Knowing that I would be in Japan for only a short period of time, when I first arrived on this wonderful island I created a foolproof plan to spend my weekdays hard at work in the lab and to leave my weekends open for travel across the country. However, I left one very important factor out of my calculations: exhaustion. So, rather than galavanting across the country this past weekend, I spent my time enjoying the simpler pleasures of life – sports, friends, fashion, and meditation. And although these endeavors didn’t exactly lead to a bunch of spectacular photos that I will be able to cherish for the rest of my life or anything like that, I enjoyed myself immensely and learned a lot about myself and the world around me, which is really all that matters in the end anyway, right?
Hmm…so one of the best surprises out of the many pleasant surprises this weekend offered was the chance to celebrate Independence Day in a foreign country! Normally on Thursday evenings my friend Fanny invites all the international students to get together for what she calls “French Day”, because apparently in France it’s very common to have parties on Thursday nights, kind of like the Thursday-night swap parties in America for fraternities and sororities. When I informed her that that particular Thursday was the United State’s Independence Day, however, she quickly canceled that week’s “French Day” in favor of “America Day”, and although nothing really different occurred (except for when we almost made an attempt to run through the rain to go buy some French fries to be more “American”), it was the thought that counted! Let’s just pretend that Fanny was remembering France’s assistance to America during the Revolutionary War, hence the sacrifice of her precious “French Day”…or something like that. And no, we didn’t have a cookout or set off any fireworks, but we did end up watching Lost in Translation, a movie about some Americans in Japan, so that turned out to be quite fitting. The movie itself cracked everyone up because all of us had, by that point in our trip, already personally experienced a lot of the craziness we were seeing unfold on the screen. The only difference is that while I have grown to love all the little quirks that make Japan what it is, the movie struck me as a wee bit negative – but still good!
On Friday night, I got to go to my first ever baseball game, Hiroshima versus Osaka.
I can’t say that I’m much of a sports fan, but I really enjoyed the game, mostly due to the crowd spirit. I particularly liked how, whenever someone from our team was up to bat, we would bang our little miniature bats together in a rhythm and chant the batter’s name, getting louder and louder. Although football games are crazy fun, you really don’t get the chance to scream for one player in particular, just the team in general, so that was a new experience for me! Because I am completely ignorant about American baseball, I am now curious as to whether we chant throughout the whole game as well. If anyone would be willing to enlighten me (hint hint), I’d be very appreciative.
I am happy to say, though, that for the most part, I was able to identify which elements of the game were native to Japan – like the over-the-top anime cartoons that would shoot across the screen whenever the other team struck out or…um…did something else bad (ha ha I seriously know nothing about baseball!). The very best part of the game was the seventh inning because we got to see this little critter go nuts:
We also got to blow up some really big red balloons
which we waved around in the air as we sang some Japanese fight-song type thing
before letting them fly around the stadium!
YAAAAAYYYYY! GO HIROSHIMA!!!!
Saturday was the highlight of the weekend for me, though, because I got to go SHOPPING! Two of the Japanese girls in my lab, Aki and Kaoko, had agreed to go with me for a girls’ day in Hiroshima and we had an absolute blast. I must admit that although I love, love, love shopping for clothes, especially for fancy, interesting clothes that you can only wear for special occasions, I rarely ever do that type of shopping back home in favor of buying jeans that go with everything and cute tops to go with those jeans. However, it hit me Saturday morning that I was in Japan, the country where girls wear high heels, frilly skirts, and high-fashion-looking, collared tops to go work in the chemistry lab, so I deserved to splurge.
And splurge I did.
To help control my fashion lust, I started off by buying a pair of pants with a really exquisite floral pattern on them (quite popular here, actually!) and built the rest of my little fashion collection off of the colors in those pants, so although I bought something from almost every store I went into, everything is mix-and-match, and therefore practical…right? Ahhhh even if my new clothes aren’t practical, I had way too much fun to feel guilty about it now.
Lunch was also super nice. We found a chic little cafe in an old building and ended up eating, chatting, and drinking coffee for over an hour.
When we decided to head back to Saijo, however, we realized that another baseball game had been going on in the city that day. Not wanting to have to ride forty minutes home on an overly crowded train, we decided to stay in the city a little longer and go to an arcade that’s really popular for high schoolers in the area. So, in the spirit of “girls’ day”, we put our ages aside and headed straight for the photo-booth.
Sunday was a much needed day of rest. Also, being in Japan and having heard lots of stories about monks meditating in caves in the mountains for hundreds of days at a time, I was curious to see how long I could meditate without getting distracted, so I took on the challenge. All in all, I ended up meditating for four different rounds (success!), but I had to take breaks in between. The meditations each consisted of reading my Bible and other philosophical works for a forty-five minute period and then going for a thirty minute walk/run to process what I had just read.
I found my breaks just as enjoyable as my meditations. On one such break, I took a walk to YouMeTown (a big chain store here) to go get some food when I saw that they were having a huge manga sale. Since most of the anime/manga that I’ve seen/read is a few years old, I was sure that they would be included in the sale, so I went hunting for them. Luckily, I found almost everything that I was looking for and am now the proud owner of Japanese copies of my favorite stories! Some of the plot summaries were actually written on the backs of the manga in English, and I definitely found some gems among those. An example:
“How do you think can real-life man become a fictitious man? The answer is simple. One has to eliminate everyone who knows hims, everyone who knows his past. One simply must be the only one who exists. A man actually attempted to do this. He tried to commit the ‘perfect suicide’. But he failed to wipe out everything. Now he, the ‘nameless monster,’ has turned into an actually existing man.”
This is a plot summary. And not to a 300 page philosophical dissertation. To a comic book.
I love Japan.
And speaking of manga, I have one more story to share from my Monday evening! I was sitting in the library, contemplating how the rest of my time here was going to be very hot due to the recent change from the rainy season to summer, when an acquaintance of mine that I had met at the yukata festival the previous week, Max from China, came up to me and asked what I was up to. Neither of us being that busy, Max invited me to go with him to a burger shop located right behind YouMeTown named Buddy’s. When we walked in I saw that, yes, we had walked into what was obviously a burger shop, but there were also all sorts of manga covering the walls. I asked if the place served a dual purpose as a library or bookstore, but Max just laughed. Apparently, it’s very common to have restaurants where you buy your food and drink and then pick a manga to read while you enjoy your food. I was suddenly brought back to memories as a kid where I would sit in Barnes and Noble and read for hours without buying any of the books, so it greatly cheers me to know that there are actually places in the world made for that purpose.
Although originally from China, Max has lived in Japan for eight years and is therefore very familiar with the language and culture, so I found his observations over dinner, comparing Japanese culture to other cultures around the world, to be particularly interesting. One example he gave is that when you ask an American or European what they’re studying in school, you ask, “What are you majoring in?” In Japan, that same question is phrased differently, “What faculty are you a part of?” On the surface, these two questions are asking for the same bit of information, but underneath they are quite different. When you ask a Westerner their major, you are asking for the subject that they have chosen to study. When you ask a Japanese person what faculty they are a part of, you are asking what subject they belong to. If other pieces of conversation are dissected, this sense of belonging can be seen in them as well. For instance, when a Japanese person tells you that something is strange, it’s almost implied that this “strange” thing is anti-Japanese, or doesn’t belong in Japan. In America, though, when I call something “weird”, I am saying that the “weird” thing is anti-me, not belonging to my hemisphere, not that the “weird” thing is anti-American. As with all new ways to categorize people and their thought processes, I am a little skeptical and can’t help but feel that, deep down, all people are basically the same – we just all see the world a little bit differently on the outside. However, I can vouch for the fact that this difference in speech patterns exists, so I’ll probably contemplate the matter a little more!
And now for a bittersweet thought: as of today I only have two more weeks left in Japan! Technically, that still means that a fourth of my trip is ahead of me (which is a pretty large fraction!), but it still feels strange to know that all of the lessons that I have learned through this unique lab placement in this unique country about patience, panic, intimacy, pride – they are all about to come to an end! Or at least an end as I know them. One thing that I have promised myself is that when I get back to America, I want to look at it the way that I look at Japan, finding hidden jewels in my everyday life and searching for meaning in even the simplest of interactions. I am growing so quickly here, personally, spiritually, and academically, that I barely know what to do with myself, but it’s a blissful feeling nonetheless. If I could sustain this pace of growth back in the states…wow. Who knows what could happen?