Thursday, July 31, 2008

Trying To Hold On

I am sitting in my friend's double bed a little too awake for 12:45 at night, but in Japan it is 4:45 in the afternoon and my inner clock is still adjusting. My fingers are also adjusting to life back in the States as they struggle to find the apostrophe and colon on a non-Japanese keyboard.

But I will readjust my typing instincts soon enough, and I fear that as I begin to fall back into routine I will begin to forget as well. I will forget what it is like to be surrounded by signs I can't read because they are printed in an alphabet I cannot comprehend. I will forget what it is like to be the only white person in a room. I will forget what white rice tastes like first thing in the morning. As with so many events in life, these things will fade into memories that grow more distant and distant, but I know that the intangible experiences, thoughts, reactions, and reflections will embed something new into who I am. Another building block in life, and I intend to be better for it, taking the opportunity to grow in my understanding of the world and its individual inhabitants, including myself.

My last seven days in Japan were the perfect finish to my time. Amazingly, I found my friend Meiko in the crowds of Shinjuku Station in Tokyo within minutes, and we stashed my suitcase in a coin locker before finding a place for lunch.

It was a three hour bus ride into Ibaraki and Meiko's city. The temperature dropped notably in this time to a very tolerable level, and I couldn't believe it! With its ocean breeze and northern location, Hitachi made it difficult for me to believe that I had spent three weeks sweating away.

So many of the Japanese people I interacted with on a personal level proved to be very hospitable, and the case was the same with Meiko's family. Her cousin was getting married in Tokyo while I was there, so I traveled with her family to the wedding and was graciously welcomed as a member of the family for the day. The hospitality even extended into the next day, for we stayed in Hotel New Otani that night and took a train back to Hitachi around noon. I felt like I was in another life with the lifestyle I led those two days. The hotel was the fanciest I have possibly ever stayed at, and we ate dinner at a revolving restaurant with a three hundred sixty degree view of the city.

The rest of my nights were happily spent sleeping on a simple, comfortable Japanese futon in a room of tatami mats that were new enough to fill the room with a sweet, earthy odor that transferred itself onto my clothes and lasted my first twenty-four hours back in the States. Sadly, it is gone now.

And as the days continue to go by I know I'll forget more of the weariness, the sweltering heat, and hold onto the views of lush countryside, wild lilies along the road, women in yukata shuffling by in the subway station, people (both friend to friend and customer to salesperson) bowing to each other in greeting, and all things that made Japan unique and/or beautiful to me. I know in those four weeks, I only tapped into the outskirts of a culture entirely different from what I am familiar with. And that's why I am so very glad I went, at least for that tiny sliver of broader understanding.

Now I really should be kind to this body of mine and discipline it back into sync with the Northwest sun. Tomorrow I will finally be back in Bellingham after being gone a month and a half and am looking forward to a brief three weeks there before I head back to Texas for fall last fall semester! Maybe that will help me leave this place of tall pine trees, snow capped mountains, and herbal smelling local markets. If I must.

By the way, I have my camera back! I picked it up at the airport upon my arrival and will soon be in my mom's kitchen cooking and baking with her and my sister as much as possible. Please stick around, and thank you so much for following along as I took flight after flight, bus after bus, and every form of transportation in between, testing out too many mattresses to count along the way.


GrantJM said...

Lael- wonderful description of an Asian experience I also recall - sweating endlessly while rubbing against crowds in the subways & streets; overwhelmed visually, and wondering where I would get my next meal- one that would be vaguely familiar and comforting after the initial gastric challenges of a new cuisine. Hold on to this moment - it's good to have you home.

Caryn said...

I'm so glad that you got to see Meiko while you were across the pond! Welcome back to the States!