I spent one semester teaching at Aoyama Gakuin University – Sagamihara campus with Westgate Corporation from March-August, 2017. I taught 2nd year university students majoring in Global Studies and Collaboration who were preparing for a study abroad in Thailand or Malaysia. I worked 9-hour days five days a week, and every weekend I went out exploring. I believe I had about two days of rest the whole time I was there!
I loved so much about Japan: The absolute regularity of everything from store opening times to train schedules. The smooth speed and convenience of the Shinkansen. The ubiquitous vending machines and the excellent food options at Seven & i Holdings, the parent company of the US-based 7-Eleven Inc. The dependable politeness of the Japanese — the kind greetings and the respectful bowing. The amazing Japanese gardens, moss gardens, botanical gardens, outdoor sculpture gardens, cherry blossoms, hydrangeas, parasol-shaded peonies, lotus flowers, quirky Rakan statues, and torii gates. The artistic displays of flowers, Japanese landscapes and calligraphy on sake barrels. The ema, teahouses, dragon-painted ceilings, carp flags, Chinese gates and tales of shoguns. The sushi, ramen, shrimp tempura, fresh fish, sake and beer. The impeccable cleanliness of the Japanese — the absence of garbage anywhere and the cleansing of worshipers in temizuya before they bowed, clapped their hands, rang bells, made offerings and prayed at temples and shrines. The efficient and convenient Japanese postal system, which made appointments to deliver or pick up packages. The tall bamboo at Hokokuji (the Bamboo Temple) in Kamakura. The huge Guanyin Bodhisattva at Ofuna and the Great Buddha of Nara at Todai-ji Temple. The “floating” O-torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima. The colorful folded paper cranes at Hiroshima’s Children’s Peace Monument. The cheeky deer of Nara. The lively temples and devout Buddhist worshipers. The women wearing kimono or yukata. The monks swishing along in long robes. The vegetarian meals at shukubo (temple lodgings) and beautiful pre-dawn Buddhist ceremonies at temples in Koyasan.
As in every culture, there were things I didn’t care for: The constant work pressure and long hours. The students’ misbehavior and immaturity. The constant bustle and energy everywhere. The sheer size of the crowds at special bloom times, such as during hanami (cherry blossom viewing), at a wisteria festival at Kameido Tenjin, at the season of the rabbit-ear irises at the Nezu Museum, and at hydrangea walks in Kamakura. The assault on the senses in hyper-commercial areas of Tokyo, such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Akihabara Electric Town.
When it came time to leave, on the morning of August 8, 2017, I took an early taxi from Narita to Narita Airport, where I had a 10:40 a.m. flight to Dallas/Fort Worth airport. However, we sat on the runway for over an hour because Alaska’s tiny Bogoslof volcano had erupted, sending an ash cloud about 6 miles into the sky. As a “red” aviation warning was issued, we couldn’t take off until a new flight path was charted.
We took off over an hour late, so I knew before we left the ground that it was unlikely I would catch my connecting flight home to Virginia.
After an 11 hour and 45 minute flight, I arrived in Dallas at 9:50 a.m. on the same day, August 8, earlier than I left. I always find this amusing when traveling home from Asia.
However, because of our late departure from Tokyo, by the time I disembarked from the plane in Dallas, I missed the boarding time for my connecting flight. It turned out I would get on a later flight to Dulles Airport, a more convenient airport to my Virginia home than BWI, where I was originally scheduled to land.
Because I had extra time to kill in Dallas, I enjoyed a Mexican lunch at the airport, as I wouldn’t arrive home until dinnertime. Finally, after a three-hour and 12 minute flight, I was back home, and my Japan adventure had come to an end. It was a great adventure, a whirlwind really, and I felt a bit despondent when it was all over. 😦
Upon my return from Japan, I found out when I weighed myself for the first time in four months, that I lost 8 pounds while in Japan. I guess it was a combination of the healthy diet there and all the walking I did. 🙂
My walks while home became sporadic, and I rarely hit 10,000 steps a day. In Japan, I met my goal of 10,000 steps every day just by walking 30 minutes each way to work and being on my feet teaching. On weekends, I often walked 10-20,000 steps. Needless to say, the pounds started creeping back on since I wasn’t exercising as much at home. It was frustrating because I get bored walking around in circles in the same old places without any destination. My heart just wasn’t into walking, but I would have to get back to my regular exercise routine soon.
The first week after my return to Virginia, it was quite hot and humid, not much different from what I experienced in Japan. But on Wednesday, the 23rd, the weather improved and dropped to temperatures of my liking, around 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23C). This is perfect weather; my mood lifts considerably when I can feel a hint of fall in the air. 🙂
Upon my return, I found my youngest son had boomeranged back home from Hawaii and had settled into our basement. One of our agreements since he returned home was that he would hold a job, which he had done at that point. He’d been working hard, so hard in fact that he ended up with some kind of flu. He seemed to be doing well overall, and I was happy to have him stay temporarily as long as he was working. He was saving money to take a trip to the land down under to see his Australian girlfriend Maddy, who he’d met in Hawaii. He planned to be gone for nearly a month beginning September 20. On my second night back from Japan, he and I enjoyed a nice dinner together at the Whole Foods Seafood Bar.
Things felt strange once I returned. I felt that I’d returned to a parallel universe, and one not much to my liking. The very weekend after my return, I watched on TV a despicable white supremacy march in Charlottesville, about two hours from where I live in northern Virginia; in shock, I then had to listen to our “president” fanning the flames of hatred and arguing that there was moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists and the “alt-left,” a made-up term lumping counter-protestors and Antifa, or anti-fascists, into one big boat. Granted, there should be no violence in protests, but the white supremacists marching openly with weapons in one of the most peaceful college towns in our state was a frightening display and one that almost begged violence from counter-protestors. I was disheartened by what our country was coming to, and it was hard to be back after being in a culture where people greet each other with respect and bow to each other in nearly every interaction!
I didn’t watch any movies the whole time I was in Japan (I didn’t even know where any movie theaters were, except in downtown Tokyo). In an effort to catch up, I went to several movies once I returned: The Big Sick and The Glass Castle, both of which I enjoyed. While I was in Japan, I watched three full seasons of The Good Wife, which I was hooked on.
The first weekend I was home, I took 4-hour naps each day as I tried to reverse my internal clock. In Japan, nighttime was daytime here, and daytime was nighttime here, so no wonder my body was confused. I didn’t get much of anything done. As a matter of fact, I felt somewhat paralyzed with indecision. I never had a spare minute in Japan, and at home I seemed to have too much time on my hands. I didn’t know how to focus my attention with so much time. It would take me a while to become acclimated to this parallel universe.
On Wednesday morning, August 16, I found out my daughter Sarah had taken a fall the evening before while running on a muddy path in the woods. She cut her knee wide open. She didn’t have her phone with her and had to walk with an open gaping wound until she found someone. Using a stranger’s phone, she called for an ambulance and was admitted to the emergency room where she had to have 25 stitches across her knee. She was immobilized for quite some time. As a waitress/bartender, she was losing valuable work time. I constantly worried about her, as a mother’s work as chief worrier is never over.
Adam took a course about podcasts and posted his first podcast on the same day I heard about Sarah, so there was a bit of good news as he had wanted to do this for some time.
On August 19, after I started to feel more like a human being, Mike and I went out to see the movie Wind River, which I enjoyed, and had dinner at Coyote Grill, where I had my favorite chili rellenos.
On Monday, August 21, I went at 2:00 to Kalypso’s at Lake Anne to watch the partial solar eclipse at 2:40 pm. It was a festive atmosphere, with people enjoying the beautiful day outdoors, drinking wine, wearing the funny eclipse glasses. I had seen a total eclipse in 1970 in southern Virginia, so I didn’t feel the need to travel a long distance to see the total eclipse, but Adam drove 10 hours to Tennessee, where he loved seeing a total eclipse for the first time in his life.
Mike and I began planning a holiday from September 22-October 7, 2017 to Budapest, Sopron, Vienna, Český Krumlov, and Prague. We spent many days plotting out our trip and making all our reservations. In preparation, I read guidebooks on Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic.
Alex came up from Richmond to visit and spent two days here. It was so nice to see him after my time in Japan. He, his dog Freya, and I took a walk on the Fairfax Cross County Trail on Wednesday, August 30. As we were walking, I felt a sting on my right wrist and looked down to see something small and black on my wrist. I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t tell what it was, but I didn’t think it looked like a bee. I thought it might be a spider. Anyway, the second I felt the sting, I knocked the creature away with my left hand, and immediately felt a sting on my left middle finger. Whatever it was, it got me in two places, on both hands, and they hurt like hell! I watched as the sting areas reddened and spread into a hard and hot raised area up over my hand and around my wrist. The next day, I went to see the doctor, who advised me to take Benadryl and gave me an antibiotic.
It was a rough time coming back into this parallel universe, but overall I was glad to be home with my family, even though we all seemed to be falling apart due to nasty falls, stomach bugs, and spider bites.
I spent a lot of time recording my time in Japan by editing my thousands of photos, and writing my blog about life in Japan. If you like, you can check out my Japan blog here: catbird in japan: the land of temples and what-nots.
“ON RETURNING HOME” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about returning home from one particular destination or, alternately, from a long journey encompassing many stops. How do you linger over your wanderings and create something from them? How have you changed? Did the place live up to its hype, or was it disappointing? Feel free to address any aspect of your journey and how it influences you upon your return. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.
For some ideas on this, you can check out the original post about this subject: on returning home.
Include the link in the comments below by Sunday, February 3 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this challenge on Monday, February 4, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation on the first Monday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!
So much news in here, Cathy, and you’ve done so much since then. It’s a good thing you keep such detailed notes and reminders. I’m always inspired by your posts but I’m afraid my time management skills aren’t a patch on yours. I need to plan a holiday and haven’t got anywhere near it yet! 🙂 🙂 Hugs, darlin!
Yes, it’s been a good long time, Jo, and a lot has happened since then of course. I need to get busy planning my trips too. Hugs to you too! 🙂
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You really have had some experiences, Cathy!
Thanks, Sue. You’re right about that. 🙂
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I love the honesty you bring to your posts Cathy. You always fit so much into your adventures, I am in awe of your organisation and then you must keep such detailed accounts because the details can easily become lost without references and journals to jog your memory.
Thank you so much, Pauline. I did keep a pretty detailed journal on the Camino, but when I got to Portugal, my notetaking went right out the window. I have no idea how I’ll recreate that trip!
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Journals would be an absolute necessity when you fit so much in each day. Pleased you had them to share with us
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I can see how it would feel like a parallel universe, two such very different lives! Culture shock can cut both ways, it must have been quite disorienting.
Every time I went abroad to teach for any length of time, it always felt so discombobulating to return home, Anabel. Life at home had always gone on without me, and no one could understand my life in that other world. It’s very disorienting for sure! 🙂
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This seems so long ago and at the same time only yesterday. You have done so much with your life since then. I do hope that all the family are well and thriving – no more bugs or falls or bites! Lovely to catch up on what life was like on your return from Japan. I can imagine what a culture shock it must have been and you (as always) describe your feelings so very well.
It seems like a long time ago to me too, Jude, although it was only 1 1/2 years ago. Most of the family is doing okay, at least today, and all I can do these days is take things one day at a time. It was always a huge reverse culture shock to return home after my extended teaching gigs. Japan was the shortest of them at just over 4 months, so it wasn’t as hard as the others, especially Oman. 🙂 Thanks for your kind words! 🙂
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Your return home sounds like the ultimate culture shock. I was only 4 weeks in Japan but although I missed the order and the politeness when I returned, and I missed the ‘prettiness’ and ‘refinement’ of parks and gardens, I was not unhappy to renew acquaintance with some wild, untamed woods in my area where the flowers are allowed to seed as they will and creepers clamber up trees willy-nilly. That said, I loved Japan for all the reasons you mention and your Post has reminded me of a wonderful holiday there which I’d like to repeat one day.
I can certainly see where you’d be happy to return to the wildness found in natural places after being in Japan, Mari. I hope one day I can also return there for a true holiday, as I had to limit my adventures to weekends because of long work days and weeks. Thanks, Mari. 🙂
I enjoyed your descriptive cultural summary of your time in Japan and the contrast to the what you experienced upon returning back to the states. The pictures you selected from thousands of photos, providing a glimpse of your time in Japan, were perfect. They reminded me of how impressed I was with the endless collection of historic parks and gardens that you visited every weekend and how they survived the ravages of wars and new development over the centuries. This is a testament to the Japanese respect for traditions and history.
As I say this I reflect on the turmoil going on within our country at the moment. Many Americans are trying to hold on to and define a tradition and history they feel a part of and understand. HOWEVER, unlike most counties of the world, our culture and traditions are not singular in ethnicity. The history and traditions we grew up with were shaped by a culture that focused on European traditions, ignoring the devastation this influx brought to Native American peoples and the cruelty of slavery, and the wonders of our melting pot society from all corners of the world. Americans at our best should honor all traditions and all ethnicities and all histories.
Thanks for your excellent and thoughtful comment, dear Mike. 🙂 Yes, there is a big difference between the melting pot of many cultures here in the USA vs. the singularity of cultures found throughout the world, especially in Asia. I can tell you from experience that I stuck out like a sore thumb in cultures such as in China, Korea and Japan, because those cultures were so uniform. I absolutely agree that our culture in the U.S. has ALWAYS been a melting pot, and always will, so we should honor all traditions and all ethnicities and all histories, while at the same time honoring something that is truly American – a common language, love of our freedoms, and respect for our press and democracy.
[…] I’m linking this post to Cathy’s On returning home invitation. Check the link for details: Cathy’s current post is about leaving Japan after […]
Never easy returning home after a long break I find, but enjoy the connecting with friends and family and your new adventures 🙂
It is always a bit of a reverse culture shock returning home, and a little discombobulating, especially if you’ve been gone a long time, Becky. But it is always good to reconnect with loved ones. 🙂
Exactly 😊 thank goodness for loved ones as we settle back in!
A great post and lovely photos, well done!
Thank you, Amy. And thanks for dropping by and commenting. 🙂
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