Written by Megan McClory, (Brandeis University) Student Correspondent CET Japan, Spring 2017
So, I’m writing this one from the airplane. After months away, I’m finally going to see my family and friends, sleep in my own bed and eat real peanut butter (priorities, my friend). Even more exciting for me, I’m just in time for my older brother’s college graduation, too.
And this is all fantastic, isn’t it?
But taking the trains to the trains to the airport this morning was… disorientating, to say the least. Not the whole train riding thing itself, I mean. In Japan, I ride the trains everyday. It’s something normal and completely unremarkable; I’ll spend the ride swiping the home screen back and forth on my phone pretending to be super interested in my page and a half of apps (but it’s afternoon so none of my friends back home are texting me because of the time difference, but I want to at least seem popular to the zero people who are watching me). But today, dragging two huge suitcases, it was inconvenient to pull out my phone, so I opted for staring blankly out the window. At 5am, there’s hardly anyone on the train, so I don’t have to make believe that I’m being judged for not playing on my phone. I watched the buildings, low and solid, flash by, same as always. I still can’t read most of the billboards, but even so, well, Osaka is a city. In a lot of ways, it’s no different than the city I’m returning to. There’ll be low and solid buildings at home, too. Trains, airports, mindlessly messing around on my phone, those things won’t change. Not now, not ten years from now, Chicago or Osaka…. These are some of the few things that provide stability in my life.
So, then, what is different?
I noticed the first one right away. For background information, I’m flying with American Airlines right now. The announcements are in English first, then repeated in Japanese (with a heavy Texas accent– now that was something to hear). Everyone around me is speaking English. Yet, I’m still unconsciously answering the flight attendant in Japanese. Would you like something to drink? Hai, onegaishimasu! Chicken or pork? Chikin kudasai. And of course, when I bump into someone, it’s sumimasen, not a hurried sorry!
I’m not gonna lie– even though I tried my best with the language pledge, slipping into English was not an uncommon experience. Regardless, I got used to the fact that everyone around understood at least the basics in Japanese. After all, it’s the little things that got ingrained over the course of these four months– hai, onegaishimasu, sumimasen. The words that you say more as a knee jerk reaction instead of having any actual meaning. It’s going to take me weeks to recondition that reflex.
And that’s just an obvious and temporary difference that I noticed on the airplane. What about the little things? What else has changed? Will she fit right back in at home? Will the puzzle pieces slot up the same way when she’s with her friends? Where will the skills and confidence she gained through this experience shine? I guess that’s my next adventure, exploring this person I’ve become while living in a whole new culture.
And there’s only one way to find out.
Japan, thank you for all you’ve taught me. There are things I’ll miss — conbini store bento, dorayaki, those little smiles when people see the poor confused foreigner try her best at mangling Japanese– and some things I won’t — one. burner. stoves.–but I know that one day I’ll return and experience a Japan that is both new and unfamiliar to me. It might take me a while to figure out everything that has changed, exactly, but I know I’m not the same person that flew into Kansai International Airport in January. I’m looking forward to how this new me will get along in Japan next time. Until then, Matane, Japan.