Why Do You Love Japan?

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.

A Long Goodbye

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.

My best samurai face.
My best samurai face.

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!

I have his backpack but I'll never be as cool as Sasamon!
I have his backpack but I’ll never be as cool as Sasamon!

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.

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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.

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I already miss them.