Leaving Japan after 421 Days.

Sand collects along the edges of my yoga mat. I’m alone on the beach in Fukuoka today. Little islands hang in the distance. Islands so small you could yell to someone on the other side and they would hear it.

I was supposed to leave Japan in three months, but now I have less than two weeks.

I press cursive loops onto paper with my pen as the salt breeze pulls out in one long strand. I wait for it to end, but it does not. It fans my hair to one side and does not come down. It hangs like one long consecutive exhale, an endless ribbon. No breaks in between. And suddenly, it ends.

I feel the aftershock coming. The time to feel it. Like dancing as hard and fast as we can until we stop. Whatever that left over vibration is—I want to tap into that.

Not all of these moments in Japan have been special. That would be ridiculous. But knowing that I am leaving so, so much sooner than I expected. Well, that certainly sweetens the moment right now. Farewells tend to do that.

Some people dive into cultures head first. They swim through the streets gobbling up opportunities like they were born to do this. Others do not. I still don’t know which kind of person I am.

In the fifteen months I’ve lived in Japan, I’ve often found myself asking when it would happen. If living in a foreign country changes a person, I wanted to know if this change was happening to me. Am I living this experience correctly? Is this the way it’s supposed to look? Other people seem to know how to make sparkling bucketfuls of experience out of a foreign country. I don’t know. But even now as I stand on the end of the experience, I wonder: did I do this right?

I dive into a cab complete with lace doily seat covers for the first time in Tokyo. I half imagine I am in a stagecoach and expect a victorian tea set to pop out of the consul. I tell the driver to take me to Senso-ji. Miles roll by as we creep through Tokyo traffic. Little flower shops and mystery restaurants catch my eye. The sidewalks flood with school uniformed children, women in perfectly parted low ponytails and pencil skirts and men in business suits with brief cases. We turn to an opening in the long road as I see Tokyo tower in its orange glory next to the traditional winged roofing of Zozo-ji temple. I don’t know what I feel. All I know is: I am far from home. Instantly, I understand that this will be a time that happened in my life. How does a person manage something so vast?

Temple cats dive to the sides of my path lounging in the sun behind Osaka Castle. Autumn in Osaka Castle Park is just like Autumn in Central Park. Sometimes everywhere is everywhere.

My lavender sweatshirt hangs too close to the spokes of the red bicycle below me. It is too low for my height and my tires are nearly flat, but I don’t mind. I am in Kyoto. So I do not mind. The cherry on top of the Japanese experience, Kyoto will vibrate in me for the rest of my life. It is ageless. We don’t go looking for memories because they unfold behind us every step of the way. Bike riding with Michael in Kyoto through the green glimmer of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is magic. That subtle glow below my throat and above my chest beams for the entire day. I learn something that I already know but cannot explain about myself. This is a special place, Kyoto. We do not see the much sought after Maiko or Geisha, but Kyoto is still magic.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove | Kyoto, Japan.

So how do I wrap up over a year of living in Japan? From Tokyo, Kamakura, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka, did I capture it all the best way? The memories tilt and distort with time, but then some come as crisp film to my movie mind. Through soba noodles and the fresh smell of sakura blossoms. On those long and important walks to Shinagawa station, I saw the seasons turn from ice covered walkways to sweet blossoms falling everywhere to the full expression of growth in summer.

I know I’ve truly experienced life here. There are people who travel the world and never experience anything beyond their own minds. They never buckle to their knees. But me, I think I showed up. I experienced this place.

I stand at Shibuya crossing unphased by the scramble. Towered by signs and neon lights not so different from Times Square. And I am calm like a local. I am a regular person capturing the crowd who captures the crowd as the anomaly. The formation trees of smart phones from extended arms and branches trying to capture schools of humans crossing at once, this is the sight to see. This is art. The people on their I-phones become more of a spectacle. As big as it is, something about the Japanese heartbeat feels steady. There is a backbone I know I can lean on. Where does it come from in this fast paced world? I am still breathing. The ground is steady.

Where I thought there was an endless amount of time, I see that this too has an ending. Just like that long exhaling breeze pulling like an endless ribbon I know, we all know, that it must come to an end.

I don’t feel like a tourist in Japan. But I know I will always be an outsider. I am not from the island. Anyone on the outside is an outsider. I still only know a few words in Japanese. I still don’t understand why pleasing others overrides common sense at times. But I still think it’s beautiful. There is a need to give that is so ingrained in this culture, it confuses someone like me who has worked hard to claim what she needs for herself.

It’s okay to not fully understand.

Japan doesn’t fall easily into words. It doesn’t dance out of my mouth. I am still processing. And looking back at my time here, it happened slowly and quickly. It happened to me. I know Michael and I will look back on this year and a quarter of our lives and smile. I am changed forever because of this place. And the aftershock is only just beginning. I wonder what will happen in two weeks when I am in my beloved hot yoga. When I am in the place that I thought I needed so much here. Will it be all that I thought it was? I don’t know. But Japan is already sweeter day by day. I am almost all the way out the door. Swan song. Only 12 more days here.


For more on the sobriety, yoga and travel journey follow my Instagram @jacqui.hathaway.

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