I wasn’t gone that long!

My mind doesn’t handle transitions well. Or maybe it’s no different from anyone else’s? I’ve been back for three weeks, and I still feel out of place. I want to go fleeing back to Japan. I keep having these moments in conversation, where the Japanese words appropriate to the occasion catch in my throat. Even though the social setting is English, I’d gotten used to people who understand at least basic phrases…

It’s happened three times already: someone has been blocking my way in an aisle or doorway, and I open my mouth to say “sumimasen…” or “iie iie daijoubu” or.. or anything in Japanese. But as I open my mouth I remember that it is wrong; my automatic verbal reaction stops just before I utter it. But then, then I stand frozen, not knowing what the words are in English. By the time my mind catches up, the moment is gone. I’ve awkwardly stared at a stranger in bewilderment and silence.

Tonight I just wanted to say “ganbatte” to a woman who had organized a big event, and was painstakingly making sure everyone had name tags. Then I started to say “kanpai” when I got my beer… Nothing complicated, nothing a casual visitor to Japan couldn’t pick up. But wrong nonetheless.

I often missed things about the U.S. while in Japan.. but there were a ton of English-speaking ex-pats in Tokyo, so there were people I could relate to. In Houston I don’t have “people who have spent a ton of time in Japan and who get it” to meet up with. The group I had dinner with tonight were fussing over my having even been to Japan and that made me so sad, for some reason. Having a place I think of as my second home (my first being a vague amalgam of “the U.S. in general but mostly the East Coast”) exoticized like that made me feel lonely. It makes me feel like something about me has shifted and is caught between two worlds, belonging fully to neither.

If I went back and read my entries in this blog from the spring, I’d have to laugh at myself. I was burned out, and I so badly needed a break in the U.S. Really, I needed some time with my dogs, away from T’s snoring and bed-antics. But now that I’ve had them I “want to go home” to Tokyo. Practically speaking, I can’t. I have no money. I am living off of the kindness of my parents, and J (although that’s a combination of kindness and obligation, legal and otherwise). I have too many things that I don’t want to sell off, two dogs, and a slew of student loan debt weighing me down. I think I’m stuck here for a while.

Maybe my alienation is a combination of a lot of things, and reverse-culture shock is just part of it.


3 thoughts on “I wasn’t gone that long!

  1. Michelle

    Hm, maybe it’s just normal. Humans always want what they don’t have.
    I understand what you mean about wanting to say words in Japanese and I haven’t even been to Japan. They just have so many phrases that work so well, but cannot be translated. What would you have said to that organising woman instead of ganbatte? Neat question, no answer. ^^
    When I read about you being so lonely, I wanted to offer me as a penpal. But right now I’m not sure, I would be good company to keep. I’ll wait with my offer, until I recover enough to function. 🙂

    1. matchaproblem Post author

      Aw, I’m sorry to hear you are in rough shape too. I really don’t like to hear that anyone else is going through a hard time. I just want to go back to Japan, really. But that might just be a “grass is always greener” way of thinking, as you point out.


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