I held my $20 bill in both hands outstretched as I handed it to the man at the register. As I gave him a slight bow he snatched the bill outta my hand and hurried up to make change for me. No bow, no saying, “I humbly receive your money” Just my change and a loud, “Next!” I couldn’t believe it, but I felt like a foreigner in my own hometown.
One week wasn’t enough. I hopped off the plane on Friday the 13th at Philly International and already felt different. I wasn’t prepared for my return. Just packed a suitcase in a half hour and left. Probably left a light on too at my apartment. Everything seemed so rushed. While at baggage claim I caught myself staring at other black people. Looking for a window of eye contact to give a quick nod of the head or a greeting. Snap out of it Malcolm, you’re not in Japan anymore! Can’t just go around expecting strangers to say hello to you. This is Philly!
I forgot that the sort of unofficial bond (or more a need to say hello) between black foreigners in Japan didn’t exist in America. I had my first little run-in with culture shock in the city I was raised in. These little things would keep happening throughout the next 6 days. On one occasion I found myself speaking to my family in the basic English I use in the classroom. It was like I forgot how to speak a million words a minute. Or what a “jawn” was.
Although the only things I did besides go to the wedding were eating, hanging out, and playing Assassin’s Creed, the entire vacation felt cleansing. I was feeling kinda negative because things didn’t work out with a girl I had been dating for some time. Instead of meditating or calling up a friend and venting my feelings, I took that negativity to the basketball court a few nights later. My aggressiveness in the paint led to me breaking my glasses that same night. I couldn’t do anything but laugh at that point. “Things can only get but so bad before they get better,” I thought. My philosophy was playing out right in this very moment. It was a sign that something good would be coming my way. I had a feeling that that good thing would come to me in America.
I arrived Friday night, the wedding was Saturday morning. I don’t think I slept at all that weekend. Just being around friends and family constantly. The wedding was just filled with Love, Happiness, + Positivity. I don’t think I’ve seen that much of my family in one place, having that much fun, ever. It got me excited about having my own wedding one day, a very, very long ways away. The rest of the week I spent catching up with friends and other family who couldn’t make it to the wedding.
On Tuesday, I had a brief yet perspective changing conversation with a former coworker. I guess he could tell by my vibe that teaching English wasn’t something that I was planning to make a career out of. As I made my final goodbyes he told me this:
“You need to know your why. What is it about Japan that makes you twitch, gets you excited? Why are you living there? What could you be doing there that you couldn’t do in America? You don’t have to answer me now, just think about it. Once you figure out your “why”, then you’ll know what step you need to take next.”
I was so caught up in my routine that I actually had forgotten why I was in Japan. I really didn’t know. All I knew is that I wanted to move to Tokyo. Yet I felt stuck where I was. Feeling the need to uphold a commitment to the schools. Having no money to make the move even if I did find a job. And writing…well I can do that anywhere. Ibaraki, Tokyo, Philly, NYC it doesn’t matter where I am as long as there’s a pen + pad handy. It seemed as if my “why” needed a thorough review.
A few days later I was enjoying my last time out with friends at StuntLoco. A whole mix of people came, from old high school friends to Temple alumni. We all funked the night away (well ‘til 1:30am) to my homie SYLO crafting genre-crossing mixes on the turntables. After StuntLoco, I had yet another perspective changing conversation with my friend Maura. She studied at TUJ around the time I returned to Japan to work. She was filling me in on what some of the study abroad alumni had been up to since they returned to the States. I was surprised to find that some took the same route as me after graduation; moving to a foreign country to teach English.
“Would you consider taking an English teaching job to get back to Japan?” I asked.
“The only way I’d come back to Japan is if I got a job in something I want to do in life” she replied.
I was filled with clarity when she spoke those words. Many of us, English teachers, put our passions on hold so we can go across the world and enjoy these once in a lifetime experiences. Some of us have quit mid-career to make the move. Although my career path is a bit more unconventional than most, I can’t let my decision to temporarily live in Japan impede my progress. I have to base my big decisions from now on, on whether it will be a step forward or a step backwards on that path.
Friday morning I got on the plane to Narita feeling recharged and rejuvenated. You know what they say, “No one is a prophet in their own land.” We all tend to realize the significant in things in Life when we are in a land foreign to us. I guess this isn’t always the case though. This time, I had to return home so that I might know more about myself, and where I’m going.
*Changes will be coming to Tales of a Ronin in the Fall. I’m going to try something new with all the material I’ve been writing outside of what I post here. In short, things will be getting a lot more personal.