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[personal profile] sanet
Ah, travel. It goes like this. When things are still up in the air beforehand and all I can do watch events approach on the horizon, I fret terribly and write it all down. But once I get to my destination and am immersed in real situations -navigating airports, finding trains, living and working among hundreds of strangers- then I become fearless, and busy, and don’t need to write a thing.

This is a problem when it comes to field notes, and blogging. I'll try to remedy that a little today.

Well, I've done way too much in the past two weeks to summarize it all fairly here. Through the JSPS summer program retreat, I've become friends with a guy who makes snake-robots, a psychologist of memory, a German film director, and a French urban geographer. I've had great conversations with a Japanese fan of Anne of Green Gables, and been lent copies of long-out-of-print manga by the most outspoken, party-loving middle-aged housewife/careworker you'll ever meet. I've stood in awe of the Great Buddha of Kamakura, and seen bunny-girls in red satin garters dancing in Tokyo Disneyland's noon-time parade (theme: "Easter Wonderland.") These are only a few glancing snapshots of the kinds of people I've met and the places I've visited.

But how can I convey the texture, the immediacy of being here, in Japan, right now? Because now that I've moved into my litte Ikea-style apartment and settled into a research routine at Wako University, I’m living very "close to life." Every necessary action, from eating to dressing to washing, requires new approaches, habits I haven’t formed yet. These details of daily living occupy my thoughts unduly. When can I put out my trash? What counts as "burnable"? Where can I put my damp facecloths when it's raining out so that they'll dry properly and not get that awful musty smell?

And more. Every day I encounter a thousand things I can't unsee yet. I have to think about milk brands and Suica cards. I have to notice the rubbery texture of a tiny purple-flowering weed pushing through the asphalt and the liquid song of some unnamable bird. Even just seeing an insect on the wall is an occasion, because I can’t skim over it by placing it in a detailled system of understanding, either the semiotic structure of naming or a more practical system based on how common or uncommon it is, whether it bites or not. I must read each thing I encounter out in full as I encounter it, part by part (does the insect have a stinger or pinchers? Does it look like a biting insect I know?), in just the same way that I can’t skim a database of Japanese titles for interesting articles, but must painstakingly look up the kanji in each, one by one. It's not alienation in that "Lost in Translation" sort of way. It's a very intense engagement with everything, maybe too intense. I see why we develop the habits of familiarity, as filters on all these myriad details. It's exhausting to live so close to things.

Well, I'm rambling. So in conclusion, I can’t understand yet what it means to "live in Japan." I have no concept of "being in Japan" from a transcendent point of view. You might say I’m still living in the immanence of here. I’m in Japan. But I don’t know "Japan." I don’t know where I am. I only know a little about the immediate where I’m in. That is enough and more than enough for me, for now.

Is this the usual experience of first moving to another country?

Date: 2010-07-03 04:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Sounds like you're having a great experience!

Date: 2010-07-04 01:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's really something, I tell ya!

Date: 2010-07-11 05:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Amazing! Hope all is well and enjoy the newness. Soon enough it will be nostalgic.


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