We’re home! It’s actually hard to believe that just a short time ago, we were going about our daily lives on another continent. Life here is so normal again that Japan hardly seems real – maybe it was just a strange dream. Our household goods shipment is going to arrive later today, though, so perhaps being reunited with our stuff will help to remind me of where I spent the past 9 months.
I almost didn’t get to leave Nagoya Airport. Oops. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons)
Of course, it wasn’t easy to leave Japan. Not just because of the friendships and fond memories that I wrote about in the previous post – I mean, it was literally challenging to leave the country. This is because I had some kind of a brain malfunction when I was packing, so I ended up with two knives in my carry-on. I of course would never be dumb enough to do something like that (right), so when the security scanner asked me about them, I swore I didn’t have any in my bag. Right until he produced them in front of my very eyes. This earned me an escorted trip out of the security area back to check-in… nothing makes you feel like a fugitive quite like having a personal security escort taking you out of line at the airport. Then, at the gate, Joe’s checked lighter earned us an additional meeting with the security personnel (it was eventually determined that he could carry it on the plane but not check it into the baggage compartment – no, it makes no sense to me, either). Finally, at our connection in South Korea, the scanner found squid jigs in a forgotten pocket of my backpack (for the uninitiated, these are intimidating little devices with very sharp hooks all the way around). I don’t know what you would use them for in an assault situation, but any squid on the airplane wouldn’t stand a chance. Needless to say, they have been donated to the security team at Incheon Airport. I hope they catch some good squid with them. I had never been “caught” with anything
in any airport security line before, but here I had three strikes in one day. Maybe my subconscious really didn’t want to go after all.
Home Sweet Hotel
It’s hard to believe that the end is in sight. Our belongings are being loaded onto a Seattle-bound boat and we’re in the much-maligned state of expat limbo: living in a hotel. I’m sure the maid wonders about our odd assortment of luggage, which is mostly souvenirs and fishing poles at this point. We’re in the same hotel that we started this whole adventure in back in December, so it’s a rather fitting way to neatly tie up this whole experience. I’ve had a lot of time for reflection this past week as I took up the role of professional appointment-sitter, waiting for movers and couriers and inspectors to make the rounds through our apartment. It’s fun to look back and see how far we’ve come in such a short time.
I consider myself to be somewhat of a self-reliant introvert, a dangerous classification that manifests itself in a “just let me figure it out by myself” mentality. Nowhere is this tendency more apparent than in a foreign country; whether traveling or just taking care of business, it’s always preferable to work things out on my own. Ask for directions? No way, just give me a map! Ask someone else to take our picture? Nope, I’d rather devise an acrobatic/engineering feat of epic proportion to steady the camera and propel myself into the picture a split-second before the self-timer releases. I’ve got it, thanks.
This past week, though, I was reminded of just how great it is to rely on the help and expertise of others. This may not sound like rocket science to you, but believe me… it’s a real revelation to me.
Not long after moving here, I stumbled upon a gem tucked in some back alleys and warehouses near Nagoya Station. I’ve been around Seattle long enough to know what it means when you see men running around in rubber boots and carrying Styrofoam boxes full of ice: it must be a fish market. After a few days of walking past and trying to catch a glimpse inside, I finally worked up the courage to venture into the fray. Hanging around Pike Place Market in Seattle doesn’t prepare you for the utter chaos that is a high-volume wholesale fish market in Japan. Restaurant buyers are placing huge orders, men are carving tuna with 3-foot-long “knives”, and orders are being rushed to and from trucks on speeding carts.
Visits to this morning market have become a real treat for me over the past six months. I always make a point of taking visitors there, since it is such an “authentic” experience. I’ve grown from being too nervous to check it out to becoming a regular customer… I even have “my guy” that always gives me a discount on a small package of tuna from that day’s fish. I love it.
Today I visited the market with my camera in hand, hoping to capture some of the experience in order to share it with you. Warning: there are a lot of dead animals in the following blog post. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.
The food in Japan is very, very good. No two ways about it. When you have a culture that prides itself on attention to detail and has an appreciation for only the freshest ingredients, the only possible result is delicious food. On the other hand, the food in Japan can be very, very expensive. There are times when I don’t feel like cooking but also don’t feel like breaking the bank at a restaurant… so we take those opportunities to hit the local fast food joints. I’m only a little ashamed to admit that I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur of Japanese fast food. Continue reading
12:00 is the national lunch hour in Japan. At precisely 12, the office buildings literally empty themselves onto the streets – and suddenly the city becomes a river of business suits and briefcases. This is not a good time to ride a bike to the supermarket (I’ve tried, it’s hopeless to attempt to navigate the sidewalks). It is, however, a fantastic time for a little bit of people-watching.
Japan is not a quiet place. Of course, you might argue that no city could be described as “quiet”, but Japan seems to have taken all the noise to a new level. At first, I thought this was just part of the culture shock of moving from a rural environment to the city, but I’ve come to realize that a lot of the noise is unique to this country in particular.
I was validated in this realization by this great article in the Japan Times this week – if you have the time, give it a quick read (it’s short and sweet). The article provides a humorous description of the noises that I encounter every single day. For example, an observation about shopping: “To reel in the customers you have to first hook them with an earsplitting ‘Irasshaimase!’ [‘Welcome!’] Otherwise, they may swim down the street to some other shop. Which is why everyone everywhere is screaming.” It’s so true!
The one way in which my experience differs is inside of our apartment. Fortunately, it is dead quiet in here. Either our neighbors are mute and light-of-foot, or the walls are an impressive feat of sound dampening technology. Either way, the apartment is a great place to seek retreat from the noise of the city down below.
Except when the appliances come to life.