It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.Bilbo Baggins
But what do you do when you go out your door to return home?
You have been There and Back again, but where is “There?” Adventure drew you away from your original home to a new one, and in “coming Back” you are now “going There.” In a sense you have become a tourist in your own town, a guest in your own home.
This was the strange affection I sensed as I returned home for the first time in 9 months.
Obviously, being home was a pleasure. Courtesy of a long layover, my total travel time was just over 35 hours, and when I got home it was all worth it.
Within 4 hours, I had eaten a Garbage Plate, stopped by Wegmans for cookies, and my best friends brought themselves and a case of Genesee Light for us to share over our commiserations in my basement. It was the site of countless memories over the previous 18 years, and falling back into these old habits made me feel truly at home.
Yet at the same time, I felt a distance from it all.
Home, But Not Homey
Even though I was back home, doing all the things I had always done, it never felt like I was doing them the same as before. The food was just as delicious as ever, the company equally enjoyable, but it was like I was a tourist.
I answered questions about life in Japan and asked my own about the lives of friends and family, all of which were wonderful. But at the core of each of interaction was how changes had come and, more importantly, how we had observed them.
One friend has enlisted in the military and will soon leave for basic training. One has just accepted a well-paying job at a software company in Rochester, his first out of college. Another is in a wonderful relationship with a girl that makes him truly happy, and he plans to one day marry her.
I had left the Rochester bubble to go on an odyssey in Japan, and the world had moved on without me. And when I came back, all I could do was float outside the bubble to observe the changes that had come in my absence.
This distance was easily observable in my time in Geneseo as well.
And the Homecoming King is…
A whole weekend was spent in this small country town, living as though I was still an undergraduate of its university. In this brief time, I attended Office Hours with my Japanese professor, attended a meeting of Japanese Culture Club as an alumni guest, and busted chops over beers and BBQ wings at Intermissions.
On one night, I even had the great pleasure of attending the first-ever Rose Ball Dinner for my fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi. Other Alumni came from as far as Long Island, and we were all together in celebration of our brotherhood and what we had been able to accomplish that year. It was an event that I had been looking forward to with much anticipation for a very long time.
However, just as with home, I felt like I was a spectator to these spectacles, a tourist in this sleepy sunset town.
Nothing Changed, But Everything Else Did
The bartenders at Intermissions, my most standard haunt during my senior year, are strangers now, though just as welcoming as ever. New members have joined Japanese Culture Club, many of whom I will never be able to call friends.
A new crop of men have joined my fraternity, and while they all are phenomenal additions and men I am happy to call brothers, there stands an inexorable distance between us that I do not share with their predecessors.
Every place I visited seemed to exist in a bubble, one that I could not pop. In this play, I was relegated to the audience. My ticket had been paid for, and my show was the visit back home in all of its grandeur and simplicity, its highs and its lows.
There was nothing for me to do but float along and take in each moment before I returned to the real world, 6000 miles away, across the International Date Line.
Dubbing The Bubble
In the Edo Period of Japan, there came about a school of art that focused upon the fleeting nature of life. Paintings of this school would display Edo, the capital city, in a romanticized perspective, capturing the ecstatic moments of subjects in even the most mundane of tasks. Rapturous experiences of pleasure were the essence of this school, and without them there was nothing to behold.
To these artists, the effervescence of their work was the only thing that mattered, and in each of their works existed an image, an ideal, of an Edo that never really was. Time held no power over these moments, and in the end they were nothing more than a fantasy, something that existed only in the ephemera. The subject’s experience was as cursory as that of the viewer.
This school was called “Ukiyo-e,” or “Pictures of the Floating World.”
Ukiyo-e’s central conceit is its dreamlike nature, a transient makeup that provides reprieve from the world. Viewers lose themselves in the colors of the paintings, the flowing liquidity of the subjects, and the momentary fixations of each piece. Yet the dream only continues as long as you let it.
Eventually, you wake up.
Lucid Dreams of Home
Towards the end of my time at home, I felt a thoroughly unexpected sensation: homesickness.
Even while I was at home, I longed to be back in Kiryu. I missed muddling my way through a conversation, riding my bike down the side streets, and teaching English to my students. I yearned to be a stranger in a strange land, because, paradoxically, I felt a stranger in my own land.
Life in Japan has become just that, life. I have a job I love, a daily routine, and friends I enjoy the company of. And, most of all, this has all been of my own doing.
Coming to Japan had been my goal for many years, and I have been following it through since I came here. Slowly but surely I have been growing and learning to make my way in the world, all while pursuing my passion for the Japanese language.
Simply put, I have been living the dream. And no amount of dreamlike experiences back home will awaken me from the dream that I wake up to every day in my new home.
Finally Home… (for real this time)
I am living in my own un-poppable bubble, my own Ukiyo-e painting. Each experience brings me pleasure, and each adventure is a flowing thread I unravel with each step forward. I don’t necessarily float through every day, but no mistake can be made:
I am the master of my own life’s masterpiece.
Making my home here in Japan was one of the broad strokes, and visiting my original home confirmed it. The finished painting won’t be unveiled anytime soon, but I will continue to capture its floating essence with each day.
I need a holiday, a very long holiday. And I don’t think I shall return. In fact I mean not to.Bilbo Baggins
I apologize for being absent for the last couple weeks. With all the travel and visiting going on, it was impossible to find time to write. But I am finally back home, and I will get back to my weekly schedule.
The homesickness I felt while home was very paradoxical, and I thought it would make for a fun and interesting blog post. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope to see you again next time!
Please take a moment to share this post with one other person. I really appreciate all of the continued support as I make my way through this crazy journey.
Song of the Week
“Dammit” by blink-182
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!