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.
ion on a bicycle at Golden Gai
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.
Nara’s Big Buddha
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!