From the day I arrived, I was in the honeymoon phase with Japan. I was absolutely in love with whatever I saw. The Japanese McDonalds by the train station? Sugoi! The shiba inu walking past me? Kawaii! The random ice cream wrapper on the ground? Subarashi! (Alright, they get it. Let’s scale it back a little.) It wasn’t until after my first week of school that it began to slowly creep up on me…homesickness.
I started to realize that yes, I had finally made it to the one country I wanted to go to since I was a child, but then I thought about it more and it sunk in slowly. I was here. Just me. Not with family, friends or anyone with whom I could identify. Only me. I was by myself in Japan. Even with the convenience of Facebook, Skype, and Line, at the end of the day, nothing can really compare to the face to face interaction one can have with a friend or family member and I began to miss it dearly. (Homesickness level…95%)
But then I received a message later that week that changed my entire mood. I found out that two of my good friends from my home university were English teachers in Aomori and Kyoto and wanted to set up a little reunion during the following weekend. I was absolutely elated. Just from the anticipation, my heart felt lighter and I couldn’t wait to see a familiar face in this unknown place. (Homesickness level…80%)
Upon arriving at Ueno Station, I was greeted by…three people? (I was only expecting two. What is this madness?) But yes, the other person was a Chinese co-worker of one of my friends. We exchanged formal greetings, but I think we both sensed each other’s nervousness. Either way, we dismissed it and went on our way to get a quick lunch (surely food can help ease the tension, right?)
Of course, food brings everyone together! (Homesickness level…65%)
Just as the nervousness of meeting someone new started to fade away, it came back when I found out we would be going to someone else’s apartment in Saitama and staying there for the weekend. Even though my friend told me that he was a very relaxed person, a rush of questions rushed through my mind: What if he doesn’t like me? He’s Japanese and doesn’t understand English that well. Will my Japanese be good enough? What if I end up offending him and not knowing it? I forgot to bring him a gift. Will he be insulted? (Can you tell I was nervous yet?) As a result, I clung to the safety of my old friends for dear life. (Warning! Homesickness levels raising…85%)
Thankfully, he was a relaxed person so my worries were for nothing. He did however, speak very little English so from time to time, I had to look to the others to translate. But I will say this, it was a great opportunity to naturally learn conversational Japanese. Yes, I fumbled on some words and phrases, but you can’t learn without making mistakes right? His apartment was small (it was a single room apartment) but with some clever interior rearranging (aka moving the kotatsu from the middle of the floor) and playing a little human Tetris, all 5 of us slept in a 12ftx20ft room. What I didn’t expect was for this small room to bring us all closer together. Because our group consisted of people who were Chinese, Japanese, African American, Caucasian and Latin American, we had mini UN Q&A sessions to find out more about each other’s cultures. Of course none of us could answer for our own countries in their entireties, but we did the best we could from what we knew. In this small room in Japan, our little group managed to break down some cultural barriers and deepen our bond. (Homesickness level…60%)
Throughout the weekend, we explored Saitama, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Akihabara; meeting and recruiting new people into our group along the way (including a Military Defense Attorney and a former lab worker of the Maruchan Ramen Company, the one that college students know so well.) It’s amazing how you can meet people in the most unexpected situations and how they can really make the whole experience a lot better. As time went by, I found myself missing home less and less.
Taking in the fantastic view with my lunch at Dining Out 53 in Shinjuku, going to a Purikura booth in Harajuku, commemorating a newly found friendship by Hachiko then going to for conveyer belt sushi and karaoke in Shibuya and going to the Gundam Café in Akihabara; all of these things and more were made so much more enjoyable once I realized that they wouldn’t have been possible had I been back in the US. (Homesickness level…50% and stabilizing…)
What started as an attempt to hold onto home turned into 36 hours of venturing further away from it and doing a lot of exciting things for the first time. Japan is a unknown place to me right now, but you know what they say? A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet. I think that may be the key to fighting homesickness. Just get out there, meet new people and explore new places. No, the homesickness is not completely gone but it’s a process that requires you to make an actual effort. That being said, I will dedicate myself to doing just that. I will explore more and more of this beautiful country so by the end of my time here, I will see Japan as a familiar face.