I don’t know if you heard, but I recently went to Japan. Oh, the land of the rising sun. How I will miss thee.
An American Vagrant in Japan
I first flew into Tokyo’s Narita airport, equal parts bewildered and excited. Part of this was jet lag, but it truly is interesting being on the other side. As I’m sure many of you out there know, one of the biggest hot button issues in the United States right now is one of immigration. Not being able to read or speak the language in Japan made me realize the crippling effect of being illiterate or simply not knowing the native language.
My improv training served me well in Japan, allowing me to use humor to deflect embarrassing gaps in knowledge of the Japanese language. It also led me to become a vagrant, An American Vagrant in Japan as it were, backpacking around Japan, ignorant to social norms and the language (I’m currently selling the screenplay…please don’t sue me John Landis).
Along with this, one of the best investments I made while in Japan was a JR Railpass. This ensured my vagrant lifestyle would go unabated. Further, the trains are simply just real cool…And convenient. Something that can’t be said for most American transportation, which remains in the grip of the oil and passenger vehicle industries.
My trip to Hiroshima wouldn’t have been possible without the railpass, something I would have truly regretted. Hiroshima opened my eyes to the sheer destruction nuclear weapons can reap, as well as the fountainhead of immense hope and peace that sprang from such hostility. I was amazed by the Japanese people’s ability to move on from such a destructive act and build a peace museum, not a monument to jingoism. While out there, I realized just how selfless the Japanese people are and how different that is from the United States.
That’s not to say I didn’t miss the United States. One of the most interesting things I found when overseas was just how much I missed the boorishness and loudness of America. An unwritten rule on the trains and in much of public in Japan is to be quiet and considerate. The general lack of social mores in the United States has a certain charm to it, as long as it isn’t out of control. I missed the trashiness and lack of pretension in doing what you want, when you want in the United States. At the same time, this attitude has led us down a road to ruin in terms of reckless lending, borrowing, spending, and consumption.
Some highlights of the trip:
- Being accosted by a Japanese train cop who decided I was leering at women coming out of the women’s bathroom, even though I was waiting on someone. My inability to talk or understand Japanese merely led to a stalemate for a few minutes.
- Going to a Maid Kissa and making the locals embarrassed with my wanton zeal and boyish enthusiasm in the effort to be served by Japanese women dressed as maids
- Pouring soy sauce into what was actually an ashtray and eating until I was told what it actually was. What a shame, now someone can’t smoke.
- Buying a Japanese headband in Kyoto, then realizing it said “no enemies” and wearing said headband in Tokyo, much to the delight (intimidation?) of the Japanese locals
- Sleeping in a capsule hotel and not being able to extend my legs.
- Going to the magical city of Osaka and seeing large mechanical crabs and the weird obsession with the Glico man, as well as people wanting me to pose as the Glico man. How degrading (not really).
- Meeting the deer of Nara and being amazed by how they weren’t being shot by hunters. I then realized they are the cutest and tastiest of animals that aren’t being eaten in Japan.
- Sleeping (more like laying down and staring at the ceiling) in Los Angeles International Airport and watching the hypnotic back and forth of airport police on Segways.
A Japanese Vagrant in America
Along with my trip to Japan, there was coming back. Coming back to the United States, I just felt…Different. Jet lag played a role, but I found myself acting and feeling differently. No longer was I a foreigner, but I still felt like one. Further, when in Japan, I often had to find ways to entertain myself and could not speak to others who couldn’t speak English. For some reason, this carried over for about a week where I went into a form of jet lag-induced hibernation. Communicating with others almost felt like an alien response and I was often lethargic and sensitive to temperatures.
It truly was as though I had come from an alien land and was not acclimated to America’s climate, both physical and psychosocial.
It took about a week until I felt like myself once more. But the Japan trip marked an important benchmark of sorts in my life.
In part, I treated the trip to Japan as a way to relax before I lost my current job. My contract was no longer renewable and I felt the stress of unemployment could dissipate by going overseas. But more than that, Japan changed the way I look at things. It is a beautiful country and one that needs tourism and other forms of support more than ever. I now hold the Japanese people in high regard and thank them heartedly for their generosity and understanding in my simple inability to speak their native language or understand the customs.
Oh yeah, and by some string of luck, I did end up staving off unemployment when I came back from Japan.
Time to move on…
John remains a big fan of Japan. It is still under debate over whether he is Big in Japan, however. He can be reached at Twitter (@jododojo10) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).