By Kazuya Muto
The day after I got back from Sydney, I woke up, mumbling, "Where am I?"
It took a while to adjust. Occasionally I'd think I was still in Sydney, and I'd feel weird about writing and speaking Japanese. Sometimes I'd be in mid-sentence and suddenly I'd have a mental blank. I'd have forgotten how to say something in Japanese. I'd only hear the English echoing in my head.
It's often said you go through a kind of reverse culture shock when you return to your own country, and I think this is true.
Take, for example, the 45 minutes it takes for me to get to university by car. I've traveled that route countless times before, but after coming back from Sydney, I was looking at everything in a different way. It was a strange feeling: a mixture of nostalgia and novelty. I was also aware of how time had slid by: New buildings had gone up, and some restaurants and shops had closed.
On campus, I met up with some friends. I was thrilled to see them at first, and they were thrilled to see me, but once we got to talking, it was as though I'd only seen them the week before. Nothing much had changed. They hadn't changed, and, to be honest, I found that a little disappointing.
I went to class. Normally, students aren't allowed to take up courses midway through term but an exception was made for me. At first, I was impressed by my surroundings: real Japanese students listening to real Japanese lecturers speaking real Japanese. Wow! But then, gradually, the feeling that it was all very ordinary began to sink in. Again, that sense of disappointment that nothing at all had changed.
That night, a close friend of mine gave me a call and we went out for Chinese. We went to a noodle place we used to go to once or twice a week. It was great to catch up but after a while the conversation became like any other conversation we might have had before I'd left. That's not to say it wasn't fun, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. It was as though Sydney had never happened.
My friend started humming a tune. Apparently it had been a huge hit in Japan while I was in Sydney, but I hadn't heard it before. "Of course," he said. "Sorry. You wouldn't know it, would you? I was beginning to forget you'd been in Sydney for such a long time."
It was funny he should say that because I was feeling the same way. The memories of Sydney were fading fast. They were beginning to become like fragments of some waking dream. It was as though my experiences in Australia were being swallowed up in a great tsunami of Japanese culture.
I began to panic. I didn't want to forget. I didn't want to let go. I wanted these experiences to be a part of me for the rest of my life. I also knew that as these memories grew more distant, my English would decline as well.
I had to find a solution.
Shukan ST: March 2, 2007
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