I just found & cleaned up this picture from my last night partying with my friends so I thought I’d share it. Miss these folks.
Let me start off by saying I miss my friends in Japan! I hope things are going great for them all and if any of you are reading, またこんいちは！会いたいよ。
I’ve been back in America for just over 3 weeks. It’s been a remarkable experience getting readjusted to American life.
First of all, everything is HUGE.
Yes, huge portions of food,
but much more impressive, the huge, expansive spaces.
I live in a country of wide streets and skies.
We travel great distances at great speeds every day. I drive literally everywhere.
Trash cans are everywhere!
Quick – two things I miss about Japan:
- Earthquakes. Those occasional little rockings began to have a very calming effect on me.
- Speaking Japanese. When I first came home I found a grocery store that sold Japanese goods and stopped in to speak a little. Two of my coworkers have also worked in Japan and often make Japanese jokes. It seems Japan’s forever going to have a place in my life.
The backpack my friends at Rakuten got me goes with me to work every day.
I’m leaving Japan tomorrow, returning to America after 364 days living in Tokyo. I’m delighted to be returning to the home where my family, oldest, deepest friendships, and beloved girlfriend are waiting on me. I’m mournful to be leaving so soon the country that has truly become my second home. It’s a strange feeling to have one event trigger such opposing emotions.
“Why do you love Japan?”
I’ve been asked that question a lot over the last year or two, and never been able to find the answer.
Sometimes I try to explain the abundance of beauty here. Paper fortunes tied to trees at a temple, or thin white strips of it fluttering at the bottom of a small softly chiming bell; summer cicadas kreeing in the trees; the gentle sloping tile roofs of buildings; artfully sculpted pine trees lining narrow roads. Japanese women. Japanese fashion. The ineffable melody of the Japanese language. But this explanation inevitably reduces to a long list of minutia that describe what I find beautiful but doesn’t explain why it’s beautiful to me. How does one explain the why of beauty?
Other times I try to find the answer in the Japanese attitude of harmonious living, respect for the group and others over oneself. Or sometimes in the sense of safety one finds here as an extension of that harmony. Friends and I have forgotten things but always been reunited with them. I never fear being robbed or attacked, or that a lost thing will not be returned to the nearest police box. The other night I actually said to some friends, “Lets go down this alley and see what’s back there,” without sarcasm — in the absence of fear, adventure is the natural result. Still, magnificent as it is, I did not come to Japan for the freedom of true safety.
Then there is the spiritual history of the place. In Zen I find hints of something I’ve been reaching for my whole life. In the many gods of Shinto I find not superstition but mythology informing a veneration of every aspect of the corner of the world one lives in. And in Japan I have found a home in a culture shaped by centuries of the combination of those religions. The result is a people and place inconspicuously founded on reverence for the mundane.
All of these things are bound together, inseparable and still only a small part of what I’ve come to think of as the real reason I love Japan: peace.
In Japan, I have peace like I have never had before.
I’ve had quite a few goodbyes in the past week. It’s been pretty rough.
First, a lunch on my next to last day where 11 of my coworkers from all over the company surprised me with a lunch organized by my good friend Jacob. That evening, Jacob took me out for sake tasting and dinner and for the first time I had fresh edamame. It was delicious, I had no idea. Japanese cuisine has definitely changed my palette for the better.
On my last day, people who couldn’t make it to my goodbye dinner that night came to my desk and gave me gifts! Many tasty treats to eat on the plane and a couple of charms for my phone or backpack. :’) I’m surrounded by such thoughtful people.
That night, my team took me out for a dinner party: lots of pizza and LOTS OF DRINKING.
Soon the time came for gift giving. First Sasamon presented me with a plastic cap that made me look like a samurai, which I of course wore all night.
Many times over the last year I had remarked to Sasamon how much I loved his backpack. He told me it was love at first sight for him when he saw it, but it was very expensive, hand-made in the US. I looked it up online and saw he was right, definitely pricey (but so cool!).
The second gift came out and when I opened it I was speechless even in English – they had pitched together and gotten me that backpack!
The thoughtfulness of these people moved me. Even now as I write this they are a true inspiration–I want to try to be like them in the future and create the feeling in others that their kindness has had in me.
In my short goodbye speech I told them I would in no way forget Japan or my friends here, and that they had become my true friends. Yoshimura-chan began to cry.
Afterward, when I thought the party was over (I should have known better) it was time for a smaller group to out for karaoke AND MORE DRINKING!
We sang Michael Jackson, Oasis, and Stand By Me arm-in-arm. Matsumoto-kun told me he was sad to see me go because we were douki, members of the team who joined at the same time. The outpouring of this night made me feel so incredibly loved.
Finally we said good night. Later, alone on the train, I was the drunk gaijin staring out the window, tears running down his cheeks.
Here’s a little slideshow with some more pictures of these people who have so quickly entered my heart.
I already miss them.
The weekend of June 20 & 21st, I caught a plane to Southwest Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture with two of my favorite people in Japan, Hal and Alex. It was Alex who, upon hearing that I had not even had proper ramen since arriving in Tokyo and would be leaving soon, made it his duty to ensure my final weeks here were spent truly appreciating the country’s culinary magnificence. He and Hal introduced me to some ramen so good it has changed some lifelong-held feelings about food, so it was only fitting that my last big trip here in Japan be a “ramen for every meal for an entire weekend” tour of Hakata, originator of the astoundingly delicious tonkotsu ramen.
We saw the results of a kid’s art competition to make signs about safety and manners on the trains. We stood in the train station looking at these for half an hour like we were in a museum.
We bought fireworks and sake and got drunk and shot fireworks until the cops kicked us out for shooting some that went into the air (against the rules). “Sayonara,” the cop said to us as we left, which isn’t really a “farewell” but rather an absolutely final “good bye forever.” Good riddance. hah! Next we ran into some Nepali dudes in a conbini who really wanted us to “come jam” with them. They had one guitar on which to jam. Somehow, as drunk folks do, we all ended up sitting on steps playing that guitar and singing together for about an hour while a tiny crowd of Japanese college students still awake at 1am gathered and listened with applause. Good times.
The next morning, Alex had lost his phone. We retraced our steps like the movie The Hangover, and after hours of searching and literally being one step away from giving up, we tried one more Koban (“police box” — a tiny police station you can find just about anywhere) and true to Japanese fashion, someone had turned it in. You just about never lose anything or have anything stolen in Japan.
Saw another of the literally hundreds of gorgeous temples in this country…
And when we weren’t eating ramen it was yatai (street vendor food).
Best ramen in Japan? It’s a tie for first between Ichiran and Ippudo, and the snobs out there will quickly say “This guy is such a tourist, those are the most popular places everybody says.” But the fact is those incredible restaurants made it out of Hakata for a reason – they’re incredibly good.
PS: I almost forgot to mention the tea ceremony we had at the culture center. 🙂
Thanks Alex & Hal for an incredible trip!!
Hello friends! Quick update because, as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve done exactly what every other blogger does and gotten really lazy about updating. Obligatory apologies etc.
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of coding, especially game dev. I’m making little crappy prototype games in Unity3D. I participated in Ludum Dare, the 48 hour game-creation competition where entrants are given a topic and then 48 hours to create a game based on that theme. My game is called So Long, Space Hero and it’s ridiculously simple, but I learned a lot. Now I’m working on a planet-hopper and I think I might actually try to make something worthwhile.
Today I’m hanging out here, at the Open Source Cafe, a cafe/coding space whose menu, employee manuals, and other things are open sourced! It’s a great atmosphere: everyone’s got skateboards and is hanging out outside in the Spring weather writing code, and they’re having a “Coder Dojo” where they’ve invited kids to come and learn how to code.
But lately I’ve been going out to Pico Pico Cafe, home of Voxatron and Lexaloffle Games. Such interesting folks there, including the owner Joseph.
A picture’s worth a thousand words and I don’t want to type that much, so here’s some more image of what’s new in my life.
My favorite haiku is by Ryōkan, a buddhist monk. It goes:
left it behind:
the moon in my window.
mado no tsuki.