Hokkaido: a whole nother Japan

I'm back in the States now. For good. Have been here for a week. I wasn't expecting any readjustment shock, but that's exactly when it hits you. Here's some of my thoughts that I wrote in an email to a friend in Ukraine:

Waiting in line for Jamba Juice, I observe a line out the door and employees slacking off behind the counter. My Japanese sense gets me irritated to tell the manager to open another register so people don't have to wait so long. But I get the better of myself.

I still bow to drivers who let me cross the street before them.

I want to get waiters' attention by saying "sumimasen".

I start a lot of sentences or thoughts with, "it would be a whole lot more efficient if..."

And further more, I find myself talking less to strangers. Why? It can't be that I haven't spoken English fluently for a year. I spoke everyday with my English teaching colleagues. I find myself speaking very politely with anyone and getting nonchalance and casual speech back. Haven't I forgotten how to speak with pepperings of slang and lingo? Maybe.

But onto the title track of this blog entry. Hokkaido was awesome because it was the antithesis, remedy, and release from many of the things that frustrated me from Kansai/Honshu life. Kansai's tight spaces were opened by Hokkaido's open wilderness. Kansai's smog, haze, and pollution were blown away by Hokkaido's fresh air and dark skies. I saw my first clear sunrise and sunset in Hokkaido. It only took me a year! Kansai's busy-bodied, martyred overworkers were subdued by my pals at the Akan Nature Center who frequently napped in the office while they waited for their next gig.

I want to capture the spirit of my time there without putting it through the filter of my nostalgia now that I am back in the States. So I'm transcribing a page from my journal for your reading pleasure.

7/27 - It's hard to imagine hot air ballooning ever becoming a routine thing that I do, but that's exactly where I'll be a week from now. Today I felt more familiar with the procedure, so I could anticipate what needed to be done. Kurokawa-san (the pilot) took me up first thing and I was ready with my camera to take some pictures. It only occured to me afterwards that I was ballast for the test flight, with the possibility of crashing if something went wrong!

Afterwards, I hung out with the "guys" at the nature center. Ryo (owner's second son) was taking a long course canoe tirp and invited me to come along. Perhaps on the possibility that the lone child would want to sit "cleopatra style" with his parents paddling. But he wanted to paddle, so I took a solo canoe. Good practice for my strokes. And endurance! There was a headwind which sometimes blew my bow (front) from side to side. I wanted to be a model paddler, but sometimes I had to alternate paddling on each side to stay a straight course.

We took a tea and cookie break on the side of lake Akan where it was nice and calm. I chatted just a little to show that I could speak Japanese and they needn't feel shy to speak to me. "Nihon wa doo desu ka?" - How is Japan? This simple question still stumps me. I'm learning the basics even as I round a year in-country. I said "August, last year". That was the end of the conversation. Now I'll say, "Nihon wa suki desu." I like Japan.

We paddled through the reed cover on the way back to get some relief from the wind. I wanted to try my headstand before we got out but now show off at the same time. At the end I got my chance. A little shaky, but I did it! I'll need to teach that one to Ryo and company before I go.

I guess I was pretty pooped from the event because I napped all afternoon. Had dinner and a bath at Yoshidayama's and came back to the apartment. Sylvan (the other WWOOFer at a local restaurant, he's French) and I wated a pirated copy of Hayao Miyazaki's Porco Rosso. It reminded me of Tail Spin on the Disney Afternoon Cartoon circuit in the early '90s. Which one came first? Oh well, it was fun but in French. So I understood about 60%.

Stay tuned for more pages out of my Hokkaido journal in the coming days! Even though I'm back in the States, I will keep this blog up-to-date. I'll be recording my international and cultural adventures. If you can look at your own country with foreign eyes, it's just another adventure!


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lauren said...


my name's lauren, and i randomly came across your site. just wanted to say that i think your worldly experiences are absolutely awesome. thats something that i plan on doing in the future as soon as i get university out of the way!

any traveling tips you'd like to share with a younger, just as ambitious voyageur??


Moz4 said...

Hey Jefe,
I am glad that you are adjusting to life back in the States even though it might be a slow and sometimes painful process. I think your next travels should bring you back to Africa. Your previous stay wasn't nearly long enough. Thanks for checking out my blog!

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