The cicadas are quiet, a cat meows at a doorstep, and the air is thick with electricity and the smell of rain on hot pavement. A Japanese summer downpour is a far cry from a Pacific Northwest drizzle! Less than a month from now, I will be at home again. When I think of my family on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington and friends in McMinnville at Linfield, I get a little achy knot in my chest. I guess that’s what really missing someone feels like! But I know when I go home, I just might have the same feeling for the people and places I will leave behind here in Kyoto.
Last week my Bible study circle (club) had the last meeting before finals week,. It was a good-bye party for the leader, Miwa-chan, who will be leaving Japan next week to study abroad in England. We had speeches and a video collage and all the girls cried (and some of the boys grimaced and blinked suspiciously). Miwa, by the way, is one of my favorite people I’ve met in Japan. She has cinnamon-colored hair and eyes in a funny pixie face, the broadest Osaka dialect you ever heard (sometimes a sharp tongue to go with it), and a very perceptive and kind heart. She took me under her wing when I was first introduced to the circle: invited me to the events and rescued me when I mistook trains trying to get to them, and made sure I was included by prodding me to speak up and participate when I would rather have been shy. I owe her a lot of great experiences and good friends I was able to make this semester.
After the farewell party I felt really down. The day of the party was the 23rd, exactly one month before my departure date in August. The year and especially this last semester had been so good. My study abroad experience built up like a wave as it improved, and finally engulfed me at the point when I lost that sense of foreignness, of “studying abroad” and felt like I was just living here—and now here I was, left dripping wet and watching that wave wash out to sea again without me. That day everyone had been focused on Miwa leaving, but Yuya sensed I was blue and sent me a text: “Let’s really enjoy this last month. When you leave, let’s not make it about endings and saying goodbye, because it’s about what happens next—between us and everyone else in the circle. One year is short but you have your whole life of opportunities ahead of you, and I’m sure you’ll come back to Japan someday.” That was enough to set me blubbering again!
As this year abroad comes to a close I’m reflecting more on what it has meant to me as an American, which has been a funny thing about being here in Kyoto. Without trying, I somehow seem to fit! Even European dormmates have been surprised I’m American: “But you’re so quiet and kind and thin, and you study so hard!” It makes me sad to think everyone has such a negative image of Americans, but unfortunately it seems the majority who go abroad only reinforce it. In Japan especially, everything that is a virtue in American culture is viewed quite negatively, and vice versa: Americans don't put much stock in cultural traits the Japanese hold dear. I suppose I'm kind of a strange bird in my home country, but it’s nice to know I might be breaking a few stereotypes here.
So that’s me. Before I return I want to wrap up this journal with a few entries on my observations of Japanese people and culture—and especially Kyoto culture, which I find very interesting in itself! I should go back to studying now. Why the Japanese school year is arranged so finals week arrives during the middle of miserable, muggy summer I don’t know, but I’m very grateful for my air conditioning to wake up my brain enough to remember everything for the exams!
P.S. Is it just me or has my written English gotten funny and stilted?!