There is so much to be learned

Narita Airport

Welcome to Japan. It felt unreal to see this sign.

It’s been over a week since we returned to Brazil. (I wanted to write about our journey before, but since there was work to do, I couldn’t.)

I have to start thanking my friend Ana; she agreed on this crazy plan to cross one ocean and two continents (and even the Equator) to get to the place I’ve been dedicating my platonic love for so long. She put up with my moodiness, social anxieties and general fears until the end. (I’m fully aware that that’s no easy task.) Not only that, she introduced me to her wonderful friends — without them, our journey wouldn’t be half as good as it was.

For someone born and raised in a mostly unknown city with 1.4 million people and a single line of train, Tokyo is quite maddening, with all its trains, its colors and sounds, its stylish/cute/pretty people and things. We got lost in literal and figurative ways; we found beautiful things in usual and unusual places; we’ve seen awe-inducing landscapes, either man-made or natural; we’ve even grew self-conscious with so many stylish people surrounding us (no one could be as kawaii or as oshare as the Japanese, I’m certain of that).
We chose one of the most fortunate times to be there: autumn. The maple and gingko trees were such a joy to look we could as well have just sat all day in a park and enjoyed the view. All the old Japanese poets discussing which season was the best were suddenly justified.

Green, red, yellow, orange, brown leaves...

Mount Takao, in beautiful colors, without tengus.

We went to pleasant Sumida Park (at the margins of the river), to proud Mount Takao (in hopes of meeting flying-squirrels — and not crossing any tengu‘s path), and to the famous Rikugien garden to see the autumn colors. We didn’t have luck with Shinjuku Gyoen and the Imperial Palace’s East Gardens (since we were late and couldn’t get in), but we managed to find San’yabori Park by chance in a rainy morning.

Finding things you weren't looking for.

Rainy San’yabori Park, in our way to Imado Jinja.

We intended to visit more shrines than we actually visited, but after crying at Meiji Jingû, discussing love with the gods at Imado Jinja, and thanking the Asakusa Jinja gods for our incredible stay in Japan, I find no reason to complain. On the other side of the torii lies indeed a parallel dimension.

Of course, we got the opportunity to see human accomplishments too. On our first day in Tokyo we managed to see all skyscrapers from the 350 meters tall deck of a super-crowded Tokyo Skytree (our omnipresent view from Asakusa), and to pass through quite a lot of bridges on Sumida river while aboard a water bus. We’ve been to the famous Shibuya crossing (twice!), we’ve ridden Yokohama‘s iconic ferris wheel — and everything really feels like future in those places. In our visit to the Asakura mansion we could see how beautiful Taishô era style architecture was — a glimpse of a not-so-distant past. We’ve also seen countless examples of ingenuity and talent for display at the Drum Museum (Taikokan), at the Ghibli Museum, at the Edo-Shitamachi Craft Museum, and, naturally, at the Tokyo National Museum (where we had our BEST guided tour). And I didn’t even mention the food, OMG!, Japanese food, why so tasty and beautiful and wholesome? I miss you so much! ww

Yokohama's harbor of the future.

The fanciest clock in the world, at Yokohama. (Yep, I’m totally ignoring Big Ben.)

In the end, this whole experience made me update my own definitions. Last year I was on the verge of giving up everything. I failed at every single possible thing I tried to do, and started thinking I was aiming way too high for my puny skills. (They say it’s only natural to think so right before or right after graduating, but knowing it won’t make it less painful.)

However, after being asked those famous questions again: “what made you study Japanese language? How have you gotten interested in Japan?” — I was forced to rethink it all. I’ve never answered them properly, and I still find quite hard to explain my reasons, but here you go: it started with anime, lots of anime, I can’t deny, even though I learned to be ashamed of it. It was due to Japanese animation that I became aware that there was this country called Japan, and they had these customs that were different from ours sometimes. (I also always thought character development in anime was better than in American animations. At least as a ’90s child.) From anime I got to TV dorama, and before I knew I was listening to Japanese music (I blame the Internet for all this). From there, I wanted to know more about the language and the culture, and it reached a point where I decided I was going to get a degree on that, somehow. At the university I learned about literature, and from literature, I got interested in folklore.

Okonomiyaki is kinda like a pancake, if a pancake had all sort of delicious ingredients attached to its boring recipe.

Here’s a picture of an okonomiyaki. It’s not relevant to the text, but it was relevant to my taste buds.

Today I think what makes me love Japanese culture so much is the aesthetics, which differs so much from ours. Maybe it’s a shallow reason, you know, liking a culture for what it thinks is beautiful. But I can’t seem to find a better explanation. I’ve already tried to say I like Japan for its hardworking, polite and thoughtful people, but I realized I can’t really categorize the whole people of a country under those characteristics, even though they’re positive. It’s simply not fair for anyone to be summarized under stupidly simple adjectives — adjectives that could probably be used for a lot of other people, from a lot of different cultures in the world as well.
So I’ll go with the aesthetics excuse. What Japanese culture think is pretty, I think it’s pretty too. (Some of it, at least.) But what I like specifically is the effort to make things pleasant and appealing. That’s what I could finally grasp in our journey to Japan. You can be looking at a knot that keeps a curtain in place, but even this tiny knot will be beautifully tied.

At Meiji Jingû.

Yes, tiny knot; senpai has noticed you. (Meiji Jingû)

If this great adventure has served a purpose, it was the purpose of making me fall in love with Japan once again. The purpose of not letting me forget everything, and not letting me give it up. Not only they make things better, but also they make me want to be better myself. After living so many wonderful moments, and meeting so many extraordinary friends, who went out of their ways to make us feel at home (even me, who was nothing but a stranger with dreadful Japanese speaking abilities), I just can’t pretend I’d be satisfied studying or working with anything else.

(I acknowledge that a great deal of this charm must be due to our tourist view of Japan, and that visiting as a tourist is not the same as living there, having to deal with everyday problems, pressures and expectations. Even so, I feel I’m bound to like it, and to keep wanting to come back.)

In only two weeks there I’ve been able to feel this unexplainable warmth I’ve been looking for since I can remember. I’ll always carry with me this impression that, for a fleeting moment, I was on my ibasho, the place where I belong to.

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