I’ll admit that I might have been a little bit jaded in my junior year when I studied abroad in Tokyo. I first got the idea at the beginning of high school when I was questioning my identity as an American, asking myself what that really means. I’ve always been interested by travel, and I wanted to be immersed in a culture completely different from what I was used to. Essentially, I was looking for some sort of epiphany to answer the questions inside of my young mind. Having never left the country before, I guess I didn’t really know whether this place I’d heard so much about even existed. When I first saw the bright lights and massive buildings in Shibuya, I remember being in complete awe. Outside of Hachiko station, huge screens sprawled over a sea of people. To this day I’ve never seen anything that looks quite like it.
The feeling I experienced reinforced my perceptions of Japan in the back of my mind; I had always thought of it as a place where people are always polite, where racism isn’t an issue, where the bad things about the United States didn’t exist. A place like Gebel. Like Ibn Fattouma, I wanted to find this place I had created in my head. It turned out I was wrong, unsurprisingly. I realized that pretty after quickly hanging out at Asuka High School. I was surprised by how mean some of the kids were to each other. Many of the kids were also very rude to their teachers and kids slept during class every day. One of my teachers showed me a Japanese history textbook that left out crucial details about how the Japanese made their language the official language of Korea during the time of their occupation. In fact, the more I learned about Japanese culture the more I realized that it’s really hard to make judgments about their culture as a whole. Japanese people are people just like everyone else, and they make mistakes and do things that aren’t very nice sometimes. With that being said, I love the Japanese. I didn’t see it coming, but I got homesick by the end of my stay. All I wanted to do was leave.
The routine of daily life in Tokyo had taught me what it had to teach me and it was really valuable, but I still wanted to go home. When it started snowing as I was biking to school in the morning the week before I left, I was even more eager to leave. Eventually the day came and I suddenly didn’t want to leave once again. But after giving in, I boarded the plane and was on my way home. It was surprising to me as well when my real epiphany appeared to me not when I was in Tokyo, but during the plane ride back. I thought back to before I had arrived and asked myself whether it had been what I had expected. I realized that what I had gone traveling for was to find my own identity, and, on the way back home, I identified with my American heritage more than ever before. And then I thought to myself, “yes, this is what I expected.” I realized that all I had really wanted in the beginning was to find a place where I feel at home. I’m an American, and it took me a trip to Japan to realize it.