Having a Bawl in Tokyo (No, that’s not a typo. I really wish it were.)

January 9, 2012

I never used to think of myself as the big crybaby type.

But, over the past couple years, I’ve changed.

Maybe being so far away from home for so long has made me more sentimental.

Or maybe I’ve just gotten soft-hearted with my old age. (This is the point in the blog post when you say, “Old age? What old age? You don’t look a day over thirty-eight!” And then I say, “But I’m thirty-five.” And you say, “Oh, right.”)

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m losing my marbles.

Lately, it seems like I’m always sniveling over something. It doesn’t take much to set me off, really — a thoughtful email from a friend, a thank you note from one of my students, a touching blog post, or my parents telling me that they love me on the phone. Heck, I’ve been known to blubber over Youtube videos.

I knew that returning to Japan this past week would most likely reduce me to tears. Mostly because it seems like almost anything reduces me to tears these days. (I’ve mentioned the Youtube video thing, right? I should probably also mention that reality TV makes me cry a lot, too. Seriously.)

Plus, one of the reasons I was returning to Japan was to attend my good friend Reiko’s wedding this Saturday. And, while, I can’t remember being the type to cry at weddings, I also don’t remember being the type to cry over Youtube videos. So I knew there was a huge chance I was going to lose it.

Besides, it doesn’t help that I’ve been feeling really homesick lately. And while I can’t go home-home at the moment, Japan is like a second home to me. I have a lot of great friends here and I have a lot of fond memories of this place. Plus, much like home-home, I know exactly where in Japan to go to eat the best nachos and cake. (Not at the same time, mind you. Not that there is anything wrong with that.) I knew seeing my friends and reliving the memories and eating lots of cake would make me all kinds of weepy.


To make matters worse, I was already kind of an emotional wreck to begin with before I had even left China.

Despite having known about my trip for weeks, I was, as usual, completely unprepared. Which meant I had to spend the two days prior to my departure running around like a mad woman trying to wrap up my grading for the semester, buy the stuff I needed for my trip and get packed.

(Oh, and write a blog post. Because, that’s really important. Who cares if you have any underwear in your suitcase? Nevermind if you don’t even have a return ticket for China! Or a place to stay when you get to Tokyo! What you really need to do is write a blog post! And stay up until two o’clock at night doing it! Because sleep-deprivation is just the thing you need right before you take a big trip.)

So, yeah, I knew returning to Japanese soil would most likely render me a complete and utter basketcase. But I thought I’d be able to make it through the Tokyo airport without suffering a mental breakdown.

Boy, was I wrong.

After handing over my passport to the immigration officer, he flipped through it, looked up at me and smiled. “Two years ago, you lived in Japan,” he said.

This was not exactly a welcome back parade. But Japanese immigration officers are not exactly the welcome back parade type of people. And while there were no balloons or ticker tape or airplanes skywriting my name in the sky, this smile was just enough to send my sleep-deprived, stressed-out self skittering quickly into total breakdown mode.

A lump formed in my throat.

My lower lip started to twitch.

My eyes began to tear up.

And the thought passed through my head that I was totally going to lose it in front of this nice government official man.

“Yes, yes I did,” I gulped. And I tried to pretend those tears in my eyes were just the result of a change in atmospheric pressure. Or an allergic reaction to the drug-sniffing dogs. Or something. (But not a SARS-related something as I had no desire to be quarantined.)

I should probably mention that crying in public isn’t really something that is done in Japan.

I know this because I’ve done it before.

Like, a lot.

The first time I left Japan fourteen years ago, I cried for the entire eight-hour overnight bus ride to the Tokyo airport.

Prior to my getting on the bus, a huge group of teachers and students from the high school where I had taught for a year had shown up at the bus station to give me a surprise send-off. They carried signs with my name on it and pressed good luck charms into my hands.

And, instead of bowing to everyone as I really probably should have, I decided to hug them all. Even though hugging people or even, say, touching people is not exactly one of those things that you do in Japan either, I just figured I’d do it anyway. You know, because it’s a really good idea to show your gratitude to people by making them feel really awkward and uncomfortable.

After hugging everyone inappropriately, I got on the bus and started to cry uncontrollably. And I wasn’t just crying quietly to myself. I was crying these big huge choking sobs – the kind of sobs that make it hard to breath or maintain any dignity. They were also the kind of sobs that produce a lot of snot.

The woman next to me on the bus took one look at my puffy, swollen, snot-covered face and promptly pretended to fall asleep. The rest of the bus followed suit, leaving me to choke and sob and smear snot all over my face in peace.

Of course, that wasn’t the only time I’ve acted totally inappropriately in public in Japan.

When I moved back to Japan five years ago to teach English at a university in Kobe, I can’t tell you how many times I made Japanese people feel incredibly uncomfortable by forcing them to hug me… or dance with me… or go on a date with me.

And there were more than a few times that I was reduced to a blubbering mess in public – usually while at work. Because there’s really no better way to gain your colleagues’ respect like having a good ugly cry in front of them. Granted, it was usually totally my students’ fault that I was crying. They were always doing sappy stuff like graduating or thanking me for teaching them or something like that.

One time one of my favorite students came up to me during a party and told me, “I am everything because of you.”

Seriously, Japan?

How’s a girl supposed to keep her shit together if people come up to her saying stuff like that?

Honestly, now.

Of course, I completely lost it in front of the student. I would have totally hugged him inappropriately if I could have, but I’m pretty sure I had lost control over my limbs at that point because I was crying too hard.

I don’t remember crying and hugging people the last time I left Japan two years ago, but I’m sure I did.

If not, I totally made up for it on Saturday when I went to my friend Reiko’s wedding. Well, I cried a lot. I don’t think I hugged many people. Not that I wasn’t tempted, mind you.

Of course, most of my crying was totally Reiko’s fault.

I mean, she looked positively radiant. Plus, it didn’t help that her husband is so obviously, deliriously in love with her. I mean, I don’t know how a girl’s supposed to keep her composure when faced with this much radiance and adoration.

Seriously, people. If you don't cry while watching something like this, you are made of stone. STONE, I say!

It also didn’t help that everyone at the wedding party was so amazingly warm and welcoming to me.

Even though I was dressed totally inappropriately in a cheap Uniqlo turtleneck because I don’t own nice things.

Plus, I was lugging this huge gift with me that I had wrapped that morning using gaudy, pink, Valentine’s Day paper I had found at the 100 yen store and my Swiss Army knife. I didn’t know that people don’t bring gifts to Japanese weddings – instead you’re supposed to give a special ornamental envelope with money.

But nobody seemed to care that I was dressed like a hobo and bearing inappropriate gifts. Or that I couldn’t carry on a conversation in Japanese. Or that I was constantly sniveling into my tissue. They all just seemed genuinely happy to have me around.

I really don’t know how I was supposed to keep it together with all that human kindness up in there.

For the reception, I was seated at a table with all women – classmates of Reiko’s from junior high school. They introduced themselves to me and happily translated speeches and explained everything so I could understand what was going on.

Not that I really needed the translation. I was so sure everyone was saying touching and heartfelt things that I made a point of crying along.

By the end of the reception when the lights dimmed and Reiko got up to give a thank you speech to her family, I was a total and absolute blubbering basketcase. It didn’t matter that the only words I could understand were “mother” and “older brother.”

But this time I wasn’t the only one having a breakdown.

When the lights came up, there wasn’t a dry eye at my table. We were all one big sobby, inconsolable mess.  The woman next to me apologized and blew her nose into a tissue. I would have hugged her inappropriately right then and there.

But I was kind of covered in snot.

Do you cry in public? Or hug people inappropriately even though you know you really shouldn’t? Come on now, I can’t be the only basketcase, can I?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On January 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm meg maxwell said:

    I’m sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office crying at the image of you crying over your students’ comments. You’re not alone, you sappy, weepy sorry excuse for a stoic.

    • On January 9, 2012 at 11:16 pm Sally said:

      So nice to see your comment on my blog. And now I’m crying over the image of you crying over me crying. Wow, we’re a bunch of messes, aren’t we?

  2. On January 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm Joseph said:

    OK, I admit. I cried when I was leaving San Francisco back in 2008. I spent 4 days there, I absolutely love this city. SO what does a guy do when leaving his favorite city in the whole world? Tries to abstain from crying riding the BART to the airport, still abstaining during the security check then heading straight to the men’s room, and letting it all out in the private stall. And don’t even get me started on watching youtube videos with soldiers returning to their families, surprising them…one day I spent 2 hours….HOURS watching these videos and sobbing…then nursing a splitting headache…no hugs though…so no, you are not the only one! and just for the record, you don’t look a day over 28…just so you know…because I said so 😉
    Joseph recently posted..New project

    • On January 9, 2012 at 11:15 pm Sally said:

      Omigosh, I can’t even watch those videos of the soldiers returning home or I will be inconsolable for days. This past season on “So You Think You Can Dance,” there was a dance number about a soldier returning from war and I lost my mind watching it. (Yes, I cry over dance reality TV shows, too.) Now even hearing the song from that number will make me tear up remembering it. I’m a weepy fool.

  3. On January 9, 2012 at 5:55 pm Ken C. said:

    Good for you! There are times when the spirit will not be restrained, regardless of the circumstances [or cultural mores].

    When you mentioned sobbing in public, I flashed back to “The Platters” song “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” [it was popular a bit before your time].

    Welcomes & leave-taking are perfect times to let loose the water-works. Hug everyone…the more embarrassed the huggee is, the hard & longer you should hug them.

    After a nostalgic and cleansing cry, it’s okay to smile and laugh.

    Ken C.

    • On January 9, 2012 at 11:13 pm Sally said:

      “The more embarrassed the huggee is, the hard and longer you should hug them.” I am SO keeping this in mind next time I leave somewhere. People better be ready to hug!

  4. On January 9, 2012 at 8:03 pm Priya said:

    I love this post! You are such an amazing writer! Cry-on!

  5. On January 9, 2012 at 9:07 pm Kathy said:

    Talk about crying! I cried like a baby when I left Wuxi! Great post!!

  6. On January 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said:

    You sure as hell have me tearing up over here and I’m in a public place!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..France & Italy With Trafalgar Tours: Day 6 (Part 2)

  7. On January 9, 2012 at 10:38 pm Tobiah said:

    I can lose it and start blubbering like a baby at the smallest thing but I’m not a hugger (probably has something to do with my anti-social hermit ways.

    • On January 9, 2012 at 11:11 pm Sally said:

      Oh man, I’m a big hugger. And I always seem to think people should WANT to hug me… even if it’s not in their culture to hug. Honestly, I feel sorry for the people of Japan with me around. They are really not safe. 🙂

  8. On January 9, 2012 at 10:46 pm Shannon (formerly mynetdude) said:

    Interesting post, a little too girly for me; I won’t go much into detail but I’m not the type that will go up and hug somebody unless it would be a girl I love.

    Others will hug me, so I’ll allow them instead of withering away like many autistic people do (I have mild autism syndrome).

    I am for the most part emotionless, it takes quite a bit of effort (like when I lost my phone the first day I was in NYC on a 4 day trip, I cried the first time I got to speak to my mom again the day before leaving and I happened to be in public hiding on the outside of the corner of a building near the staten island ferry). But, I don’t cry for sappy things, I’m just a limestone cuz those who don’t cry for weddings like your friends are just obsidians?!

    • On January 9, 2012 at 11:09 pm Sally said:

      I honestly don’t remember ever crying at a wedding before this last one. I usually am just happy for the couple… or distracted by the uncomfortable shoes I’m wearing… or just really looking forward to eating cake. But, like, I said, these days I seem to cry at anything… even if I am having happy thoughts about cake. 🙂

  9. On January 9, 2012 at 11:15 pm Fiona at Life on Nanchang Lu said:

    Sally, look at this. Thanks to your super efficient email blog post thingy I received this in practically the same time zone as you and for the first time ever I am not the 99th person to leave a comment!! Yay! Number 9! (because ranking in top 10s is very important).

    I’m very sentimental too, as you know, but I save my best, most inappropriate crying for high altitude. Not just any old altitude, specifically 38000 feet. Movies that would never make me cry normally have me weeping uncontrollably on an airplane, last week I even cried watching a Lego documentary. The stewards probably think I’m flying to a funeral or my husband left me or something. I put it down to the low oxygen levels….

    Have a blast in Tokyo, and carry tissues at all times xx

  10. On January 10, 2012 at 2:22 am Alyssa said:

    First, absolutely love your blog! I’ve been reading for awhile without commenting. Figured it was time! ^^

    Second, the fact that you are crying when your students achieve something great (graduation) or when they say something sweet just PROVES how great of a teacher you are! The world needs more caring teachers like you!

    Love reading about your adventures! Travelling your direction in about a month (Hong Kong & Macau). can’t wait!

    • On January 10, 2012 at 7:57 am Sally said:

      Thanks, Alyssa. So glad you’re enjoying my blog! I’m actually going to be in Hong Kong at the beginning of March myself. But no Macau, unfortunately. That’s one place I REALLY want to go… if only for the egg cream tarts!

  11. On January 10, 2012 at 8:11 am Laurence said:

    Wow Sally, brilliant post. Funny and emotional 🙂 I usually find myself tearing up at goodbyes, both of people and of places. Oh, and at all sorts of moments in films. In fact, the other night I teared up watching a puppet show. So er. I guess I have some issues.
    Laurence recently posted..Tips for finding a job when travelling in New Zealand

    • On January 10, 2012 at 9:04 am Sally said:

      Thanks, Laurence.
      I used to work in children’s theatre (all behind the scenes… thank God). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried at puppet shows… and clown shows (but the latter was mostly crying in terror).

  12. On January 10, 2012 at 2:58 pm Homa said:

    I cry about everything, it seems! It leaves me exhausted so I guess it is an emotional release…? I feel bad that my kids have already seen me cry and they’re only 3 and 1. Sigh. I mean, it is ok to cry but I don’t want them to worry. They’ll hug me when they see it, though. The world needs more hugging…I hugged my (then) boyfriend’s (now husband’s) mom the first time I met her and she was weirded out. I was trying to seem outgoing (which I’m not). Awkward! 🙂

    • On January 10, 2012 at 10:30 pm Sally said:

      Oh, I would totally hug my boyfriend’s mom. If I had a boyfriend. As it is, I just go around hugging other people’s moms… or people that remind me of my mom. Yeah, all kinds of awkward.

  13. On January 10, 2012 at 6:10 pm Patricia GW said:

    How touching!! It seems all your cries came from wonderful, nice things that happened. If my favorite student came up to me and said “I am everything because of you,” I’d be bawling too! If/when I get my acceptance letter into the JET program next year, I’m going to be a giant sobbing mess.

    PS Reiko’s wedding photo is adorable!
    PPS How on earth did you get your swiss army knife through security?
    Patricia GW recently posted..New York City Public Library

  14. On January 11, 2012 at 6:42 am Rachel said:

    I myself have come close to tears while living here in Japan, and I cant even begin to imagine my co-workers reaction. I feel ya! Although I once was hugged by a Japanese person (without me initiating it) and I was like “woah, whats going on!” because I was so taken aback! Japanese people dont hug! Haha

    WhenI first read the title of the post I misread it as “Having a BRAWL in Tokyo” – which I was glad to discover was a mistake on my part!

    All the best.

  15. On January 12, 2012 at 12:10 am Ali said:

    OMG I cry way too much! I’m such an emotional person, it doesn’t take much. I had a ridiculous 3 flights from Frankfurt to Saigon before a 4th flight to Melbourne, and I was so exhausted and everything was going wrong, that I cried when they made me throw out the bottle of water I had purchased after security b/c it didn’t make sense to me. I’ve cried like a baby every time I’ve had to say good-bye to Andy. I almost cried the other day while trying to order dinner b/c everything on the menu looked awful and was overpriced. I anticipate more tears when I’m in the States for 4 weeks soon. I think I also need a travel break.
    Ali recently posted..Twists and Turns and Too Many Temples

    • On January 12, 2012 at 7:27 am Sally said:

      Oh, I’ve cried at the airport so many times it’s ridiculous. I think I may have even cried over having to throw away my water. You are not alone. We should maybe start a support group?

  16. On January 13, 2012 at 4:17 am Jasika said:

    you are definitely NOT the only one who cries in public in foreign places! when i went to visit friends in turkey, i was a complete mess on my last day. i was only there 4 days, but it was incredibly hard to leave! i love my friends there and just thinking about leaving sent me in to a blubbering mess. one of them was like ‘dont cry! people will think were trying to kidnap you!’

    turkey is a very warm, friendly place, but theres not alot of physical contact between men and women in public. my friends are male so it was odd for them to have this woman crying and hugging them! haha people didnt stare, tho, they just pretended i was invisible.

    on my last night i had to say good bye to one friend before a long bus trip to the airport. i hugged him like i was trying to crush him and i was weeping and boogering all over his shoulder. my other friend was uncomfortable with it (tho the one i was hugging didnt mind) hit him on the arm and said ‘ok ok enough!’

    our goodbyes at the airport was extremely difficult. other families were saying their byes and looked sad, but no one was crying. just me! in a sea of hundreds, it was just me crying… and i hugged my friend over and over. i didnt care that they all found me embarrassing… i was just a mess over leaving such lovely people. all that kindness and love and knowing i may never see them again. uhg, im choking up now just thinking about it!

    i think when emotion comes from the heart, people dont mind too much. even when it is inappropriate and embarrassing to everyone :p

    i know that when i go back i will cry! buckets of hello tears and lots of very very inappropriate hugs!!!

    • On January 13, 2012 at 10:23 am Sally said:

      Awww, sounds like you had a great trip even if you ended up embarrassing everyone. It was probably just their fault for being so amazing. You should really blame them for your break downs! 🙂

  17. On January 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm Ayngelina said:

    That was the good thing about South America, totally normal to see someone bawling on the street or bus.

    I understand where you’re coming from, sometimes you just need an ugly cry.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Food Friday: Beef Carpaccio

  18. On January 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm Michi said:

    Oh, I used to never cry. Until I re-moved to Spain and became homesick and started going nuts with homesickness and all of a sudden I was bawling over every. single. thing. There may have even been a tampon commercial that made me tear up. And the smell of peanut butter cookies. And though Spain is more of a kissing culture, I shamelessly throw myself at people I adore and smother them with a loving hug almost whenever I feel like it. Welcome to the Basketcase Club. 😉
    Michi recently posted..Reyes in Spain ♛

  19. On January 14, 2012 at 5:23 am Anthonee said:

    Wow! You are one emotional girl.

    Ive been known to cry in public, but fairly rare. What’s more common is me givin out inapproriate hugs in Asia. Not good.

    Anyways, I like reading your blog and look forward to reading more.
    Anthonee recently posted..Life…

  20. On January 15, 2012 at 3:07 pm 50+ and on the Run said:

    Aww–don’t cry, UBGirl–you’ve got a book to promote!

    PS, it was easier to keep up with you when you were a slacker.
    50+ and on the Run recently posted..Sunday Haiku XIV

  21. On January 15, 2012 at 5:02 pm Helen said:

    Oh, Sally – I feel you. I cried like a baby when I left my school in Nagano. I thought I hated that job?! But . . . when I left after graduation, they did the same thing. Everyone came out of the school, including the bus drivers – everyone – and bowed and thanked me. I totally lost it!

    Also, cry like a baby whenever I leave Hawaii. Especially Kauai. Silly, silly. But, I just can’t help it.

    I subscribed! Love, love, love the new look of your blog. It’s gorgeous (said with Japanese accent).


  22. On January 16, 2012 at 12:38 am Marta said:

    I think I’ve never said it before, but I totally love the way you write. You should write a book. I’m serious.

    • On January 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm Sally said:

      Aww, thanks, Marta. I’m hoping 2012 will finally be the year I actually finish my book. (It’s been started many times… just not finished so much.) 🙂

  23. On January 18, 2012 at 10:28 pm choi kum fook said:

    In appearance, you are not a sentimental girl!On medical view, Once a while,a emotional crying is good for your health.Always feels mentally comfortable after a sentimental crying state! Do you think so? Do it naturally if you can. Why worry? The hugging culture nowadays is quite common in Asia,just maybe influenced by Westerners especially the French. I have observed and experienced it at the farm.

  24. On January 23, 2012 at 3:10 am supriya said:

    I just got all weepy and giggly reading this!!
    supriya recently posted..21 Grams ( Personal Project)

  25. On January 23, 2012 at 6:51 pm Lauren Garlapo said:

    Sally, I am sad to hear that you are homesick. You should post an address for people to mail your care packages. Especially Buffalo themed care packages. I’m sure I could mail over some wings with a side of blue cheese, maybe even some Mighty Taco!
    I hope you’re feeling more at home.
    <3 Lauren

    ps, Only recently did I learn that crying in public (as an adult) is frowned upon. Crying is my #1 skill, listed first on my resume.

    • On January 25, 2012 at 6:49 am Sally said:

      Aww, thanks, Lauren. My parents did send me a very nice care package for Christmas (FULL OF COOKIES!) but the things I miss the most can’t be put in a box (at least not LEGALLY), you know? But, man, could I go for some wings & blue cheese! Hopefully, I’ll be back in Buffalo visiting soon. And we can have a good cry together over Mighty Taco or some such thing like that. 🙂

  26. On January 25, 2012 at 10:27 am choi kum fook said:

    Ha!Ha!You must be kidding me! Miss Sally, thank you very much for looking up to me!

  27. On January 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm Leah Travels said:

    I was reading through this sniveling, wondering when the BRAWL was going to happen. Ha! Turns out I misread the title. As a former teacher of a decade, isn’t it so great when a former student actually shows you gratitude? Ahhhh…it’s the best! A couple more thank yous and I might still be teaching. 🙂
    Leah Travels recently posted..It’s a (free) Sign!

    • On January 28, 2012 at 1:50 pm Sally said:

      Ha ha! You’re the second person who said that about brawling. Apparently, everyone thinks I need to fight more. I’ll put that on the list of things to do: punch more people in the face.
      And, yes, it would be lovely if more students thanked their teachers. It does almost make all the grading worth it… almost. 🙂

  28. On February 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm Sabrina said:

    Oh, you’re not a basketcase!! I’m not the touchy-feely type, so I’m not into hugging people much (I blame it on being German :)), but I do get teary-eyed way too often. I didn’t used to, but maybe that’s what getting older does to you? Now, give me a sentimental episode of “Parenthood” and I have tears streaminig down my face. Anything can set it off really 🙂 Oh well…
    Sabrina recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday: New Mexico Thunderstorm

    • On February 11, 2012 at 4:17 am Sally said:

      Omigosh, I’ve never even watched “Parenthood” but the previews make me cry. (And this is why I’ve never watched it. Because I’d probably be inconsolable for days.)

  29. On February 21, 2012 at 6:40 am Ceri said:

    For me, there is no inappropriate time to hug someone. I’m a very huggy person and given that the ritual here in Mexico is to greet each other with a kiss on one cheek, most Mexicans are gobsmacked when I follow it up with a hug. (Hell, if I have to go along with their tradition, they have to go along with mine. 😛 )

    Also, I cry at everything. Genuinely everything. I’m ridiculous.
    Ceri recently posted..Return to Blogging (with a Vlog)


  1. unbrave girl | Feeling Natsukashii in Nikko
  2. unbrave girl | Stuff I Really Kind of Like About Japan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge