Thursday, April 14, 2016

Why Japan?

While riding in the taxi taking me from Haneda Airport to the hotel I had booked for my first night in Japan, an unexpected question came to me.  While watching the street lamps and traffic signals flash by, seeing how very similar the street looked to any street you might drive down in Los Angeles, until you got a look at the billboards and business signs, this question popped into my head.  
"Why are you here?"  
Considering the time, effort and money it had taken me up to this point to get here, it seemed an odd question.  I knew I wasn't asking myself in a more, existential, "why are you in the universe?" sort of question.  I was asking myself why had I returned to Japan at this time.  
And once a question is asked, I feel a compunction to answer it. 
To people that know me, it is not a surprise that I planned and executed a trip to return here.  For instance, when I told my landlord that I was going to be out of the country for a couple of weeks, he asked, "Where are you going this time?"  
I liked the question.  It seemed to predicated on an impression he had that I traveled to different places.  I've not been to nearly as many as some people.  The guy I shared a ride with to the airport has visited over 30 different countries by his county, and I would guess he's at least 30 years younger than me.  
When I answered my landlord, "I'm going to Japan," his reply was, "Of course.  Again."  He sounded as if it was someplace he though I'd gone numerous times, though this is only my second trip.
The first answer that I can come up with is that, for me, when it comes to my learning to speak and read Japanese, coming to Japan is like when a baseball player is called up from the minor leagues to play in The Show.  It's where you want to be.  It's where you want to test your skill and see if you really know what you think you know.  What better place to see if I can really use the language well than in the land where it evolved.  
I had a little bit of a stumble a week before my trip.  We'll call it a minor league game.  I knew my flight arriving in Haneda was coming in late, and that I might not get to the hotel until well after their normal check-out time.  I decided to call to warn them and make sure there would be no problem.  
"Hello?  My name is Erick Melton.  I have a reservation at your hotel.  My flight arrives at Haneda after 10:30 at night.  It might be close to 12 AM before I leave the airport.  Can I still check in that late?"  I rattled off what I wanted to say.  It sounded shaky even to me.  I was nervous.  This was very different from practicing with a native speaker that lives in the U.S., who you know can shift to English if I get stuck.  
Or so I thought.
"Can you speak English?" the woman on the phone, "Sherry," she said her name was, replied.  A bit crestfallen, I replied that I could.  "Ok.  Good.  Now, it sounds like you said you'll arrive late and you wanted to make sure you could still check in."  
It turned out not to be a problem.  They have arrangements for people getting their room key if they arrive from the airport after the front desk closes at 12:30 AM.  I didn't even need to use them.  It took only about 30 minutes to get through customs and a ten minute taxi ride after that.  
I was able to deal with a guy at a luggage delivery desk who spoke no English, though.  I found out that the soonest they could deliver my luggage to the next hotel I'll be staying at was Saturday morning.  I felt good about that.  Like getting a walk in the first inning.  
This trip is different in one respect from the other times I've traveled in that it's coming out of me.  Usually, I let WorldCon dictate my itinerary.  The first time I went to Japan, as well as the trips to Montreal, Melbourne and London were to see more of the places where WorldCon was held.  I had hoped Japan was going to get to host the WorldCon in 2017, but when that didn't happen I made the decision that I couldn't wait for circumstances to create the opportunity any more.  I still started with a science fiction convention.  Haru-Con is this Saturday and Sunday, and Numazu, where it's being held, is the first stop on my trip after I leave Tokyo today.  But that was more or less to get me started.  A two day convention to get me to the country, followed by eleven more days of going to other places.  
It would be good to come here to get me doing more to have what I want happen than waiting for them to arrive on their own.  
I'm almost done with this entry and I don't have a really clear, in-depth answer yet, but I can add one more thing in the category of unfinished business.  When I came to Japan in 2007, we visited a famous temple in Kyoto called the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.  It is famous for having hundreds of bright, orange-red tori gates that climb the hill above the shrine then continue back down.  When we visited the shrine back then, I started climbing the path leading through the tori gates.  Its said that as you step through each one, you are purified.  I wanted to reach the top then climb back down.  
I didn't make it.  About twenty minutes from the top, I realized that the tour bus I was supposed to be on was going to be leaving soon.  I turned back around to get to the bus.  I told myself, "when I come back I'll finish this climb."  As the years have passed and I waited for that opportunity to complete that task, I began to fear that it would be like most "someday" promises and remain unfulfilled.  
I'm back.  I'll be in Kyoto next Wednesday.  The Fushimi Inari Shrine is about 10 minutes by bus from the hotel I'll be staying at.  
Someday will be here soon. 


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