Like White on Rice

Almost a year ago when I came back to Japan for the first time in over 3 years, I wrote about having to adjust to several aspects of the culture. Work hours, language, you name it. After 8 years away, for better or for worse I had become Americanized and some things about the Japanese culture were so blatantly foreign, even shocking to me.

This time feels less like a holiday and more like real life – in a good way. It feels like coming home from a long summer in America and settling into the daily routines. I know the system here.  I feel like I can express my personality like never before. That’s the part of learning a language (or in my case improving a language) that is fun. And in the oddballs, dead-beats and misfits that make up many a hotel staff, I feel like I’m accepted as one of their own, perhaps especially because I don’t quite fit in here either.

It is an interesting phenomenon. Whether I’m in Japan or America I always feel like somewhat of a foreigner. In America my foreignness is more subtle and I can hide behind knowing about the culture. In Japan it’s unavoidable. When I meet people in America, I sound more and more foreign as the conversation goes on. In Japan, I am less and less foreign. Neither is better, I just find that Japan allows me certain privileges and advantages that I might not have in America.

There was, however a situation last week when I learned that I still have a ways to go. Let me set this up by saying I’ve eaten a lot of rice in my life. I have to admit that being here, I get a little sick of eating it 3 meals a day. Growing up, my siblings and I would make fun of my parents for not knowing the different between good and bad rice. Brown rice was even worse. Hard, dry, tasted like cardboard. So some Japanese friends took me to a restaurant in Obuse, Japan that is famous for cooking their rice the way they did hundreds of years ago. My Japanese friends were all commenting on how good it tasted, and although I agreed that it was good, I couldn’t necessarily say it was better than any other rice I had eaten. Alas, I will never be fully Japanese. And that’s alright, I’m learning that it’s more important to be me.

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In other news, the video of winning nationals came out! Check it out when you get a chance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crx15UdTpQU

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Among Two Worlds

I just left home. Now I’m home again.

In other words, I left the US last week and made it to Japan safely. I stayed in Tokyo for a few days, eating Thanksgiving dinner at an American family’s house and continuing my 4-year streak of not being in America for such a North American Holiday. I reconnected with Japanese friends, whom I’ve known since kindergarten and elementary school. I went to church in Ueda where I grew up, and in true Japanese fashion they threw me a dinner party even though I insisted that they not make a big deal. Then I rode the train and returned to Shiga Kogen, where I will stay again this winter for about a month.

Seeing Mt. Fuji from Tokyo with American friends

Seeing Mt. Fuji from Tokyo with American friends

It is strange to me how completely different my two worlds are, yet how completely I can belong to each simultaneously. Americans can’t imagine a white boy like me speaking fluent Japanese, and Japanese people ask me fairly frequently if I can speak English. I can see where they’re coming from. When someone seems so American or so Japanese, it’s hard to imagine that person as anything else. It’s like trying to imagine a long-haired person you just met with short hair: You can’t do it.

Although I have inhabited both worlds for quite some time now, I’m becoming increasingly aware of my need to choose one. I want to live somewhere. I don’t want to just float from one destination to the next because it’s too easy to run away from things that matter. Living somewhere means knowing people and involving yourself in everyday life. It means having seasons, even if some of them aren’t your favorite. I’m sure the snowbird lifestyle suits some, but I’m not convinced that it’s healthy or what God desires for our lives. We need more meaning than air-conditioned villas, well-groomed golf-courses and perpetual summer. Comfort is nice sometimes but it’s not a purpose to pursue. Undoubtedly my two world are intertwined and I will always go back and forth between the two. I just don’t want to use that as an excuse not to get down and dirty in the nitty gritty of one.

The difficult thing is that I could see myself choosing either world. I love Robert Frost’s poem about the road less traveled. For my life, it would read “Two roads diverged in the Pacific. I chose ________. It has made all the difference in the world”. Maybe I could live in parallel universes where one Daniel lives here and another one lives there. Or I could time travel and relive one or the other.

Coming to Japan, however, does make me biased. Unlike any other place, when I return to Nagano I breathe a sigh of relief because I finally feel like I’m home. America is great, but I feel like Japan needs me more. From economic stagnation to one of the highest suicide rates in the world, I have opportunities for influence here that I don’t have elsewhere. For now I feel like that is a gift I am meant to use.

Japan also has this meal for 290 yen ($2.50). Who says Japan has to be expensive?

Japan also has this meal for 290 yen ($2.50). Who says Japan has to be expensive?