SCHIZO-ALIAS

Musings about Japan and life as a human, a cosplayer, a minority, a music lover, an English teacher.

Category Archives: culture

Using Japanese.

This is a draft from March 1st. I tend to write things and not publish them for some reason…I guess because they feel incomplete and I don’t feel like completing them. I may post a couple of other drafts in the future.


 

It’s one of the greatest feelings to be able to do things in another country using their language.

I used to get nervous when contacting people and telling them my name, and having them deny me just because they can tell I’m a foreigner. And I would obsessively check online dictionaries to make sure my Japanese was as correct as possible. I would have to sit and ponder about what I would say before making a phone call, and if it was possible to avoid phones altogether, that’s what I did.

The other day I was able to call the post office to cancel a redelivery request, because I decided I would pick up the package right away. Without even hesitating, I found the post office number, dialed it, and even as loud background sounds on the other end almost got me distracted, I managed to get my request across.

I’ve also managed to post messages in BBS (bulletin boards) about two extra concert tickets that I have right now. I was worried I wouldn’t get a response, but within hours two people contacted me. Even if the deals don’t go through, at least I know that people will contact me, even if my name isn’t Japanese and my Japanese isn’t perfect.

Even though I still don’t feel confident about my conversational Japanese speaking ability, I feel confident about being able to carry out everyday tasks (and not-so-everyday tasks) with my current abilities, and that’s what really matters when living in this country.

If you ever come to live in Japan or even just to visit, PLEASE learn the language, or attempt to use as much as you can. (Most) Japanese people are very kind and accommodating, but that’s especially true when they hear you using their language.

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Victoria’s Secret and “Geisha” Lingerie

I don’t follow Victoria’s Secret–I’m not a fan of the brand, their marketing, nor their prices–and the shop doesn’t even exist in Japan because there are several other lingerie and sleepwear chains in the country (my favorite in particular being Body Line). But there are a few shops that have imported VS’s body fragrances and sell them at prices not really worth paying.

Today during my daily news surfing, I came across an article about a blogger’s complaint towards VS’s “Go East” line, apparently some “Asian”-inspired collection, including one called “Sexy Little Geisha.”

Upon reading the name, of course I had to see what it looked like:

What the Fudge-pop is this…?! (Source: E! Online)

First off, I’m more offended by the design itself than I am about the “Geisha” label slapped on it. It’s ugly. That belt with that obnoxious bow in the back just looks tacky. The mini fan is laughable; it’s so tiny and pathetic! And probably the worst of all, apparently NONE of the models in that collection are even Asian! So it’s easy for some to say that it’s making a mockery of Asian culture by fetish-izing it. And it’s no wonder that several blogs have already said so. (See Angry Asian Man and Racialicious)

However.

I did one simple thing. I typed in “geisha” in the search bar of my favorite site for online shopping in Japan, Rakuten. And HEY, LOOK WHAT I FOUND!!!

Hey, it’s another Sexy Little Geish–wait a minute…

This one isn’t being modeled by an Asian woman either. Looking at the name of the item reveals:

The highlighted word is how “geisha” is written in Japanese. Thanks, Rikaichan.

And that’s not the only one; you can click here for the full search result. I could’ve typed in “kimono” or “yukata,” since search results for those items in the past has given me similar results. (I was looking for a REAL yukata at the time, mind you.) But the reason I used “geisha” as the search term was because I KNEW such things would come up, even on a Japanese website.

So there you go. Sexualizing Asian culture–or any culture–is not a new thing, neither overseas nor at home. Victoria’s Secret’s version of it just got the spotlight because they’re a major, internationally-known company. Just to confirm though, where’s the cultural offense? Is it in the clothing design itself, in the race of the model, or the description? Is it all three? (Not rhetorical questions, I’m honestly asking.)

One thing’s for sure, I’ll be honest; that item I found on Rakuten is pretty cute and I’d wear it as lingerie if I had a reason to. I just wish they didn’t call it a “geisha” costume.

This is what geisha actually look like, in case you didn’t know. (Source: Wikipedia Japan)

EDIT: For the record, here’s a list of other roles that have been sexualized other than the geisha:

  • Military
  • Police
  • Schoolgirls (For goodness’ sake, SCHOOLGIRLS)
  • Nurses
  • Maids (might I add the “French” maid)
  • Racecar drivers
  • Football Players (!)
  • “Gypsies”
  • Cowgirls
  • Ninja/Kunoichi
  • Animals
  • Clowns (creepy, I know)
  • Teachers
  • Minnie Mouse

Asian Guys and Black Women

Over the weekend I was doing a borderline obsessive search on the Internet for anything related to Asian men and Black women in interracial relationships (otherwise known as AMBW). The biggest question I had in my mind was, “Why is it that I’ve met so few Asian men willing to date a woman of color?”

I had answers to that question going through my head, but I didn’t want to believe them. One explanation is that perhaps some Asian men, either consciously or subconsciously, find Black women (and women who are otherwise darker than they are) to be not good enough. They see the beauty in an Asian woman, and they’ll definitely see it in a White woman, but Black women are simply “not for them.”

I had an experience in high school in which I had a crush on a Korean guy in my history class for almost a year. He was very kind to me despite how persistent I was, and he seemed to generally care about me as a friend. My Korean half felt some sort of connection with him, and I seriously thought I wanted this guy. But one day, I finally asked him, “Why is it that you’re not interested in me?”

His answer was that I wasn’t a “pure Korean.” I took this as meaning that I was tainted, and thus undesirable to someone–a 100% Korean–like him. (I should also mention that he wasn’t even born IN Korea, so that makes him Korean American :P)

I got over him very quickly after that. On top of that, he was a bit of a Korean nationalist and horribly racist against Japan (he kept it to himself unless the topic of Japan came up, which was often brought up by me since I was studying Japanese). He had friends of different races throughout high school, but he would only ever think of dating a Korean. And I don’t count.

That incident really messed me up. From that point, my interest in Korean guys slowly faded, and my interest in everything else Korean started to fade as well. I heard about racism in Korea against halfs, including with Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. I remember seeing his story a few years ago after the Super Bowl about how he was picked on in South Korea simply for being mixed, and then suddenly when the Steelers win the Super Bowl, Korea suddenly have pride in him as if he was theirs. This attitude absolutely disgusted me. Don’t take this the wrong way though–in no way am I ashamed of being Korean. I love that my mom is not like that Korean guy back in high
school; she doesn’t feel any resentment towards my choice of studying Japanese, or the fact that I’m living here. And I know there are other Koreans who would think the same way. I want to believe that the alleged negativity and racism in Korea is only the minority, and that the rest of the country is okay. I guess I have to go and see for myself. My interest in going has waned, and at this point I feel I would only want to go if my mom came with me.

Anyway, it was because of this Korean guy that I started to become aware that interactions between Asian guys and Black girls was rarer than it should be, and I feared that it was because Asians (and pretty much everyone else in the world) generally looked down on Blacks.

I’ve been told that being half-Korean gives me more of a chance, but I don’t believe that’s true at all. A lot of people will probably “one-drop rule” me in their minds: I’m half-Black, so therefore I should be counted as just Black, even if it’s a total giveaway that I’m not 100% Black.

And this is why I was searching for information on AMBW, even though I’m half. I can much better relate to Black women that are struggling to find Asian guys open to dating other races (other than White). I know they are out there, but I wish it was easier for me to find them.

In the AMBW Facebook communities, the Black women pretty much always outnumber the Asian men. Whenever an Asian guy posts something in the group, they are welcomed by quite a few women. But when a Black woman posts in the group, where are all the Asian men?

Just look at this 2009 blog from OKCupid. Black women get shunned not only by Asian men, but by men of every race. It’s sad. You can say it’s the fault of the Black girls (not mature enough to be called ‘women’) who reinforce the stereotype of being loud and obnoxious, but it’s also the fault of people who believe in those stereotypes. And it’s the fault of the media (I blame the media for everything, really) for portraying Black women in such a way.

We need to stop eating up stereotypes on TV and actually interact with people. Ignorant people will just sit back and believe that all people of a certain race are more or less the same. Slightly less ignorant people will try to talk to one or two people of a certain race, and if they fit the stereotype that person will sit back and say, “See? I was right.” Open-minded people will treat others on an individual basis, and will still believe that there are people who go against the stereotype.

I’m working on blocking out my experience with that one Korean guy, because I know there are Koreans that do not share his racist views. I’m also hoping to meet more guys in Japan that are open-minded.

I’ll end this lengthy blog post with a quote from a Japanese girl I found in Japan Zone:

“I like a guy who can play some music instruments and never say ‘I love all Japanese girls.’

I only hope that people will keep an open mind, and to try and look beyond race. Congratulations if you got that dream girl or guy of the race you so desired, but remember that it’s their character that is more important, not their skin color. I’m not interested in the hip-hop loving Asian dude with a “Black woman fetish”. I’m not interested in the Black guy with a fetish for “exotic mixed girls.” And I hope that like me, there are open-minded women of darker complexion who will love their guy (or future guy) for who he is, not because he’s a “hot Asian guy.”

I wanted to make a YouTube video about this, but I haven’t yet figured out how to express my thoughts properly.

Graduation Day

On Wednesday I attended my first elementary school graduation as an ALT. It was kind of sad that I could only attend one of them, since they were held on the same day. Fortunately it was the school with the 6th graders that I knew and got along better with over the past few months.

The graduation ceremony, as with any other Japanese ceremony, was very formal and systematic. I think most Americans witnessing one of these events would think that it was a very ‘boring’ and ‘tense’ atmosphere.

From the time the graduates started coming in, everyone applauded until the entire class reached their seats. The procession was very precise, from the way they walked in to the way they turned to walk in a different direction and so forth. Once the class came in, the applause stopped and that would be one of the few times you would hear clapping for the rest of the ceremony.

The students–especially the girls–looked so wonderful all dressed up. The cuteness of the girls in their ruffly plaid skirts, dark blazers and cute hairstyles would put AKB48 to shame. One girl, who’s a bit of a tomboy, came in wearing a gray suit with slack shorts down to her knees. Some of the boys were already wearing their junior high school uniforms (I love those high collar jackets!). I had wished that I was graduating with them!

Unlike most ceremonies in the U.S., speeches did not come until after the awarding of the diplomas. I’m used to having to sit through a number of long speeches before getting to them, so I was surprised when the diplomas were the very first thing on the list. While most people in the U.S. would end up applauding after every single name called (unless there was an announcement NOT to do so), here it was simply expected to remain silent as each person stepped up to collect their diploma. After that, there were two speeches, one from the principal and the other from the head of the PTA. After the principal’s speech, there was a video of a congratulations from Japanese baseball player Saito Yuuki. I was pretty impressed that they got him to make a video message, and I wasn’t sure if it was just typical of Japanese elementary school graduations or if it had something to do with the fact that the principal’s son is a sports anchor for Fuji TV in Tokyo.

In addition to the parents, school-related officials, and staff, other attendees included the 4th and 5th graders. They were responsible for helping to set up, as well as singing a song for the students and collectively reciting a farewell speech to them. I realized how important it was for them to be there, because the three grades will be together once more when they all enter middle school. The sempai-kouhai (“upperclassman-lowerclassman”) relationship in school is very important in Japan, from the very beginning all the way through high school. When I was in elementary school, I never really knew any of the students above or below me, except for my brother who was three grades ahead of me and the kids who lived in my neighborhood.

Towards the end was a slideshow of the 6th graders with photos of them from 1st grade all the way up to now. Since teachers rotate schools so often after 3 to 6 years, I was wondering if any of the staff was even here during the graduates’ first two years at the school. As the slideshow went on, each of the students narrated part of a speech about their memories at the school, field trips and the like.

At this small school, where there is only one class per grade (with the exception of the current 4th graders, in which there are two), I realized that this class of 32 graduates had been together every single year, and friendships were probably very tight. Unlike with my school–which was probably four times the size of this one–and even many other schools here in Ono and the rest of Japan, these kids didn’t have to think about who was and wasn’t going to be in their class the next year. It was always them from the beginning. As I watched the slideshow, I sort of envied these kids, but not for long. I ended up going to three different elementary schools, with one friend remaining by the time transferred to my third school in 5th grade. By 6th grade graduation, I felt fortunate that I had made so many friends in such a short time, and that they didn’t treat me like an outsider just because I didn’t know them for as long. Some of these people I met in 5th and 6th grade are still my friends today.

As for that one friend I had left when I moved, she has been my best friend for the past 16 years. I had realized after I moved that I really didn’t feel like I was truly friends with anyone at my first school. I was well-known throughout each grade, but it was only for being somewhat of a teacher’s pet. I ended up not keeping in touch with any of those people, but my best friend had faithfully called me and wrote letters all the way up until internet and then driving became accessible for us.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. The point is that these 32 kids have been exclusively together for so long up to now. This will change when they enter middle school, since they’ll be mingling with the kids from my other school (at least; I’m not sure if there are any other kids going to that middle school).

After the slideshow, the kids sang a song in front of the stage, and then thanked the staff for taking care of them, and that’s when their teacher surprised them by telling them that we the staff were going to sing a song for them in return. As we began the song, I looked at some of the students and some of them looked pretty surprised and were smiling. Then after we were done, the 6th graders sang one more song before the ceremony ended. The very end of the ceremony was probably the most unusual part (‘unusual’ as in different from America): After everything was over, the vice-principal just said  “The graduation ceremony will now come to a close!” and there was absolute silence and stillness, with the exception of the mechanic sound of the stage curtain lowering automatically.

After that, the students proceeded out of the gym as we all applauded once more, which was just like my own graduation. One thing I’m glad I did have was the after-graduation party at school. I think these kids all went home with their parents and then probably had a nice dinner at some restaurant, which is cool too.

Chocolate Car.

I made a 2D car out of chocolate and icing for a co-worker. Let’s just say I wanted to show my appreciation for his kindness. It was a follow-up to a card with a message in English that I should’ve known would be misunderstood: “Will you be my Valentine?”

So in response he said that he wanted to get to know me as a friend first. He was even nice enough to write a response to me in English accompanying his verbal reply, probably thinking that I can’t read Japanese (or something along those lines).

So, leaving work, I felt really embarrassed about such a miscommunication that could have easily been avoided on my part. So while I was at my other school on Tuesday and Wednesday, I wrote a letter in Japanese clarifying that I know we don’t know each other very well, that I appreciate him as a friend, and that if the car I made was too sweet, he didn’t have to eat it.

I gave him the letter on Friday after his students’ English lesson, and told him that, in America, “Valentine” doesn’t necessarily mean “lover” or boyfriend,” depending on the relationship, and that in some cases it means “special person” or even just a good friend. I asked him if he thought I meant “boyfriend,” and he said he did, which is why he was so shocked. So I apologized and told him to read my letter whenever he had time. He was busy for the rest of the day, so I take it he’ll have read it over the weekend, and maybe even write me a response (which I told him to write in Japanese if he was going to write anything at all).

Oh, the joys of intercultural miscommunication.

My Honest Thoughts on Cosplay

Last weekend I went to Katsucon, my first convention since I returned to the U.S. and since Otakon 2008. I cosplayed as Silmeria from Valkyrie Profile 2, and entered my first Hall Costume Contest. For that I got an Honorable Mention, which isn’t bad for a first entry.

I’m definitely no professional costume maker, but I do have a good sense of aesthetics. A lot of people talk about cosplay, whether it’s actually doing it or looking at other cosplayers and judging what’s good and what’s bad. I think another topic that people tend to avoid is skin color. Some non-Asian and non-White people might feel discouraged to cosplay because they think they won’t look as good in a costume.

I’ll tell you, a couple of years ago I saw a black Sephiroth and he looked MUCH better than any of the white ones I’ve seen. And of course I have dark skin as well, but that didn’t stop me from cosplaying as a snow-white Chinese warrior or a blondetwice.

So skin color doesn’t really matter. What matters is how well the costume is made. A black Morrigan whose costume is well-done is more pleasing to the eye than a white or Asian with a crappy costume.

Now, if someone is doing a casting for a Dark Stalkers movie and they want the most accurate, they will look for a light-skinned person. Of course, we all know that. No one suggested a black person to play Goku in Dragonball, or Speed in Speed Racer, or Tony Stark in Iron Man.

But that’s not what cosplay is about. At least, not here.

I’m not sure what Japanese cosplayers would say. I’m inclined to say that they’ll secretly think that only Asians or white people should cosplay light-skinned characters, but the opposite is just as likely. Everyone has something to say.

Overall appearance is different. If you weigh 300 pounds, don’t cosplay as Zero Suit Samus. If you’re cosplaying as Lady Oscar from Rose of Versailles, don’t waddle or walk like an ape. If you don’t know how to walk in heels and your character walks in heels, LEARN TO WALK IN HEELS. I was so disappointed to see a Sailor Jupiter at the con who wobbled in her boots like a four-year old playing dress-up.

Personally, I get annoyed when some fat hairy dude decides that he wants to dress up as Faye Valentine or Tifa. I don’t think it’s funny at all; it’s just stupid and gross. But I can’t say he doesn’t have a right to do it. Not everyone takes cosplay seriously.

But if you are looking to take cosplay seriously, if you are looking to bring a character to life, you have to learn what characters are suitable for you. I probably wouldn’t make a very convincing Sailor Uranus, not because I’m short but because I don’t feel that I can mimic her personality and image.

Which brings me to another part of cosplay. The best cosplayers–the ones that a lot of the people are impressed by and want to remember–are the ones who don’t just look the part, but act the part as well. I met a woman a few years ago who was crossplaying as Zhang He, and she did well to act as flamboyant and narcissistic as he was in the game. At Katsucon I saw a Neku from The World Ends With You who had a nonchalant attitude and an almost “angry-at-the-world” look on his face–which is EXACTLY the kind of person Neku is. Cosplayers acting out of character can be funny sometimes, but a lot of people would probably get that nostalgic feeling from seeing that character truly come to life as he or she is supposed to.

Perhaps I’m being a little too serious, but this is something I was thinking about long before I even knew how Japanese cosplayers treated their art.

President Obama and The Custom of Bowing

If you’ve been up-to-date with recent news about President Obama’s recent tour through Asia, you’re probably aware of the uproar from conservatives in the U.S. about his gesture to the Japanese Emperor Akihito and Mistress Michiko. That is, his deep bow accompanied by a handshake.

According to former Vice President Dick Cheney, Obama’s gesture was unnecessary and represented a “sign of weakness,” as if the President was recognizing some kind of inferiority to the Land of the Rising Sun.

I mean really, that’s not necessarily untrue. The US Dollar-Japanese Yen exchange rate is down the drain for us. Japan makes better electronics, have an overall healthier population, better customer service…I could go on and on.

But that’s not the point.

Anyone who knows anything about Japanese culture would realize that a bow is NOT a sign of weakness. It is a sign of respect and a display of humility. It’s a formal way of greeting someone.

The President was on Japanese soil, in the Emperor’s country. The Emperor is the (supposed) highest authority of Japan. NOT bowing is like walking into someone else’s house with your muddy shoes on and not saying any more than a short ‘hi’.

Anyone who says that bowing is a sign of weakness, just try going to meet the Japanese Emperor and just shaking his hand like he’s your American colleague. Either the Emperor will think you’re rude, or he’ll wave it off as you being an ‘ignorant gaijin.’ No doubt you’ll be sneered at by some Japanese who feel as though you’ve done the equivalent of spitting in their face.

For President Obama’s case, not only was bowing a way of respecting the Emperor and humbling himself, it was a way of respecting another culture. Some Republicans like Cheney have the ignorant mindset that the United States “bows to no one” because we have too much pride to humble ourselves. They might even be stuck on those movies where the subordinates get on their knees, stretch out their arms, and go “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” which is a completely different scenario.

So for all of you who are slamming Obama for simply observing protocol, get a clue and try learning a thing or two about Japanese customs. Just because we are the United States of America does NOT mean we are superior to anyone else. That’s an old conservative mindset that does not belong in the 21st century, a time where the United States is so far from being #1 that we really don’t have any business waving our pride around anyway. Being a “proud American” gives you no incentive to ignore culture and customs while in foreign countries.

Reverse Culture Shock

When I actually stop to think about where I am, I still feel strange. I’m at home, in my bedroom–the same bedroom I had lived in for about 10 years. It doesn’t feel completely foreign to me after being away for 11 months, but at the same time I don’t feel 100% comfortable in it.

I’ve been going out a lot lately, almost everyday. I’ve been seeing friends that have missed me while I was gone. If this was like a 3-week visit back home and I was returning to Japan for school again, going out all the time wouldn’t be a problem for me. But I realize that I’m back here for months, maybe even years. Do I really need to go out every night? It’s not the same as when I was abroad…I knew I was only there for a limited time so I took many opportunities to go out. But now I’m back in Maryland, where I have lived all my life.

A webpage that I read about Reverse Culture Shock noted that someone who has been abroad may have a hard time dealing with the fact that their home country has indeed changed since they left. But not for me. From what I see, little things have changed here and there, but for the most part everything has stayed the same…and that’s what I’m struggling with. It still takes about 90 minutes to get to College Park (where my school is) on a Saturday. Cell phones and cell phone plans are still ridiculously expensive.

I’m trying to get through it by enjoying things I didn’t have in Japan. On Wednesday I had Chipotle for the first time in ages. I had also gone to Five Guys, and enjoyed my mom’s home cooking as well. But in the back of my mind, I’m still wondering when…or if I’ll be able to go back. Aren’t my friends and family good enough? I wonder how many people’s feelings I’ve hurt by saying, “I love life in Japan, I want to go back.”

It’ll start coming back to me soon.

I caught a cold on the flight home a few days ago. My throat really hurts, and now my nose is stuffy. This house is so cold.

I went out with friends twice this week. I was happy to see everyone again, but I feel like it hasn’t been that long since I last saw them anyway, so I didn’t feel different. I don’t feel different being here because I’m still trying to remember everything that happened while I was in Japan.

My best friend was driving me home this morning around 3 a.m., and when I check my phone I realize that I have messages and missed calls. My parents. They were checking up on me, apparently. This was one of the things that I wasn’t looking forward to coming back. Compared to life by myself in Tokyo, living here with my parents in a suburb where driving is the primary mode of transportation is like living in a cage. I have to get used to calling my parents again when I’m out late or something, which of course I never had to do for the 11 months before. If I want to go somewhere, I can’t leave whenever I want and hop on the next train like I used to; I have to look at the bus schedule and see when the next bus is coming. They only come around every thirty minutes. Not only that, but the buses around the neighborhood don’t run between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., so going out in the middle of the day is out of the question.

Sounds ridiculous, right? But this is what everyday life is for me at home. It’s easy to see why living in Japan was so much easier for me. I was so stressed here. I told this to all of the hosts that asked why I didn’t like Maryland compared to Tokyo: my life in Maryland is nothing but going to class and coming home. Sure, most of my days were like that during my two semesters at Rikkyo too, but at least I had the choice of going out, especially on the weekends.

The regular bus here that runs on weekdays don’t run on Saturdays. Nothing runs on Sundays. Last train home left Ikebukuro at around 12:45a.m., while the last bus to get home from New Carrollton (on weekdays) is at 7:15p.m.

“That’s why you need to learn to drive,” people tell me. You don’t understand how much I loathe the idea of driving. For me, there’s no freedom in driving. It’s not like hopping on a train and going joy-riding to see where it takes you. If I want to drive, I need to know where I want to go. If I want to drive, I need to have a car. Cars are very expensive. Maintenance is expensive. I constantly hear my friends complain about the next stupid thing that happened with their car, or how they have to buy gas for it all the time, or how they almost got into an accident because of some idiot on the road. If I want to drive, I have to focus on the road. I don’t want to talk to people while I’m driving. Or eat while driving. I can’t play Nintendo DS while I’m driving.

It’s absolutely absurd how American transportation revolves around cars. When GM came crashing down, they got bailed out by the government. Meanwhile, one train collides into another on the Red Line in D.C., and we learn later in the news that Metro’s equipment was long overdue for maintenance, which probably wasn’t done because they don’t have a lot of money.

What has the U.S. government done for public transportation? Nothing, when you put it side-to-side with the car companies. What good does do other than “create jobs,” when these days everyone buys Japanese and German cars anyway?

I’m not trying to sound anti-American or a pro-Japanese freak. I look at things for what they are. A lot of people who have never had experience overseas don’t understand that the United States is very far behind when it comes to innovation. Everything here is about money, money, money. Oh well, at least we’ve got great computers. Japan doesn’t need them because they have awesome phones. And robots.

On the bright side, I had a huge lemon-filled doughnut yesterday.

I’m back. In the U.S., that is.

I woke up a few hours ago (4 a.m. Eastern Time) with a sore throat. I was in my soft, comfy bed, not realizing how good it would feel after sleeping on a futon for 11 months. I took some ibuprofen and then woke up again around 1 p.m. to eat.

My flight home didn’t feel so long. It was an evening flight, 11 hours to Minneapolis/St. Paul and then about 2 hours to Baltimore. I slept and listened to classical music on the first flight, which I must say was a great idea because classical music is so soothing.

Once I got to Minneapolis, I remembered two things I hated about the United States. One was from looking at the rip-off soda and snack machines. At Narita Airport in Japan, everything is just about the same price. The other thing was that I had forgotten to exchange my money before I left. Currently $1 is about 96 or 97 yen, which is a good thing coming back from Japan. When I find the foreign exchange service in the U.S. airport, I see the rates and I couldn’t believe it. They buy at 108 yen. So if I exchanged 30,000 yen, I’d only be getting about $276. If I exchanged in Japan, I’d have gotten around $310. See that huge difference? U.S. services are rip-offs…

So what did I do? I kept my precious yen. It’s going in a safe place for when I return to Japan, whenever that will be. What an efficient way of saving money, seeing that I can’t use it here. I went to an ATM and pulled out $40 just in case I needed it.

I guess I’m going to keep this blog, and I’m not going to change the name of it. ‘Gaijin,’ if you remember, means ‘outsider’ in Japanese. Even though I’m a U.S. citizen, right now I still feel like a gaijin. For the past 11 months I was surrounded by Japanese people, hearing the Japanese language, using Japanese services, and so on. I got so used to it. Tokyo became my home. Now everything has changed. I feel strange speaking English to people I don’t know, and seeing Americans everywhere. There are no schoolgirls and school boys in uniforms, no Japanese salarymen, old women and men on the train. My yen is completely useless and I have to get used to using American money now. My Japanese cellphone is useless here, and I have to go back to my Nokia, with a battery that can’t even last that long without charging it once a day. Last bus going home from New Carrollton is at 7:15 p.m., and if I miss it, I can’t go to a manga cafe or all-night karaoke, because there are none here. My next two semesters will be about going to school and coming home, just the way it was before I went to Japan.

No host clubs. Even if there were host clubs here, they wouldn’t be filled with Japanese people anyway.

If I’m hungry and want to go to a ‘convenience store’, I’d have to go to the nearby CVS instead, because American convenience stores aren’t nearly as convenient in location as they are in Japan. What’s more, I can’t buy my tuna mayo onigiri, because there are none here.

I feel like a gaijin in my own country. I’ll just have to get used to it. My friends can try and help me, I suppose. I can’t say I ‘miss’ Japan, because right now I don’t know how to feel. I just feel strange. I feel like this past year was just a long dream. But it wasn’t. I have all of the clothes I bought in Harajuku. I have the collection of CDs I bought from BOOK-OFF. I have a stack of business cards from the hosts I met. It all really happened.

Tokyo is my second home now. One day I’ll go back.