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Japan: A Part of Me Now

June 3, 2008

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June 3, 2008 — Over these past three weeks I have felt like I’m spinning around like a twirling top. It’s been non-stop appointments to wrap up our commitments here in Japan; one farewell meal after another, each one feeling so final and sad; last shopping trips to the 100 Yen store, Jusco, book stores and various souvenir shops. Two years is just not enough time. It’s not enough time to deeply develop the relationships you want to cherish. It’s not enough time to explore all there is to explore here. And when I look back and think about the many days and weekends that I did nothing, it feels like wasted time to me now — missed opportunities. Then again, there were so many other days and weekends that I DID do something wonderful, which makes it hard to look back with too many regrets. After all, everyone needs down time and, honestly, there were times that I just didn’t feel up to taking on aspects of life here. Some days I could easily embrace the certainty of being “on display” when I ventured out of my house. Other days, I just wasn’t able to deal with that. Some days it was exciting to think of expanding my vocabulary and conversation skills. Other days, I just wanted things to be simple.

The inevitable point in time that we would finally leave Japan seemed so far in the distance. It was like this looming deadline that was too far away to plan for and yet, it still hung like a signal far in the distance. Now that it’s here, I’m not ready to leave. There’s so much more I’m not done learning about. Still, there’s so much more in the rest of the world for me to see and discover and learn about. The most important thing I HAVE learned is that there is just not enough time to do everything. One lifetime is simply not enough.

Sometimes I wonder how much I’ve been changed by the opportunity to live in Japan. Do I look any different? Do I talk any different? Do I think any different? In a lot of ways, I’d say yes to each of these questions. On the other hand, I’m still me. It’s sort of like getting older. You don’t particularly feel any older than you did 10 years ago, but you’ve experienced so much more in your life over those years. You’ve matured, right?

When I wonder what will stick with me about living here after I have left, some things come immediately to mind.

I’m not sure I’ll ever stop calling my kids “chan,” as in “Kiki chan,” It will probably sound so strange when we leave, but everyone in my family calls the baby Kiki-chan so it’s really, kind of, become her name. She’s not just “Kiki.” She’s “Kiki-chan.”

I think I’ll find it hard to stop wanting to say “ne” (nay) after every sentence. It sort of means, “Don’t you think?” and it’s just a really nice way of talking. It seems to soften everything you say so that, in some way, nothing sounds really direct and everything is sort-
of submitted to the approval of everyone else. For example, “This is delicious, don’t you think?” “This line is very long, don’t you think?” Even though it’s a Japanese word, I often find myself feeling inclined to use it when I’m speaking English, even though it doesn’t really fit. I want to say, “This sushi is delicious, ne?” I have to stop myself. When we first came to Japan, hearing “ne” all the time was so strange. To foreign ears, the sound of the word is so distinctive. We couldn’t understand any of the language, but we kept hearing, “ne” at the end of nearly every sentence. It was practically the only word we could actually make out. That word and, of course, “so.” People say, “so, so, so,” which means “yes, yes, yes.” At some point these words just became part of my everyday speaking, so much so that it’s hard to stop saying them when I’m not even speaking Japanese.

I’ll miss the idea of ‘gambatte” or “gambaremashou.” It’s like an encouragement that expresses, “Go for it,” “you can do it” and “good luck” all together. Followed by “ne,” this phase is very positive. “Gambatte” without “ne” at the end can mean something like, “you better do well,” “improve yourself,” “work harder,” “strive more.” But “gambatte, ne?” is more like, “you can do it, don’t you think?” I love that.

I’m always, from here on out, going to love sushi. I never thought I’d like it. In fact, I wasn’t even convinced it was Never thought I could digest it. It seemed weird and wrong and scary. Now, I crave it. What a wonderful food! There’s absolutely nothing as satisfying as a super fresh piece of fish pulled from the Pacific Ocean earlier that morning, set atop a perfectly sized bite of vinegar rice with a dab of wasabi and some soy sauce. Honto oishii desu yo ne! I mean, I’m not a particularly adventurous eater, but trying that ( and so many other foods that I loved) made me realize how limited my taste and food experiences were, but also helped me realize that I should try new things because you never know what your next favorite meal could be.

I hope I never lose my understanding and insight into a new language. Although I am no where near being totally fluent, I learned that I CAN learn a new language. In just two years I went from total illiteracy to moderate understanding and being conversational. With more time, I know I could come close to being totally fluent (pera pera) in this language — well maybe not with respect to Kanji. And, there’s little that is cooler than stringing together a bunch of words that you barely know into a conversation that someone else understands. The first time you ask “where is the toilet” or “how much is this” and you actually get an answer — it’s magical.

There’s an endless list of memories, ideas and people I hope I never lose from my time living in Japan. It’s a country that is part of me now, and this fact, at least, I know will never change.

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