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Tokyo Never Happened: Episode Nine

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.

The Democrats have majority in Congress, a few more small businesses have been replaced by national chains in my (once) rural county, and many people have had changes of fortune in their lives, but History will not speak of this. The Northeast still has great pizza, there are still dirt roads I can drive on, and I still lose cellular phone service going through Culver’s Gap.

I am just a little less ignorant and stupid than I was half a year ago. I was at a little bar and I spoke effusively of tatami mats and konbini when I discovered I was sitting near a Japanese-born businessman. I didn’t get far before I was reeled in by friends because, “what is Showa?” I don’t know a great deal about anything, so I am prone to rattling off nonsense to the rare listener who knows less about something than I do. I have just spent four months in Japan, and I have to accept that, for once and for now, I know more about a topic than most here. I will file all that I have learned and certainly maintain and expand it, but, knowing myself, soon enough I will be twisting and battling against another world of knowledge about which I know nothing. Education should be without a destination.

My final individual episode, in which I reflect on my time:

It is “strange” to think how rapidly I have gone from over-confident plane traveler, to lost American in Japan, to comfortable student in Tokyo, to trying to remember how to change gears in a pick-up truck near the Delaware River. The Christmas music and holiday cookies are overflowing and I haven’t had a conversation in Japanese in days but I am not overwhelmed or confused. I feel as if someone pumped a Tokyo semester’s worth of learning and seeing into my head without my ever leaving Philadelphia or Sussex County. The memories and pictures are here to prove otherwise, but I can’t quite convince myself I climbed Mount Fuji or studied the Korean War, or played basketball with a Japanese college team before sharing a meal and drinks.

Maybe I don’t have the time to think of it all, anyway. Forget unpacking, I am throwing clothes in a bag to take on a flight to New Orleans tomorrow, where I am doing a bit of reconstruction work with a group called “Common Ground.” I guess this is the life I chose.

I am home and a little smarter but facing no epileptic shock. It is closer to the feeling you get when you wake up half a day later after three days of incessant and sleepless action. Trying to find the beginning and end of your new memories and understanding is pointlessly arduous. They are there and you are better for it, so you crawl out of bed and have the same cup of orange juice you have had every morning since you can ever remember. You take what you can remember and otherwise wipe those lost days off the calendar, leaving you a long continuity of what you might readily consider your normal life. Tokyo never happened.

Thank you for watching, thank you for reading, thank you for making all that I have done a little less solitary and a little more soluble. I would certainly appreciate any final comments or questions if you have them.

Jaa ne,

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