There’s no place like home when you’re thousands of miles away. I received a tweet from my homie Bey back in July about coming to visit in August. At first, I couldn’t believe it. Was one of my good friends really gonna come all the way out to Japan? In the year I’ve been here none of my close friends or family have visited. I assumed none of them would make it over here due to the expensive airfare. Sure enough, a few weeks later Bey sent me his itinerary. It was legit. He would be arriving towards the end of August.
This was a crazy! I had no idea what to do when he got here. He was only gonna be here for a few days. I felt obligated to expose him to as much culture shock as possible within those 48 hours.
The day he landed, I took a scenic drive west through the winding countryside roads to Narita Airport. An interesting feeling came over me when I arrived. That had to be the first time in my life that I went to the airport to meet someone. Usually, I’m the one being met. I waited expectantly with the other non-fliers at the gate, many holding up signs in various languages. Should I have brought a sign? Would Bey be able to find me? Of course he would. I stand out like a scarecrow in a rice field in this country.
Our timing was well because I didn’t have to wait too long before he showed up. We headed out to the parking lot and then rolled off into the setting sun. It had just about set by the time we got home. We went to go grab a bite to eat and catch up on things at one of my favorite curry spots. A lot had changed since I left. I lot more had changed since we last talked. His visit more or less felt like a three day-long conversation. There was never a shortage of things for us to talk about.
With social media and Internet news keeping me plugged in to whatever might be going on in Philadelphia (or America), it’s still so difficult to imagine how things have actually changed. One thing about living abroad: you only can remember your hometown as you left it. Another thing: there’s no way you can possibly stay in touch and updated on every single thing back home. It’s like trying to live two lives. I realized that when Bey was in Japan. Just one year detached and there were already American pop culture references that flew right over my head. Like this, for example.
We went to Tokyo for sightseeing one afternoon. With him there with me it was like experiencing that Cyberpunk Wonderland for the first time all over again. Electric billboards the size of buildings. Dark-suited salarymen and women surrounding us on every bus, train, and street corner. It was like a scene out of The Matrix. The scary thing about it all though is that the Matrix is super real out here. People are working ‘til the last train at jobs they don’t like. Holding up outdated ideals and traditions. And, in my opinion, being distracted from the biggest problem of all: Fukushima. America is stuck in a Matrix too though; no doubt about that.
The afternoon before Bey’s flight we headed out to Ushiku Daibutsu in Ushiku, the northern neighboring city. I had seen pictures of it online and honestly expected it to be only around the size of Kamakura Daibutsu, which is still fairly massive. As we neared our destination, out of nowhere a huge Buddha towered among the trees in the woods. You know that feeling you got when you were a kid: when you’re headed to a theme park and catch the first glimpse of the largest coaster from the backseat of the car? That kind of excitement rushed through us. It was one of the largest statues I had ever seen in my life. Upon arrival we found out that it was one of the largest statues of its kind in the world.
Here I was, barely a twenty minute drive from what could be considered a wonder of the world: Ushiku Daibutsu. Yet it took a friend visiting from America for me to finally step out and take a look at my own backyard. There’s so many things I’ve wanted to do in the last year; so many places I’ve wanted to go in Japan. Yet I keep telling myself things like, “I’m broke” or, “You’ve seen one temple/shrine, you’ve seen them all.” I think it’s a syndrome of living in one place for an extended amount of time. Eventually you stop becoming a tourist and start living like a resident. Living within your means and routines. Now that I think about it: I probably don’t even know Philadelphia as well as I thought. I lived there my entire life, so I never really had an incentive to do much exploring beyond what I already knew well. Traveling may sometimes be expensive, but I think it’s time to bring the tourist back in me. Because as they say, “Travel is the only expense that makes you richer.”
Although it was short, I hope you have grown richer from this experience Bey. I know I have.