It brings back so many memories, most of them foreign and alien at that stage of my life, but my summer in Sendai, Japan will be a fragment of my life truly treasured. I attended an all girls Catholic High School, which was awesome, and I have no issues with the environment or education I received there. One of the many perks was to go with a small group of classmates to our sister school, located in Sendai which is in the Northeast of the country. They call it The Land of Cherry Blossoms. It was the summer between my Sophomore and Junior year, and I was in a confused state of wanting to reach outside of my social circle, and shamefully, hang out with the popular girls. In fact, I wanted to “be” one of the popular girls, and as luck would have it, about 8 girls out of the group were in the hot clique, which was a far more dominant number than two of my best friends that were also going.
The moments that specifically stand out to me where these:
Tokyo- what a futuristic, grey, serious, and dramatic place. The city is spotless, packed and one feels dwarfed by dominating buildings all blinking out characters advertising everything and anything, serving as the only screaming noise to a freakishly silent capital. Manners, social graces, and respect are all core concepts to the Japanese lifestyle, which was shocking to a group of high school teenagers, who wanted to talk loudly, laugh, make scenes, and do what we would do at home. Only here, it wasn’t cute of enduring. In fact, the mere action of chewing gum on the street was shamed and caused us a great deal of losing face, if you will. There is no eating while walking, no talking in the subways, no chatting on the buses…it was surreal. Sure there are young people who do their best to buck the system with perms to their naturally bone straight hair, or god forbid, they dye their hair away from the customary deep black. Their outfits look right out cartoons, especially because of their tiny size, even as adults. Even with this as their one form of outrageousness, they still maintain a level of decorum we could only ever dream would exist in our big cities.
The Japanese also have strict ideas and rules about cleanliness, and their lives are built around clean, simple lines from their furniture, to their livelihoods. Upon arriving at my host family’s home, I was immediately signaled to go into their bathroom, and when I tried to protest, my bags were forcibly taken from my hands and I was strongly guided into their uni-shower/bath room to hear the click of a lock behind me as I entered, the door closing swiftly and soundly upon my entrance. I had no idea how to turn on the water, and ended up taking a freezing cold shower, only to follow that with a soak in their family “hot tub” which is merely a filled tub of hot water that every family member uses after their shower. Needless to say, my experience was less frightening that some of the other girls, especially the blondes in the group who had teenage “brothers” that would spy on them through the key holes as they had never seen…blonde fluff, if you will.
Sendai was a totally different experience to being in Tokyo, where one overflowed with silent bustle, the other was rural, and filled with the sounds of Mother Nature at her best. There were cherry trees everywhere which housed all types of singing birds, smells, and flowers which cascaded down the grey streets bringing a old world sense of wonder and fascination that has not been match by too many other locations in my life. Mt. Fuji is an awe inspiring God of a mountain that is such a focal point, you find it hard to believe that so many natives go about their days without every glancing up to see its face staring down sternly on your every move. The view from my window at school was the best I’ve ever had, and led to constant daydreaming, a big no-no in Japanese education. STRICT, STRICT, STRICT- LEARN YOUR LESSONS!!! My lord, no wonder Americans are so low on the world education chart. Our lessons, schedules, testing, and responsibility are so poor compared to the Japanese who attend school 6 days a week, 9-10 hours a day, for the majority of the year. And sassiness or delinquencies are not allowed, nor present, and are foreign principles to everyone but the foreigners.
My time in Japan has long been buried in my mountain of memories from my travels abroad. But today, my thoughts are completely and ultimately with my host family, my beautiful cherry trees, Mister Fuji, the quiet hush of futuristic hyperbole, and a land that is so steeped in history, there is not a big enough tea cup to hold it all.
I am sending all my most positive thoughts out to them today and pray that everyone we came in contact with during that special time is safe and well.