During my final month in Japan, my friends kept asking, “What will you miss most?” I always struggled to come up with an answer because I wasn’t sure. I had a feeling I’d miss certain things like how polite everyone is, or having my own apartment, but I didn’t really know. I’d answer that I’d miss the food. Which is definitely true. Japanese food should be hailed as some of the most delicious food in the world. I’m not just talking about succulent sashimi or scrumptious sushi – but every single meal I had prepared by Japanese people was amazing. Maybe there’s a part of Japan that has less delicious food, but I wouldn’t believe it. I sort of wish I was exaggerating. It’s a great place for a cook - the grocery store is filled with wonderfully fresh ingredients! I miss frying up tentacles. So good!
While the food was phenomenal, I ended up missing something a little more subtle. I miss the cleanliness. Japan is fucking clean. Yes, an expletive was necessary. The only comparable place is probably Germany, but I wouldn’t know. I’ve just heard tales of its cleanliness. Which I’m sure are true, however Japan as I know it, is the cleanest place in the world. Damn. They sweep, and scrub, and wash everything daily it seems. Sometimes the streets would smell like bleach. I’m not kidding. I watched people prune trees, meticulously sweep sidewalks, and of course always remove shoes indoors. Garbage didn’t seem to exist. You can’t even find garbage cans – no joke. Ask anyone who’s lived there, you’re lucky if a convenience store has one.
Japan is beautifully, magically clean. It’s my sort of paradise. I believe in keeping things clean and organized. Apparently, they’re on board with that. When I returned to my hometown, what immediately sprung to mind was how dirty everything and everyone looked. I felt grossed out actually. I feel sort of bad about my reaction, but it was unexpected for me. I took for granted how absolutely picture-perfect everything is in Japan. People painstakingly keep their clothes tidy, and nothing ever looks out of place. Men and women in suits, children in uniforms, and even people dressed in casual attire appear freshly washed and pressed. In Canada – more specifically my blue collar hometown, people seem to wear just about anything. Ripped sweat pants and a t-shirt dappled with paint are acceptable clothes to wear in public. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I have to say I was a little spoiled. Even farmers in rural Japan didn’t appear out of place.
As an aside, the real reason Japanese people and the community at large appears so immaculate is due to their fear of offending anyone – or for that matter, bothering anyone. Seriously. They can’t even imagine intruding. It would be the worst, most horrible thing (another thing I have in common). Well, apparently my sensibilities became tailored to that environment and when I returned I…turned my nose up at it. I laugh at it now because it seems silly but it’s good to reflect in complete honesty.
So I miss the artfully clean streets of Japan, and the perfectly done up pedestrians – what else do I miss? I miss my apartment – as tiny as it was. It was my place. I ate what I wanted, came and went like I pleased, and on top of everything, had a sense of freedom and independence I’ve never known before. My family was in another country, but they might as well have been on another planet. I had no obligations outside of work. It was different. Now that I’m back home, things have more or less reverted back to the way things were.
What else do I miss? My friends, my students, the local grocery store, the 7-11 with my favourite clerk, washing and hanging clothes (oddly enough)…I miss my life there. My imaginary, brief life on another planet across the ocean. I had another identity, I was a different person. I became a person that enjoyed teaching children and adolescents. I should reiterate, I definitely miss some of my students (and others I'm all too happy it was the last time).
Thinking about how I miss everything now really makes me realize how ignorant I was before. I took the simple things for granted, and assumed I'd just be happy to be home. Which, don't get me wrong, I'm happy - but I can't help lament over the conclusion to a chapter.
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