I miss Japan

This morning is cool and pleasant, not too dry, and the sun is finally taking its time to rise. It’s fall. Summer here didn’t remind me much of Japan, probably mostly because I have spent far more time in Japan during winter than summer. Partly perhaps because there are no lively cultural festivals around here. Partly I am sure because no matter how hot it gets in Southern California, the humidity never approaches that of old seaside Yokosuka.

But now it is feeling like fall, when I am out in the early morning, I remember Japan. I remember putting on leggings under my uniform to combat the chilliness. I remember how empty the streets were for the most part, as I rode my bike through the dim light toward where my ship was moored. Sometimes there would be drunk Japanese people just leaving the bars in my neighborhood around six in the morning. There would be crows as big as some people’s lap dogs tearing open discarded bento boxes. There might be an alley cat or a tanuki sneaking around the corner as you approached.

But it’s almost silly to describe the peacefulness of a morning in Japan. It is always peaceful in Japan, after all. Of course there are commuting hours, crowded trains, and long lines to deal with at times. Of course there are hungry people and others who struggle with mental illness, homelessness, and more. There is no Utopia. But all I know is how any fights and assaults and insults and hostile expressions I see all the time in America — and I do not even venture out as much here as I did in Japan. In Japan though — I know I am beating the dead horse of my memories — I was amazed by the strangers who went out of their way to be considerate of me, a foreigner, let alone their own countrymen. My Japanese professor here said that in a country so densely populated, only a polite society could survive. This makes sense, but I am living in quite a crowded American city, and… Here we do not seek harmony as a means of survival; we see it all as dog eat dog. If I don’t cut you off on the freeway, I’m not working hard enough to get to work on time. Your children are trying to fall asleep? Too bad for them that it is my right to drive down your street with music so loud it vibrates the kids’ beds.

I don’t mean to write again about how much more peaceful I found living in Japan to be than living here, but it is hrs not to. It is hard to be reminded of a place where I was so happy, then go about my day in a place where… Where surely I have my fond memories, but where I am daily facing conflict and rudeness and dirtiness and frustration. I have often thought that America’s greatness really owes to its vast landscapes of mountains, seaside cliffs, canyons, and more. Truly there are awe-inspiring natural vistas here — and not far from where I currently live either. But even this saddens me because by and large, we Americans love to litter and destroy our beautiful continent. Why? Fuji-Yama is not dirty! When I walked, biked, hiked, and rode trains all around Japan, I rarely saw candy wrappers and fast food cups strewn about…

Again, Japan is not Utopia, but I wish America would learn some Japanese virtues… And really I wish to go back to Japan.

But for now, I will just be going to my physics lecture.


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