Captain’s Log: Star Date 8/3/2019.
Well. We’re here.
Today was my final, full day in Tokyo. Tomorrow, as of the time I am writing this, I will be on an airplane bound for the United States, with a small child no doubt kicking my chair the entire journey. Truly, I am shaking with anticipation for boarding a 16 hour flight once again.
It’s kind of funny, you know. I’ve thought about this day arriving a lot since I came here. It feels like forever ago that I was just arriving here, with poor Mr. Watanabe looking at me wondering what horror he just submitted himself to for four months. And yet, it also feels like that just happened a few weeks ago.
I’ve experienced so much since I have arrived here. I went from barely knowing most of the people here to feeling like I’ve known most of them for years. I’ve been on countless adventures. I’ve been to castles, temples, towers and museums. I feel like I’ve seen everything. And yet, I feel like I’ve barely even scratched the endless surface of things to do in this country. There are historic sites all over this nation that I no doubt would’ve drooled over the chance of seeing.
Someone asked me if I was sad about not attending a school in Kyoto, the historic capital of Japan. I just kind of laughed in response. Sure, I have no doubt Kyoto would’ve been an excellent experience as well…but I wouldn’t have traded a moment of this experience. Okay, maybe that was a mild exaggeration. I probably would happily trade you my pedestrian traffic jam yesterday for a solid cheeseburger.
I have a brief anecdote for you that a professor from Washington and Jefferson College told me before my arrival here. “Dan,” he said, because that is my name. “Studying abroad is like a line graph.” Already you can tell this story will be exhilarating. But bear with me.
“When you first arrive, you will be at the top of the graph. Everything will be awe-inspiring. You’ll want to explore every nook and cranny of the country. You’ll stare in fascination at everything through the windows of your daily subway. It’ll feel like a brand new, exciting adventure.
“But then things change. You’ll settle in, and the golden aura you see will begin to fade a little. Not everything is perfect in this country. Some things they do over there will feel…different, and not necessarily in a good way (public showers, anyone?). You’ll miss some of the commodities readily available at home that are now nearly impossible to find.
“And your trip will continue, and this feeling will continue as well. You’ll feel homesick now and then, and there will be times when you wish for nothing more than the comfort of your own house, free of the work of classes and the culture that you have been forced to experience every day. It’s new and different, but now and then you crave a bit of what you have always experienced back at home. The comfort of normalcy, where everything is as it has always been.
“But your trip continues, regardless of your feelings on the matter. And in time, your tune changes. You may feel homesick now and then, true. But you grow to appreciate the changes you are subjugated to, things you aren’t used to. That’s why you are there, after all. The culture becomes easier to adapt to. And some of the changes you think might be for the better, you really begin to enjoy. Things are great once again.
“Eventually, your trip will end. You will fly home, sad by what you are leaving behind, but perhaps finally ready to return to what you’ve always known. There will be a time of adjustment, difficulty in returning to the normalcy you remember when life abroad has become so ingrained. But eventually you will settle in, with your line graph perhaps ending a little lower than when you first arrived, but a greater experience than you ever would’ve had otherwise. There will be a small part of you that will always be sad it is over, but there is one thing to remember: the experiences you had abroad will always be yours, and yours alone. They are things no one else can ever claim, things that cannot be stolen or replaced. They are your fond memories of one of, hopefully, the best experiences of your life, that you will carry with you forever.”
Well, the professor was right on most notes here. Except, perhaps, one part. The line graph is ending exactly where it began at. My entire stay in Tokyo, I have never stopped having that feeling of wonder and excitement at every little detail, even with the (sometimes seemingly constant) culture shock.
I’ve had some great experiences here. One Japanese student told me once that I was just like every American stereotype he had ever heard. No one ever seemed to deny this. I certainly wouldn’t. But with that came some of my own American experiences. Some of the Japanese students substantially improved in their English speaking this semester. Mostly because I would have no idea what they were saying otherwise. But it allowed for an exchange of culture in that regard. And that was certainly entertaining.
All of this said, perhaps it would be prudent to discuss what I did for my final day. Well, the day began with Verizon Wireless turning off my data for the next two days, apparently forgetting that this was a necessity. Thank you Verizon, very cool. I had planned on going to Matsumoto Castle today, one of Tokyo’s most famous. But, by the time the phone had finally gotten situated, it was rather late into the day. By the time I arrived at Matsumoto, it would be closed. Oh well. Instead, I made my final trip to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
Only a few stops away, the trip seemed like it would be a rather easy one. Of course, I failed to take note of the weather today: 96 degrees and felt like 120. For those of you have never experienced 120 degree heat, a pro-tip: don’t. Walking through that was rather unpleasant.
But, eventually, I made my way to the palace after riding for four stops on a subway train relatively near my dormitory. Now, you can’t really “visit” the Imperial Palace, per say. You are allowed access to the eastern gardens of the Palace, but you aren’t allowed anywhere near the actual Imperial Manor where the royal family resides (for obvious reasons, really). Security was all over the place. I felt rather bad for those who had to stand in the Sun the entire day just to tell people not to walk on the grass. Oh, and you definitely cannot step on the grass. There are signs all over the place alerting you to this notion. Why the grass is so sacred, I cannot say.
I was, amusingly enough, one of the only Americans there. Every person I saw spoke a completely different language than the last. French, German, Hindi, Arabic, Finnish, there were probably people who only spoke in the clicking language there. All of these people congregating together in 120 degree heat to walk around some bricks and foliage. Mankind is a beautiful thing.
The end of the walking trail brings you to a hill overlooking the city, towering over the ant sized people below you. That was a pretty neat thing to see.
Perhaps my favorite part of this experience, however, was when I went to turn around to leave (not just to get out of the heat, mind you). Behind me were families all speaking different languages, with each of their children on the ground. And, like clockwork, suddenly all of these four year olds started screaming. An American family with an American kid, a German kid, and a French kid. It was like a life philosophy right before my eyes.
No matter where you are from, male or female, cultural background, social class, anything.
You can still find a way to be annoying.
Now that, right there, is a beautiful life lesson. (Sorry W&J staff reading this. I found this too amusing to not say.)
Then I came back, avoided heat stroke, and called it a day. Now it is just cleaning, typing an essay, and preparing for a 16 hour flight o’ fun.
I’m leaving with plenty of experiences, from an induction ceremony of nightmares, to a professor faking a heart attack to teach us a single phrase in Japanese, to the woman at the grocery store across the street who I have seen so frequently she no doubt wonders if I am going to buy a Ring Pop and pop the question to her before going home.
I’ve had a great time with everything here Japan. It’s been an absolute dream.
But, my professor was right, in the end.
I am ready to head home.
Phrase of the Day: Sayonara (Sah-yoh-nah-rah) means “Goodbye”.
Not to take away from that poetic finish there, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually say that. Usually they say “Ja mata” (See you later) or “Shitsurei Shimasu” (I AM DEEPLY SORRY). But, hey, you get what I mean.