With three months left in Japan, I’m already starting to wonder what I’ll miss. The people are what I miss most about the States (except for Gray Wind) and I imagine that’s what I’ll miss most about Japan. Only so many weekends are left of drinking at the Greatest Bar on Earth or falling asleep under Eric and Nolico’s kotatsu (a coffee table equipped with a built in heater and a blanket that I never want to leave behind even though it’s next to useless in Texas). I finally went snowboarding (more on that next week) so there’s not much left on my bucket list.
Instead I’m left to wonder what I’ll miss the most. I think it’ll probably be the little things. Of course it’d be easy to say the sushi and the seasons (though I won’t miss the cold) but I think it’s all the minute strangeness of Japan that has worked its way into me.
I imagine I’ll miss walking into businesses. Every one greets you with shouts of “Sumimasen” and says goodbye with deep bows and cries of “arigatoa gozaimasta,” even if you leave having only purchased a bottle of cheap whiskey and a package of horrid gummy candy.
I won’t miss that when returning a movie late can almost shut down an entire store. A day before, they’d called to tell us we’d accrued 500yen in late fees, or about 5 bucks. Undeterred by this amount we ventured back to the store for more movies (there’s not much to do when it gets dark at 5:00) only to cause the checkout girl to suffer a panic attack. She scanned our card, saw something awful flash on the screen, and malfunctioned. She looked from the screen to us and back again, unsure of how to proceed. Her manager noticed her plight and came to her rescue, but he too had to consult a clipboard with a handful of violators on it and had to enter an override code before the computer and the check out girl self-destructed. To think, in Austin they just asked us to pay it down to 8 dollars.
I won’t miss the snow, but I’ll probably miss the way it brings together the community. I never felt the sense of community to be terribly genuine in my neighborhood in the States. It seemed our relationship as neighbors revolved around keeping the front yard looking trim, an activity that always felt a waste of time to me. Why grow it at all if only to cut it back? It’s not like people were playing soccer on it. Mowing the lawn is truly a Sisyphean task; shoveling snow is no less repetitive, but it’s much more useful. If I don’t shovel out my car, I can’t leave the house, and besides that, I never had a neighbor mow my lawn for me or smile if I decided to mow theirs. Here, all the sixty year olds and I take turns unclogging the creek bed from the snow our insane landlord dumps into it. My neighbors know that my car may not be shoveled out as early as theirs, but by god I’ll clean the lines between our parking spots before they get home.
I doubt I’ll miss being in a land with a language I don’t understand, but even that has its advantages. It’s easy to read on busses, for no snippet of conversation will distract me, and I can speak freely anywhere and about anything I like. True, some Japanese speak English well enough to understand my complaints about the texture of the raw shrimp or boiled squid, but they’re so damn polite they’d never confess and embarrass me. Not even when discussing lingerie with my wife in department store did the little old lady my wife had been talking to in English for the last twenty minutes bother to tell me she understood every perverted word that left my mouth.
There’s a thousand other little thing I may miss: bowing instead of shaking hands (weird), NEVER tipping (awesome), the thousands of men’s hairstyles as diverse as tropical birds (strange considering women’s single hairstyle: long), women wearing short skirts under the down jackets even though it’s snowing, men shoveling snow and scrubbing windows in business suits, sitting on the floor at a fancy restaurant, udon for breakfast, and on and on.
Yet who can say what will stick? There’s dozens of things I’ve already forgotten about in the States that during the first month seemed barbaric to go without.
What I still miss about Austin is the people. My hippie parents, my hippier sister, Raquel’s mom’s cooking and her dad’s made up words, her sister and her boyfriend and their outrageously delicious hipster meals, drinking beer with Tam and Cole, playing D&D with Mike at his corporate headquarters, talking chickens with Organ, Mitch and Robyn and their baby who won’t be a baby by the time we get back. I miss y’all and so many more so much. I can’t wait to be back to see everyone (especially Grey Wind), yet each day closer to seeing you means a day less with the people here.So I must be strong and talk aliens and God with Chaba, hoist penis effigies with Steve, pick Kensei’s brain for the origins of rock and roll, and tag along to Nolico’s parties always drinking and talking, drinking and talking with Eric and Alex, for my time is short, and I don’t want to waste a moment of it.
J. Darris Mitchell will live in Takayama, Japan for a while yet. If you enjoyed this post please share with the people you like sharing with.