Open scene: I arrive in Japan after six months of travel to the church that I’ll be living at for six more months.
The church had my bed set up and ready for me. There was food in the fridge and snacks on the table that would double as my desk, stocked for breakfast. Also on that table was a welcome note.
And, as I got settled, the pastor went to the nearby noodle restaurant and brought me back my first meal in Japan.
Over the next few days, I got oriented with the help of the pastor and other church members- I went grocery shopping, learned the church’s usual weekly schedule, and found out that I’d be teaching English twice a week.
I’d like to say that adjusting to being in Japan was easy, but I had difficulties on three sides: the already-present homesickness from being away from home for so long, the utter overwhelm of how different everything was, and the fact that I was living on my own for the first time.
The first couple of months, my main priorities were to develop weekly routines to take care of myself, and to learn how to be with the people and in the place I now found myself.
During March and April, my proudest accomplishments were simple things, like making cheese sauce for the first time and doing my first full-page doodle in a while.
Being in a new country means there’s no such thing as background noise for the first while. Every single detail brings itself to your attention, for you to evaluate how important it is to take note of. You don’t know what’s common. You don’t know what things to expect to be together, and to be apart, and so you have to take in everything and hope that the kaleidoscope of sensations will at some point resolve into a clear image that you can make sense of. Until they do, you’re operating at max bandwidth.
I think that’s why things like cheese sauce were so important to me. They were not only pieces of the puzzle coming clear, but also spaces I could create for myself where I didn’t have to be overloaded, at least for a while.
During that time, the youth took me on a day of sightseeing. I was still terribly overstimulated, but there were points where being present was easy.
(All of that food is fake. I didn’t know this yet, but most restaurants in Japan have fake-food models of their actual dishes displayed where passers-by can see them, which makes choosing a restaurant to eat in wonderfully convenient when you can’t read anything. The side effect of this practise is stores where you can buy fake food kits, and they’re incredibly amusing to visit.)
By sheer good fortune, I was in the right half of the month for cherry blossoms. I was only able to make it out once to see them, but they were beautiful.
I’d known that cherry blossom season is important here from various anime shows, and it looked so stunning that I’d hoped I would be able to see it for myself.
I was so glad I did.
Before my second month in Japan ended, the pressure of figuring everything out had relieved enough that I was able to be creative again, and I started working on The Tree and the Grave, a Twine game which I’m aiming to release in October.
When I was looking through my photos for ones I wanted to share with you, I came across the first sketches I made to plan the game. The diagram at the top is of the layout of the location you explore and the basics of how you started, how you ended, and how all the bits in the middle connected to each other.
The drawing at the bottom was the first thing I did- an illustration of the game’s core image to anchor everything, especially mood.
Due to the way I had to deal with visas, I couldn’t stay in Japan for the whole six months, but had to leave the country for a bit every few months. This ended up being perfect, allowing me vacations when I sorely needed them. On my first vacation, I went to South Korea, and then went to Nara and Kyoto before returning to Tokyo.
These pictures are all from Nara:
I love that last one of the tree growing out of the stump. It made me think of one of my favourite visuals from The Tree Remembers.
Speaking of trees, I saw more in Kyoto, as well as a river:
Back in Tokyo, I was still pretty frazzled, but I had my best friend with me (who’d met up with me in South Korea) after she was done in Kyoto.
We saw a movie in a 4D theatre, visited a cat cafe, and discovered mysterious corners of the city.
We also went to the Ghibli museum, which I’d been looking forward to visiting ever since I knew it existed.
Never mind Disney World, this place is downright magical.
Things kept slowly getting better for the next few months. Aside from my vacation in Hong Kong, I took almost no pictures. I wanted to focus on living life. A year is a long time to be in vacation mode, and I’d stopped being able to keep that up in Denver.
That’s the thing about travelling for as long as I have. So many people, after hearing what I was doing, were so impressed and I could almost see images of grand adventures forming in their minds. It’s what I had in my mind before I left Canada. And, while it’s not entirely inaccurate, it’s just not everything.
You do a lot of just plain living in a year.
In the middle of that, you find poop emoji plushies.
You move from the one-room space on the third floor of the church to the apartment on the second floor on the other side of the same building. (And put your workspace inside a closet, because that’s all you have room for, after which you tell everyone you’re a closet writer, because that’s the kind of jokes you like to make :D )
You walk along narrow streets under a multitude of power lines, keeping an eye out for vehicles.
You take the train when it’s too far to walk and empathize with the out of order ticket machines that you pass by that one day in the station.
And you work and you eat and you teach and you worry and you sleep.
And you long for home.
I’ve been homesick the whole time I’ve been here. There hasn’t been anything I or anyone could do to change that. It’s how I spent the three years I lived in Alabama when I was young. It’s how I am whenever I’m away long enough and far enough.
I love to travel.
But I love my home more.
In my last couple of months here, even with the homesickness, I started to feel more at ease here. Realistically, I was more at ease here with every week, but mid-August was when I started to feel it. This past Sunday, during church, I was looking at everyone when the thought came into my mind that this is my church in Japan.
I held the thought for a moment, savoured it, and accepted it.
I have a sort of home here, one that I will come back to when I return to Japan, if that happens (I hope it does). My mention of Alabama earlier wasn’t random- without realizing it, I’ve put down some roots I didn’t know I still knew how to put down. That’s an interesting thought that I could write a lot about, so I won’t delve into it now. But it’s there, and it’s good.
When I counted the weeks I had left back in August and saw that I had three, I decided that my last three weeks here would involve me doing things I wanted to do. The Tree and the Grave was with the proofers, so I didn’t have any writing projects to work on, so I used that time instead to do a few little things.
One of the church youth wanted to do something with me for a day before her summer break ended, so we went to Enoshima.
I’m almost done my last week here now, and the two things left on my list are going to see Wonder Woman (which will be in English with Japanese subtitles. It just came out here the Friday before last and I don’t want to miss seeing it in theatres), and going to an introvert cafe. Aside from that, all I have left is travel prep.
Which means I’ll be saying goodbye to everyone soon. I’ve already said goodbye to one person who left Tokyo for a bit in August and won’t be back until after I leave, and that was hard enough.
But, after a year away, I can’t wait to be home.