My first night in Japan, I stepped out of the grandiose Keio Plaza, walked the streets of Shinjuku, devouring everything around me with child-like innocence.
And then I saw it!…a devastatingly beautiful Japanese woman, with an unpretentious air of sophistication and elegance about her.
She suddenly stopped, I quietly observed, bent down ever so gracefully, and then picked up a piece of paper lying incongruously on the streets of Tokyo, placed it in a nearby bin, and kept on walking.
I was left aghast, more in awe as I contemplate further. I had never seen that: a woman, worthy of nothing less than having her divine beauty plastered on every billboard in every country in the world, would bend down, in the rain no less, to pick up an idle piece of paper.
I would go back and tell all who would hear what I had seen.
That simple act, I think, aptly characterises Japan. Perhaps, it is my naivete or unworldliness that would make such a big deal of a seemingly trivial act, and, in fact, that may well be the case.
I am from a country most people have never heard of. My only window to the world has, for the most part, been living vicariously through the pages of National Geographic, the images on the Discovery Channel, and tales from those privileged enough to explore.
The more I ponder, the more I know that I am right. There’s an unparallelled reverence to Japan—thousands of years of tradition that fuses almost seamlessly with an utterly modern and progressive society.
I have seen spectacular skyscrapers only to be nestled next to ancient shrines; gender-bending fashion at a train station with someone wearing a colourful kimono standing right behind; I have dined at a traditional Japanese restaurant, eaten sushi and tempura and next to it a Mc-Donald’s.
The contradictions are almost endless.
What is not a contradiction is its people. Disciplined, kind, honest, friendly are unworthy adjectives to describe the Japanese.
Every morning when I bike to work, I am greeted by old women who smile and say “Ohayo gozaimasu” (Good morning), children of all ages who blush and hail a gentle “Konnichiwa” (Hello), co-workers who almost always give me first preference to most things, whispering “Dozo” (Please), and everyone who simply bows in respect.
Japan is, in fact, unlike any place I have ever visited, and I am quite sure I ever will.
I never had any expectations of coming to Japan to work, much less live, but it happened.
The Japan Exchange and Teaching (Jet) Programme came to me; I didn’t go to it, only hearing of it a mere few months before applying.
It’s funny how life is when you really think about it. You never know who you are going to meet, where you are going to go, or what’s going to happen.
I guess the thrill of not knowing is what makes life so fascinating and well, so beautiful.
This experience, thus far, has been much more than learning about the Japanese culture. It’s about learning about people, and I have come to realise that everyone has a story to tell.
I now know of a girl who is of Cambodian and Vietnamese lineage, born in Thailand, but left there because of a war, and now calls herself an American. I am humbled by that.
I know of a guy from Harvard, Massachusetts, who climbed Mt Fuji with sandals, and the only thought to register in my mind was “Wow!”
A Babylonian, born in Iraq, whose family suffered through an oppressive regime, I can now call my friend.
I now know a British girl with the most extraordinarily beautiful blue eyes who thought me a new expression called “lovely tired.”
I now know a Kiwi who told me about her travels throughout Asia; a Scottish couple who shared their love story; an American who, without ever knowing me, showed me around Namerikawa on my first day in Toyama.
These are a few of many stories I have come to love and appreciate.
Quite frankly, I was scared coming here. I still am, honestly. Being here alone, not knowing the language, not having anyone from your country around you is terribly overwhelming.
The unfamiliar is terrifying. As much as I cherish those who I have met and what I have seen, I still long for my friends and family at times, eager to hear a “Trini” accent or a home-cooked meal only your mother can make.
But as I sit on my bed, computer on my lap, and I look out and see a kaleidoscope of fireworks dotting an already perfect sky, I can safely say I have made the right decision coming here.
Jenson recommends: Never forgetting where it all started. =)
Side note: I wrote this article for the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian almost four years ago.Today marks the anniversary since I moved to Japan and it is remarkable how in spite of changing so much a lot of me and Japan have thankfully remained the same. =)