We’re Not In Japan Anymore: Why There’s No Place Like Home
By Rebecca Quin
On September 5, 2014
Coming back on the Tokyo monorail after an amazing trip to Indonesia, I had the butt-clenching realization that Japan is now my home. Three weeks earlier I couldn’t wait to leave the hot, sticky, overpriced city for white sand, cool weather, clear water, actual spicy food and all those other paradise island clichés.
The differences between Japan and Indonesia are uncountable and pretty much impossible to describe without generalizing an entire people and thousand’s of years of unique history. But, there were, at least on the surface, differences that showed Japan in a somewhat unflattering light; a light that for me had changed from a thrilling neon glow full of promise to the kind of dull flicker commonly found in public bathrooms.
After two days of hopping from one ridiculously gorgeous island to another, it seemed like a move to Indonesia was imminent
First of all, Indonesian people smiled more. Making eye contact with someone in the street would generate a friendly exchange of smiles instead of a panicked look away and reach for a phone, probably to locate the number of the nearest asylum. Of course there’s the familiar trope that Japanese people are shy but it kind of hurts my feelings when I smile at someone and they think I want to kill them. (I don’t).
Second, time felt more precious there. Time is precious in Japan too but in an apocalyptic kind of way – people seem to be running around like the world is going to explode at any minute – whereas in Indonesia time was valuable because it meant you could spend it just…being. However, this could definitely be a symptom of living in Tokyo where I once saw a man try to jam his silk tie into a train door in the hope of catching it. (He didn’t).
Third, there were no rules. No rules about working ridiculous hours or whistling in the hallways or inviting your boss to your wedding. Everything in Indonesia just rolled along in a sort of faithful chaos which, after learning to suppress the initial feelings of panic/terror, started to make sense.
Other things too like cheap fruit, a complete disregard for road safety and Australians wearing low-slung vests in myriad pastel shades filled me with untold joy and by the end of the trip I had almost convinced myself I was going to go all Eat, Pray, Love and start posting spiritual platitudes on Facebook underneath a picture of an elephant.
So, as I was riding the monorail with a sore butt from all that intense sitting down and doing nothing, and realizing that I was back in Japan for the foreseeable future, I expected to feel a familiar itching to move on to a new adventure.
But actually it was the opposite.
The grey blur of skyscrapers felt like old friends (maybe because I have very few friends), the train system was comfortingly reliable and the hordes of people were, well, beautiful. There are so many things about Japan that I love; the duality of tradition and modernity, the meticulous attention to detail, the obsession with seasons, people’s kindness (once you get past the suspicion), Pocky sweets.
As much as we foreign residents complain about things in Japan that make no sense to us, there are also many things about Japanese culture that we click with personally and that keep us here. Thankfully, Japanese people let us stay.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been allowed to build a life here that I really, really like. Maybe it’s because this is more my home now than where I came from. Maybe, this reads like Confessions of a melodramatic 13 year old girl but I am fully ready to shout it from the rooftops; Japan, I missed you – ただいま!
Have you noticed any differences between Japan and other countries when travelling? What do you love about Japan? Comment below!