This was a trip of surprises within surprises. I went to Japan with the exceptions of years and years of desire can only build, and watched as the paint fell from the walls. This is jumping the gun a bit. So, a few brief questions so the faint at heart can feel satisfied.
Did I have fun?
Did my views of Japan change?
Am I glad I took the trip?
Yes and no
Do I want to go again?
Now, this may have confused or created many more questions, but I have a firm belief that in the unraveling of my story most things will be answered. If there is something unanswered, leave a comment or send me a tweet or shoot me an email.
My trip to Japan began on the morning of January 28th after staying up late with my girlfriend, Susan, who I knew was feeling sad about my departure. After saying my goodbyes, I got to the train station and took a train to Busan. The problem: my train was running late, I arrived late in Busan, I arrived late to the airport. So, I rush to the airport and quickly get on the plane (after they confiscate my toothpaste, shaving cream, and shampoo!! I forgot to put them in plastic bags ㅠ.ㅠ), which is a pretty noneventful and fast flight. It was a very empty flight too, I got to take the window seat even though I had an ailse ticket.
I arrived at Kansai airpot and have to go through immigration, and.... get turned away at first.
"No address no entry."
I don't know any addresses in Japan by heart, and Raj hadn't told me his address. I had someone's stored online, but there was no internet. I thought I was getting turned away before even getting in, but I wrote a vague area where a friend of mine lives and somehow got through.
Then, a friend of mine from USF, Raj came to pick me up. He and I weren't very close at USF, but after living with him for nearly two weeks we have become very good friends. It is probably what I feel is the best thing that happened from this trip. He has a nice small apartment in a quiet area outside Osaka. Of course, the first thing we do that night is go to a bar and I learn Japanese alcohol a bit. I also learn a lot about what my friend has experienced by living in Japan, the culture he's learned, the things that surprise him, and making sure I try all the food I should try while I'm in the area. For me, it is very interesting because I automatically compare it with Korea. Before, I thought the two countries were very similar, but I learned that they are much farther apart than the East Sea shows.
The most prominent thing I witnessed: Japan is a land of extremes. You have completely dry and uncaring next to drunk businessmen hitting on other men next to monks praying in a busy intersection next to a could be mass-murderer next to a secret suicidal. All this flowing in a very impersonal manner with all emotion and feeling surpressed in what I believe is designed to not show weakness.
In any case, it's not the family loving Korea that I came from. That is what i felt even in the air. It just feels less loving in Japan. This is also aided in my feeling uncomfortable as I began to see through the paint and realize a lot of Japanese culture is largely constructed simply to look the way it does and nothing more.
After spending a few days with my friend Raj, going to bars and watching new movies and sharing music, I decide to visit Hirakata where Kansai Gaidai (the University USF has an affiliation with) is and see some of my old friends. Traveling there made me realize another thing about Japan.
Transportation in Japan is ridiculously expensive (as well as everything else).
For what would cost about $5 in Korea costs about $15-20 in Japan. In general, things costs 2-4 times more expensive in Japan than Korea (without taking into account the exchange rates). A further side-note, 100 Yen is equvilent to about 1 dollar, except it's a coin! and there's a 500 Yen coin too! Change is very important in Japan.
I arrived in Hirakata with a lighter wallet and a head of Nostalgia. I get to visit some of my old friends from USF who are now exchange students at Kansai Gaidai. This is when another cultural realization occured. In Korea, when you are out drinking, it is perfectly fine to just join other people and start talking if they show some interest. In Japan, you stay with your group of friends and never really acknowledge other peoples existence. Of course, I ignored this and met some of the people around the pub. To the Japanese, this seemed like a very strange thing, but I'm a crazy foreigner so they just play along. I even met some fresh exchange students who were too nervous to speak anyone Japanese and helped them make some friends. All in all it was fun for me, but a strange way to learn some of Japanese culture.
I stayed the night in my friends apartment that had minimal heating. It was cold.
The next day, I met an old Japanese exchange student friend from USF. She showed me around Kansai Gaidai, which was interesting. It's very small and reminds me a bit of a very nice High School, but it was very nice.
I spent the night at my other friends apartment; there was no heat. It was freezing.
I met some more friends both American and Japanese the next day, and had a fun time being a bit nostalgic but also trading stories of our experiences. It was very nice seeing my friends and I told them I'd meet them if they come to Korea. I felt a lot closer to my friends at USF both being foriengers then I did when we were attending USF together.
Another heavy blow to my wallet and I'm back at Raj's apartment.
Plans go aschew and I learn a bit more about Japanese culture, thankfully Raj is an easygoing guy and lets my plans adjust with no problems. At this point, I was missing Susan and Korea a lot. I felt like I'd seen enough of Japan without even getting to see all of my friends, but I carried on and I'm glad I got to meet my friends and see everything I got to see.
I met a bunch of the old Japanese exchange students in downtown Osaka with Raj and it was very nice seeing them all, but things just felt different. These were also more than just "Japanese friends" they were some of the first friends I made during college. Even though it was different, it was great to see them again. My good friend Keiko gave me back "The Republic" which I'd lent to her in America and we got free drinks for 3 hours! This night, my friend Haruka and Haruka (double Haruka) invited to bring me to Kyoto the following day.
Kyoto was very nice. Once inside the temple area, it was a completely different feeling from that of everywhere else I'd been in Japan. It felt nice, relaxed, and peaceful. Even in this blissful extreme of Japan, from the Temple you could see the other extreme roaring on the horizon. I had a great time with my friends who showed me a great time visiting both the peaceful and busy sides of Kyoto. I should also say, both Haruka's wanted to say "hi" to my family, especially to Molly ^^
After this trip, I returned to Raj's apartment and we continued being brothers for the remainder of my trip. I left out in the beginning, but he took me along to help out in his job. He teaches English all around the area he lives and has a great time doing it. The absolutely most memorable pupil of his was a man named Dae (think "Diet" without the "t"). This man pays Raj to come to his house and teach English, but he invites many of his friends over and cooks dinner for everyone!! He is also the most understanding and accepting person I think I have ever met. I went to his house twice, each Friday I was in Japan. It was an absolutely great experience both times.
After this, like the previous Friday, Raj and I went to the darts bar near his home. This bar has one of the coolest bar tenders ever. Taka-san was a great guy who knew how to make everyone feel involved. This time was a little different though; the Friday prior the bar had been empty. This time, there were many people in the bar. It was a hodgepodge of student aged kids to mid-life crisis aged adults to some guy called "Boss". The absolutely most memorable thing from this night came in the form of a strange Japanese guy. He had started buying me and Raj drinks at one point and gave us about $5 to play darts. He also asked us to come home with him. As a result, Raj and I decided we had to stay in the bar until he left.
The next big event was spending a day in Osaka going to Osaka Castle and downtown. I went to the castle with Raj, his girlfriend, and some friends of hers. The castle was very nice, but the inside was a museum, which made it less exciting than climbing a real castle. The view from the top was very nice though. It was interesting learning a bit of history behind the castle, and getting to read Korean for the first time in a little while.
The night was much more interesting. We went to some pub-type place and then Karaoke. At most Karaoke places you get free drinks as long as you are there. I drank a lot of whiskey, which, to my surprise, made me start thinking in Korean. So, I started speaking in Korean, but I was in Japan. This fact made me angry, so I began shouting in Korean, in Japan, in the middle of crowded paths.
The next few days were just preparation to leave. I thanked Raj for being a great friend and having such great hospitality, sent messages to the people I couldn't meet, made sure my family knew I was alive, talked with my girlfriend, and packed my bags. On the morning of February 9th, I made my way to the PanStar Ferry dock, where I began meeting Koreans again for the first time in awhile.
Immediatley, I realize how much warmer their personalities are. I made some great friends on the Ferry and was forced to talk in Korean because of their lack of abilities in English. I also learned some interesting things about the area in Korea where I am staying. I learned it is pretty much like the Alabama of Korea, which only makes me want to explore Korea more. My new friends threw me a party that night and we exchanged contact information and promises to visit.
I arrived in Busan on the 10th and was very happy to meet Susan after being apart. I said goodbye to my new friends then spent the night in Busan with Susan. I felt like I had come home and was happy to be back. I was glad to get the desire to see Japan out of my system, surprised by what it presented me with, and had built up many great memories to look back upon later.