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