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Monday, March 15

A St. Patrick's Parade of Thoughts

Many of you already know that we are coming to the end of our time here in Japan.  After four years, we going to head back to the states this summer and see just how much life has changed while we were gone.  I can't even begin imagine just how much we have to catch up on.

Recently, I've been spending a lot of time trying to get my head wrapped around the move.  There has been a lot of wavering in my mind about whether or not I am happy about this.  In some ways, I am.  In others, I really am not.  I'll be glad to be back closer to family and friends.  That is a definite.  But my hesitation goes so much more beyond that.

You see, I love my life here.  It has been absolutely blessed in so many ways.  I love my house (apart from the tiny kitchen I say daily swear words to).  I love my neighborhood.  I love my town.  I love Japan.  I love every thing about the past years we have spent here.  It has made us a closer couple.  It made us a family.  It fulfilled so many dreams we have.  It even gave me a moment to pause.  A moment to breathe life in and not just rush through days of work, errands and whatever weekend fun was drummed up.  I honestly know that I am a completely changed person because of our life here.  So the big conundrum... will the person I am today still fit in with the life we lived in DC?  And if so, how do I get her there?

There is no doubt that my closest friends are sick of hearing me debate this, but as they are my closest, they have no choice but to suffer through it.  Thank you, friends!  Mwah!  They all seem to be of sound, collective mind that it will be no problem.  I wish I had their confidence.

In the end, there is no answer until I do it.

For now, I cross my fingers and pray to God that all will turn out as it should.

And in the meantime, I find myself not only nostalgic for all that I love and will miss here in Japan, but also strangely nostalgic for many 'American', for lack of a better word, things.  It's been pretty easy, since I got over the initial shock of Japan, to just embrace what each new day brought us here and forget about what we left behind.  I think anyone that tries to hold onto what they left behind would only make themselves crazy in the process of trying to love their new life.  I'm not one to dwell in the past anyway, so this wasn't something I ever gave any thought to.  It just happened naturally.  Which is why it surprises me so to experience this strange nostalgia.  I can only guess that it has something to do with some deep, deep, deep and unconsciously seeded excitement to return stateside.  Return for a spell anyway. So when I received an email from a friend about the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Tokyo this past weekend, I just couldn't get it out of my mind.  Touted as the biggest Irish event in Japan since 1992 and one meant to introduce the Japanese to Irish culture, we simply had to go.

We drove over to the base and met up with our friends before setting off to catch the train.  The little we knew about the parade was what we read about last years, and definitely a draw... there were strange costumes and Guiness.  'Nuf said.  It only took a little over an hour, and with our first Japanese leprechaun sighting, we knew we were at the right stop to get off.  The Harajuku station had a constant stream of people pouring out of it.  This is usually a busy area, but with a group of adults and kids and one Peanut in a stroller, it was tough to keep us all moving together in any sort of order.  We all just did our best to look around once in awhile and try to locate everyone.  A map gave us the parade route, so we kept ourselves in the swarm and moved toward the starting area.

Harajuku is known for people in strange costumes, but what was odd was to not see that many on this day... a day when I thought the Japanese would take this easy opportunity to dress up in their bizarre get-ups.  There was plenty of green to be had, but the real bizarre must have stayed inside for the day.

As we made our way, the adults began scoping for the ever important Guiness stands only to come up empty.  When I passed two gaijin sitting and enjoying a cup of said brew, I backtracked a little to ask there where they found them.  The answer was not exactly what I expected - the combini, Lawson's - but it obviously would have to do.  The guys made their way back to the entrance while the rest of us held our post.  When they returned, they looked distraught and, more importantly, empty-handed.  They gave some story about how the guy in front of them bought the last ones only to share a lazy grin that it was one of them, while producing a bag from behind their back.  Score!

It was getting closer to the starting time of the parade, so we wandered a little bit further, trying to get to a spot where we would see the parade at its start and its finish.  As luck be with us on that fine day, we ended up passing a garage that was being closed as we passed, leaving the sidewalk empty in front of it.  Using the stroller to push through the crowds, we copped a spot right along the street with plenty of room for our entire entourage to get a front row view.  Beers were passed around only seconds before the parade started rolling by.

And it was... much as I imagined.  People and their dogs dressed various stage of green costuming, trying with more than a little difficulty to mix their Japanese-ness with what they deemed Irish.  The bag pipers were there - normal.  The bands were there - normal.  The dancers - normal.  There was even a guy dressed in green and white stripes with a pregnant belly - not normal, but expected in this culture.  But it was the crowd that didn't totally fit.

When we first heard 'Wild Rover', we thought it would be only moments before the crowd would join in.  At least on the chorus.  But nope.  It was just our little band of misfits, singing off key and drinking some of, well really, the only, beers around.  So it was that after the parade passed us first time and the beginning was just starting to lap the route back to us, we decided to call it a day.  But the Irish just doesn't leave the blood that easily.

Halfway to the train station, we made the decision to move towards Roppongi rather than home, in the direction of Paddy Foley's instead, one of Tokyo's rare and truly Irish pubs.  The fact that we left the parade so early ensured us that there would be no crowd when we got there, a necessity when a party of our size is looking for a table all together in the wee-sized bars of Japan.  We even lucked out to get a table by the open door so that the warm, fresh air passed over Kimono Peanut rather than the stale, smoke air that filled the room behind us.  After sufficiently filling up on fish and chips, burgers, Guiness and Kilkenny, we felt we had done our duty and gave a good nod to the St. Patrick's celebrations of our past.  We mapped out a new route home and began the trip back.

Perhaps it was in bad taste, but when the train came to a strange halt only seconds out of the station, we did throw out a few jokes about how long it would take them to pick up the bits of whomever decided to off themselves on our train.  You know... it is the number one way to commit suicide here in Japan, though how anyone comes to this drastic, and messy, conclusion to their life in such a lovely country, I will never understand.  It was only hours after we got home and I decided to read some headline news before going to bed did I discover that we had yet another large earthquake.  A 6.6 north of the city stalled most of the trains.  Okay, so that is one thing that I am definitely not going to miss.

I may not totally know my own mind these days.  But at least I know enough about my ability towards nostalgia to be looking forward to a good old-fashioned St. Patrick's Day... back in Old Town... next year.


Jo said...

We'll celebrate in Old Town together lady -- I cannot wait!

Jacki Weikert said...

Karen, I totally feel your pain about moving back 'home' and all the anxiety and emotions that go along with it. I do not live but 5 hours away from 'home' and we get to visit every few months for a long weekend.
A few weeks ago my husband thought about a job prospect back 'home'. let's just say that I didn't sleep for a week and thank God that the position is filled. NOT that I woudln't love to move 'home' but I have adjusted so much to living here...away from family and friends (thank God for FB and blogs) but we have our lives now. We have all adjusted. Sure I miss everybody but relearn to soicalize in person and actually attend family events ... Not sure if I'm up for that.

Of course, if we moved 'home' I would re-adjust...just like you will and the rest of the family will and your 'new-ness of being in the states' will eventually wear off.

HUGS and keep blogging. Love it!

Ginny said...

I have followed your blog and enjoyed it so much. I left Japan 23 years ago and still miss it. I have to say it was harder to adjust going back to the states than it was to adjust being in Japan. More of a cultural shock. Going to Japan you expect things to be different and you embrace it. When you leave to go back home you expect things to be like they were when you left and they're not. You'll be fine though and you can always visit! Best of luck to you!

Kimono Karen said...

Jen - You know how much I miss you? I need your wisdom, my friend! We will be doing much more than just celebrating!!

Jacki - A little distance has done us good. Of course, there is a lot of distance. That was actually why I agreed to not push for another overseas spot at this time, unless it was in a country much closer than halfway around the world. Now I am freaking out that maybe we should have just stayed put. And then the whole culture adjustment on top of it... I dread that! I abhor the thought of going back to money-driven, fast-lane DC when I know I am no longer a m-d, f-l person. Just generally freaked out about a lot right now. Glad you understand though and don't just think I am a hateful anti-family person. :)

Ginny - that is probably my second biggest fear with the move home - reverse culture shock. It scares the daylights out of me.

The verdict - if only my family and friends would all move here like I asked four years ago, I would not have to be fretting over this and could remain, happily, right where I am. LOL