R Scott Okamoto
And in the End...
Day 14- Sunday, July 9
It was our 23rd wedding anniversary. Of course we forgot about it until we boarded our flight that afternoon. We spent the morning packing up our suitcases for the last time and cleaning up the apartment. It had been a nice 4 days and 4 nights of not moving after we had spent the better part of 2 weeks packing up and moving every 2 days.
We got out of the apartment and found some coin lockers to stow our stuff near the Hotel Nikko, where Miyuki and the cousins had stayed a few nights ago. Then we were able to relax in the Diver City mall for a few hours. The food court there is incredible. We had some good takoyaki, freshly made just like in all those market stalls. We had fresh-made yakisoba. The kids got ramen. We shared some rather good tonkatsu. For a mall food court, it was all great, like a food review of our entire trip.
Then we used up our coins and bills to take the train to the airport. Our flight was at 4:30pm. We landed at LAX at 10:20am earlier that same day. The kids are still trying to figure out how that happened. I might, occasionally, ponder it, myself.
We’ve been home for 4 days, and every time I go to sleep, I dream of Japan. It’s like it won’t let me go. I’m constantly dreaming about looking at train routes and figuring out how to get to where I’m going. My deep psyche has not yet come home. The jet lag has been pretty fierce. I haven’t slept for more than 4 hours at a time yet. Even last night, I went to bed at 11, feeling exhausted. I was up at 12. And 1. And 2. Each time waking from dreams of traveling or exploring new places.
I’ll still be processing this trip for years to come, if not the rest of my life. Some things were confirmed for me. Like in America where I am a 4th generation American who will never really be accepted as an American by society, I am Japanese by race, but I will never be accepted as Japanese in Japan. I knew this going in.
Japan is an amazing country with a lot going for it. Like a lot of countries. The upsides are things like the civility, though that can also be a downside. People are people. The behaviors vary by country (for better and for worse), but human nature will always be the x-factor with good and bad characteristics.
I do feel changed in both my identity and my perspective. It’s hard to describe. In general, I think I feel more grounded in my identity. My mom recently mentioned, offhand, that her family is from Hiroshima. Why didn’t I know that? I think my dad’s family is from Tokyo. And Osaka. Before those were just names of places. Now those places have faces, landmarks, food, and other images in my mind. Most importantly, those places now fit into a historical context for me.
Both sides of my family came to America at the turn of the 20th century, just a few decades after the establishment of the new government in Japan. My identity no longer begins there. It now extends back centuries into places and people I have just recently met. I’m definitely going back to explore more.
I had lunch with my good friend, Shin Kawasaki, yesterday. He grew up in Japan, and when I told him all the places we went, he filled in a lot of the history of those places. If he weren’t one of the finest musicians in the world, he would probably be a history professor, so great is his enthusiasm and grasp of history. I’m inspired to keep learning.
Final thoughts on traveling in Japan:
- Amazing transit system. Almost always on-time. We rode a bus in Roppongi that pulled over to the curb for a few minutes because it was running a little AHEAD of schedule.
- Google Maps is your guide for walking, busses, trains, and even some restaurants and sites.
- Ignore those “10 best restaurants” lists on western websites like Trip Advisor or Yelp. Or at least proceed with caution. They’ll mostly lead you to overcrowded and overrated spots that are friendly to English speakers. Also, if you’re in a big marketplace and see a line of mostly non-Japanese, move on. You’re looking at a place that has an English website or has advertised in western media. It’s probably a very good spot, but no better than the one across the way or even right next to it.
- As of July, 2017 things in Japan are relatively inexpensive. Air BnB’s in amazing places were around $100/night for five of us. Tokyo was a little more. Food is a lot cheaper than here in LA.
- America should have high-speed rail. Holy shit. That was amazing.
- It was surreal to be in a place with basically no crime. Being able to walk the streets at any time, in basically any place, without a thought to personal safety was definitely a great thing about Japan. Watching people ride up to a store or restaurant on bikes and just put the bikes on the sidewalk without locking them up was heartbreakingly cool. It could never happen here.
- Some sushi, like tuna, is better (different) in Japan. Some is basically the same. Being in California, we are close to one of the world’s best sources of uni (Central coast), so the uni wasn’t really any better. No one had Hamachi in Japan while we were there.
- Ramen in America is catching up. There’s more love and local richness in each bowl in Japan, but those good ramen spots here in LA are a pretty good, too.
-Listening to westerners walk around criticizing Japanese culture is everything wrong with western culture.
- The financial windfall of nouveau rich Chinese and Taiwanese tourists could save the world. #taiwanomics
The one bit of Japanese I could say well was, “Arrigato gozai mas.” Thank you very much. Saying that to restaurants and shops always made the person smile. And if you’re still reading this, thank you very much. OK, I’ll say it. Arrigato gozai mas.