We’ve been back about a week now so I thought it would be interesting to jot down some impressions about “home”.
The first one is the idea of home. When people here ask me where I’m from, I’m often at a loss to say where. The last place I lived before coming to J-land was Portland. Having been transplanted there—kicking and screaming at the age of ten and forever pining for the sun, palm trees and beach—Portland never quite felt like home. At a party two weeks ago, a cousin told me firmly that I was raised in California. I guess I was. But where? I went to kindergarten and the first years of elementary school in Orange County, but summers were spent in sleepy Wrightwood in the “Samberdino” Mountains, weekends in Palm Springs. Later, I would go to uni in “Sandy Eggo”. After half my life—more!—spent in Japan, this country has become home and stepping off the plane I couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief.
In Japan, things are predictable, safe. And quiet. That was the first thing I noticed. It was also the first thing I noticed when when we left Japan at the departure gate in Haneda. The foreign ground staff yelled at the passengers. The kid gloves were torn off and thrown to the floor almost as if they were taunting the travelers. “Get in line! Passports! Boarding cards out!!! Group C get your asses in gear!”
We were late for our connecting flight to Fukuoka, so the JAL staff ran with us to the monorail with comp tickets and got us to the domestic departure counter fifteen minutes before our flight was to leave. Had we been stateside, our seats would have been given to someone else, our bags would have been sent to Timbuktu.
On the flight from Haneda to FUK, my son vomited in the aisle. When I noticed what had happened and went to the restroom to help, I found one of the veteran stewardesses was with my boy, cleaning him off. I doubt that would have happened on the flight to LAX.
Food. On our way home from the airport, we dropped in at a yakitori-ya, EVERYTHING was fantastic. I mentioned this before, but my socks were blown off. They may still be there at that yakitori-ya. And it only cost fifty bucks for five people. EVERYTHING I have eaten since I’ve been back has been phenomenal. The yakitori, yes, but also the keema curry, the Thai gapao rice at Gamrandi, the spicy curry at Tiki, the Sri Lankan curry at Tuna Paha, the tacos at El Borracho, even the rice balls from our neighborhood connivence store . . .
Service. I had some lenses put in the hipster frames I bought in Portland and the staff who checked my eyesight and filled my prescription were so damn professional. The same was true at the Softbank shop when I returned an old iPhone. No attitude, just stellar performances by shop clerks who think nothing of going above and beyond.
Cleanliness. I was constantly admonishing my sons to get off the floor, to not touch this or that, to stop putting their hands in their mouths after having touched something. I was quickly becoming a germaphobe. Back in Japan, though I stopped caring. Public restrooms here are cleaned several times a day. I think Disneyland tried to do a good job of cleaning up the restrooms, but they were no match for the ones here. One of my students from NYC said she didn’t mind putting her “whole butt on the toilet seat”. That cracked me up. (No buns intended.)
The girls. Slim, fashionable, pretty. I could go on and on. The skinny buck toothed girl at the reception desk at the public pool this morning was adorable. (The women in California, to be fair, were rather attractive.)
Public restrooms are not only very clean, but just about EVERYwhere.
As for the negatives, I found all my allergies returning when I was back in Fukuoka. My nose ran. Eczema behind the ears. Intense back pain. The vacation was OVER. I had to go back to work and think about money again.
I don’t care for the stupid swim cap rule at pools here. Even men bald as eggs must wear swim caps because rules are rules. And the pools have too much damn chlorine in them. They are nice and warm, though.
One reason it’s so quiet here is that people don’t talk to strangers much. They tend to keep to themselves. My Tokyo friends tell me this is a Fukuoka thing. I think so, too. Edo-ko are much friendlier than Kyushu-ites. That said, even people in Tokyo refrain from telling strangers on the bus their life stories.
Buildings here tend to be shabby and cheap-looking. Little is built to last anymore which is a shame. The Japanese used to have pretty good sense when they built in the past. Now function trumps everything.
Although we spent a lot (most?) of our time outdoors in the States, I never got sunburnt. A few hours at the beach here and I was red as a lobster. Beach sand here is drier and hotter than in California. You cannot walk on it in bare feet here, but Venice Beach was no problem at all.
Speaking of Venice Beach, there were trash cans every fifty yards or so. I wish Japan would bring back the trash can. So annoying having to carry a wad of garbage for miles and miles in search of some place to dump it. Perhaps Japan and America could do humanitarian airdrops. Japan could heli in high-tech washlets and America can deliver low-tech garbage cans.
I forgot to mention the fucking humidity. It’s been killing me. Let me tell ya, it was nice to have been spared it for four weeks. In the States, I didn’t sweat; didn’t stink. Here, I have to take a shower two or three times a day.
We are seriously considering going back next summer for another long stay, but there are things we need to bring with us if we do. Knives that cut or perhaps a stone to sharpen knives. Kitchen scissors. Saran Wrap, chopsticks and saibashi. Aji-tsuki shio kosho, chōmiryō, Japanese rice.