It's been almost two weeks since I left Japan, and hardly a minute goes by where I don't reminisce about my time there. However, the transition back into "daily life" has included some obstacles I didn't consider as I sat on the floor of my homestay bedroom, struggling to fit four months of memories into a single suitcase.
The greatest struggle for me, after returning to the States, was figuring out how exactly my study abroad experience fit into my life. How could I keep these memories alive--and cherish them in a way that made those four months really mean something? How would I maintain friendships scattered across the globe? I found myself searching for a way to keep my time in Tokyo relevant to my future, and to utilize the valuable lessons I had learned.
At first, I felt at a loss.
With my departure came the startling loss of context. By this I mean that I wasn’t quite sure where I fit into my friends’ lives anymore, with the abrupt end to our four-month journey together. These people that had become so ingrained in my daily life were abruptly devoid of their labels, no longer “classmates” or “epals”; I was suddenly at a loss as to how to integrate them into my “normal life” back home in Hawaii.
This led me to be reminded of the final paper I wrote for my Intro to Japanese Society class regarding how the idea of “the self”, which dictates how we interact with our community and society as a whole, exists in the Japanese perception. In Japan, the “self” is a fluid concept that is constructed in terms of societal relationships. The Japanese “self” is dependent on a number of factors, such as hierarchy, intimacy, and context. It cannot exist except in relation to other people. Thus, in the light of my departure, I found it to be an incredibly disorienting experience to no longer understand where my place was amongst relationships in flux.
But, I’ve come to realize that these ties are stronger than I anticipated. The bonds we forged can weather time and distance because of the memories we share. I stand here, on the precipice of adulthood, buoyed by the friendships I made in Japan. Their unwavering support that spans oceans and time zones has allowed me to grow in ways I never could’ve anticipated as I set off on my journey in September. I am not isolated, but rather I understand that now I have friends around the world. No matter where I travel, I will always have a home to return to.
I came to Japan to learn about myself. I came to Japan to learn about my family, the heritage that has been held together by threadbare traditions for generations. I came to Japan to learn the language that has laid dormant in my vocal cords, heavy on the tip of my tongue.
But in the end, I learned that I was never meant to make this journey alone—that my heritage, my experiences in Japan, my friendships, and my future, are all interwoven together in a web—inextricable and infinite, like my ancestors' fishing nets, cast out at sea.