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Tuesday, December 7

A Long Overdue Goodbye to Japan

As anyone who read this blog on a regular basis in the past, you have probably already figured out that the big, sad move day has long come and gone.  I sit here now physically settled in to our new home back in the United States, but far from mentally settled.  Even with almost six months behind me on this side of the Earth, it still feels like we should be getting on a plane and heading home to Japan any moment.  Obviously, I know this isn't going to happen.  I know we are here.  For good.  Or whatever that means when a job really maintains the control of your physical locale.

Why haven't I written sooner?  What can I say.  I guess I just can't find the right words to say goodbye.  Not to Japan or to this blog.  Even my mother has been insisting that I get on the computer and say a few words.  A few or many.  We'll see how this plays out.  I've written this post a hundred times in my head.  Let's see what I can do with a keyboard finally.

So Washington, DC it is!  Our nation's capitol!  And, oh, how I haven't missed it.  I know my issues have a lot to do with culture shock.  Everything here is... well... thoroughly different from where we spent the last four years of our lives.  These years, mind you, are where we spent the majority of our time as a couple.  Where we built our life.  Where we had our first child.  Practically our entire joint history is wrapped up in a country that we don't actually belong to.  But then it also feels like we don't belong here either, even as true born and bred Americans.  Again, culture shock.  It took me ten months when I moved to Japan to accept where I was and to actually enjoy (and love) being there.  I guess I can only assume that it will take just as long to fall back in love with DC.  But who are we kidding.  It is highly unlikely that there will be any love flowing to DC from me, but I am hoping for sincere acceptance.  For now I am just going to hold out hope that we get our next assignment and I get to move again before I develop any relatively solid positive or negative feelings for the current locale.  Is that wrong of me?  Maybe.  But as I have said since we found out it was going to be DC, it is what it is.  Moving on.

This post isn't about how I feel about DC anyway.  I honestly haven't even really had the time to think much about my new locale anyway.  MUCH has been going on.  Oh so very much.  Between shuffling around hotels, a lot of remodeling in our condo, buying cars and phones, unpacking from three separate shipments, address changes, catching up with old friends, and we found out the biggest news that we are expecting baby number two, who has time to fret?  Ultimately, it's a very good thing for that last reason that we are back here in DC, where the doctors are amazing and can get me through whatever might come.  But it still doesn't stop me from missing our beloved Japan.

With all of this going on, I do surprisingly find plenty of time to mourn the many things I miss about living in Japan.  And I miss oh-so-many things!  The good and bad.  Although, if I made a pros and cons list about living in Japan, the pros continue to outweigh the cons when it comes to what's in my heart, but not so much in my head any more.  Gotta be practical, right?  Much of my family and friends have found this little revelation of where my heart lies to be rather... mystifying, I guess.  But they never lived in Japan and many of them have never even lived out of the country.  They never had a chance to experience an opportunity like that... to embrace it for everything it was worth.  A chance to fall head over heals with a country so very different from the one they call home.

My incessant reflecting and reminiscing makes my head spin sometimes.  All those little memories will forever and lovingly stay in my mind, but they sometimes drive me crazy as they refuse to acquiesce to my new/old home.  It's hard, pretty much impossible, not to compare our life now to what it was just a few short months ago.  Therefore, it is hard, pretty much impossible, not to be frustrated at some of the changes we have endured, particularly financially.  Again, it is what it is, but it doesn't make me any less frustrated or heartsick at times when I think of my lovely life in Japan.

But this post again is not totally or truly about lamenting.  It is about celebrating.  It is about reflecting.  It is about the things I miss most about my past home.  Things like how there are no more massive shower rooms with extra controls for every kind of temperature and functionality.  There are no more heated toilet seats and bidet stream, found in every single bathroom (even the public ones).  Speaking of those bathrooms, there are no more spray seat cleaners in every stall.  It's back to hovering for me.  Tricky as the belly grows ever bigger.

There is no more big, lovely house to live in. No more quiet and perfectly safe neighborhood outside our front door.  Our first week in our new/old home found a murder/suicide right across the street.  We have no more yard to play in, filled year round with flowering trees and bushes that I swooned over.  No longer can we walk down the street to our favorite neighborhood restaurant where we always were treated to something extra special (and free!) with every meal.  Kimono Peanut is no longer swept into their arms and hugged, loved and shown off to everyone on the block, while we sat at our table knowing he was perfectly safe out of our sight for a few minutes.  No longer do I have a neighbor who cooked for me when I was sick, took me places I would never find on my own, taught me so much about culture, cooking and the Japanese way of life, and loved me and protected me like a second mother would do.  The beach is no longer a fifteen minute walk from my front door where I made weekly combing trips for shells, sea glass and sea pottery after a friend turned me on to it.

No longer are there ever patient and overly polite drivers on the road.  It's back to obscene gestures, yelling and honking.  When I use a turn signal here, it is virtually ignored.  I miss how that signal was an instant sign for people to politely move out of the current lane and let you safely into the highway.

I miss my Ikebana classes with my amazing sensei and seriously and impressively talented classmates.  I miss that the winter temperatures there average 40 and that isn't until February, whereas here it is already hitting the 20s, forcing me into early hibernation.  I will miss the gorgeous cherry blossom season where it seems the entire world turns pink for a month in Japan.  This year, there will be no more hanami parties, which find massive crowds gathered everywhere you look on those giant blue tarps.  No strangers will hand me a sakura chu-hi I pass by them, just so I can raise a glass with them and toast the glory of that pink world that surrounds us. 

No longer will I be able to buy sake in juice boxes or individual glass jars at any corner conbini.  There is no more easily accessible shochu with which one can make those glorious chu-hi's.  No more chu-hi stands, where fun and trouble always waited.  We can't wander down the street outside our front door and ponder over whether dinner should be yakitori, yakiniku, shabu-shabu, okonomiyaki, tonkatsu, corn/potato/mayo pizza, or one of the myriad of other Japanese dishes I don't know what I will do without.  We order from a boring, English menu now as we no longer have to guess what the presented plastic food or the picture is supposed to be.  The novelty of eating out all seems rather dulled in the light of past adventures, if you ask me.  I rather liked pointing randomly at whatever writing looks like the most fun for a serving of the perfect mystery dinner.  We can even wear our shoes to enter a restaurant now, or a home, for that matter which just seems so... unsanitary.  And I really miss the plethora of corner crepe stands, where ingredients like a tuna salad, hot dog and corn mix were just as popular as the fruit and cream variety of ingredients.  No longer can I take a short walk to any corner to raid the waiting vending machines that always had the widest selection either hot or cold beverages, depending on the season and your fingertip needs. Who will make my mochi cakes and rice sweets and where in the world will I find azuki bean sweets?

There are those things that I didn't think I would miss because I had deemed them bad when I lived in Japan, and yet now they don't seem to be even half as abominable as I once made them out to be.  The 14-hour flight to see family and friends in the states seemed a pain at the time and yet it is not so daunting anymore.  On winter mornings in our house, we could see our breath in the air as it took some time before the different ways of heating a house in Japan warmed even a square foot up.  This week, I've already come to discover that our first floor seems almost as cold in the mornings until the sun does its job and streams in the windows to help the central heating.  This summer, we didn't deal with massive summer spiders, cockroaches and tiny fruitfly-like things in our house.  Instead it was stink bugs.  I think I will take back, at least, the spiders and cockroaches which were much easier to play the catch and release game.  Sure, we had daily earthquakes in Japan and often the subsequent tsunami warnings, but it really was something we grew so accustomed to that it didn't bother us nor did we seem to even notice towards the later years.  We no longer have typhoons, but they are essentially the same thing as hurricanes so we haven't gained or lost a thing here, have we?

In all my reflecting, there is really only one thing that I don't miss at all.  not even a little bit.  My beautiful, but pain-inducing, all white kitchen.  Sure, it was overly dazzling with it's white tile counters and white marble floors, but it was a royal pain in the ass to clean and even worse to cook in.  The sinks were much too low for a taller American like myself.  Sure they were built for Americans, but they need to add yet another inch or two for my own stature.  I hear from my old neighbor and friend that the American living there now is much shorter than me, so I am sure she finds it perfectly fine.  But if this little glitch is all I can come up with for what I don't miss and didn't like about Japan, I would say my last four years there were one huge success.

So how do you then say goodbye to a place that seemingly, or at least to me, had only one flaw?  How do you move on with life in another city, another country, another hemisphere?  How do I find the gumption to leave that beloved past in the past?  I'm not sure.  But I will find out.

For now, though, all I can commit to is a perfunctory, halfhearted goodbye to Japan and my time spent pouring out my heart and mind in an online discourse to that country which I won't soon, or perhaps ever, see again.

Thank you Japan for everything you have given me.  I am truly honored to have spent time getting to know you and love you.

Thank you all for reading and the occasions where you wrote to me.  I am truly honored for your support and for the thoughts you have shared.

All that is left to say is... sayounara. Mata jiki ni ome ni kakaritai to omoimasu.