The Leaving and Coming to Japan
Sayonara Japan (Bye Japan)
One lazy afternoon on a weekday, on board a half empty train carriage bound for Narita Airport to pick my people, being on the first carriage, I could see the train driver moving about when the train makes a stop. Just behind the train driver’s cabin a couple was slouching onto each other for support. The lady was a youngish and slender Asian who seemed to have come from a Korean soap. She was wearing a cute T-shirt with a lovely pink design that I couldn’t figure out what it was. The T- shirt is all that could be seen as whatever she wore below was so skimpy that you could hardly tell if she was wearing anything at all. The man was tall, dark, heavily built and sinewy. He had a couple of tattoos here and there. He spotted basket ball wear – sneakers, NBA shorts and T shirt set and NY Cap. There were two large suitcases and a couple of bags strewn about them giving the impression that when they got in the train they just dropped dead.
The couple looked tired or deprived of sleep. They might have had a great time partying around Japan. When they looked up occasionally, a degree of sadness was obvious. I remember that feeling of exhaustion and sadness when I was leaving Argentina after my one month vacation back in 2005 and when I was leaving the Galapagos Island after a two years project back in 2006. I have never felt that way when leaving Japan probably because I know I will be coming back.
For the young couple this might have been their long awaited vacation that was lying somewhere on their bucket list. They must have been super excited to have made it. Now they are sad as they probably know this was a once in a lifetime chance. They fell in love with Japan but they have no plans to come back. It would be something to remember and tell their children someday. If fate would be on their side they might come back again, but who knows.
From the airport
On my return from the airport the train was buzzing with energy. Normally, depending on the number of flights, the trains can be a bit crowded at times. At one spot a group of foreigners who seem to be competing for attention. Laughing raucously and talking loud.
A few dots of exhausted passengers who I bet were local residents coming back home. They seem sad the fun is over, but I bet they can’t wait to enjoy all the different Japanese dishes they missed while away. After one month vacation to Kenya, I always miss dishes like Gyudon(Rice beef bowl), Onigiri (Rice ball with seaweed), Sashimi, Sushi and other trivia. Fortunately they serve Japanese meal on the inbound planes that slows down my craving before I eat someone.
In Japan foreigners are referred to as Gaijin. The term Gaijin is thought of as a bit derogatory, it means someone from outside. The better version of Gaijin is Gaikoku jin or Gaikoku no kata. These are normally used in formal settings, but as a foreigner you better get used to the word gaijin as it is common and more naturally used outside the formal settings.
Just before the train doors close, a middle-aged gaijin (foreigner) hopped in with his luggage. A Latino sporty guy with a well trimmed goatee. His name might be something ending with “nho” as he looked like someone fresh from a Brazilian C league team. Let’s call him Gaijinho. He had a twinkle on his eyes and very smiley. He seemed like he is smiling to everyone with both his eyes and mouth. Bubbling with energy and trying to engage anyone with conversation. It is easy to tell this is his first time to Japan. The first timers are normally more friendly, curious and looking to making friends pronto.
I had the same idea of making many friends 17 years ago when I was fresh from the ship. I couldn’t see my eyes but I knew I had a tinkle too since I was a ball of energy. In my country of origin being overly friendly is common. On the public transports people can just start a conversation. It can be on anything. Talking politics is quite big especially scandals. If you have a newspaper on a Matatu, you might make many friends especially if the commute is long. Matatu is a van type of vehicle used for public transport. If you know Toyota Hiace, then many Matatus are Toyota Hiaces.
First someone will start peeking at your newspaper trying to read the whole article as you are reading. When you turn to the next page, they will ask you to lend them the page you are not reading. After a while your paper is all around the place as many passengers around you will ask for a page. Finally, you might be waiting for some of your pages to come back to finish your paper. Once all the reading is done, then the discussion on the interesting topics therein (in the newspaper) begins.
My first few days in Japan on the train, I wanted to make as many friends as possible with each ride. So I smiled to almost everyone. Some people were kind enough to return the smile; some just looked at me sheepishly while others never made eye contact. Yes, better learn, not everyone is Gaijin friendly! I learned that the hard way twice on the train. I tried to strike a conversation and someone just stood up and walked away. Another incident someone got off at the next stop just to avoid the conversation.
A few meters from Gaijinho, there was another Gaijin who had no tinkle in his eye. He was middle-aged Caucasian of average height with baby fat. You can tell he was a seasoned Gaijin. I call the foreigners who have been in Japan long – seasoned gaijin. Seasoned Gaijin are like enriched food or enriched grain of rice. Actually I learned about enriched food a few days ago on Instagram from a certified nutritionist. When hearing the word enriched we simply think some value was added. In food terms enriched food means all the natural nutrition had been sapped out and artificial nutrition and preservative have been added to prolong the shelf life. That means the quality is down.
With time most Gaijin in Japan get seasoned. They start moving and living like locals. They lose their curiosity and energy as if someone sapped it out. In another perspective their energy level got adjusted to lower energy levels after losing an ion that was driving them. I hope I didn’t lose you there. In short they lost their muchness like Alice in the Wonderland.
I see this all the time at my work place. The new comers come with bubbling energy and enthusiasm. Some try to engage everyone in conversation. They go to everyone’s desk to say “Hi” in the mornings. Others group up to form a small flocking together platoon. They talk about every trivia experience in Japan. However, with time, they start slowing down. They stop talking to everyone or going to everyone’s desk. They cut down on their group activities with their flocking together platoon. Finally, they lose their muchness and stabilize. It seems like Japan is one big energy sponge that eventually sucks all the energy from outside.
Let’s wish luck to Gaijinho and let’s hope the seasoned Gaijin will someday reclaim his muchness. And for the young couple, let’s hope they come back again to Japan with their kids.
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