Don’t Ever Say I’m Ready
“We’ll get by I suppose, but any sudden movement I’ve got to write it down…but I’m still getting educated but I’ve got to write it down, and it won’t be forgotten.” –David Bowie, ‘Fantastic Voyage’
So I guess this is it. Tomorrow evening I will board a plane in San Francisco and commit psychological suicide by willingly submitting myself to the longest flight and easily the worst jet lag of my life, not to return home for nearly eleven months. If all goes according to plan, I will transfer at Haneda Airport in Tokyo (cheers for eight-hour layovers!) and arrive in Osaka (KIX) at about 8am Japan time. I will then go hunting for a university representative, buy a ticket, hop on a bus that will take me to a family with whom I have barely communicated, who will then escort me to my home for the next year. Put bluntly, I will be in a country to which I have never been, inhabited by people whose language I cannot speak, and completely without the means to come sniveling back home if the urge arises.
This is if things go well.
“Why Japan?” you may ask. I’m going to be honest and say that I might be physically sick if I tell this story one more time. But I will for the sake of those who have not heard it. Where to begin? I suppose that from a young age I’ve been fascinated with Japanese culture. I couldn’t have been more than four years old when one morning, while watching a horribly dubbed episode of Sailor Moon, I asked my mom, “Why do Japanese people draw that way?” Miyazaki films were another favorite, My Neighbor Totoro being one I remember most fondly. As elementary school progressed, I was introduced to Pokémon which, aside from Harry Potter, was probably the most infectious obsession of my childhood (I still play those addicting games). In late middle school I was reintroduced to anime through Patlabor: The Mobile Police among others, and I also began listening to Japanese rock music. The summer after my freshman year of high school I took an introductory Japanese course, and immediately fell in love with both the spoken and written aspects of the language. I took some lessons in high school, a few university courses, and declared a Japanese major in addition to my Global Studies major in the School of International Studies. If you want a more academic explanation, I suppose I find myself drawn to Japan’s historic ability to adapt and incorporate other cultures into its own while managing to remain saturated in unique traditions, almost like (and some may disagree) a sort of hybrid that doesn’t sacrifice too much of itself to incorporate another.
What am I looking forward to? Probably more things than everything I don’t want to leave behind (I’d make a U2 reference here, but I need to lay off the lyric quotes as it is). One of the first things that comes to mind is the fact that I’ll be able to drink legally when I turn 20 in a couple months. Alright, but in all seriousness, I can’t wait to finally put my knowledge to work in the field, experiencing the things I’ve been studying for so many years. I’ve always wanted to travel, and I hope to one day make it a significant part of my life, if not my career. There is just something about experiencing a culture and language for oneself that opens up a world of insight that no amount of book reading can replace. I’m looking forward to walking places rather than driving, taking baths in the evening, and drinking tea without being offered sugar. More than anything I am excited to learn, inside and outside the classroom.
As for things I’m nervous about, I’m not going to make a full list here. I would be back in the States by the time you’d be finished reading. However, I will touch on some of the more prominent issues I predict I will face. Firstly, I am scared of being misunderstood. And I will be misunderstood. My knowledge of the Japanese language is not nearly as extensive as it could and should be, and though I know I’ll catch on eventually, the thought of not being able to communicate a vital piece of information is frightening to me. I’m also fearful of embarrassing myself, which is, of course, completely and entirely inevitable. So, I’ll learn to laugh at myself. But what scares me more than anything else is the possibility that I will unintentionally offend others out of ignorance. I have taken steps through research and courses in order to minimize this as much as possible, but in all likelihood, I will end up offending someone in some way during the course of my stay, and it makes me sad to think that understandings may not be reached due to gaps between cultures. But being conscious of these things is the first step toward overcoming them, and I will certainly try my hardest to remain so.
If I look like I have my act together, wonderful, because mentally and emotionally I’m a mess. I am a calculating individual and a perfectionist to the point of concern, and I’m jumping headfirst into a completely unpredictable situation. I have prepared as much as possible, but the closer I come to this next phase of my education, the more I realize that there is really no effective way to be prepared at all. Why do I have the gut feeling that this will be the story of my life? Perhaps it’s a good thing. I don’t find a complacent life one worth living.