“The frog in the well does not know the great sea.”Japanese proverb
It should be obvious that this past week brought forth a slew of new beginnings in my life. The beginning of the 14 hour flight from New York to Tokyo, and the beginning of the jet lag that followed. The beginning of my new cell phone plan, apartment lease, and job contract, as I settle into my new home in Kiryu. The beginning of new relationships with my coworkers and newfound friends in my town, as well as the beginning of a new era in my friendship with my native Japanese friends from Geneseo. In the most succinct way possible, this week marked the beginning of a new life for me.
The American bank accounts have been closed, the car sold, and the goodbyes said, replaced with Japanese bank accounts, a bike, and new hellos. I am truly beginning this new life, and only now has it begun to set it, six days after arriving in Tokyo, and four after coming to Kiryu.
But where to begin?
As I write this, there is a festival whose own beginning shall come at the arrival of dusk, and I will soon be partaking in the festivities to take in new experiences. I feel this event shall play a major part in the differentiation of my life in Japan from my life in America. Festivals exist in each country, but Japanese matsuri are a much different beast from the American carnival or festival.
Over here, festivals exist for everything from the blooming of sakura trees in spring, to the celebration of the new year, and even the casting out of the demons in February; while we may have similar ideas behind American holidays such as Halloween and Easter, these Japanese styles of celebration emphasize the roles of spirituality and tradition in a more overt fashion than the undertones common in American celebrations. In the sense that I now find myself at the outset of a new life in the influence of the Japanese tradition, it is only fitting that this new life is distinguished by the festival and the way of life that it represents.
Ironically enough, the moment this week that begot the realization of this new life was an out of body experience. I was sitting in a small restaurant in Hirosawa-cho, the neighborhood in which I find my new apartment, and I was struck by a sudden realization:
I am in Japan.
Sure the realization had been repeated like a mantra over the last week, and, especially when I was traveling in Kabuki-cho in Tokyo with my good friend Arisa or wandering alone around Shinjuku with my camera at dawn, I had felt the sense of being in Japan; however, it was none of those things that brought my epiphany.
I may have been surrounded by Japanese culture in every sense of the word, but at that time, I had still felt like a gaijin. I was in Kaubki-cho, Shinjuku, a section of Tokyo tailor-made for the consumption and marketing of Japanese culture to foreigners, and, even though I was enjoying myself greatly while I was there, I had never felt as though I was truly immersed in the culture.
No, it was not the sensory overload of Tokyo that brought me this immersion. It was instead s quiet moment inside a restaurant in Kiryu, and it was the state of being truly in that moment that brought me such clear thought.
So far as moments go, it was nothing too special, even for a Japanophile such as myself. I was simply sitting in the restaurant, having just ordered my dinner and my drinks in Japanese. As I sat there, I was almost an observer looking into the moment from outside the restaurant. In the booth in front of me, two friends shared dinner and laughter over some cold Sapporo beer, and the booth behind me contained a family that seemed to be having a celebration of some kind; perhaps the son had been accepted into his first choice university. In the far back of the restaurant, the kitchen hummed with the sound of the dishwasher, and the exclamations of the chef as he received and completed orders, a sensation that evoked memories of my first job as a busboy at a steakhouse.
Finally, in front of me, I had beef and pork, which I was then to grill on the small grittle laid into the table before me, and the kimchi, and sake that I had ordered to go with it. The sake label was barely legible to me, as I took my time reading it and trying to practice my kanji readings. Afterwards, I placed the bottle back down, and the fleeting nature of the moment, the fact that it was just a slice of my new life, brought about that realization I mentioned earlier: that I was in Japan.
After all of my imagination, aspiration, and determination, I had finally made it. I was here to begin my new life, and I would have all sorts of moments as I live that life. I guess, in the end that was what made it so special. That it was something that I would be able to appreciate at any time during my stay here. From that moment on, I am comfortable in saying my new life in Japan has finally begun, and I need to stop and appreciate it as much as I can while I am living it.
I am a frog who has been catapulted from my well into the great sea, and all I can do now is learn and master these new waters.
Song of the Week
“Hey Look Ma, I Made It” by Panic! At The Disco
For this week, the song is again tied into the theme of my post. So far as personal anthems go, I have been greatly enjoying this new song by Panic!, especially as I approach these new beginnings and appreciate my past achievements.
“Hey look ma, I made it
Hey look ma, I made it
Everything’s comin’ up aces, aces
If it’s a dream, don’t wake me, don’t wake me
I said hey look ma, I made it”
Taken from the chorus, these words are wonderful in giving me the strength and optimism to charge head forth into my job as an English teacher as I begin work next week. I’ll stop to admire my medals before I go forth onto the next round of challenges that life will throw at me. I hope I can impress the judges, but, come rain or shine, at the very least, I will be able to tell my mother I made it.
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!