Goodbye Hokkaido, Hello California

I cobbled together this post over the course of moving back to the States–from WordPress, the note-taking function on my phone, and a convenient napkin stuck between the pages of a book I am reading…

The Preparation

I leave Japan in less than a week. It is hard to admit that my leaving is actually real as I look around my apartment with items strewn everywhere. The moment when my room should be its absolute cleanest, it looks like a tornado tore through the hallway and down the center of my living space. My heart feels somewhat the same. This has been a week of many goodbyes, and each one does not come any easier than the one before it. My professional and personal life seems straddled between two countries, and although that brings with it a certain amount of joy and adventure, it also makes me feel a little disconnected by the sheer vastness of the Pacific (and perhaps, the price of plane tickets… In comparison to a flight I took in 2009, the price has at least doubled.) I will miss Hokkaido, Sapporo, and the people here a great deal — at the end of the day, this is a wonderful place to live and work. I am going to miss it here… Thank you so much Prof. Sasaki, Prof. Tanimoto, and everyone in the Department of Japanese History!


The Transit

Goodbye Japan!

I somehow managed to tame that tornado into two suitcases and a carry-on, and I headed to a hotel in Chitose. My flight left too early in the morning to depend on the trains, in addition to the fact that torrential downpours in Sapporo and the flooding of the Toyohira river pretty much brought JR to a stop. The storm broke for just long enough that we were able to make it to the hotel. That night, I submerged myself in the entirely empty public bath and reflected on the remaining leg of the journey. I had two suitcases–38 kg and 23 kg–in addition to two carry-on bags.  I’m still not entirely sure how I managed to wrangle the suitcases to the New Chitose airport. In Tokyo, when they transferred me to a different terminal, my heart sank as I stared at the pile of… stuff.  Let me just say that muscles were hurting me in places that probably has not seen any physical action since my short-lived rugby days. I’m waiting for my flight now, with eight hours left of my ten hour layover. I had some grand ideas of exploring Narita city when I got here, but now all I can think about is collapsing in a chair and taking a nap.

The Arrival

The flight went surprisingly well. For the first time in years, immigration and customs gave me no significant trouble and I assembled the bags onto a cart with the remaining morsel of strength left within me. As I ascended to the surface of LAX heading for ground transportation, I was hit with this overwhelming smell of french fries. At first, I thought it was just me… But judging from everyone else’s confused whiffing, I would say that the smell wasn’t my imagination. It seemed almost as if someone sprayed the place in french fry essence mixed with car fumes…  Welcome to the United States of America.

My other first impression is perhaps less surprising: California is hot.  Returning in a heat wave will do that to you, but it isn’t just the temperature. The sun itself seems to burn brighter, and I was squinting all over grabbing for my sunglasses within ten minutes of my arrival. It feels weird to be back here. I expected things to look and feel different, as if the landscape would somehow reflect my absence, but everything looks and feels the same. I guess the world just bumbled along without me. However after all the goodbyes of last week, I’m looking forward to saying hello for a change.


Posted in Daily Grind, TravelTags: