Scooter vs Japan

Meloncaly and the Infinite Sakura, or How I Feel About Tokyo Orientation | June 25, 2015

As I wait on a print copy of my contract so that I can prepare my visa application, and work on a post about the bounty of treasure I’ve received, I thought I would touch on more pre-departure discussion.

Now knowing where I will be staying during our Tokyo orientation, I started looking up what was close by and what might be some interesting things to do in the evenings. And being the helpful and conversational chap I am, I posted on one of the 100 Facebook groups for JET, asking if anyone else had done the same. My hope was to compare notes, get some ideas floating around, and try to get some of the other JETs thinking forward instead of worrying about packing. And holy cow did I get a lot of responses. And holy cow were a lot of them negative.

Artist’s rendering of Facebook

When we arrive in Tokyo, we aren’t going to have a terribly large amount of time to go out on magical journeys. My group will probably arrive at the hotel around 5pm or later, and we’ll only really have a few hours per evening once orientation starts. And while we’ere there, drinking is frowned upon for a number of reasons (like being hung over during orientation). But that doesn’t mean for a second that we can’t get out of the hotel and have some fun.

So I asked this question on Facebook, and I’m getting a whole lot of negative responses, ranging from excuses like jetlag to outright saying that trying to experience Tokyo is a waste of time in such a short window. Since jetlag affects everyone differently (though there are some things that can help), I’d like to talk about some of the latter comments. And why not use Japan to talk about it.

There’s a concept in Japanese called mono no aware, which deals with transience, impermanence, and the sort of mournful appreciation of things. It’s used to talk about fleeting beauty and the passage of time, and how these things can be appreciated, even though they are leaving us. Probably a really great example of this (I didn’t pay too much attention during that lecture. Sorry, Doc. R.) is hanami or the sakura blossom viewings that are very common in the spring. The light pink pedals only bloom for a short time and so you must accept the fleeting beauty of the scene, knowing that it will soon be over. This is also a big concept in Buddhism, where one must view the world in the here and now, knowing that nothing here is permanent.

So in talking with other JETs, I’m getting all these comments like:

I plan to visit Tokyo and appreciate it on my own terms because a few evenings is a waste of time.

Or:

We have an entire year. There’s no point in rushing it.

But mono no aware, Buddhism, and my own past travel experiences tell me the very contrary. I understand what these comments mean, but I see a major failing in this kind of logic. For many JETs, a return to Tokyo is essentially off the table. Many of us will be living too far away to make any kind of realistic trip to the city, and will likely be caught up exploring our own backyards. Sure, it’s Tokyo and everyone wants to go there, but I’ve never been to Ottawa, and I’d only been to Toronto overnight due to a plane delay. I’ve been to Japan twice, Mexico, LA, countless trips to Seattle and the inland Northwest US, Vancouver and area, Saskatchewan, Montreal, Halifax, PEI, and several parts of Alberta, but I haven’t been to my own country’s capital. And when I asked Japanese students this when I was at Gaidai, the majority hadn’t been to their’s either.

Distance and likelihood aside, as I see it, Tokyo orientation is like hanami. Since few of us can say with certainty that we will be returning for a lengthy and more meaningful trip, this could be the only trip to Tokyo many of us have. For me, instead of putting it on the backburner and saying I will do it later, I plan to experience what I can when I can. I plan to face Tokyo as a fleeting moment that will never again return and seize it with both hands. Those 3 days are going to be a storm or activity, but I don’t intend to let that stand in the way. I have no intention of kicking off my shoes and laying down on the hotel room bed, waiting for the next day to start.

Isn’t Tokyo

Tokyo will not last forever, and even if I return, it will be under different circumstances, which means that if I don’t appreciate my short time there, I will have let that moment slip away forever. Worse, I will have wasted almost an entire week of my trip, leaving only 51 weeks remaining in that first contract term. Sure, we have a year or longer to get everything in, but experience tells me that that year will be over too soon, and many JETs will be filled with regrets over the things they didn’t do. I had a great time at Gaidai, but I will forever regret the few things I wanted to do at the end but couldn’t. And while it is impossible to experience everything in a place inside any timeframe, I don’t plan on have regrets because I just sat in my hotel room instead of getting out and appreciating what I have.

So while some JETs are trying to sleep off jetlag (and unfortunately failing, because jetlag doesn’t work like that), and while some are just going to hang out at the hotel, I plan to walk over to Yodobashi Camera, check out the toilet and bath showroom if I can, grab some quick food at Matsuya or some other quick eatery, head over to the observation deck at the Tokyo Muni building, and whatever else I can find to do. Maybe I’ll go drinking, Maybe I’ll find a group and go to karaoke. Maybe none of this will happen because something else will. It’s not inherently important that I do any specific thing (though I really wanna see those toilets). The point is that I intend to enjoy my time in Tokyo as more than networking and job training.

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Posted in JET, Living

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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.

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