It seems pertinent to mention that I am indeed back from Japan. I flew into Minneapolis on July 29th around noon, and made it back to North Carolina late that evening. Since then I've been working on projects in NC, but I'll be heading up to New Jersey for some apartment hunting in the near future.
I'm not a particularly devoted believer in the mythical reverse-culture shock, but you certainly do end up noticing things you hadn't thought about very much in a decade or so. There has been some new things--for me--that I've noticed this time around as well.
![A picture of Kyoto Tower.][f kyoto_tower_2]
Someone mentioned to me that recently they felt they'd become boring. This actually struck a chord with me, because I'd had the same thought not too long before. But, I didn't believe the thought--about myself or the other--so I spent some time trying to track down its origin.
In the end I think it ties into a comment I made very early on to Warren: all of us ALTs in Japan were a bit manic. We got really excited and happy about silly stuff (you can drink beer on the streets!!), and we got upset about equally silly stuff (the people at work didn't all say goodbye to me when I left!!). Life was really intense. But it wasn't necessarily intense because the situations were intense, but rather because we'd lost our mental stability and were easily buffeted by the waves of fortune.
Compared to that, it feels a bit bland back at home. But it isn't. Its just that we've become acclimated to our own insanity, and have forgotten what its like to own our own minds. I'm here to say that being sane isn't that bad, once you get used to it.
I have to say, the most distinct realization I had that I was back in the US was that it was easy to turn on the gas gauge on the stove. Back in Japan it was a juggling act (of the simplest variety) to get the flame going on my little two-plate stove, but here the range's four beautiful faces click on like magic. Its hard to really say why this one thing had such a strong impact on me, but it certainly did. I was really struck with the feeling damn, this is a nice stove.
Beyond that, the next thing I'll mention is that you'll really reawaken to the extent of American obesity. There are certainly overweight people in Japan, but there are relatively few people who are obese. American, on the other hand, has pretty much mastered this undesirable art.
The obesity rates in Japan are increasing, and have been increasing for a while, but I don't believe its because of the influx of Western food, but rather from another Western (well, mostly American, perhaps) preoccupation: driving everywhere.
In Japan I ended up walking much more than usual just for daily stuff. Walking to a restaurant or walking to a bar downtown (there is no legal limit for blood alcohol while driving, meaning that you cannot drink even a sip before driving, and the punishments are more extreme as well, especially for public employees). Much of America--especially the suburbs and rural areas--is constructed in the most pedestrian hostile of ways. I'm not even sure where the nearest restaurant is to my parent's house, but its sure as hell isn't in walking distance.
- People working at dead-end jobs are less professional. (Not that I blame them.)
- Less humid, equally hot, more air conditioning.
- Small towns have a very different feel. In Japan they are mostly family owned restaurants, but here they are all chains.
- More open space. Lots more open space. Actually, more space in general.
- The Appalachian mountains are every bit as beautiful as the Japanese Alps.
- Humming birds.
- Cars are very large, and I miss my small car that could dodge through the smallest of small spaces.
- I am used to ignoring signs, since I couldn't really read them.
In the end, though, I guess I am most surprised about how unsurprising it is to be back in America. I've probably spoken to more people in the last two weeks than I did in the previous six months, but it doesn't really feel all that different. Those helpful cultural imersion charts inform me that I only feel this way because I have a trivial and misinformed notion of the two cultures, and otherwise I would be torn asunder by their unreconciliable differences... but... lets just say that I don't really agree with that. Sure, they are different places, but that doesn't mean I have to get bent out of shape about it.
I miss Japan, certainly, but thats mostly a matter of missing a few people and a few places. I'm hopeful that I'll get to go back and visit sometime in the upcoming year, but we'll have to wait and see how things evolve in the upcoming couple of months.