June 17, 2010

Further exploration into the (dis)Orient


Three weeks of Japan behind me and I'm feeling a little out of it. The contrast in lifestyle and setting between less than one month ago until now leaves me disoriented. I've done much since arriving in Tokyo and taking time to write and reflect has been lost in the shuffle of those strange Japanese sandals. My deeper frustrations with the unknowns that await me at home are showing as I struggle with my continuing identity as a foreigner.

I've finally met my boyfriend's immediate family, some of his friends, and visited his father's grave to pay respects. I've been to a symphony, a wedding reception, and even to a dog hotel (no, I was not a guest). I've eaten cheap Ramen in local restaurants and Kobe beef in a 5-star hotel at prices only a mother could love. I've met with a shoemaker who was astonished at the poor condition of my feet, and I've met with a life counselor (the Western world would probably call her a “fortune teller”) to discuss my past lives, present life and future decisions (she thinks my foot problems are a manifestation of my mental frustration). I've developed a green tea habit and fondness for fine sake (the need-a-second-job-it's-so- expensive kind). I still can't sing worth a lick, but I haven't lost my passion for karaoke.

On the briefest of Japan tours, this week I visited Kyoto, the old capital city. The traditional temples built centuries ago still perch gracefully on hills in the forest, or nestle between modern buildings in the city center. The most striking element for me was the bright orange color used as an accent on the temple buildings and gates. Next, In Takamatsu, a city that most tourist pass by, I strolled the famed--though politically charged--garden of Ritsurin. One of Takeshi's father's best friends invited us to visit Takamatsu for the day, and what a wonderful tour guide he was! Besides showing us the garden, taught me how to eat the tasty, but uber-slippery Udon noodles; and he is the one who introduced me to the aforementioned fine sake. On my last Japan tour stop, I enjoyed the port city famous for beef so delectable that American basketball star Kobe Bryant was named after it. The city of Kobe is a quaint town with a heavy influence of the foreigners who helped create it. From the front seat of the bright yellow “Splash Kobe” amphibious vehicle tour, I was able to view Kobe's most notable attractions while being a spectacle for the locals. As the tour was given totally in Japanese, I learned little, but saw much.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is watching soccer. As an American, I am not born in cleats and shin guards, but as a person with a strong interest in international relations, the World Cup is fascinating. And, in Japan, all eyes are on an underdog team whose first round upset against Cameroon has the nation's hopes higher than expected. Now all we need are American-style sports bars with mega TV screens and fried cheese—though I'm sure fried seaweed, fermented bean paste, or fresh fish eggs would also make good game food.