Finding A New Home

I stepped off the jumbo jet, weary and exhausted, and was bombarded by noise. I had taken Japanese for two years and thought that I would be able to understand at least a little when I arrived in Tokyo. Instead, I was as lost as Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.

There were constant messages over the megaphone that sounded like someone was yelling in my ear, the airport was so crowded and congested, and I found myself alone in a crowd of Japanese businessmen rushing to their morning jobs. Why did I want to do this in the summer of my senior year? I knew I should have just stayed at home and gotten a job at the mall. How the hell was I going to find my train?

My final destination was not in Tokyo, but rather a province named Okayama, located just about an hour north of Hiroshima. Tokyo was about four hours south via the world’s fastest bullet train. After deciphering what might as well have been hieroglyphics on the signs, I found and boarded my train, and embarked on what would become a life altering experience. I just sat there staring out the window, as we whizzed by Disney World, Mount Fuji, crowded cities, and the open Japanese country side, until the train reached a grinding halt.

The conductor yelled OKAYAMA, and I grabbed my bags, struggling to wheel them off the crowded corridor before the door slammed in my face, and almost missed my stop. I finally exited the train, and watched the it leave the station like a bat out of hell. Then, I turned around, and was greeted by my new Japanese family.

Megu, who would soon become my younger sister, was holding up an elaborate sign that read, “Welcome to Japan.” She was standing next to Maki, her older sister who was just one year younger than me. And then there was Seiko, who would become my second mom living on the other side of the globe.

We proceeded to hop into the car, and drive to the country side, where we arrived at a traditional Japanese home that I would be living in for the next couple of months. As I walked into the home, Grandma was down on her knees bowing at my presence as I stepped out of my shoes, and into my new house slippers. I was certainly in a world far from home. I would later meet Hiroshi, the father of the family, as well as Grandpa, who also lived in the home.

First, I needed to learn the bike route to the elementary school where I would be teaching English for a few weeks. On my way there I crashed head on with a young Japanese student, and the bike was wrecked. It was my first day, and all I wanted to do was go cry in bed, but I didn’t even have a bed I had a mat that they called a bed. I am not quite sure what I ate for dinner that night, but I became accustomed to not asking, and just eating what was put in front of me.

The following morning on my way to school, all eyes were on me as I rode my bike past the homes. I did not know this small rural town had never had a foreigner join them , let alone a young, energetic kid with hair the color of a fireball. I was soon to assume the role of celebrity. I arrived at school and as I walked down the hallways the kids stared and hid behind doors whispering, “I think there is a guy here from America.”

Soon, I was designing English lessons where I could teach about American culture, like baseball. If you could pick out all of the items that I wanted to eat on the menu your team would get an at bat. The students would argue what class I would eat lunch with, play soccer with at recess, and clean with after school. That’s right, in Japan there were no janitors – the students cleaned the school everyday. Then, when I left to attend Japanese high school for a few weeks with my sister Maki, my students gave me a scrapbook of us that they had been making since my arrival. I know that I will never forget some of those faces. High school was scary at first, but I have to admit I loved the attention. I was always in the local newspaper, and I could never do anything alone. Even when I went to the convenient store, I could not buy my own green tea because people would say, “I’ll buy that for you, but can you just come over and teach me some English.”

At the high school I joined the basketball team, and for the first practice the gym was packed with hundreds of students. I also became friends with a guy that the girls called ‘Prince,’ and when the two of us walked around together all of the Japanese girls would hide behind the windows and start giggling.

I will always remember staying late after school just to teach the lyrics of the song “Imagine” to one of my high school buddies who desperately wanted to learn English just to understand the brilliance of John Lennon. But at the end of the day, I was always excited to return home. We would eat dinner together, I would watch baseball with Grandpa, and we would travel throughout the countryside.

My family took me to see Hiroshima, we went to baseball games, and we went to Kyoto, which to this day is the most gorgeous city I have ever seen. On my last day in Japan, we went to a Japanese summer festival. I dressed up in a Kimono, and saw all of my students for the last time. I met Japanese pop singers at the festival because they heard there was an American there. After I said good bye to everyone, I went out to karaoke with my family. We sang Billy Joel until the sun was up and it was time to go home.

As I boarded the train and whizzed away from Okayama station, I began to cry. I thought about how much fun it was teasing Megu, going into the city with Maki and her friends, and going to baseball games with Hiroshi and Seiko. I didn’t feel like I was going home, I was leaving my new home.