, 2006. There is a ticket that asserts I will be traveling to a place unknown to the Christopher who has lived in Tokyo for the last half year. As thin as paper is, some of it carries a great deal of weight. Some of the most important and powerful things of this world of this civilization are just paper. My ticket will not change much, nor will it be remembered by anyone in just a few short months. Importance is relative.
Forgive me. I am listening to a crackly version of a Nat King Cole Christmas song. Romantic nostalgia is a noted side effect of Mr. Cole’s wide-voiced holiday music.
This week was the premiere of my final episode from here in Japan. It is amazing how fast the time has gone, but, then I suppose that is said a bit too often, and acted upon too rarely. Still, today a plane will take me away from here, but let’s not think about that now.
Instead, I thought it might be nice to let you guys see a bit more about the final scavenger hunt I went on here in Tokyo: my final tour of the city before I leave it.
I will be home soon. A relative statement, to be sure, but, when compared with the lives that have come before me and those that will come after, I am already home. I am first going to spend some time with my parents in their needlessly large home in one of those developments that disrupt the rural New Jersey region in which I grew up. I will speak some Japanese and they will hug me with their eyes, after their arms get tired, and everything will be different for about three days.
Then, the first twenty years of my life will shine through the gleamy top layer that came about over this past half year. Change comes gradually. Small moves. After long trips like this, I can say after only limited experience, you return eager and ready for change, but you do return to the person you once were, save for whatever new knowledge or self-awareness can manage to fight the tide of decades of habit.
Well, if you remember, I had made some pledges about my time here in Japan. With my departure just days away, I suppose it is time to evaluate myself.
I will grow my hair.
I haven’t so much as cut a strand. The result is, well, when I wear a baseball cap I have ugly curls that fight my ears for supremacy, but, alas, my hair certainly doesn’t grow fast enough for me to have even entertained the thought of any of the hairstyles popular here among young men. That is probably for the best.
I will sing karaoke with Japanese girls.
I sang karaoke alright. I sang karaoke like no other American has ever sang karaoke. It was, as I suggested in the blog devoted to the subject, one of the best hours I have had my entire time here in Japan.
The rest below.
Maybe you caught wind of the tsunami that came through Japan recently. (Yes, I do think that was an embarrassing, vague, weather-related pun). There was an 8.1-magnitude earthquake north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido last week, according to Japan’s Meteorological Agency. This created a momentary reduction in water level, which led to a massive water surge that we like to call a tsunami, all aided by typhoon-like weather conditions. All of this according to a Geology class I was occasionally awake for three semesters ago and what I could gather from a hastily written CNN article that I read a few days ago.
Initially it was a small 16-inch wave, but in time water levels had risen by a few feet around Hokkaido. Alongside the northern coast of that island, Japanese officials were expecting waves nearly 7 feet tall, sizeable during a usually calm season, according to NHK, Japan’s primary public broadcasting agency. Now, for friends and family 15,000 miles away, the fact that this earthquake happened 1,000 miles northeast of Tokyo wasn’t much comfort. I got a handful of emails checking on me, but, understand, the distance between Tokyo and the epicenter was about the distance between Philadelphia and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Would you really worry much about your own safety if some natural disaster hit the Twin Cities?
For those of you who saw my first episode, you’ll know that a great deal of my young life is spent thinking about this life-to-do list I made when I was 14-years old. Well, I actually got to cross off some things here in Japan, and I thought you might be interested to see what I had planned to do long before I decided to study here in Tokyo and what I actually got done. [See a blog that chronicles My Life To-Do List here.]
In October of 2005, I made an addition to the list that, in many ways, brought me here: to visit Tokyo, Japan. Two years earlier, after I first discovered sushi, I decided I wanted to eat the Japanese delicacy in the country’s largest city. I was fortunate enough to do that just like I was able to see a Geisha, which I did in Kyoto and sing karaoke in Japan, two other goals I made in October 2005. I guess I was thinking a lot about Japan a year ago, for some reason.