Catalina, Outbound to Japan

It’s spring here in Japan, and that means new beginnings for Japanese students. The school year has come to a close, and the sakura trees are soon to bloom. Despite all of the end of the year preparations and celebrations, it doesn’t have the closure I’m used to in a school year. For one, I missed a big festival that my dance club and I prepared for since January because of a Rotary trip for the third graders that are going to university this coming school year, and the growing fears of corona virus have shut down the school and made school officials cancel exams until March 16th.

Maybe it’s because I, as an exchange student, don’t have as much academic responsibility as normal students and the fact that school is canceled tentatively until the sixteenth, but I feel as if I’m just going along where the waves take me. I used to be like that in Florida. I was a very go with the flow type person, whatever came my way I would deal with it when it got there, but here its different. Going on exchange was the first thing I really really worked hard for, not to say that I didn’t put effort into other projects, but exchange is different. I knew that this year, every day would bring new challenges and new experiences, not all of them amazing and wonderful but new all the same. It won’t be like a normal life in Florida but a normal life in Japan, a place radically different from the states. I know now that at least here I can’t just let life takes me where it wants to go. I need to get up and do the things that I want to do because I know that here, my time is slipping away. Once I leave it’ll never be the same.

Moving on, I changed host families a month ago and this is the first time I’ve had a very set routine where I wake up consistently on time and not fall asleep before taking a shower at night and just take one in the morning like I used to. My past host families were very lax about their routine, I would sometimes go home and fall asleep before taking a shower, and take in mind cleanliness is very important in Japan, but in this host family I feel obligated to take a shower in the evening, that is just the way they do things here. Every morning my host mom leaves by 8:20 and every night comes home at 6:00. Every morning my host dad leaves at 7:30 and comes home at 9:15. There is something beautiful in doing the same thing every day, something I thought I would never say. They are very schedule oriented, going as far as to print a detailed itinerary of our three day trip to Akita prefecture, something that I think is extremely Japanese.

That leads me to my next point, that something that I’ve noticed in Japan is that everything is presentation oriented. Either to be more convenient to others or to add beauty to their work or to give them some sense of peace in their minds, but that culture is very strong here. When I was invited to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross Society, the teacher at my school that works with them gave me a printed color map to the place I needed to meet him, despite it being two minutes from my house. Everywhere you can find very well designed brochures for museums, cafes, and shops that my host families insist giving to me to remember the places I’ve been to. Even in cafes the food is beautiful, and drawings by students that aren’t artists are very clean and refined. Gifts must always be wrapped, and your family name etched on a plaque outside your house, and no food should come without a plastic wrapper lest your good cleanliness be disturbed.

Maybe it’s because of the precision of learning characters of the three writing systems and the high standard of cleanliness that promotes this culture, but here in the states pretty much everyone in Japan would be considered a perfectionist. I’m not going to miss the wastefulness of individually plastic wrapped bananas, but I will miss the beautiful food and the high standards people hold themselves to. In America I am very forgetful and last minute with most of the things that I do, and my way of life conflicted with this sort of aspect of society, making me feel even more forgetful and clumsy at times, but I’ve learned how to adapt and, per say, procrastinate less.

I really don’t want to think about the fact that I only have until July to stay here. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to leave. It’s only downhill from here, but how do I slow down gravity?

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