“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

For those who know me, I have a bracelet that I never, ever remove. It’s nothing special, just a minimalist black silicone bracelet with two Japanese proverbs on it: the first reads “猿も木から落ちる” and means “monkeys also fall from trees;” the second one, the focus of this blog post, reads “千里の道も一歩から” and means “the journey of one thousand miles comes from a single step.”

So far as proverbs go, I believe this one is particularly applicable to my current situation; though, my own journey is 6000 miles, not just 1000. However, the differences of scale notwithstanding, my own journey is still coming from a single step. But the question is which step marks the beginning of this journey?

Retracing the Steps

Will the first step come when I step off the plane in Narita Airport in Tokyo? Or will is happen when I sit down on the plane at JFK? Is it at baggage check, or will it be my final goodbyes as I leave America for what may be a long time? Could the first step have been when I packed the bags or when I found that I had been accepted into the JET Program? Perhaps it was when I went to the Japanese Consulate for my interview, or could it even bee as far back as when I submitted all of the paperwork and eagerly anticipated the results of the first round of screenings? No, I believe the first step of my journey can be found in the moment at which I decided to pursue the JET Program with all the ambition I was able to muster. That moment occurred last year, in the summer of 2017.

I cannot cite an exact moment, but if I was to venture an estimation, I would say it was around July 23rd of that summer, my 21st birthday.

On that night, I finally was afforded what many consider to be the greatest privilege of America adulthood: being of legal age to buy and consume alcohol. After that night, there were no more great milestones that I would be achievable by the mere virtue of my birthday, and this made me reflect. I reflected on the journey up to this birthday, and then I pondered what I would do now that it had come and gone.

As I thought, the mainstay in each future scenario that played out in my head was a pilgrimage to Japan, though this thought was not always with a plan of action to make it a reality. And out of all of the potential realities that I dreamed up, I found that I kept coming back to the JET Program.

I was an incoming Senior at Geneseo, majoring in English Literature, and I was worried that my major would not be suited to whatever field I found myself in post-graduation. So, rather than worry about what might happen to me because of my actions, I decided to use my actions to dictate what would happen. I researched the requirements and the procedure for application to the JET Program, and then began planning.

I determined how I would go about writing my application letter and settled on which professors I would use to draft my two letters of recommendation. I also made sure to pinpoint all of the red tape and bureaucratic hoops that I would have to deal with well in advance of the application window’s opening in October.

By the time this milestone arrived, I was already well under way with the preparation of my application, and I submitted all of the paperwork well before the deadline for submission. After that, all there was to do was to wait, for my journey had begun.

I had assembled the ship and put it into the bay. All that waited was for the wind to take hold of my sails and carry me forth to lands unknown and adventures not yet undertaken.

As I sit here writing this, I recall a line from a character from the video game Bioshock. A line said by the game’s principal antagonist, Andrew Ryan:

“We make our choices, but in the end our choices make us.”

It is fitting for this to summarize my own journey of a thousand miles born of a single step. I have made the decision to take that first step and go forth on this journey, but I know, as I look back on this experience years later, the journey will have shaped my in ways that I am unable to fathom at this point in time.

I will be living in a completely different culture with its own aesthetic standards, food, familial expectations, classroom decorum, and thousands of other aspects that I cannot hope to list here. And this will give me perspective on both their culture and my own. Perspective is the vehicle that brings us to change, and with such a drastic change in my life that I cannot even guess what those changes will be.

At this point, there is only one thing that I can do: Take that first step and see where I end up after one thousand miles.

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Song of the Week

Memoirs of a Gaijin Playlist

“Tokyo” by Dan Croll

This week’s song is a pleasant electronic tune that I found a couple of months ago. I find that a portion of the chorus of the song is pertinent to the coming week: “No, I’ve never been to Tokyo, never made my inhibitions known.” As one who has never been to Tokyo and one who plays things very close to the chest, this line, especially the part about making inhibitions known, reminds me to remain mindful of myself and how I my appear to those I meet as I settle into Japan in the coming weeks.

I actually found this song as a result of my relationship with my friend Tom, who I met during my time in Guatemala, so the song serves as a nice reminder of a previous travel that was also meaningful to me. I also find the synthesizer bridge of the song to be particularly pleasing, especially as a fanatic of 80s soundtracks and styles of music. If you have the time, I would highly recommend this lesser known gem.

If you would like to listen to this song or any of the other prior Songs of the Week, check out the Spotify Playlist linked above!

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