What happens when you’re back after such a lifetime experience?
Probably some of you studied abroad for some time, experienced some freedom from your birthplace, family, hometown. Or perhaps you are just NOT Italian and not that bonded to family and try to leave the nest as soon as you get the chance.
I don’t know if this really has to do with anything. I think it has for me.
The general rule is that, once back, you’re stranded. You adapted yourself to a new world, you learned to live and go on with your strengths, to be independent.
You had an identity, even if what had been defining was only the fact you were on your own.
Doesn’t really matter.
In the end, whether you were part of the Vulcanus programme, the Erasmus, Socrates, or any other opportunity, you are changed by it, and going back is just weird.
It is weird because it’s like entering a new part of your life, moving on, heading on a new road and following down, getting somewhere, piling up experience, knowledge, just to be taken as a small pawn in a table game, and put back on square one.
These time-limited programs always do this. Of course they’re excellent starting points for many new roads, but the moment you’re back, you’re hyping, you’re full of yourself for what you’ve accomplished, of having finished it all, for having made it, for being still there, standing enriched and a better person.
But what about the surroundings? Where do you find yourself in?
The rest is basically the same. It could be a few months, one year as in my case, or maybe more. Being back is just like going back to an old relationship that has nothing to give you, perhaps didn’t have before leaving as well.
The immediate reaction, for me but for many I reckon, is try to fill up that empty space.
I tried to jump into anything I found slightly interesting, challenging, lively. I went to see a traditional religious ceremony in Viterbo (see the Santa Rosa’s set on flickr), I jumped with a parachute in tandem, and I reached my mother in Sardinia for a few days before meeting my new friend Roberto in his hometown, Palermo, in Sicily.
Sardinia (Sardegna in Italian) is the second biggest island in Italy. A true natural paradise at 1 hour flight distance from almost anywhere in the country.
I used to go there since I was a kid or…better, even before I was born.
The ferry crossings between Civitavecchia (1,5 hrs north of Rome) and Olbia or Golfo aranci (NE of the island) are among the dearest memories I have.
Summer holidays, caribbean-like seas, and amazing sights.
After one year in Japan I missed Italy a lot, and even I did go to the beach while there, I wanted some real, crystal-like waters before the winter.
Of course this wasn’t enough. Nothing is enough because the problem doesn’t lie outside, but inside yourself. You should not try to force yourself into fitting back where you feel you should belong. That can’t be helped. You’re changed, you have to cut off old branches, and cling on the new, fresh ones. And find new ways of sprouting more.
New connections, new people, new habits.
These experiences are chances of being reborn, and clinging on to the past never does any good.
It took me a few months to learn, but this was a blind, random, desperate start. Staying idle is never the answer. Doing, keeping moving, pushing things alive is the only thing you can do when feeling lost. If you weren’t to find the right way, at least you’d have put yourself through new, potentially interesting things.
That’s what happened to me.
Sardinia, a set on Flickr.
With august progressing, the end of the programme approached more, and with it the sense of early nostalgia increased.
As in January we had been welcomed with parties (歓迎会, welcome party), so Japanese traditions bind when parting.
送別会, soubetsukai, a “farewell get-together”.
The first, with friends and coworkers, in a local rental store where we grilled some meat and shoved it down with beer and japanese liquors, then with teammates, bosses, and supervisors, more drinking, more last laughs….and of course, some pasta cooked by me…I’m Italian after all, what the hell.
It was amazing to focus on how fast time had flown.
The first month in Yamaguchi seemed very slow, compared to Tokyo life, countryside life dragging itself on quietly, slowly, but relentless.
Relentlessly winter gave way to spring, then summer. I didn’t acknowledge it at first, it was only when the warm weather started to ease up the conditions in my dorm that I felt the first change. And when it became deadly hot, that was another turning point.
So, before I knew it, the daily life I had been growing accustomed to, the faces I had been seeing every day, were almost over. This sensation arrived like a punch in the stomach when my friend Stephen told me (despite my request not to ever make a countdown) how many working days he had left.
I had to take all my vacations yet when he told me this, so I made a quick calculation and…well, I had less than 2 working weeks left.
This meant only 2 sweating meetings on tuesday mornings, 2 fridays “have a nice weekend” to everyone, and all that stuff.
But also, 3 weeks or so before being back in Italy. Dammit.
Time to focus on the party, time to enjoy these last moments.
And hope that there will be chance in the future to live them again, not letting these memories fade away in time, “like tears in rain”.
Goodbyes, a set on Flickr.
Summer has come. At least on the calendar. As most of south east asia, now is the rainy season, meaning that for the past month or so it rains 1 every 2 or 3 days. And often for some days in a row with little breaks. There is also sun, and we went exploring around and enjoyed the first swim in the sea probably among all vulcanus bunch.
Nevertheless, is terribly hot. The humidity is very high, always between 70-90%. So even if it’s a nice summery 25-27°C, it’s often hard to bear if no wind is blowing. But you can slowly get used to it. Unless the company decides to switch on the air conditioner from July on. And leave you hardly breathing for all June. Oh well. Even now that is on, the setting temperature is 28°C. The job is still a hard challenge. Not because it’s difficult, but because it’s hard to get good one. It is crystal clear now that they had no plan for us coming here. It’s surprisingly hard to accept, in this carefully planned, painstakingly maintained, aimed at the absolute perfection no matter the cost-Japan, to see something so randomly handled.
And it’s not like we came for free for them.
But anyway, somehow now, at less than 2 months from the departure to Europe, some melancholy starts coming out. You get to share something with the place, may it only be the breathtaking sceneries this country always presents you with. That’s when cycling in a not particulary sunny -but hot just the same- day, along those secondary roads, and paths by the river like just in some manga I had chance to see, echoing corners of Japan that were more common sights perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, you feel that weird sensation at the stomach….I am leaving this place.
I lived here, this place became a part of me, and almost a year, my life and this place have been the same thing.
It will be hard. As the rice is growing high, lazily swinging with the wind in glass-like flat, water-filled rice fields, so the sensation intensifies. In every season, this country is ready to amaze you, and leave you something to take back home.
I don’t know if this aspect is meant to compensate the lack of social interaction that this country suffers from, but still the traveler, the foreigner, the “other” people (as in gaijin, 外人, shortening but also dispregiative for foreigner) is rewarded for his choice, for his efforts, and if careful enough, can treasure something that will never leave him for the rest of his life.
I want to write a song with this title. I miss my bass.
I miss my friends too, especially the ones I used to meet everyday in the first 4 months here in Japan, by this was kind of obvious.
5 months. I’ve lived here in the south now for longer than my time in Tokyo. Damn.
While the Stone roses are playing in the background, I think about why I haven’t been posting anything. It wasn’t a lack of thoughts, of sensations, worth to be written here and shared. Is just that you have them when you have no possible chances of writing them down.
Ok, you can ALWAYS note something down. I think I should buy one of those vocal recorders, like in autopsies, to put my stream of consciousness onto tape. Which in the 3rd millennium, and most eminently in Japan, means buying the stupid iPhone app that enables you to do it. But whatever.
Yeah, I thought that here, in the middle of nowhere, I’d have nothing to do. I’d be struggling with a lot of free time. But turns out I was wrong.
Here is still super countryside, small town, one of the less populated prefectures in Japan, and so on.
But there’s traveling. And if you do that in the weekends, you almost never stay home.
There is my new passion, photography (even if my sister is always so fucking much ahead of me), which is super time consuming when it comes down to RAW files.
There is the desperate attempt to make friends, to finally put some roots in this foreign, polite but unwelcoming soil. But more on that later. Lots of things to tell you about.
In many moments I have one of those thoughts worth writing down. Maybe bringing my moleskine with me all the time would be better, but anyway, here I am. Maybe it was kind of obvious, that it would have taken me a time comparable to the one spent in Tokyo to rationalise enough to be willing to express it all, anyway, where do I begin from…the beginning perhaps? Nah, no time to make this chronological. Too many things happened.
Should be my first reason here. Turns out to be almost the last one.
About my company…..train factory, supplying shinkansen (bullet trains), normal commuter trains and monorails to Japan and outside. That sounds awesomely cool. And for some things it is. Going for lunch in the canteen and crossing railways with the heirs of the world’s first high speed train sounds indeed kakkoii, as they say here.
But Hitachi is a very traditional, old fashioned company. And Kasado works, here in the south, is even more like that. Interns are basically put into shitty jobs, during special activities they can only watch, not do anything in particular. You can’t even complain, since here people with an engineering degree, oftenly do crappy jobs. Maybe they give that degree more easily than where I do come from, but my friend Stephen here, for instance, spends his working hours checking silicon seals, scratches on the cars body, or bringing tools to his supervisor. This is not acceptable.
For one simple reason. It’s OK to experience the local traditions, customs, etc, but you don’t spend the amount of money they spent to have us here, teaching us the language, and so on, just to give us that. Well, there are sometimes great opportunities, but they’re not the norm. So yes, not the best thing down here.
Oooh. Now with Oasis’s Rockin’ chair, the mood is just right.
What to say. I had a lot of interaction with japanese people. I have hours and hours of material on which to think on. Here’s my conclusion, for now.
Everyone is always nice to you, but I’d say more out of politeness than real obligation. They will surely try to help you but you cannot shrug off the feeling that here you are only a guest. They almost never welcome you in the part of their life which is private, real and would allow you to feel some roots on this soil. No, you are the foreigner, and that sensation will never abandon you. Doesn’t matter how good your japanese level is, how friendly you are, how hard you try.
In Japan, everything that is western, is kind of cool. May it be a car, clothes, a guy, or just a word. It’s full of bicycle brands that sound like weird italian words (for instance Poggiali, that in italian means “Put them down”, “drop them”…maybe referring to the feet?). So you’d say that for foreigners, gaijin as they say, this would be the paradise. Maybe, if you’re here as a tourist, just for some days, enjoying sightseeing or clubbing. Perfect. But for everyone else, it can become a cold country, not welcoming at all, and doing its best to keep you at distance.
Usually my conversations with new people, after getting over the initial surprise of “a westerner that speaks japanese! How suprising!”, goes on who are you (name, country), how long have you been in Japan for, and oh, my! Your japanese is so good! Even if you just said 2 words in the most basic way. After this, their interest drops, if there has ever been one. Most of the cases, for them the challenge is to try to speak to a foreigner, not bond with him or share anything. So after this, mission accomplished.
I have been living in this dorm for 5 months now, and people here, who have never been outside of Japan, let alone meet a foreigner, have seen me being friendly, saying good morning to everyone always, speaking japanese with other guys….well, they will still not talk to me, except for returning the daily greetings.
I can’t but wonder WHEN are you going to meet again a foreigner? This could be your lifetime opportunity to take a peek outside of your borders and maybe learn something about different cultures…how can they be so not intrigued? Maybe is the overtime work, maybe the countryside, but sometimes they seem dead inside.
Of course this is not a general rule. Many are the exceptions, even if in most cases the end result doesn’t really change. There are people you can talk more oftenly, go out together, and so on, but in the end there’s no sharing. And the feeling of being just a guest remains. Living in Japan is hard, and it’s not because of the language.
But, everything has exceptions, and so does Japan. Sometimes you run into daring people, or most of the times people who have been abroad, and whether they speak english or not, these people know what it means to try to be part of a community, and a human contact is possible.
About the psychology behind this….after being a super isolated country, reaching out just for trade and wars, for centuries (thing that kept the christian religion at due distance, a great success if I may say so), when they were forced to westernise in the 19th century, they rushed for it. And have been absorbing western fashion and things since then. As soon as Japan rose as the world’s 2nd power, they felt, once again in history, that pride of being not inferior to anyone, and I think this is the problem started. Psychologically, I think, it’s like when you overeat something you like. You can’t stand it anymore. So they still look at the western world for fashion, technology (Japanese technology is excellent at imitation and improvement, but not creative and innovative at all), but that stays OK as long as they can take the fashion and make it theirs. Their inner market is amazing, there’s offer for everything. If energy and prime materials supplies weren’t necessary, you could take Japan and put it on Mars. Life here would go on just the same way. There a supply/demand created and satisfied at every level, not requiring people to go abroad or necessarily interact with anyone whom is not from here.
That is the feeling I have. Some of my friends here don’t agree, but I’d like to have everyone’s opinion on this. Of course this is not the rule, but you can definitely tell the difference between a japanese person who has been abroad and one who hasn’t.
About society taboos and rules, the most friendly people here are elderlies. Old people learned, one way or another, that many conventions in their society just are pointless to follow, and some fears or doubts they had make no sense. So they talk to you freely, with the 2, 3 english words that they know (this is where your japanese language comes in handy), and a true contact is possible.
I don’t want to sound rude, but in life you need more than a few over-60 friends, don’t you?
So, yeah. Hard experience. But honestly, this is the reason I’m here. Yeah, on the CV the job will look great. But what I really wanted for my personal growth, was a hard experience, with which to grow up and mature more than I could do in a city that, even if big, is small and provincial for many other things.
Still, playing the exotic, strange looking foreigner, is undoubtedly fun. Wide opening your eyes when young kids look at you in astonishment, winking at high school girls walking on the street, and answering weird questions, cracks me up.
I have been also asked, after the person I was with saw that I’m left-handed, “Do all foreigners are left handed?”
Yeah, Japan can be also this. The south of it, especially.
…and all of a sudden you find yourself thinking how strange it felt just a few months back, to have all those people adding you on facebook, people about whom you knew just the name from a stupid Vulcanus list.
People whose pictures, or informations didn’t mean anything at that time.
Way of talking (typing) which felt new, or maybe just not yet personal, familiar back then. Thinking back now, it was just them, already them, expressing their own way of being.
Noone knew each other, nevertheless in some way, it felt like if they were already a group. Acting friendly, naturally, spontaneously.
And now time’s up. They’ll soon be more far than my whole country’s length from tip to toes.
It hurts to realize that the good, peaceful feeling that you’ve been experiencing recently wasn’t because you were actually inserting in this new life, habits and everything. But just because you were in a big, comfortable, shiny and welcoming bubble…
Still, many things have passed, nothing was in vain, a lot has been learnt. Time will go by, as usual, new habits will rise, new friends made, new routines established.
Life goes on, but by killing and giving birth again endless times.
In the first week we had some good free time: we had some bureaucracy to fulfill, but still there was chance to go out and do some tourism.
I had an arranged meeting with Thea, the maltese girl, in Tokyo downtown: she had met some japanese friends in her female dormitory, and was going to visit a famous church, so I decided to join.
We had a meeting place and time, but we both ran late…we have been able to get mobile phones just in the last days, so there wasn’t any possible way to warn each other, or arrange a plan B. Both of us thought that the other waited some time and then just went on his own, instead we probably got there 10 minutes apart one from the other.
So there I was, walking the Chiyoda district in the steaming hot climate of those days. I took my pocked guide out, and looked what was worth seeing near me…this is what I saw.
Izakayas are the local pubs/taverns. They can be either divided in small “cells”, separated from the others by sliding wooden panels, like the traditional japanese houses (leaving shoes outside!), or like a normal tavern, with all the tables inside a big hall. We already tried both, but this are the pictures from the first night.
You can be served many kind of foods, generally tipically japanese, in small portions. The rule is quality, not quantity. With all the drinks and the buddies cheering, it really becomes a wonderful experience…..one of my favourite nights so far.
The streets are full of these young girls handing flyers: they are advertising places where you are served by manga-like maids, in pure japanese-fantasy costumes. I still have to try this thrill, but I can’t but wonder how this girls feel to be ignored all the time.
In fact someone catches a flyer every now and then, but not even stopping to say thank you. But most of them don’t, and catching these girls’ eyes sometimes makes you feel like this gets them someway, after all…
, originally uploaded by bro-mark.
At last, cutting some time from my homework and hard studying (which I barely did today….just like yesterday), here is the first set of my photo practice in this amazing location…enjoy kudasai!
Time really is a precious good here, as no matter where you live, there’s always not much left of it when you find yourself catching your breath. So many things have happened, but for a general description of the place and basic habits please check the blog of my friend Grega, one of the Vulcanus bunch, the first to open a blog (in my knowledge).
I agree very much with his observations, and the things he points out. Instead what really gets to me is that deep and strong sensation that gets your throat and your guts, that empty-inside feeling that suddenly brings you uneasiness.
The communication problems or, as someone more worthy than me said before, communication breakdown, can really make you feel very alone. We are strangers in an alien world, and not being able to truly interact with them just puts you in a parallel reality, as my friend Roberto said.
In effect we are not that alone, as we are a big group, and for dispersed we can be, all around Tokyo and its suburbs, when we meet we stick close together and have so many things to catch up with one with the others that we’re basically talking all the time and reassuring, supporting each other. BUT this is where the parallel reality comes into play. It’s like we took our lives and transplanted them to this place for now. Yeah we did sightseeing, shopping, eating and drinking…but the feeling still is that of a sudden teleportation to a different dimension.
That’s where I hoped (and I still do) that the school could help us. Surely speaking some japanese would enable us to connect to the local population, so kind even when there’ s no shared language in between.
So today I was very motivated when I listened to Suzuki-sensei, the principal of the school, making his introduction. But as soon as classes started, I think we all realised that there was no joke intended, no fun and no games: this is real stuff.
Lessons are held completely in japanese, with teachers who allow just a few english word every now and then to let us make clarifying questions. An english which they definitely don’t master, as their pronunciation is bad and the pronunciation…let’s not talk about that.
Probably this is intended, or just a roleplay, but if this is not the case, I’m sure as hell those teacher were chosen because of this.
So, change of plans. No more games, no more free hanging out. The vacation’s over, back to schooldesks. As if our years of high school and university studies meant nothing. Or so it seems to our friend Roberto who, sure of the fact that during his traineeship english will be the only language used (the company told him and Diego so), came here completely blank on nipponic notions.
By now I think he has starting coping with it, as we all are, and now, everyday, the schedule will probably run as follows:
~9.00 – 9.50 free study (optional, but actually necessary)
9-55 – 12.30 classes
12.30 – 13.30 lunch break
13.30 – 16.00 classes
16.00 – ~19.00 free study (again, unmissable…whether at home or at school)
Classes include conversation, vocabulary, calligraphy and sometimes other activities (outdoor trips, and so on)
So we were just starting to feel a bit lost and lonely, and we found ourselves already busy in a japanese work-like daily schedule.
I got home dead tired, and I’m mad I still have tons of pictures from last week which need conversion and definitely publication on the e-world…
So good bye hanging out at evening (never night, as the trains stop very early, in between 22.00 and 0.00…only weekends are left for us to hit the streets.
We’d better put ourselves strongly into studying this totally different language, as to get the included reward as soon as possible: as everybody is telling me, and obviously they’re right, as soon as we will be able to speak some words to the locals, we will be overwhelmed by their openness, curiosity and gentle nature, and every effort will be rewarded.
But still, it’s a long way to go…and a climb more than a walk.