Meeting a friend visiting a place close to where you live is always a good start for a very nice time together.
The plan itself, geographically speaking, is to meet each other in a common place. And translating this concept into human relations, means connecting more on a personal level.
So I was happy to visit Miyajima for the 3rd time: the place was now feeling that kind of familiar as somewhere I’ve always been or lived, like some places in Rome, or London, and now, perhaps, Tokyo.
Showing things you’ve seen already twice, taking shortcuts, point out particular sights. Those are the things that, while doing them, make you feel like you kind of belong to the place.
You made it yours.
So I met with my friend Thea, visiting Hiroshima during the Obon week, one of the few national holidays in Japan. We went together to Miyajima, and I took the chance to reach the peak of the island, something I didn’t do the previous times.
The momiji (Japanese maple) trees were now full of super green leaves, and some of them were already turning reddish. Those red colours that make Japan the most amazing country in the world during autumn. Yeah, american maple is pretty nice too but you’ve seen nothing until you see the Japanese ones.
Still august is a bit early for those colours, but the sensation was there nonetheless.
And the view from the peak, even if with some thick haze in the distance (humidity in Japan is pretty high, especially in summer) is definitely breathtaking…
Another great memory, more sights I’ll never forget.
Miyajima, one last time, 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.
In the Kyoto area (but definitely not that close) there’s one of the “three famous views of Japan” (日本三景 – Nihon sankei).
The Amanohashidate (天橋立, literally the “bridge standing over heaven”) is a strip of sand lined with Japanese pine trees separating a large inner bay from the open sea. It is said that by climbing the hill on the north side, stepping on a stone and bowing to look at that strip between your legs, makes you see it as upside down, like a bridge over the sky.
Since I had already seen Miyajima and its torii, and the Matsushima archipelago was brutally swept by the tsunami following the great 2011 Tohoku earthquake, I couldn’t miss the chance to see at least this one.
2 painstakingly long hours by express train (local would’ve been…don’t wanna even think about that) passed quite quickly with my friends Thea and Colin with me, but on the way back my mind was on the appointment I had with Saki, to go in her hometown, Iwakuni, in time to reach the hanabi, the summer fireworks festival.
It’s been a hard one, but I made it. Not in time to meet her before the beginning and getting changed in my yukata, but hey…it was sweating hot and I just came back from climbing mt. Fuji…cut me some slack!
Those days I was taking off from work have been some of the most intense I’ve experienced while in Japan. Always on the run, with something new and exciting to do every day. Even going back to my old and crappy dorm was a nice perspective after all: I had done loads of things, met a lot of nice people, and saw some of the most astonishing views ever. I was back in the car with Saki, heading for Kudamatsu, and even if fighting a little for having been late for meeting her, I felt happy, having accomplished a lot in just a few days.
Didn’t take that long to cheer the mood up, and enjoy the rest of the evening together.
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.