“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost
At around 10pm the other evening, as I was trying to catch up on an exorbitant amount of sleep debt, I got a knock on my door. I live pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and so I was confused as to who it could be, but since Japan is so safe I wasn’t concerned about it being some potential assailant or diddler who wanted to mess with the foreigner mere days before he returned to America. I called out as I got dressed but nobody answered. Another knock came.
I approached the door and looked through the peep hole but I didn’t see anyone on the other side. I made my right hand into a fist in case I had to punch what I thought would probably be some late night delivery service man, but could potentially be something weird. I opened the door, unprepared for the horror that would move throughout my body like a jolt of lighting.
A terrifying creature leapt from beside the door frame and let out a primitive screech that sent me reeling backwards. He was holding a white board that something scribbled across it but all I could manage to read in my shock were the words “your ass.” Beside him in the darkness appeared a smaller person shooting firecrackers in my direction and laughing maniacally. I shouted and put my hands out, ready to accept the cruel and unusual end that was upon me. But when I was not stabbed or diddled, I looked back towards the horrible creature at my door only to realize that it was Sensei, and the little maniacal person beside him was his girlfriend, Misuzu. They were laughing uncontrollably as I thrashed around my hallway in relief. He was holding a sign that had a picture of the three of us and read “We’re gonna miss your ass.”
They came inside and gave me little gifts that held significance in relation to jokes and experiences we all had together. I had said goodbye to Zu earlier that day, and they told me they weren’t satisfied with the way it felt, so they had gathered supplies and came over to scare the hell out of me and then make some candy sushi and hang out—a “proper” goodbye for Zu, as Sensei put it.
The past few weeks have been amazing. I have had so much fun and have spent time with so many wonderful people. While I’m excited to go home, I’m not as ready as I thought I would be to part with Japan. Throughout all the good times, laughter, and sheer nonsense that occurred this month, I have felt something below the surface that I wasn’t really able to articulate or fully grasp. But then Sensei and Zu nearly took my life and I realized what it was: I’m going to miss these insane, beautiful people. I have been so fortunate to meet the folks that I have. Some I have had the pleasure of sharing nearly all my experiences with, while others I wish I had been able to spend more time with. Back home I am surrounded by such good friends and family, but I realized that I now have that here in Japan, too.
It’s going to be challenging to find words for this post that will do justice to my experience in Japan, but I’ll attempt to do it—and briefly, as I could probably ramble on for much longer than would be desirable to my target audience (I know you’re busy, mom).
After this post I will go back to being Jon briefly before assigning myself another nickname and dropping it casually in conversations in order to make it stick. Submissions for potential nicknames will be accepted and considered on a rolling basis.
Japan: What I’ve Learned
I’ve learned that bowing improperly can cause severe lower back pain and that bengay is not sold in Japan; I’ve learned that there are no real repercussions for violating the dance act and dancing well into the morning; I’ve learned that I’m not Usher and Sensei isn’t Channing Tatum but there are times when we’ve gotten dangerously close to believing that we were; I’ve learned that a lot of things transcend language and exist without the need for an explanation.
Japan has taught me that I know way less than I thought I knew, which is a lesson that really strengthens the relationship you can have with yourself. By knowing you know less than you thought you knew, you don’t have to think you know that you are a person you don’t actually know. Translation: you’re a lot more yourself when you can put down the defenses of thinking you have to know a whole lot. We’re getting there. Remember Rilke? The importance of the questions? It keeps returning. Additionally, it’s been great to learn that nobody else really knows as much as they claim to, except for the ones who claim to know nothing.
Japan has also been frustrating at times. Coming from an individualistic society to a highly collectivist society caused a lot of challenges towards the way that I think and do things from the way that Japan thinks and does things. I sound so boring. Basically, there were times when I put a box of Oreos in the basket and Japan was like, “No, Jon,” and so I had to take them out.
Japan has taught me the importance of teaching. Something I haven’t written about enough on here is the topic of my students. These are some of the funniest, smartest, and most hard working kids I have ever met. It was as if there was no language barrier at all with them this year. We were able to laugh and have a good time; they taught me so damn much and all I taught them was English. Even on my most difficult days, when I had accidentally used itching powder instead of baking soda or took estrogen pills instead of vitamin c, they would make me smile or say hilarious and irrelevant English phrases like, “You are very, very teacher,” or “I like dog.” Both of those are most likely true so I let it slide.More than anything my job was just be American Jon. American Jon loves giant hamburgers and goes to the mall with Justin Bieber. American Jon rides an eagle to school and starred in Step Up 2. But it was cool to represent where I am from and show the kids something different. I have different views and beliefs and to have been able to share that with them is more valuable than any lesson on present progressive or uncountable nouns that I could ever dream up. I’ll really miss being Jon Sensei; not for the title but for what it allowed me to teach and learn. Hell, most of the time they just called me Jon anyway.
I guess what I’ve learned the most about Japan is the importance of experiences. They are there and you can have them if you want them.
Future of the Ashikaga Kid Blog (and other writing news)
I know some of you are terrified that this blog is coming to an end, and that most of you are planning quiet celebrations with your loved ones. Don’t buy the streamers yet.
A year ago, when I first started this blog, I hated blogs and thought that they were just about pokemon, for some reason. It turns out that I was wrong, actually—about the pokemon thing at least. I really love to write, and Japan has evoked that passion more than any other place I have been. I’m planning on starting another blog, although I’m not sure quite yet what it will be about. If there is some topic you are dying to read about, let me know.
In other news, the book that I have been writing for a really long time and have told nobody about until now will be released…once I complete the daunting editing process and find a publisher. It could be a challenging road, so if you have any connections to publishers or any sort of leads, shoot me a message in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To anyone that is reading this, thank you. I loved who I met and the connections that were made, and it has made me realize that more than anything it is the people you meet that are the best thing about traveling. The temples and mountains and quiet moments were outstanding, but Chris McCandless said it best when he wrote that happiness is only real when shared.
It is the people that made Japan so great. Everyone I’ve met has been another ingredient that added to the incredible experience. To both my Japanese and foreigner friends, I can’t thank you enough for being the wonderful people that you are and making my life all the better. Keep it together, Fain…don’t lose it now, Fain. Thank you to everyone who made this the best year of my life.
I don’t have the credentials to offer advice. My birth certificate does not say Dear Abbey or Ask Amy or Inquire With Ignacio. If you got anything out of the chaos of this blog over the last year of posting then I’m really happy, and if not then I’d understand. But, before I get too off topic again and further evade the inevitable closing of this blog, let me—credential-less Jon Fain, the self-proclaimed Ashikaga Kid for a few more precious moments—offer you one piece of advice: there is no right or perfect time to do something. There will always be things that you can point to as reasons to wait. Don’t wait; just go and do it. Do it unapologetically. You’ll find strange and wonderful people along the way that will change your life forever.
Or, of course, don’t. That’s the point. You have a choice.
Thanks for coming along,
The Ashikaga Kid