Later, Space Cowboy

Lauren Fellows
August 21, 2013

The boys are back in town–and what a wild ride that was, let me tell you.

After successfully meeting up with my parents and brother at Narita Airport, we all went on a whirlwind tour across Japan–Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, then back to Tokyo and Chiba. Traveling with my family was difficult at times, but I’m glad I got to see parts of western Japan that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Nara was probably my favorite place that we visited–it’s not every day you can walk right up to a wild deer and pet it! At the same time, I started to miss having my Japanese-speaking friends around. I’m not confident in my Japanese as it is (even after four months in Japan!) and suddenly being in the translator spotlight was hard.

Returning home has been… bumpy. Despite my efforts not to give in to reverse culture-shock, I noticed rather bitterly that the baggage claim at LAX was… less organized or convenient than I had come to expect from a high-traffic facility. We stopped off in California for a few days before finally flying to Colorado, and I still haven’t quite gotten my sleep schedule back on track.

One of the biggest obstacles I’ve encountered since being home is trying to explain what I learned these last four months. Thanks to my incessant tweeting, tumbling, and facebooking, most of my family and friends already know what I did and saw in Japan. There are some things, however, that I couldn’t capture with pictures. Cultural differences are possibly the hardest thing to explain, especially when American and Japanese culture are so different. I have to remember that not everyone I know can, or wants to, look at things with an open mind. For example, upon seeing a picture of the deer in Nara, a cousin of mine asked if I shot them. My immediate reaction was pure anger, but I held myself back enough to calmly reply, “No, these deer are sacred, and they’re not for shooting.” Another family member piped up, “Even if they’re sacred, how do you control their population without shooting them?” I wish I’d been able to come up with a better response than “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that,” but I was already irritated and probably couldn’t have done much better. After immersing in another culture for so long, it’s been surprisingly hard to come back to my own.

Just a month ago, most of my friends departed back for America, while I remained in Japan. Just a month ago I was in another country–how strange a realization this seems now. But that last couple of weeks were perhaps the most trying of all. Living by myself and traveling with family; both are equally difficult in a foreign country. I missed the quaint comfort of my host mom’s flat, where I didn’t have to worry about laundry, dinner, or sleeping on a futon in a creaky old house. (I had an anxiety-ridden, sleepless second night at our Kyoto machiya; not an experience I would ever want to repeat)

I’ve learned a lot from living and studying in Japan, and not just about import pricing on anime toys. I’ve come to understand more about how I communicate with others and form friendships–aside from my host mother and her son, my closest Japanese friends were my coworkers at my internship. All of them knew how to talk about anime, which is a topic I can talk confidently about in both English and Japanese. Even with 2+ years of Japanese study under my belt, I still felt as though there was a language barrier and had trouble talking to others about more complicated subjects. Part of that could also be attributed to my own shyness, but the language itself put its own restrictions on how I communicated. In America I’m most comfortable talking loudly and boyishly about my favorite anime characters–in Japan, it would be inappropriate for a girl to be loud and boyish in most contexts. I was constantly watching my speech and trying not to be too informal with people I barely knew.

By far one of the best experiences I had in Japan, one which still sticks with me to this day, is the day I wore my yukata out for the first time. I’d purchased it at a thrift store in Los Angeles and brought it with me to Japan, but there was never an opportunity for me to wear it. In early July my friends were getting a yukata-clad group together to go to the Tanabata festival in Asakusa, so I decided to tag along. My host mother wasn’t convinced that mine was a “real” yukata, so I had a friend help me put it on in the bathroom at the train station. At first I was apprehensive; my bright yellow yukata was earning me a variety of looks on the train, and I think several people took pictures of me with their phones. I was starting to wonder if dressing this way had been a good idea, dreading that I might show up in someone’s misdirectedly angry tumblr post about cultural appropriation–but as soon as we reached the festival, my fears were lifted. Japanese people and foreigners alike were all dressed in yukata for the occasion, and I didn’t feel like I stuck out so much.  Everyone was having a good time, and that’s what mattered. As we walked around, elderly Japanese people would approach me to say that my yukata looked good on me. One woman even showed me how to hold it so that it wouldn’t get wet in the rain. I figure that if I have the approval of Japanese old people, wearing a yukata for one day for fun can’t be such a bad thing. I wore my yukata home with much more courage than I’d had on the way there.

A similarly great (but much smaller) occurrence happened in Akihabara one of the times I went with my friends. We’d stopped at the usual burger place, but I had already eaten lunch and wasn’t particularly hungry. I sat next to a friend and occasionally mooched a fry or two off her. There was an old man sitting next to me for the first ten minutes or so, and after he’d finished he stood up, put on his hat, and pushed his bowl of leftover fries in my direction.

“Here, I’ll give these to you,” he said, “Try eating them like this.”

The fries had come with a small bowl of spices, and he motioned that I should dip the fries in the seasoning before eating them. After that he took his leave. The fries were delicious, especially with the seasoning, and I didn’t leave a single one behind.

Why are Japanese old people so nice???

More than the anime shopping or the convenient trains or the vending machines or friendly old people or even my field placement, I’m going to miss living with my host mother the most. She made me feel welcome and encouraged me to make myself at home–anything in the fridge was up for grabs, she offered to do my laundry for me, and aside from not being allowed to shower after midnight, I had pretty free reign around the house. She went out of her way to stock the fridge with milk tea and daifuku ice cream, because she noticed that I like those. She even washed my sheets for me twice–and I would come home to find my stuffed animals all lined up according to size.

Shinobu also made sure I saw the sights around town, like the local shrine and Chiba Port Tower. We saw movies together and watched a lot of TV. We ended up having several discussions about which celebrity on TV was “my type”–which resulted in a lot of back and forth teasing. Each of us had our celebrity crush: mine was Fukuyama Masaharu, hers was Hugh Jackman. She would explain some famous TV stars or current events for me, and there was much passing back and forth of her electric dictionary. Shinobu is the cutest, liveliest, most amazing woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and I really hope that we can meet again someday.

Every so often her son Daisuke would come over and we’d go out for dinner–sushi, yakiniku, tempura; they usually let me pick where we went. Twice after dinner we went karaokeing, too–and the three of us always had a blast. Daisuke and I sang a lot, and even Shinobu sang once or twice. Those evenings in the karaoke booth will become treasured memories.

As I sit here with Fukuyama Masaharu’s “Tokyo” playing in my headphones, I can’t think of much else I can say–but how do I wrap up my final post for IES? How do I encapsulate this whole experience with some clincher, some one paragraph that says it all? Have I been putting off this post because it means having to say goodbye one more time–?

But this isn’t goodbye, not for good. If anything, after living there for four months, and meeting so many wonderful people, I absolutely want to go back. There was so much I didn’t get around to doing, and I can’t just let things hang here. Somehow, for work or for play, I am definitely going to find my way back to Japan.

Instead of “sayonara”, it’s “mata ne” — See you again sometime, Japan.

Me in my yukata at the Tanabata festival My yukata-clad friends (except Alix)! The police box in Ikebukuro looks like an owl! I went to the World Hobby Fair in June and got my picture taken with some brand-new Pokemon! Otoya on the KUIS campus! Me and Shinobu at the Sayonara party ;-; The last lunch Shinobu made for me A tunnel of torii gates at Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto Gakupo explored Fushimi Inari too! Of the places we visited, Yukimura liked Osaka Castle the best! Disney princess moment in Nara A row of very chill deer in Nara Masamune made some deer friends too! This deer waits patiently for the lady selling crackers to hand out a freebie. Messing around in Osaka In Asakusa--Sensoji's main building at night The 1:1 scale Gundam in Odaiba! A closeup of the Gundam. There was also a light show--I'm glad we went at night! Small Souji on the beach in Los Angeles. Aigis enjoyed her time in Japan, especially that the beach was so close by to where we lived. Takuto's big adventure was the trip to Okinawa. He thought that glass-making was the most fabulous thing we did. Simon held down the fort with Yu and Takuto for most of the trip, but he came along for our visit to Fushimi Inari. Masamune traveled all over the place and is pretty worn out! Aside from Osaka castle, he really liked the Ghibli museum. Yu didn't get to go many places, but he did get to visit the Skytree--although he wasn't fond of how those pictures came out.

Lauren Fellows

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Lauren Fellows is a Japanese major, geology minor studying at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. She hails from Boulder, Colorado, and is glad to be going to school in a place with both mountains and a water feature (the weather, however, leaves something to be desired). Lauren is a huge dork who loves drawing, watching anime, writing stories, and taking pictures of toys when she isn&rsquo;t spending long hours training to beat the Elite Four in the latest Pokémon game. She&rsquo;s ventured to a few places outside the United States, most notably France and Israel, but this is her first time in Japan and she is SUPER EXCITED. While in Japan she plans to make friends from near and far, experience anime culture in its natural habitat, and explore an urban jungle unlike anywhere she&#39;s ever been before. The adventure of a lifetime is just over the horizon!</span></p>

Destination:
Term:
2013 Spring
Home university:
University of Puget Sound
Major:
Japanese
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