Japan? Wakanai.

The film kept slipping off the reel.

Of course, I’m talking about those memories of living in Japan that keep repeating over and over again in my mind, sometimes devolving from hi-definition montages into the equivalent of a tweet being endlessly retweeted across my neural web. Memories that, for me, constitute a moment in my life that made me realize I was living in the wrong movie. I mean, everybody has a movie they feel they’re living in, right?

You probably have no idea what I’m talking about, but that’s okay. I can’t even fully explain it myself, because living in Japan isn’t something that is best experienced reading about, or discussed with your friends or family. After you return from a trip to Japan, I dare you to try and explain to your brother or sister or best friend that you visited a café in Akihabara where you were allowed to hold gigantic owls and pet them, and then you were treated like an absolute king in an upstairs Shibuya Maid café, full of cute Japanese girls dressed up as—you guessed it—maids, and then you spent your nights avoiding Tokyo’s neon trance that sucks you into a moonlit underworld of hostess clubs, izakaya universities that taught you how to properly drink until you see triple, and the eventual karaoke nightcap, where your Japanese friend will completely surprise you by belting out a better version of U2’s “With or Without You” than Bono ever could’ve dreamed of singing. You simply can’t explain these experiences. Believe me, I’ve tried.

I could go on, I suppose, and talk about more memories like the ones I just mentioned, though they might feel more… rural, calm, sobering, even. I spent the better part of five years living in Japan, and almost all of those years were spent living in Tokyo. However, I did spend a great deal of time living in Hiroshima, in order to do research for writing my first fiction novel, and I can only describe it as the total opposite of the fast-paced, train-infested, idol loving, transient Tokyo that I have experienced many times over. Hiroshima is more blended together under a collective, proud banner with a message on it that declares victory over its tragic past. It’s bike-riding, enjoying castles and gardens, traipsing around the Hondori Mall like I have no other care in the world, sweating to death at a Carps game, all under a continuous, hot summer sky. It was meeting people who were more than happy to welcome me with smiles, even if those smiles were pulled sluggishly from their tatemae reserves. However, I think these memories of Hiroshima I want to keep more to myself, simply because they would confuse anyone I talk to about Japan, as a whole. That leaves me to really wonder what a person could say in only a few, simple paragraphs about what Japan is like, or what it means to somebody like me who lived there?

So here it goes: Every time I have got off the plane at either Narita or Haneda or Hiroshima airport in Mihara, I’m instantly assaulted with the fact that I have truly jumped into another paradigm of thinking, whether I wanted to or not. And you know what? I love it. Both visiting and living in Japan has helped me realize that there is still so much to see and learn and discover and become a student of, and it usually begins with taking everything I have come to know and understand about etiquette and social responsibilities and human interactions, and then throwing all of my Westernized behaviorisms in regards to those things into the separated-by-type trash bins which are everywhere in Japan. And I’ve been open-minded and game to do it every time too, because I’ve found that when I do play along in Japan and become one of the many nails not trying to stick up too far, I suddenly am part of the “WA” and the harmony that it brings. Oh, and if you’re lucky like I’ve been, you’ll also be able to write in an essay like this one a cliché statement like “I’m a better person for having lived in Japan,” and you’ll actually mean it.

And so I am.

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