Essay, Uncategorized, Writing

Japan, or How to be Away From Home

Write about the first time you went away from home alone — The Autobiography Box by Brian Bouldrey

japanThe first time I truly left home was in 2002. I had been picked to represent my school on a trip to Neyagawa, Japan. That was a trip of so many firsts: first time away from home, first time my parents wouldn’t be a phone call away, first trip out of the country, first trip on an airplane.

It was a crash course in air travel, that. Norfolk, VA, to Newark, NJ. Then, Norita/Tokyo. Then, Osaka. 24 hours, with layovers, and yet the same day? The same afternoon? Or was it the next one? I sat in the Tokyo airport and watched blankly at the windows, wondering over the blue sky, bright sunshine. It was supposed to be night time, right? If I got on the plane at 5am, it should be the middle of the night. Yes. No.

The next morning after that trip, my homestay mother laid out a spread fit for a king. A king not suffering from jetlag. There was sticky white rice, eggs, sausage, a seaweed salad. Then, a bowl of cereal. And yogurt.

One of the first things we were taught getting ready for the trip was that we should never turn anything down that our families made us to eat. We should at least try everything. I picked at each piece of food gingerly. It was more than I ever ate for breakfast, and I could only imagine the dishonor that awaited me if I ended up yacking it into their robo-toilet (I wish I was making this up, but it had controls and temperature settings and a padded seat). And God, the dehydration. My throat was a dried sponge, and I was in a country that didn’t have water bottle at every table.

Once the jet lag eased off, though, there was so much to see. We toured the major spots of Osaka, including the Panasonic Technical Center, the Osaka Historical Museum, the Mint and Osaka Castle (which was surprisingly very modern inside, despite the beautiful ancient architecture outside). We attended classes at the local school. We practiced zazen (a form of meditation) in Uji and visited Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. Then, there was Nara and its bazillion wild yet tame deer, that would eat right from your hand.

Then, our last journey was to Hiroshima. That could be an entire post unto itself. I’ve never been in a place that made me so very, very aware of myself. The atomic bomb landing on this city in Japan had always been like the Civil War or the French Revolution, in my schools — something that had happened that I knew the scope of in numbers and dates but little more. But to see it so clearly documented, told in photographs and dioramas and in the few things left behind…it all became very real. New and raw.

I want to go back to Japan someday, at a time where I can move at my own pace, where I’m not hauling the baggage of teenage despondency. I want to see that world that can be equal parts joy and peace and the other metropolitan buzz — want to see it without that nagging homesickness, that awareness of being in an alien place and longing for familiar.

I want to take my time. I want it to take its time with me.

One day, I’ll see Tokyo once more.

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