I left Fukuoka today three weeks ago, and it has taken me this entire time to feel that Sydney could be home again.

When I left for Japan almost exactly a year ago, I did not expect for Japan to twist itself so deeply within my psyche.  Not just the people I managed to meet and befriend in Japan, but the lifestyle, the weird mix of convenience and tradition, the food, everything became an integral part of who I am.  Maybe it was because it was the first time I had ever lived by myself without the support of family, but for the first time in my life, I was one hundred percent independent.  And maybe this independence is what made living in Fukuoka so much more than living in Sydney.

I still think exchange was a two part experience for me, but I think that only added to my life overseas, and gave me an opportunity to try and feel and think about more things than if it had been one cohesive unit.

At the same time, with all the travelling that I managed to do during my time in Japan came a realisation that I did not just love Japan for just its pop culture or its fashion or whatever I had picked up over the years watching anime.  I loved Japan for its people and its culture, for its traditions, its legends, its beliefs, and its contradictions.  The kindness that its people showed to strangers, and its rejection of foreigners for fear of damaging their culture.  Their respect for their own ancestry and their customs that help them pay their respects to their heritage.  Their pursuit for innovation and technology while their society still relies on paperwork and cash as a foundation.  The way that everything was built for maximum efficiency, but the people working it could be the slowest workers in the world.

And with all my observations of Japanese culture came also observations and realisations of my own culture and ancestry.  Observations about the current state of mind in China, within the Chinese people.  Strengthened beliefs about why Hong Kong will never really see itself as part of China.  Realisations that Australian national pride comes in the form of telling everyone about how terrible Australia is and being proud of how terrifying Australia seems to everyone else in the world.

But in the end, any sort of self discovery about my own heritage was eclipsed by the love I found for the Japanese way of life, and way of thinking, and way of doing.  I felt nothing walking through Fukuoka airport, until the plane started to move, and the workers bowed and waved the plane off, and I realised that this was the end of my year in Japan.

I would like to say that I didn’t cry, but at least I didn’t breakdown.

And for now, I’ll just keep dreaming in Japanese, until I’ve worked enough and saved enough money for me to go home.


Hyakunin Isshu No. 7: The Sky’s Meadow Above

By: Abe no Nakamaro (701 – 770)                             阿倍仲麻呂

I gaze into the distance                                                天の原
And the meadow of the sky above                           ふりさけ見れば
Becomes the Kasuga Shrine                                      春日なる
On Mount Mikasa                                                            三笠の山に
In the coming moon                                                      出でし月かも

Abe no Nakamaro | Katsushika Hokusai | Galerie Zacke

Abe no Nakamaro | Katsushika Hokusai | Galerie Zacke

Abe was descended from a previous emperor, and growing up was applauded for his academics and intelligence.  Since he was active during the Nara period, as a smart young man he became part of the mission to China during the Tang dynasty.  Somehow or other, he was the only person to stay, and became an official Chinese.  He first tried to return to Japan when he received a Japanese employ, but his ship sank not long after leaving China.  When he attempted to return to Japan again after several years, his ship was wrecked again.  After that, he gave up trying to return to his homeland, instead becoming a high class Chinese official and living the rest of his days in Hanoi (then part of Chinese territory).

Abe never really lost his academic prowess, and was a prolific writer and close friend of prominent Chinese poets.  However, although he lived quite successfully in his adopted land, Abe never really forgot his homeland, and this tanka is supposedly written at his farewell party before his second departure.  In my notes, this tanka is apparently a reflection of his reminiscing about how he prayed at Kasuga Shrine (a symbol for departure in Japanese classical literature) for a safe trip to China, and seeing the same moon that now hung in the sky before him.

Katsushika Hokusai | Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

Abe no Nakamaro | Katsushika Hokusai | Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

The intense longing for Nara, his homeland, the anticipation that he must have felt at finally being able to set homeward bound, the stillness and quietness of the night as it enveloped him in memories.  Nothing is quite like home, and the fact that he never really made it back to his beloved Nara is kind of (read: very) heartbreaking.  He wanted to stay for a while, and ended up staying forever.  For everyone who has been on long long holidays, or lived overseas, or been away from home for extended periods of time, I’m sure there have been times where you just wanted to go home.

And Abe never really got to go home.  Sure, he became a Somebody in China, with the career and the friends, but this tanka just shows how much he missed Nara.  It’s not evident in the translation that my book provides, but an alternative translation reads this:

When I look up into the vast sky tonight,
is it the same moon that I saw
Rising from behind Mt. Mikasa
At Kasuga Shrine
All those years ago?

And I can’t help but think about my own imminent departure for Japan, and the moment that I realise that I’m not quite home, that home is far far away, and I wonder how this tanka will feel then, when I gaze up at the sky at the moon that is shining on the distance that separates my home from me.

optictopic | Flickriver

optictopic | Flickriver

On the Road to Japan, Pt. I

Apparently, I’m to live by myself.

I’m to live by myself, in a 16 square metre room, with my own bathroom, my own fridge, my own landline, but to cook, or to watch T.V., I will need to socialise with other people on my floor because that’s communal.  (I really hope my eventual floormates know how to clean after themselves, because I really don’t want to cook in a dirty kitchen… and I hate cooking already dirty dishes aren’t going to help increase my motivation at all.)

Despite knowing where I’m living, and knowing how much rent I’m paying, I’m yet to know when I get there.  Of course, I know that the time frame for my departure to the Land of the Rising Sun is sometime in late March or super early April, but the exact date? I’ll find out early-mid March.  Which gives me maybe two weeks between knowing when I leave, and actually leaving.

Only two weeks?  Some people, like my mama, might think, outraged.  Only two weeks to prepare for a year away??! Two weeks to apply for things and get everything ready??!!? That’s not even enough time to prepare for a one-day party, let alone a year!!!!!111!!one!

I used to think that too.  But now that I’m in this position, just waiting for things to happen… I think… not knowing is okay.  I feel like knowing the exact dates for when I leave will make it seem final.  I’ll have to finally finish cleaning my room.  I’ll have to make sure I finish all my snacks in my room.  I’ll have to start saying ‘See you in a year!’ to people I don’t see for years anyway.  But, at the moment, without an actual date, my imminent departure is just floating around in the air, as an eventual someday-it-will-happen rather than a final goodbye-dear-friends-miss-me-a-bit-see-you-in-a-year.

But since I can’t really just sit here and do nothing for the weeks leading up to it until I find out when I leave and start swearing at how much I need to do and how much I haven’t done… what can I actually do?

For one thing, I’ve started studying.  Just so I can say more than just すみません (excuse me) and 日本語を分かりません (I don’t understand Japanese) to people.  I’ve exchanged some $$ for ¥¥.  And I’ll go and open a magical no-transaction-fee, usable-in-fifty-million-countries bank account, just so I can avoid opening up a Japanese bank account and trying to understand what the heck they’re saying about terms and conditions when I don’t even really understand half of what the terms and conditions are when I open an account in Australia.  Where they speak English.

In any case, things are happening, and time is passing, and eventually I’ll know the date for flying to Japan and I’ll start panicking at how little I’ve actually cleaned my room, but for now, I’ll just slowly work my way through the days and enjoy all the little moments that life has to offer.

Like 20 degree weather in the middle of an Australian summer.

Ikea love <3

I had an epiphany today.

I am destined to have a future home filled with colours, disco balls and quirky knick-knacks that might not necessarily complement each other, but will end up doing so out of my sheer force of will.

I am also destined to own an Ikea house.

Ikea, that glorious glorious place filled with furniture packed flat for convenience and encouraging generations to learn how to use a hammer, rooms filled with dream houses and interiors for anybody and everybody, cheap everything so that impulse buys will never hurt until you realise that small new shelf you bought doesn’t fit anywhere because your home is already crammed with Ikea impulse buys.

And the fooooood.

The cake.

Oh my gosh.  The meatballs.

And if I could have those in my Ikea sourced dining room before going to my Ikea decorated bathroom to brush my teeth and get ready to go to bed in my Ikea furnished bedroom… some may call this plebeian, but if getting an entire room decked out for less than $1000 but looking like it cost ten times that amount, then I embrace my plebeian-ness.

Because, as one of my friends said,  We love our bread, we love our butter, but most of all…

We love Ikea.