I’ve found that no matter where you end up shipping yourself off to, you kind of have to make a home out of it.
Moving to Kyoto, even though it is rather short term, has been a bit challenging. Every day I’m kind of nervous stepping out my door. Who will I talk to today? Will I totally screw up my Japanese? Will I be satisfied with how much I’ve seen before I go home? Little nagging whispers.
One thing I’ve especially found difficulty with is the impossibility of ever really assimilating into this culture. I understand now how so many study abroad kids loose heart. I mean we are talking about the most homogeneous country on earth here. I was really lucky to end up in my international dorm, because when I need to rant, there are three floors of other gaijin here who feel the same way. (Even if they do speak English, haha).
I was delighted to celebrate my birthday with the dorm friends yesterday. We donned pajamas, ate cake, and watched my favorite Japanese kid’s movie, My Neighbor Totoro. I was really blown away by everyone’s kindness in simply telling me happy birthday as I strolled about the dorm. I got some really cute Totoro towels, and sweets, and a couple bottles of wine. (I’m 21 now, after all). Just tickled and star struck by how wonderful the day was, I skyped Jared and crashed.
Life here is just like that. This dorm is like a big house, a big family that has to deal with each other and have fun together all at once (and you know, share a bathroom too). It’s nice to come in to Ihouse after a long day on campus or romping about Kyoto and be greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida (essentially our parents, the dorm caretakers). But one of my favorite hang outs is the lounge.
An underground study mecha full of snacks, manga, and people to talk to. I’ve found myself to be really productive with the companionship down there, and it’s always nice to be able to ask higher level people questions. Taking breaks to play Super Smash Brothers doesn’t hurt either.
But sometimes you gotta get out of the house.
To ensure I was actually using my Japanese, I joined the film club right off the bat when I got here. I hesitantly knocked on the door of their clubroom, and was greeted by what was more a closet than a room. Manga, old film equipment, and props were strewn everywhere. Snacks were piled in one corner, guitars in another, and endless stacks of film club fliers covered whatever desk space was available. A couple of members who were sitting in there kindly told me when the next club meeting was. From there I just started showing up.
It was tough at first. This is where the whole struggle with “I will never fit in here” comes in. Japanese are notoriously shy, and some weren’t sure how much Japanese they could use around me. I struck up conversation as much as I could, and kept showing up to hang out in the clubroom, but it just wasn’t sticking.
Finally after one club meeting I went to an Izakaya with them to celebrate the end of our film screening week. I chatted it up with all of them, alcohol makes it easier after all. They learned about me and I about them and I’m now proud to call them my friends. I show up to the clubroom and chat about movies, music, culture, or just play nintendo for hours. It’s also really fun to jam with them on guitars. Thank goodness for music breaking language barriers. Well, not so much a barrier anymore. As I’ve gotten closer to them, my Japanese has been gradually improving, so much so I’m surprising myself. I’m happy to say I’ve found a niche.
Cause I’ll sure need their help once it’s time for me to film my documentary. Sheesh.
They aren’t the only ones. I’ve met some incredibly sweet gal friends in my Area Studies course who’ve taken me out to Izakayas and shrines and remembered my birthday (one of my Totoro towels was from the lovely Yui). We’re planning a hiking excursion in June that includes a gorgeous restaurant over this forest river that features some famous chilled noodles that stream down bamboo-canal things (I’ll take pictures, you can’t expect me to properly explain that).
And it’s not just my dorm or Japanese friends either who have made this place feel quite so home-y. Kyoto as a whole has become that for me. My true home will always be the States, but I really have formed a bond with this town. I’m picking up some Kansai dialect (the region Kyoto’s in) and I marvel at how beautiful it is here daily. It’s my favorite combination of city mixed with nature and beauty, extremely reminiscent of my hometown in Nashville, despite being a very Japanese version. I could not have picked better. I can ride my bike ten minutes and be surrounded by trees and grass, or all manner of shops and food and people. It’s whichever I choose.
This week is going to be a haul. Six days of school in a row because Ritsumeikan believes in making up for days off. Therefore I have a kanji quiz to study for. Sure paid my price for that Tokyo trip. I’m off to the lounge! See you next week!