First off, let’s get this out of the way right from the starting gate. “Returning Japanese” is in fact the title of a “King of the Hill” two-part episode (my favorite if I might add), and I shamelessly ripped it for a blog post title. Mike Judge is a comedic and writing genius who deserves the recognition. Ripoffs aside, this blog post title accurately describes how I’m feeling after returning from a 17 day vacation in the Land of the Rising Sun. A vacation that was certainly long enough to immerse myself in the culture, and to get a taste of the local flavor- both the good and bad. Whether it is for better or for worse, I’ve returned from my trip with a bit of Japanese in me. Try figuring that shit out, scientists.
It has already been a week since my wife, a good friend of ours, and myself traveled for nearly an entire day (layovers are fun) on our return trip back to the good ol’ USA. It should be noted that before this trip abroad I had never really been anywhere. Beside my original home state of New York or my transplanted home state of Florida, and a handful of East coast states on a family road trip, I hadn’t really ever left the coast I was born on. I suppose it really never occurred to me, but the United States is freaking huge. Being centered in southern Massachusetts, I have Boston to the north and New York to the west. Both cities are filled to the brim with a variety of different cultures, so why would I ever need to leave the states to experience a different perspective? An ignorant attitude surely, but then again I never claimed to be infallible like Mike Judge. It was an attitude that would be shattered the moment we stepped off of the plane at Narita airpot in Tokyo.
Two weeks was certainly enough time to breakdown my perception of why it was necessary to experience a new culture firsthand. New customs, new mannerisms, and of course new faux pas to liven up every social situation. As you might imagine, this left me with a whole new list of questions. No, not your standard everyday questions such as “Did ‘X really give it to us?” Questions such as “Do I really tell them that I’m American?”, or “Is it impolite to look away from the standing man’s balls in front of me on the subway?”, or “How exactly do you cut an egg with a chopstick, and is it a breach of etiquette to just roll the stick around in the egg like a pencil to achieve this?” In case you’re wondering the answer to those questions in order is as follows: depends on the situation, only if you dislike the man, and just don’t. I gained a massive amount of insight of how the Japanese go about their daily lives, their traditional customs, and the ever-present (and my personal favorite) Japanese phrase “shikata ga nai.” For those unfamiliar with the term, “shikata ga nai”, or its variant “shō ga nai”, is a phrase that means “It cannot be helped.” It is a phrase I keep handy at times when things really can’t be helped, both due to its optimistic nature on a bad situation and because it is damn good fun to repeat.
It’s only now, one week return home, that I wish I had started this blog during my actual vacation overseas. The memories and experiences of our trip are still fairly fresh, so I should be able to make do. I do think that the majority of my posts for the next month or so will be centered around my experiences abroad, so to anyone actually reading this I apologize. There was certainly too much that I experienced to be summed up in one or two posts, even long posts at that. Those experiences left a lasting impression on me, and I know for certain that they did change me for the better. Our journey left me with lessons and anecdotes that I can pass down to friends and family members. As we ventured back home to the states, and the barks of the TSA could be heard from the sky bridge, I entered our country feeling a bit of pride that I had brought something valuable back with me; it was a piece of our vacation that couldn’t be rifled through or inspected by X-ray machines. It was a memory that would keep me calm even through the deepest of TSA ordered cavity searches. Shō ga nai.