Thursday, August 12, 2010

Backtracking: Aug. 2nd and plane flight home

 Well, I’m in the Narita Airport now, on August 2nd, my last day. It’s about 4:45pm here, 3:45am on the US east coast, and my plane starts boarding at 5:15pm, leaving at 6pm.

Before going to the airport, I went to Ikebukuro for one last time to exchange a product I bought there for a larger size. When I got there, I found a huge statue of my favorite superhero, ULTRAMAN.

Parents were taking lots of pictures of their little kids with Ultraman…

…so I asked them if they could do it for me too. :D A perfectly Japanese way to end my trip.

Getting to the airport with my over-stuffed luggage was actually probably the worst part of this whole 2-month trip, haha. I left Yuwa’s apartment at 1:30pm, in the incredible heat. My bags were way too much for one person to be carrying, and although Yuwa accompanied me to Nippori (thank you!) there was still a really long train ride ahead. I can’t believe most of the ticket gates in train stations! Getting through them with my bags was a nightmare, so I can imagine how much worse it must be to try to get through them with a wheelchair or baby carrier. My hands and legs got all scratched up trying to wrestle with my top-heavy and in-horrible-condition-why-don’t-my-parents-buy-sturdy-luggage bags. :/

I’m having a difficult time working through my feelings about leaving Japan. Seeing the airport was weird, because I remember being here like it was just yesterday, but it was two months ago. I miss the fun times from the trip itself, with Robert and Sachi and Ethan and Laura and other people too. If I do get to see them again, we won’t get to hang out in Chiba or Tokyo anymore. As for my Japanese friends, I really hope they’ll come to visit me in the US someday, but I don’t know how realistic that is, especially since I live on the east coast instead of California, Hawaii, or somewhere closer. I wonder if American food will taste good in comparison to Japanese food, haha. I am dying for some Mexican food and cheesy Papa John’s pizza!! But I doubt I’ll ever get to eat such healthy and yet delicious food as I did here.

At first I laughed at the Study Abroad Office for having a link about “reverse culture shock” but now I am thinking about how I’ll adjust to life back home. To start off, I have to find something new to motivate me. For at least a year and a half, maybe two years, going to Japan has been my dream. Last summer, I spent all of my free time on Japanese, because it took away my worries about my job that I didn’t much care for, in a town that can be lonely in the summer. I wrote down all the application dates for this trip a year in advance, read and re-read the UNC Study Abroad websites, started a membership at, listened to tapes, and took a brief online course on Japanese etiquette and customs. I bought books and even studied my Japanese textbook before the class started last fall. I knew that no matter what my grade in the class was, my Japanese in Japan had to be great. 

Now it seems maybe my dream is over. I told some people that I would try to come back after I graduate, but I wonder if that is really possible. I will have to keep it in my options. As for diverting my passion, I expect I will focus on my major in college, which truly interests me immensely. But few things inspire me as much as languages and cultures, and finally understanding a conversation that previously had sounded like jibberish and looked like little drawings on paper. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to combine my love of Spanish/Japanese with environmental health.

It was a wonderful trip, much better than I could have imagined, and my Japanese improved a ton. I have a new understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture instead of the more romanticized one I had imagined before coming here.

My view of America has changed too. A number of Japanese people have asked me if I own a gun, or is my neighborhood dangerous, because they consider it a much more crime-filled society than Japan (and it is, but they get their view of America from shows like CSI). It makes me wonder if the rest of the world thinks we’re an exceptionally violent society, when previously I had thought we’re pretty safe (in comparison to Iraq, Nigeria, etc). I previously thought America wasn’t perfect but “the best/safest there could be.”

Tokyo definitely has problems too but I loved how safe it was there, much more than in the US but especially in a big city! I walked home alone late at night without any problems at all, although I was alert in case of danger.  

Before my plane left for the US, I went to use a Japanese bathroom for the last time. It was so clean and the signs were so Japanese that I had to take pictures of them. I used the genius toilet one last time, with more functions than I thought ever necessary on a toilet.

On the plane, I read John Michael’s awesome novel which took about 6-9 hours (I lost track of time, haha). It made the 12-hour-flight seem so much shorter! But I realized how slow I am at reading sometimes. I sat next to some really fashionable and excited Japanese college students who were going to NYC for the first time, for a month. We chatted in Japanese a bit. I got really sad that my trip was over.

Here are some pictures from right before landing.

Well, it sure was a great time. I'm glad I kept this blog because now it will be impossible for me to forget each individual day. :) I should really print out the whole thing! Much easier than creating a scrapbook, pasting photo-by-photo and writing tons of captions by hand. Hooray! 


  1. This has been an awesome blog, living a Japanese life vicariously through you. You've shown far more dedication to the blog that I likely would have, and that's because you're awesome and cool and do lots of wickedtastic shit. :D

    Cheers on the novel-reading--can't wait to see your in-depth comments when I get back! Can't wait to see you in person, and hang out with you & all our glorious friends! And now to end my comment with an overkill of smileys:
    :D :D :D :D :D :D

  2. Yea reverse culture shock definitely makes sense once you actually experience it!

    I'm so happy and proud of you for setting a dream like that and following through with it so well. It's really amazing and inspirational that you had that kind of dedication :).

    Yesss, a blog is such a good memento for the entire trip! Now you can always have these memories preserved, in writing :). Welcome back home Caroline!