Final Reflections

Part 1

I’m sitting in the hostel lobby. There’s an hour left until we leave. Quiet, atmospheric music is playing over the speakers.
How have I changed in the last ten days?
I let my mind be absorbed in this place. I didn’t take photos, I wasn’t trying to do or be something. I was just having fun and learning.
Cigarette smoke is coming in from outside. I remember the bells on the bus, the subway, and tune of the streetlights. I remember the food I ate here, the streets I walked on here. I remember the feeling of being lost but knowing you’ll make it back home.
I made mistakes, sure, and definitely acted like an oblivious foreigner at times. But that’s okay.
My world is a little smaller now, but by taking this step I’ve gotten a taste of how big it can be.
I’m thinking of the people along the way, everyone who was nice or helpful. I interacted with so many strangers while I was here.
I didn’t want to take photographs, because that would spoil my ability to truly experience each moment. And at the end of the day, it’s not photographs that I want, taking up memory on some hard drive; it’s the feeling that I have during my experiences. And as important as those feelings are, I don’t need to hold on to them. Once I get back, I’ll be preparing to start up the grind again – another semester, then my thesis, then applications to graduate school, interviews, wrapping up my time at Williams, and then who knows? For now, I’m sitting on a couch, watching people eat breakfast, listening to them speak words I can’t understand, and waiting until we have to leave.

I’ve learned a lot in the past year about how to let myself have fun, to let go of my worries and relax a little. I also want to pursue my hobbies – drawing and painting – to improve in those crafts. Meeting the artisans and hearing about how much they trained, I realized how valuable it is to practice at least a little bit every day. I suppose that’s one way I’ve changed, though the desire to practice art was there before, but now it has a solid foundation. They inspired me.

I’m grateful that I met everyone on this trip, and that I got the chance to know the people behind some new and familiar faces from Williams. We’re all going our separate ways after this trip, but for a short time we were all together in this space, exploring and having fun. I’m happy that it happened this way.

I know there are a few things I’ll miss about Kyoto when I’m back in the states. I’ll definitely miss the heated toilet seats. However, I won’t miss having to gamble going to the bathroom in either a Western or Japanese toilet. I’ll miss the temples, the shrines, the architecture here, and the integration of old and new. I’ll miss the quiet here. The people aren’t very loud (and I’m sure we annoyed them with our loud American voices). But the quiet that exists here is not one which demands to be filled. The quiet is peaceful, not unsettling. I liked settling into it.

Part 2

We’re trapped in Narita airport. There’s snow and ice on the plane. The crew tried to de-ice it but they’ve had no luck. The flight was supposed to leave for Dulles at 4:30. It’s 8:51. I watched Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, and I had started Hidden Figures by the time they told us we could get off of the plane. I got a second double cheeseburger from McDonald’s just before they closed. I like McDonald’s burgers, so I’m happy about that, and as long as I’m sated I’m happy. I don’t mind having to wait a while to get back home, since I don’t have any major commitments until the Wednesday, and we should be able to get back by the Tuesday.

CJ and Leah are having conversation about an existential philosophical query. Si Hou’s playing a game on his phone. Sohum’s listening to music and lying on the ground. Joanne is on her phone. Tiffany is chiming in the conversation at some points. Breelyn is trying to get back on the plane, and I’m sitting on the floor with everyone, typing this post.

We’re a good group. We compliment each other well I think, and this trip wouldn’t have been as fun without everyone involved. I loved the moments picking out Tanuki on the street with Joanne. I liked walking in silence with Sohum. I laughed loudest whenever CJ was around. I felt the most pleasantly surprised when I discovered how warm and funny Si Hou can be. Tiffany and I bonded over our love of anime and other shared tastes. Breelyn was my Zen sister, for lack of a better term, and it was nice to see her get excited about Zen like I do. And Leah took on the burden of leading us when we were lost, for which I am still grateful. I can’t picture this trip without any of them.

If I had to go to Japan by myself or go back with all of them, I wouldn’t hesitate to say I’d go with the group. And here in this airport, I wouldn’t want to be sitting on the ground with anyone else.

Part 3

It’s 9:31 AM in Narita airport. Our flight was cancelled at 1:00 in the morning and we slept on the airport floor in sleeping bags. I got McDonald’s for the third time and finally brushed my teeth.

We placed our sleeping bags before a wraparound screen that has been playing a looped movie featuring the major tourist sites of Japan during every season of the year. At the same time, atmospheric instrumental music is playing over the loudspeakers. In many public areas in Kyoto – some shopping streets, inside buses and subway trains – atmospheric music was also played. I loved listening to it because it evoked nostalgia of the days when I would play videogames that had background music of similar melodies. It made me feel happier here. And I’m happy that I’ve been to most of the sites in Kyoto featured in this tourism video. But when they display sites in Tokyo, Kamakura, and Okinawa, tears well in the back of my eyes because there is still so much more that I haven’t seen. My only choice is to come back someday.

I don’t mind waiting here in this terminal until we try again for Newark tonight. And the snow out on the runway is glittering in the morning sun.

Part 4

Still in Narita – we’ve gone through security and immigration again, and we have seats for the Newark and Albany flights. Tiffany will stop at Newark; the rest of us will keep going.

Sohum, Breelyn, and I are sitting on the floor just outside of the immigration hub. Sohum, CJ, and I got lunch at the Japanese grill in this terminal. I got BBQ pork udon. I ate all of it and some of Sohum’s fries. And I bought mochi that I’m snacking on as I write.

I’m thankful for all of the food that I ate in Kyoto. I definitely had my fill of ramen – before this trip I hadn’t had proper ramen, only the blocks of Maruchaun that you stick in the microwave. The pork, the thin noodles, and the softboiled eggs were all wonderful to eat. I’ll say this: much of the food here not only made me feel full but also satisfied my palate. I was able to try so much that I hadn’t eaten before, and I improved my chopstick technique. I did love most of the food – even the vegetarian dishes, which I don’t usually like in the U.S. Our shojin-ryori (vegetarian monk meal) was one of my favorite eating experiences during the whole trip. But this may have been in part because we were all together.

Part 5

We’re in Albany. Most of our bags are packed on the van and the rest of us are at the baggage claim dealing with the fact that three checked bags were left in Newark. It’s unfortunate for sure, but at least we’re all in the place where we’re supposed to be. Tiffany left us in Newark. The rest of us are here.

Sohum and I went to Dunkin Donuts and I was able to get the last of their chocolate glazed munchkins. In Japan it’s almost 11 AM on Wednesday. Here it’s almost 9 PM on Tuesday. The jet lag should be interesting. At least when we’re back in Williamstown I’ll be able to shower and do laundry.

Part 6

I’m lying on my bed in my room on the fourth floor of Prospect, looking out over Currier quad. I’ve eaten, showered twice, and slept (for 8 hours, thank goodness). I’m not feeling much jet lag yet, but I anticipate it’ll start to hit me as the day goes on. I’ve just re-read all of the earlier parts of this post, and with this final part I will wrap up my reflections on the trip.

I’ve already started to perceive Williamstown and the United States differently since we returned from Japan. The most immediate observation is that Japan is much cleaner than the United States. This was evident as soon as I exited the plane which flew from Narita to Newark and I was hit with the sweaty smell of the terminal. I’m also used to walking around in a city where the streets are impeccably clean because they are swept every day. And of course, this is not the case here. Once I’m done typing this post I’m going to do a thorough cleaning of my room. Kyoto was also a much calmer place than either of the American airports or Williamstown. Though Williamsown is quiet, I sense a restlessness here that is not in Kyoto. And in the Newark and Albany airports, many of the people were loud and seemed impatient.

Yet with this new perspective, I feel refreshed. I feel inspired to change my life in ways that reflect my experience in Japan. I’m not suggesting that I’ll make major lifestyle changes, but I feel inclined to change some of the little things I do every day. Maybe I should start tidying up more often. Maybe I should try not to multitask – to pay total attention to every task individually – I think I’d be calmer if I did that rather than try to juggle multiple things in my head. My appetite also increased in Japan – I eat so much more and I’m more conscious of wasting food. I also use less water and paper towels now than I did before going to Japan, though towels often weren’t available there in the first place.

I’m grateful to have gone to Kyoto. I’m grateful for what I have here. I’m grateful that someday I’ll be able to return to Japan. But for now, I’m grateful to be able to carry this experience in Kyoto with me. I knew as soon as I saw it in the course catalog that I needed to go on this trip. Admittedly, I was feeling restless from being in Williamstown for so long and I wanted an escape. Now it’s like Williamstown is a new place. And to close this long post, I’ll remark that this feeling is eerily similar to the sentiment of a Zen saying that my teacher first told me during Zen Buddhism Intensive last winter study:

Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.
Then mountains are not mountains and rivers are not rivers.
Then mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers again, but different.

Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible. And I humbly thank Kagaya-sensei for selecting me to participate in this course.

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