I woke up this morning not to the sound of 1,000 cicadas bent of the destruction of every human eardrum in the vicinity, nor to the paper boy marauding around on his motorbike at 3 in the morning. Nor did I awake to the heat of 12,000 suns bearing down on my flat and threatening to melt the very fan that kept me alive. No. This morning I awoke to the sound of silence, but for gentle birdsong and the whisper of a cool breeze that brushed past the curtains carrying the sweet scent of the country air. “Welcome back,” it said, and I slid out of bed, made a nice cup of coffee and began to write.
When I came back to England in December it was sincerely worse than Japan. Apart from the few lovely days I had in and around Salisbury, the trip was mainly a disaster; I’d split up with my girlfriend a couple of weeks before, there was snow clogging all the transport systems, it was freezing and dark, my best mate broke his arm and couldn’t come out for drinks, and everyone was grumpy and sick, which subsequently gave me the flu and made me bed-ridden for 5 days. Going back to Japan at the end of it was something of a blessing, and I was rewarded with uninterrupted blue skies for 2 months, a skiing holiday, and a trip to the wonderful city of Sapporo during a snow festival. Life since then has gone from good, to better, to great; I got more involved in the language, more involved with my students and the culture, and met some new Japanese friends separate from the big group of wonderful gaijin friends I already had. I had come to a point in July where there were so many people in Japan who I loved, and things that I cherished, that leaving was both something I couldn’t contain my excitement for, and something very sad that I won’t fully understand until it sinks in properly.
And it hasn’t yet. Outside of the comforting bubble that is my father’s house, the world that was once so familiar is now rather surreal. Everyone is white, and as tall or taller than me. It’s unnerving. I can no longer walk around in large crowds without having to stand on tiptoes to see what is ahead which is, let me tell you, a huge advantage when you’re sucked into the myriad of people wandering through Shibuya, or scoping for hot girls in a club. Also, everyone speaks English (stop me if I’m stating the obvious here) which means that I am constantly tuning into other peoples’ banal conversations without any conscious decision to do so. In Japan I had to make a very conscious effort to understand what people were saying to me, and so background conversation was usually just a comforting, somewhat familiar string of syllables used as a backdrop to my English thoughts. Not so here; there I am in Burger King (shh, it’s been over a year) having a meaningful chat with my dad when the young lad behind us proclaims “…well now I feel like shit,” after he finishes his XL Bacon Double Cheeseburger. I knew where he was coming from – the “XL” part always seems so right until you’ve finished the thing, then your stomach starts to question whether you really needed a 933 calorie burger, a large fries and enough coke to put out a house fire – I just really didn’t need to hear it. There I was thinking I’d become a better listener this past year and all it really amounted to was the lack of other conversations for my over-excited brain to tune into.
The social differences were always going to be difficult to revert back to, but one thing that has taken no effort in reverting to is the English countryside. It’s beautiful, there are no two ways about it. Miles and miles of rolling hills and fields only give way to the occasional village populated with thatched stone cottages, churches, local shops and village greens. Motorways connect towns and cites rather than just running through them, and are bordered on either side by green fields, while in Japan you have the pleasure of staring at a 30ft wall for the duration of your journey. I’m not saying a motorway is a particularly inspiring place in any country but still, anything that makes it more bearable is welcome.
My plans for this week are simple; relax, spend time with the parents, then make my way to London to spend time with my friends. It remains to be seen how much I’ll be affected by the dreaded Reverse Culture Shock, but initial reactions are good. I suspect the coming weeks will be subject to a lot of reflection and adjustment.