A month ago, August 21st, I was scheduled to return to Boston. The morning light started peaking through my window as I was finishing getting ready to leave. I stayed up the night before to adjust to the difference in time zone between Japan and Boston (13 hours). Once ready, I walked with my suitcase out of my apartment, closed the door behind me for the last time this summer, and before dropping my keys inside the mailbox, I thought twice about what I was about to do. Leaving those keys inside that mailbox meant I would no longer have a room to sleep in in Japan. I was, after all, leaving this place.
I finally left the keys in there, and attempted to open the door right after. I was locked out, I no longer had an apartment in Japan. I walked to the train station taking a last look at the house of the ‘grandma’ who greeted me every morning as I walked to the station, I walked past the convenience store I had visited almost every day for the past 3 months, and finally I walked past Mister Donuts and Juso Ramen, places I adored by then. I bought my train ticket to go to the Osaka Airport, and with that I was on my way home.
I got to Osaka Airport early, over 2 hours early. I just walked around and thought about what life was going to be like going back to America. I could not really imagine it, it was too difficult to think about having a normal life after having spent such a long time in Japan.
I finally checked-in, and after hearing many times remarks from the airport employees such as “Please wait just a little bit” and then “I’m so sorry for the delay, here is your ticket,” I was finally on my way home. I switched planes in Narita, and then finally landed in Chicago.
Once in Chicago I go through immigration, and I hear the immigration employee say “I need to see your passport.” I smile shyly and give him my passport, and stand still while waiting for him to ask questions or give me back my passport. Next thing I know, he half-throws my passport back at me while saying, “Welcome Home.”
That was when I first felt a culture shock… “why was he so careless with my passport?” Having gotten used to people handling my documents, or whatever it was with much care, I couldn’t help it but feel upset at his rude behavior. I kept walking, starting to feel the sadness of being back at a place where people can be so careless when treating others. I walked, and walked, and I did my best to keep a smile on my face. I go to do a check-in to my new flight, from Chicago to Boston, and first thing that happens when I get there is that I am notified that my flight was canceled.
Another culture shock… what do you mean my flight got canceled? You mean, things here are not organized and the transportation system is not reliable? What do you mean we are not following a schedule down to the minute, and we are not always on time?
Not only that, this was the explanation I got:
“Your flight got canceled, I don’t know why. I’ll put you in a flight at 2pm (original flight was supposed to depart before 11am.)”
“Yeah… don’t complain other people didn’t get flights.”
And there I was, trying to get used to this service again. Instead of the employee apologizing to me profusely because of the company’s unreliability, I was sharply told to pretty much shut up and not complain. At this point I started wondering how would a Japanese person feel in my position if they were here to visit… I, who had been living here for so long, was now upset and in disbelief after having only spent 3 months in Japan. I felt less welcome in America than I had felt in Japan.
I look down to avoid expressing whatever combination of feelings I was feeling, and I kept going towards the security check. There, standing on the line, someone walks past me and hits me with some luggage and I jump and say, “Sumimasen” which means excuse me in Japanese. I said it by instinct and then felt a bit ashamed when I realized I had just spoken Japanese in Chicago to an American, but my shame quickly dissipated as I turned even more upset when I realize that the person who had just hit me with their luggage had just kept walking, not even looking back to say sorry.
I just stood there trying not to listen to the people around me complaining about things out loud, making faces and radiating their anger towards everyone else. I was, at this point, extremely sad to be back. I felt the urge to just go and buy a return flight to Japan, get on a plane, and not look back. What was I doing back here? Why would I chose to be back in a place in which being happy was so much more difficult?
I kept going with my life as normal, and once in the gate I went to eat lunch at Chilli’s. I order an ‘American lunch’, a burger with fries. I ate half of my meal and got nauseous because of the amounts of grease I had just ingested. There was yet another shock for me… my body, after 3 months eating Japanese food, and lots of it, couldn’t tolerate the massive amounts of greasy food that regular portions in America have.
I go and sit in a corner, waiting for my flight while I see that over 40 people are waiting there hoping to even get assigned to a flight to Boston that day. Their flight had been canceled and they now had no other option but just wait and see…
I finally made it to Boston, called my friends and started cheering up. I was soon going to see my friends, that would make the transition back smoother.
I had dinner with nice friends, and with that finally got happier to be back. Not everyone here is rude, of course, and being among my friends really got me excited about what was to come this year. Senior year in college, job-hunting, all these things I was now looking forward to.
I, at last, made it home, and there, in the comfort of a house with no rude people around, I started embracing being back in America. I got online, announced on Facebook my arrival, and soon after went to bed. My life in Japan soon started to seem more like a long dream that I would think about and talk about, and up until now it just seems like a very surreal experience. I am happy back in America, but not going back to Japan doesn’t seem like an option to me. My days in Osaka, and my visit to Tokyo, are now among the most precious memories I have. I can’t wait to go back and visit again the old friends I was able to see again, and the new friends I was lucky enough to make. I am grateful for all the experiences I had, and I can definitely say that this was the best summer I have had.