Our last few days in Japan were a whirlwind. We took a ferry across the Seto Inland Sea to Hiroshima for a quick one day, one night trip. Then, we hopped on a bullet train and arrived in Kyoto in the evening. After a day of lots and lots of walking, we passed out, then hopped on yet another (shorter, slower) train to Osaka. Several days of enjoying one of our favorite Japanese cities and seeing friends followed, before we finally lifted off for Hong Kong.
I’ve experienced many feelings as I prepared to leave and left Japan. Arriving in Hong Kong set off an even larger wave of anxiety and outright terror at being away from the relative cultural and linguistic familiarity of my home for the past 3 months. I may write a lengthier post about this once I gather my thoughts, but for now, here’s a short excerpt from some of my personal writing. It’s not as eloquent as Emily’s amazing posts, but I might as well also share some of my perspective through the written word and not just through pictures:
Tuesday, July 18 – 1:05pm
I am on the “superjet” from Matsuyama to Hiroshima. Before we set off, I felt the slight rock of the boat on the water, the low rumble of the engine warming up. Every form of transit, even by foot, is a tactile, sensory experience.
Looking out of the first few islands we passed as the boat began to move, I realized, in maybe a removed way, I was having an Authentic Japanese Cultural Experience. That is, I was traveling by boat through Setouchi. This body of water has been at the center of recorded history in Japan, so even if I’m not feeling the rush of water against a wooden boat, the sights and general concept is itself an Experience. Having been bogged down in the interpersonal and decidedly modern concerns of life in Yamanouchi, getting back to the usual kono tame Nihon ni kita feels good.
I finished two and a half volumes of Barefoot Gen before the free PDF I found suddenly stopped. It brought Gen’s story to after the bomb had dropped, as he, his mother, and his new sister tried to make their way in a deprived, hellish post-bomb world.
The story has definitely colored my view of the rest of my time in Japan. Daily, now, when I look at the Japanese people around me, I have macabre imaginings of them with burned faces, skin hanging off their arms, and other horrible afflictions illustrated in Gen. I suppose the thoughts stem from “It could have been any of them,” not in a literal sense, but in a “this is what those people in Hiroshima looked like. These are the people who experienced these horrendous things.” Furthermore, I’m disturbed by the selfishness displayed by the side characters in Gen – the town chairman, random passerby’s who refuse to help, the cruelty of children and adults alike. This is certainly a universal phenomenon in the human race, but I also wonder if that undercurrent of meanness Gen’s author describes is also lurking somewhere at the heart of Japanese culture. I wonder if that is what lead commuters to walk past victims of the Sarin gas attacks, if that is what makes a giant city like Tokyo feel so cold and careless at times.
Looking back out the window. I imagine this land during the last ice age, when this sea was greatly reduced and perhaps more akin to a massive lake. Or at an even different, more distant time, when these mere molars of islands were canine mountains. A gargling mouth – now there’s a metaphor for an island-studded sea.
Some of the smaller islands remind me of the tiny ones in San Francisco Bay. Upon noticing that, I feel a tinge of homesickness. Emily has a point about the familiarity and comfort of home, and this trip has certainly driven home a certain surprising desire I feel for it. I do not think it is a native, deep-seated feeling, though. More one that has just recently been planted and is now finding its roots. I imagine I will be very grateful to return to the US, when that day comes.
I’ve begun learning Chinese both via Memrise and the app I already had downloaded. It’s a terrifying language, frankly, and the tones will be the death of me. Partially re-learning Japanese has certainly kick-started the language-learning parts of my brain – even my brief stint with Hebrew back home helped with that. However, I am now in uncharted waters, linguistically speaking, and can feel unknown currents pulling at my mind. I already foresee the usual circumstances I find myself in here – a teller explaining something to me, etc. – being impossible to comprehend in China. At least in Japan I can follow some context and suss out some meaning. A maze of tones will keep me from most understanding there. But hey, at least I’m trying.
I can see other boats now, and further islands in the distance. It a mostly cloudy day and sea spray covers the windows. A haze obscures distant views. Still, it’s hot, and this air-conditioned cabin is a welcome reprieve. In a way that shouldn’t surprise me but did, the boat’s cabin is like one giant airplane cabin filled with tackily-patterned bus seats. No matter how romantic the Inland Sea is, no matter how kimochii my History Feels are, for the majority of the people who use this craft, it’s just a way to get around.
Ah, I see a sailboat. Now that’s a bit more Authentic, now isn’t it?
That’s all for now. Néih hóu from Hong Kong!