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Archive for the ‘ Essays ’ Category

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19
Dec

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.

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18
Dec

Lasting Memories

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.

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15
Dec

Parting Thoughts

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.

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13
Dec

My Homecoming

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.

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14
Nov

A Clear Night

Tonight is one of the clearest nights I have ever found while in Japan. From my balcony, overlooking a well-kept garden, I can see twenty or more stars and a brilliant full moon, brightly lit and open to intruding glares.

It is November in temperate Tokyo and the nightly temperatures are falling. I stood on that balcony and took in one of the great smells of this world, the smell of a chilly autumn night. The smell of the cold. A smell crisp enough to burn my nostrils upon entry, but too appealing to keep me from breathing deeper again. It is simple and clean. The air is clear enough tonight to make me forget I am in smoggy Tokyo, if only for a moment. The sky has chosen purple for its color tonight, though it is deep enough for the casual observer to miss that. I didn’t miss it. I stood outside long enough to see it was not blue or black or gray, no, the cold November night was as purple as it was clear.

Still, there is nothing particularly Japanese about this clear night, but it feels different. Despite the goose bumps on my arms, I am warmed by the cold air in my lungs and the clear sky in my eyes. I am warmed just as I am when Nat King Cole’s crackling version of ‘The Christmas Song’ begins to play from my computer. There is only one place in the world I am meant to be at this moment, where cold November nights and clear skies are common place and I can play all the holiday music a month before December I want without being labeled just an American.

Jaa ne,
Christopher

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1
Nov

A Ragged Steno Pad

I used to have a forty-minute bus ride from my apartment here in the Jiyugaoka section of the Meguro ward of Tokyo to my classes in Minato-ku, Tokyo. During that time I took to writing in a ragged steno pad that serves as notebook, journal, draft and drawing pad for me.

I traded that sitting time for physically and visually exercising time, as readers familiar with my bicycling will know, but the habit finds a place even so. It is a habit familiar to any travel, any experience, to any period of my life.

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12
Oct

Home

Home is one of those countless abstract ideals for which, I tend to think, we over search. In the pursuit of its understanding, we push the explanation further and ignore its reality longer.

I apologize. Travel forces me to think in these irrepressible circles.

Usually it takes a bit longer, but here I am, in Tokyo just under two months, and nihilism has never seemed any less sensible to me than now. Hurl “social construct” or “comforting illusion” or whatever other accusatory psychoanalyzing garbage you know, but there is nothing I like more about travel than that first appreciating, comforting glance of home again. The first glance of the meaningful protection of the abstract.

It doesn’t need to be any stay of extension. Wherever our comfort prospers and our resistance fails, this home is a sight of cleansing alleviation.

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9
Oct

Tokyo Feeling

As I grapple to find a place of comfort and habit here in the land of rising sun, I am becoming aware enough to observe the megalopolis that is around me. Hit with so much new, my thoughts blur and my ideas jump, thrashing in my head without any uniting thread other than their home in Japan

It appears Tokyo seems to support a class of elderly men who, in a country that doesn’t accept gratuity, must get their supplemental compensation from nods, smiles and the occasional bow from an overanxious foreigner or particularly formal Japanese man. I’m not entirely certain who is giving them their uniforms, assuming they are, indeed, being paid. Still, there they are, directing traffic unnecessarily and guiding navigators of tight Tokyo parking lots and standing guard at buildings that don’t seem to need guarding. They mumble garbled Japanese in sing-song voices, further muffled by their crooked-teeth smiles and craggy, time-worn skin.

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6
Oct

The Window

It is typhoon season. It rains long and often here in Tokyo. Today it was particularly stormy. This morning I woke up and found that the world outside was wet. It was steady and it was hard, but I wouldn’t take the bus. I couldn’t take the bus. I am stubborn. I didn’t want to spend the 400 yen. I didn’t want to miss the exercise. I didn’t want to feel lazy. More importantly though, I said, as I often say to myself when trying to do something that seems outrageous or pointless, it was an opportunity to do something different. To ride in a typhoon. I looked out the window and saw nothing but water.

I rode the bus for a month. You can never go wrong when you do something new, if you do that something new just once. So, I took my Japanese umbrella and some spare clothes in a plastic bag stuffed in my school backpack. Things seem safer from the window.

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4
Oct

Travel

I am taking a short rest from Tokyo-telling. I was eating my daily breakfast of rice, egg and a soy sauce splash, and got to thinking that your college guidance counselor and showy and nosy neighbor are right, a point that even I continue to harp upon, the strange importance of travel. Between you and me, I don’t even think you have to do much once you do travel to get anything out of it. You certainly won’t learn as much as you can, but if you were to sit on a couch in a different country or a different time zone for just a week or so, I bet you’d see something differently. Don’t think this type of experiential learning requires great lengths.

Still, the grandness of so-labeled “study abroad” is exceptionally altering. I can tell you. I can tell you because I sit writing this at a university in Tokyo, Japan. I can tell you because I took classes at the University of Ghana in West Africa. I can tell you because I even did more than just sit on a couch at these places.

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