I woke up with ambitious plans for this morning. I was going to get my oil changed, buy a gift for my host family, have a nice long workout, finish packing and buy a burrito for the plane. About three of these things got done (at some point, I got to the gym, spent 15 minutes on the treadmill and then wondered what the hell I was doing at the gym when I needed to be packing and tying up loose ends). I met Lisa at school, where we were picked up by Allison and we all headed to JFK.
With the exception of a brief trip to Canada last year, it has been nearly five years since I’ve been abroad and the last time was to Japan, as well. I haven’t had much time to be excited about this trip – between the NCLEX and midterms and all my other responsibilities, I simply haven’t had time to think about anything else. Even when I was sitting in the terminal, working on Lisa and my presentation, or calling my friend Clay for last minute Japanese advice, I still still felt like I was checking things off of my to-do list.
It wasn’t until we boarded that I started to feel like it was really happening. Stepping onto the plane was like crossing some sort of threshold – the flight attendants were Japanese, the announcements were made in Japanese first, then English (I remember understanding more of those announcements the last time I flew on a Japanese airline), we had Japanese options for our meals. I spent the entire 13h trying to decide what language to speak. This indecision manifested itself in different ways – I must have started about 10 different movies before settling on Won’t Back Down (liked) and Life of Pi (LOVED). In between films, I flipped through three different New Yorkers, not really settling on anything.
The last time I went to Japan, the flight attendants spoke English to me, as did the customs agents. I remember being annoyed. This time, they only spoke Japanese to me and I felt panicked – like someone underwater, who can see the surface but doesn’t quite know how to get there. It’s strange to be back in Japan after so many years and in such a different context. I think that when I have children, I will tell them that the most important decision they will ever make is where and how they spend their years between 21 and 25. Like San Francisco, Japan shaped me in ways I may never be able to articulate, and much of who I am as an adult is thanks to my time in this country. Maybe it was the influence of Life of Pi, or maybe it was being in Murakami’s homeland, but as I walked out of the airport on to the street, I felt as if I were in some magical reality where I could see the past, present and future, but couldn’t make sense of how any of it fit together. But maybe that’s just the 13h time difference and jet-lag talking.