Taking the bus out of Hita for the last time filled me with a mixture of emotions that I didn’t expect. Well, I expected them but I couldn’t handle them. We loaded our bags under the bus and jumped on. An unexpected group of people saw us off. It really was cool. Those people got up earlier just to see us board a bus that wasn’t coming back. It was confusing. It was wonderful. It was an ending.
On the bus I leaned my head against the window and watched the city roll by for one last time. Not the final time, I hope, but the last for a long while. I shed no tears until the plane took off; they welled up in the corners of my eyes. It happened when I took that plane from my hometown twenty-seven months earlier. There’s something about leaving a place you’ve called home for so long.
My feet wouldn’t touch that soil
My eyes wouldn’t see those streets
My ears wouldn’t hear those sounds
My body wouldn’t feel the heat
That period of my life is over. Time to move on. Time to figure out what it did to me.
There were planes and airports. Walking, baggage carrying, security screening, sitting. Lots of sitting. And then my feet landed in the Southern Hemisphere.
The first thing I noticed exiting the airport was the smell. It reminded me of home. And by home I mean my hometown, the beautiful Copper Country of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There was that same loamy thickness in the air. A smell far different from what I have come to associate with Japan. Perhaps I’ll never really know that smell until I return. Right now Japan smells of nothing to me. I know it’s there, I’ve described it before. I just don’t know what it is and that is scary.
So there I was. Feet firmly on the ground and taking in the sights of New Zealand. Twenty-seven months I was in Japan. Suddenly I was in an English speaking country again and I didn’t know how to respond.
In Japan, I spoke English everyday with my wife. I spoke English while I taught, with both students and staff. But hearing it all around me took me off guard.
We went to a restaurant.
I didn’t know how to order. Confusion spewed out of my mouth. Should I say no or yes? Should I say anything? I was a deer in headlights.
We went to a store.
I can read everything! Everything! It all makes sense! Must read everything.
We went for a walk.
The clothes people wore were different. The cars were different. Blond hair, red hair, black hair, brown hair! Diverse people everywhere. I couldn’t help but be rude and stare. It’s not that Japanese are not diverse, they are, but here were different races with different body shapes and different accents I could understand and… and….
My brain shut down.
I couldn’t process all the information being hurled at me from all directions.
My head hurt.
I wanted to hide under a rock.
I think I like hiding under rocks. Or trees.
There’s more. I would respond in Japanese to shopkeepers. I would say douzo when I held the door for people. I would bow. And perhaps the worst of all, I was pulling my language. What I mean by that is that I was simplifying my sentences and omitting unnecessary words. It became a practice in Japan as a byproduct of teaching. I don’t know if it was good or bad but I did it.
But I did know that pulling language around native speakers couldn’t be a good thing. Not at all. First of all, it is offensive. Second, it most likely makes me out to be rude and uncouth.
It took a few weeks to adjust back to life in America. I think it will take a lot longer to feel comfortable again. What felt real when I first arrived is beginning to feel fake. I think it’s part of the Reverse Culture Shock process. It’s a cycle that repeats itself.
I have these two experiences creating cognitive dissonance. Both have good points and bad points. Now, I think the best thing to do is evaluate and adopt the best from both worlds and make that work.
My Japan experience is a part of me I don’t want to let go. Nor should I. It’s been a huge part of my life that has changed and continues to change my life.
I cannot deny that thing.
What experiences have stuck with you over the years?