4 years into being together and I finally got to show Anthony the country I grew up in. We visited both of my grandparents, went ramen shop hopping, watched the cherry blossoms bloom and fall, and hiked through the Kiso Valley between two historic postal towns where all of the shops close their doors by 4 PM.
Spending my high school and college years away from it all, I had forgotten about the respect, humility, and pride that the people in Japan honor so much. For the longest time, it was difficult for me to take pride in the fact that I was from here, when it seemed like the only exposure people had with my country were around Pokemon, hentais and sushi. I desperately wanted to prove to them that it’s way, way more than that. It’s summer shuji (calligraphy) projects, making teru teru bozu the night before field trips, the teenage manga that will tug at your heartstrings, the cleanliness and art that is kaiseki, the bustling streets of Shibuya that I haunted with my girlfriends during middle school, the okashiya where we would buy ten yen candies, riding bikes through rice fields during sunset, the boys I fell in love with on a small island in Hiroshima during my preteen years. It’s people perfecting their craft instead of falling into the get rich mindset, it’s finding beauty in the chirping of crickets at night and the glow of the lightning bugs during summer vacation. It’s the omatsuri that we show up to wearing our best yukata and catch goldfish with paper nets while being surrounded by the scent of the smoky tare coming from all of the street vendors.
My memories of Japan have all been bitter sweet. I was young, naive, a hopeless romantic. This culture taught me about beauty in a way no other place has. It’s spiritual, respectful, and thoughtful all at once. I wanted Anthony to get a glimpse into my teenage years by pointing out every little detail that made this place so special but I’m not sure if he understood it all. You really need to live here to really get it. Japan will always have a special place in my heart.