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Post How I Became a Japanophile; from Edward Mears
Created by John Eipper on 12/15/17 3:12 AM

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How I Became a Japanophile; from Edward Mears (John Eipper, USA, 12/15/17 3:12 am)

Edward Mears writes:

John E asked me to expound on my "Gaijin experience" here in Japan.

As a frequent visitor, my "career" in Japan has spanned five years in total and consists of several distinct phases (tourist, exchange student, English teacher, and now foreign attorney), all of which provided very different experiences and are difficult to weave together into one all-encompassing distillation. I'll try and cover the all the highlights here but to keep this short, I'll confine this initial post to my first experiences in Japan 14 years ago and will follow-up later with more if there's any interest!

I first arrived to Japan in the summer of 2003, right in the middle of the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong on a nearly empty Northwest flight from Detroit that cost (I believe) $500 round trip. I had been invited to Japan by one of my Japanese middle school classmates, and with nothing better to do during the summer between high school and university, I left my comfort zone to experience the land of the rising sun (as my father can attest, prior to this trip I was not particularly fond of foreign languages or international travel, much preferring the nasally English of the Midwest and the musty confines of our computer room). After arriving in Narita on a fresh passport, I took my first trip on Japan's pristine rail system to my friend's house in the Hiro-o neighborhood of Tokyo. Even on that train ride from the airport I could tell there was something different about Japan, that there was something tugging at me in a way other countries and places had not.

What struck my young mind most on this first trip to Japan was that everything seemed to "click" or flow despite the deceptive facade of chaos: be it the almost lyrical swarm of pedestrians crossing into (but perfectly evading) each other from all directions at Shibuya's famed crossing, the cool composure of passengers crammed into rush hour trains packed to 200% capacity, or the almost natural juxtaposition of a thousand-year-old shinto shrine nestled in amongst gleaming glass structures. I would later find that this duality grafts almost perfectly to the study of the Japanese language: lying behind the intimidating complexity of Japanese kanji (Chinese characters) is a fairly simple and exceedingly logical grammatical structure. Needless to say I was instantly hooked by this place that was much unlike anything I was familiar with or had experienced growing up in the Midwest. I spent the rest of that trip hitting all of Tokyo's big sights: Asakusa's red gates, the Imperial Palace gardens, Tokyo Tower, Akihabara's neon overdose and of course Roppongi's foreigner-tailored nightlife; becoming hungrier and hungrier to learn and experience as much of Japan as possible.

For any tourist, Japan pulls out all the stops and it is difficult to come away anything but emphatically impressed after a week-long journey through the well-plodded Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka loop. At the same time, it is impossible as a tourist to understand the goings-on below the surface and other complexities that really emerged during my later returns, which provided me with a more nuanced understanding and appreciation for Japan (this aspect is certainly not unique to Japan). Oblivious of this hidden side of the coin, I returned to the US starry-eyed and armed with several disposable cameras worth of photos that I would use to proselytize the gospel of Japan to anyone who would listen. I took my next step towards further understanding Japan that Fall by taking up the Japanese language at the University of Michigan and found myself well on my way to becoming a certifiable "Japanophile."

JE comments:  "Mastering" Japan must be like chess.  You quickly learn the basic moves, but a lifetime is inadequate to pick up the subtleties.  Edward Mears uses the image of order despite outward chaos.  Cuba, which I am about to experience, might be described the other way around.  Or is the very notion of "order" culturally relative?  Don't all societies find a sense of order, or else they perish?

Eddie:  please send further installments of your Notes of a Gaijin.  I hope our friend Noah Rich, another young American in Japan, will see this post and comment.

There will be a Christmastime Mears summit in Mexico.  Happy travels to Pat and son Ed.  Send photos!

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