6 month mark
i’ve been in japan for half a year now and it’s the longest i’ve ever spent away from home without even a short visit back.
my bed: ladies and gentleman…the japanese futon. it’s different from what we call a futon in america. here they’re thin and narrow. they aren’t usually housed on any type of frame, nor do they fold into a couch. they are most often laid on a floor and they don’t offer a lot in the way of comfort. mine resides on a raised loft built into my one-room apartment. it’s more obtrusive than anything and wastes what little space i have. to be honest, i can’t understand why they are so common. maybe it’s because the japanese are smaller. afterall, the average japanese man is 5’7”. i’m 6’2”. i rarely sleep through the night without waking up in some sort of pain. despite having two futons piled atop one another, i still feel like i have bed sores if i stay in one position for too long. after six months i broke down and bought a couch that flattens out. in all likelihood, it’s probably going to act as my bed as well. it has become apparent to me why japan’s birth rate is continually dropping. no one wants to lie down!
inaka: i came to japan from the biggest city in america. i had everything imaginable often within a few blocks. now i live in what the japanese refer to as “inaka”…the country. i certainly don’t live in the smallest town in japan. it’s actually quite well developed but it’s still the country. there isn’t a wealth of restaurants, bars and shops within walking distance, a benefit to which i became accustomed in nyc. here i have to drive to do everything. my car has become a necessity rather than a luxury, something i quite miss. while the area i live in is beautiful and the people are fantastic, i am still very homesick for city living, a feeling i don’t expect will change anytime soon.
the food: the food remains scary at times and there are some things i can’t force myself to like. having lived in italy, japanese food doesn’t even compare, however much of the food is pretty good. in particular, i’m quite fond of japanese snacks. they do junk food really well and i’ve developed a bit of a sweet tooth since i arrived. the normal japanese cuisine is quite tasty as well and, not surprisingly, the best meals i have are when i’m with japanese friends who do the ordering. in general i’ve always been a fan of japanese food and now i have a more authentic knowledge of it, but my love is limited by two major problems.
- problem the first: portions and pricing. all the food here is small and expensive whether you’re at a grocery store or a restaurant. of course you can make/order and eat more but you’re going to pay for it and it’ll leave a significant dent in your wallet. western foods are particularly expensive and produce is outrageously priced. one apple at my local supermarket is $1.27 (98¥) and i pay $2.05 (158¥) for one undersized red bell pepper. and a pitifully small watermelon hauls in a price of…wait for it…$26-$39 (2000¥-3000¥)! needless to say, i haven’t had an apple or watermelon since coming to japan. food is more expensive here in the sticks than it is in new york. it makes eating healthy very difficult. i’ve lost ten pounds that i didn’t want to lose since i arrived and i’m doing everything i can to keep from losing anymore.
- problem the second: very simply put…it’s japanese food. imagine going to a japanese restaurant every single day. “what should we have tonight? how about japanese food? oh wait, let’s have japanese.” I’M FUCKING SICK OF IT!!! the minute i return to nyc i’m running a hotdog and taco train on my own mouth. mmm food porn.
my car: kuro-chan (little blackie) doesn’t hold a special place in my heart like my baby back home. i don’t yearn for a relaxing joyride like i did in the states. although manual transmissions are nonexistent in japan, i’m still compelled to reach for the clutch every time i go to start her up. i must admit that driving on the left side of the road isn’t terribly difficult to get used to, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.
equally laughable is my propensity to climb into the left side of the vehicle only to find that the steering wheel isn’t there. this happens about once a week, much to the amusement of the jumpsuit-clad gas station attendants who do everything in their power to keep from laughing as they bow and thank me for coming. after suddenly realizing that i just threw myself leg first into the passenger seat and pulled the door shut after me, i’m too embarrassing to climb back out and walk around since kuro-chan is comically small and it looks like a clown car when i emerge. no, instead i frantically fiddle with whatever i can find, or i furrow my brow as i pretend to scrutinize it intently, so as to make it seem as though my strange behavior was purposeful and premeditated. i swear i can hear the abrasive sound of air escaping up into the nose of the one of the attendants whose cheeks are inflated with the laughter they’re holding back.
then i shamefully shimmy my way over, hoping that my onlookers are none the wiser. the perfect crime! that is, until i’m about to drive off and i slide my left hand down the wheel to hit the left turn signal only to send the windshield wipers into full-speed. at this point a quick peek at my rearview reveals the attendants rolling on the ground in hysterics. likewise, i seem to always signal a turn when my windshield becomes too wet. i have no excuse since it rains here nearly everyday and i’ve had plenty of practice with both. the simple fact is, even after six months, it just doesn’t feel natural, much like most things about japan.
sunset: if i’ve painted a negative picture, it’s hardly fair. by no means is it awful here. there are a lot of wonderful things, many of which i’m sure to miss someday, but i have to leave all the puppy dogs and ice cream posts for facebook and the average blogger’s boring banality. however, there is one thing that i marvel at often and can’t help but include here. the sunsets here are, for lack of a less clichéd term, breathtaking. japan is the land of the rising sun and i’ve certainly seen some beautiful sunrises, but i’m constantly amazed at how beautiful the sunsets have been. i don’t know if it’s just my town or japan as a whole, but never in my life have i been in a place where the sunset is so captivating on an almost daily basis.
i live on a mountainous westward-pointing peninsula of an island that faces japan’s seto inland sea. on any given day, the sunset paints the sky with colors that run the gamut from pastels to deeper darker colors. i’ve pulled over on the road, slowed my pace while running and taken a break from swimming just to admire the view. every day it’s different and it never gets old.
a great deal of my time in japan is spent in discomfort. i’m constantly battling culture shock and homesickness. culture shock doesn’t stop being shocking. you get used to some things while other things reveal themselves with time. but i’m a westerner and everything i’ve come to think of, over thirty some odd years, as the norm is different or non-existent and always will be. as for homesickness, it’s not something you recover from. it’s more like the common cold. it’s the same ailment that repackages itself in a different form and finds its way inside you. for a while you feel okay and then you catch it when you least expect it.
i caught it the other day thinking about my favorite time of year. it’s when the weather gets cool enough to throw on your favorite hoodie and a pair of jeans. you get to say goodbye to the sweltering days of summer and welcome in a milder season. and there is always that smell in the air. i don’t know how to describe it, but there is that smell for a couple weeks, even before the leaves start to change, that is unmistakably Autumn. it’s one of my favorite things. for me it’s a rebirth…things change. it always makes me nostalgic for the way i used to feel at the start of a new school year. it reminds me of the way the air smelled during some of my best memories year after year. beer tastes better…hot food is back in fashion…it makes me feel good…i love that smell! only, here in japan, it smelled a little different.
it was a bit of a disappointment. i caught that cold again. later when i arrived back at my place, i waited and watched the sunset. it was beautiful as always. i was thinking about the smell in the air. i felt like i might be missing out. like a scene from some cheesy movie, i imagined a montage of some of my friends bedrooms getting brighter as the sun rose. i had never calculated it before, but it occurred to me that the same sun that i was watching duck under the horizon here in japan was probably just making it’s first appearance back home in philly, dc and new york. i thought about what the air smelled like there. for a second i felt a little closer to home. one day i’m going to smell that smell again and i’m looking forward to being nostalgic for the sunset in japan.