Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Re-Entry Shock (not a pornographic term)

When I first came to Japan it was like a dream for quite a while, to the extent that I became a bit uneasy that my life was going to feel like Inland Empire for an entire year, which, while the film is quite lengthy--a year is a long time to more or less not have your head attached to your body. But the unfamiliarity-induced depersonalization wore off gradually until I realized I woke up crabbily to my alarm each morning and dragged myself down the familiar route to the train station just like any American working stiff (albeit an American working stiff with a regard for the environment that prevents car ownership.)

What I'm saying in an extremely overwritten (or maximalist, for DFW fans) way is that even though I still can't say much more in Japanese than "Cold, eh?" I got used to Japan. Which also means used to bowing for pretty much everything, ranging from "thanks for selling me that gum" to "I'm deeply sorry for killing your child." (I haven't killed a child.) Used to (actually, quite fond of) the massive black crows that fly overhead in the morning, cawing, "HEY! I'M A BIG FUCKING BIRD!" Used to politeness to the extent that true feelings are rather pleasantly unreadable... as far as I can tell, everyone thinks I'm just great! And so on.

So the first thing that happened upon my brief return to America, literally, in LAX, was that someone was really rude to me--an airport worker, who just could not deal with my confusion about which line to wait in at customs. And then, in the airport waiting room, I looked around at the overweight, tired, mostly-recent-immigrant crowd waiting for flights to come in from Mexico and the Philippines, and I thought: "This is a country that does not take care of most of its people." That's not new information, and though the Japanese do look uniformly more healthy and purposeful than Americans, they also have one of the highest suicide rates in the world, so, but I was able to see things through more Japanified eyes than before, and the scene was quite jarring. Also, filthy--this also is a country where people don't care much about clean public spaces, either.

Basically, things run less smoothly, something I unthinkingly tolerated before, like for instance when the 7 train would just stop between stations and sit there for like 15 minutes, which was a bit nervewracking since its an elevated train bobbing in the wind over Queens Boulevard, etc etc. It makes sense that that's what happens in a country with a much more individualistic, every-man-for-himself, murder and devour the person on the ladder rung above you and don't feel guilty about it because you must be your own first priority in this cutthroat society, live the dream ethos. Whereas Japan is all about the group harmony--for example, when people go on vacation they statistically spend far more money on omiyage for their office mates than they do on souvenirs for themselves. And that's just one instance among, like, infinite ones. I'm not even saying Japan's way is better--like I said, pretty high suicide rate, because what do you think happens if you don't fit in with the group and don't at least have recourse to a culture that actually admires and venerates outsiders, outlaws, rebels without causes, etc.? It's just noticeably different, that's all.

Also, the food in America is embarrassingly huge. Exhibit A:

My stomach, for the extent of the trip, kept screaming "WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME???"

Not to say it wasn't a nice time. Well, it was a weird time, because, L.A., and I yearned a bit for New York and its precarious and inefficient subway system.

Upon returing to Fukuoka (route: LAX to Narita, airport bus from Narita to Haneda, Haneda to Fukuoka, subway from Fukuoka airport to Hakata, train from Hakata to Futsukaichi station, cab from Futsukaichi station to home sweet squalid home) I was aware in a strange way that everything had been continuing to happen as usual in my small Japanese town all along, and that despite the hellish travel the world is actually pretty small. It seems obvious but I think one of the benefits of travel is how it reminds you in an immediate and hard-to-define but very sharp way that life goes on.


  1. Okay, I like this entry but doth protest! Aside from the corruption and price-inflation of the MTA itself, I actually really respect NYC's public transportation system. Compare it to the rest of the US where it's not difficult to not have a car. Sadly, I'm sure NYC transit is still eons away from the rest of the world which just seems to *get* that decent public transportation is an incredibly important and necessary investment.

    Sidenote: I wasted SOOO much money by getting lost on the the Sendai transit system. I'm not sure how it is for Fukuoka, but in Sendai it's pay-by-distance, so every time I overshot it was a disaster.

  2. Yeah, as far as trains in Japan it helps to be able to read the words for local, express, etc. as well as the names of the station so that doesn't happen. But I would think Sendai would have English translations, no?

    Also, the MTA is claiming hundreds of millions in debt right now and threatening to cancel the W and Z trains entirely and run others less frequently. As well as inevitably hike fares again. Not too efficient!

  3. Hence, "Aside from the corruption and price-inflation"! I do believe we have some liars up in there!! In fact, NYC Comptroller-elect John Liu outed the MTA for keeping two sets of books. I guess what I'm saying, is that the physical architecture and design of the MTA is pretty great and life-saving for a lot of people, but its management is horrible.

  4. We need a happy medium. Both culturally for the problems you cited and like, half of that plate of crepes.

  5. It's pancakes! Chocolate and coconut pancakes from The Griddle in LA. I ordered breakfast tacos which were much more reasonable... the pancakes are more of a novelty item I think. But still, so wasteful!

  6. yuck. Breakfast is the only meal L.A. universally screws up.

  7. New York brunch is definitely the way to go.

  8. I like this post, especially the BIG FUCKING BIRD part.

  9. Very astute observations, Alanna.

  10. You should check out this article:

    It speaks a lot to what you're going through right now I think.