January 3, 2013

NRT to LAX: Final Thoughts

Greetings from Kraftland,

I said my farewells to Japan "yesterday" (what day is it?) after spending a fantastic final day with my dad, Aziz and Grace and the Disney parks. Much in the same way that soldiers and astronauts must be debriefed and reintroduced to their normal lives after a long journey, so too did I have to ease the transition from Japan to America, and the best way to do that was obviously at Disneyland.

Before saying sayonara, I woke early and travelled into Shibuya to see Kaorina. It was the first time I had been in the area so early in the morning, and because it was right after New Years, the place was empty; if the streets weren't so impeccably clean, I believe some tumbleweed may have blown past. It was eerie, the mixture of emptiness and the realization that it may be years until I travel back to Tokyo, but it was a new year and time for a new chapter.

It was never explicitly stated but should now be quite obvious: what was initially supposed to be a one-year trip complete with a job, apartment, and something that resembled language study has instead become a three-month adventure that served a very different purpose. I made this decision just over a month into my travels and while it was hard not to have feelings of failure, what I ultimate concluded was that the "why" that drove me to Japan was different than the "why" that materialized once I was there. I had wanted to give myself something to do for a year since my post-graduation aspirations were not defined and I thought that one year abroad sounded like a good way to structure my time. What I discovered though is that I really just needed some time for self-reflection and to reset my compass.

When the reflection was done and the compass reset (by furiously making a figure 8 motion) I realized that while I loved Japan and was making great friends and learning new things, it was not the place I wanted to be and teaching English or any other job that a non-Japanese speaker could hold was not how I wanted to spend a year of my life. Again, hard not to feel like I had failed as my initial goals were not met, but the things I learned on this trip were so important that I now have very few, if any, feelings of defeat.
Among the important realizations I had was how important it is to set goals. The 89 goals were thought of and created on the flight to Japan. The weeks leading up to my trip I discussed starting a blog but I wanted to have a purpose rather than just "so today I.." and "yesterday I ate...". Little did I know that the goals would be so important. I am a terrible self-motivator; the amount of times I've had a good idea or thought of something I wanted to do and then resigned before I even expressed my desires to another person are countless. But with these goals, and with my trip in general, I was the one making things happen. If I wanted to go to Sapporo, I had to book the tickets. If I wanted to find used panties, no one else was going to do that for me. If I didn't want to just sit in the house all day and hope one of my five friends would come up with something to do, I had to be proactive. It is true that the hardest part of any task is starting, but I found that when you've got a written list it is easier as you can keep checking what you want to accomplish and make that first step towards completion; it's a daily reminder of what to do. It's doubly helpful to let your goals be known to others; they hold you accountable, remind you that you've set out to do something, and will often times offer to help. I would like to say thank you to the friends who continually asked me about the 89 goals and offered to help; your encouragement and intrigue motivated me during the times I wanted to just sit at home and watch Seinfeld.

Another big realization was how important it is to constantly seek out new experiences as it's terribly easy to get comfortable in a routine. I made the decision to only spend 3 months in Japan right before traveling through the country for a month, so when I returned to Tokyo with a month left, my drive to explore and meet new people was greatly diminished. It took a lot more effort to not visit the same few restaurants and city blocks when I knew my time was ending, which may seem odd as you'd think I'd want to explore as much as possible before leaving, but for whatever reason my instincts were to stay comfortable. But again, I had goals to accomplish and they forced me out into new places. I told myself that when I return to Los Angeles, I would buy the Lonely Planet guide to LA since the city you know least is often the city in which you live. By far the thing I enjoyed most about my trip was meeting new people and exploring, so I want to bring this sense of adventure back with me to LA. I know it will be harder since I am comfortable and already have a great deal of friends and favorite places, but this trip would be in vain if I did not practice what I have learned in Japan. Goal 1 of Los Angeles: Buy Lonely Planet book.

The question that will undoubtedly be asked by every person I see in the next few weeks is: how does it feel to be back? The honest answer is: it doesn't. I think spending an entire life splitting time between Los Angeles and Oregon, and then Boston, has conditioned me to be unemotional with regards to coming and going between places and people. As I walked through LAX I was hit with how little I was hit. I've flown into and out of that airport hundreds of times before, I've been away from Los Angeles for longer than three months plenty of times, and while this was the longest I had ever been on my own and in a foreign country, I was not overwhelmed with the culture shock. That said, it's been hard not to say "sumimasen" when I bump into people and "arigato gozaimasu" when done a service. Luckily those closest to me here love sushi so I'm sure I'll be able to impress a few waiters! And of course, it feels nice to be home and with the people I love; the ability to withstand long spans of time without seeing someone you care about does not mean the experience is pleasant.

This all could be the jetlag talking though. The last 48 hours have been a bit zombie-like. Not so much in the brain-craving way, but more so in the autopilot, I don't really know what's going around me sort of way. I occasionally remark how weird it is to not be in Tokyo anymore and it did take me about a quarter mile before I felt comfortable driving again (sorry to the neighbors whose lives I endangered), but it doesn't feel like I was gone too long. While I foresee very little difficulty readjusting, I am very intrigued with how I will manage the relationships I formed while in Japan. Again, a life of coming and going has left me with the ability to keep close friends over long distances of time and space, but this is a very different experience. There are many great people I have come to know who currently live in Japan, and while some may occasionally find themselves state-side, the majority are either not American or would be fine not coming here. How then does a strong relationship of three months grow or shrink? I do not know but I imagine I will find out. I am certainly thankful for the friends I have come to know and believe that paths will cross many times in the future; if not by chance then by planning.

The last thought I have to share is about this blog:

What a strange experiment this has been. There was very little planning put into this, but like many things in my life that were rather spontaneous, it panned out quite nicely. I did not expect 6 thousand views nor did I expect to write every day. I really just didn't have expectations but I knew that I would regret not starting a blog from the very beginning of my travels so the site was created without much more thought than that. I discovered how much I enjoy writing and the positive feedback I have received has been really encouraging and wonderful. It's an odd experience to meet someone who has already read your work, much in the same way it's odd to meet someone who's already seen a documentary about your life, but the difference is that Finding Kraftland was not a product of my thoughts or artistic expression. It is also incredibly strange to have my written thoughts laid out on the internet for all to see. I had to stop myself from writing about the foul odor that Catherine gave off and how much I disliked Aziz's beard because I knew they were readers. I also had to limit myself to what I wanted to express to the ether, what I wanted to express to a select few, and what I wanted to keep to myself. Truly a fascinating experience that will surely serve me as I pen a book with Richard about the last twenty-two years of life.

In the interest of symmetry, let us end this blog how it started:

Thank Yous:

Kelly & Yurika: How lucky am I to have had such amazing hosts. For those who don't know, Kelly gave me her room for two months and Yurika put up with Kelly's snoring. This trip would not have been possible without your unbelievable generosity. And beyond that, thank you for being such fun and wonderful people; a roof and place to sleep was nice but your hospitality was something else. I believe what you give is what you get, so expect a lot.
Kurumi: When I came to stay with you and your family, I was beginning to get homesick. It was therefore such a blessing to stay at your home, cook in your kitchen, love up on Dove, and spend a lot of time just hanging and watching TV. I needed my batteries recharged and you let me do that at your house. I can't thank you and your parents enough.
The United Nations of Shibuya: As stated many times before, if not for all the friends I made during my travels, this would have been a pretty shit trip. Many of you gave me encouragement to complete my goals as well as to continue writing. You introduced me to places, people, food, language and experiences that I will forever remember (and if I forget, there's an entire blog dedicated to them). If you read this and think for a second that you fit the bill of "friend" then you do and I extend to you the most sincere invite to visit me wherever I am and to please keep in touch as if I were just a train ride away.
Caroline: You supported this adventure from before day 1 and never stopped being a constant source of encouragement.  I learned many lessons during this time, but it was you who taught me about selflessness; three months later and I'm more in awe of you than when I left.
Mom & Dad: Thanks for checking in and thanks for leaving me alone. I knew I had your support and appreciated how much you trusted me to use my time wisely and to be safe.
You: Because my mom and dad were not the only readers, there must have been others. I know who a few of you are, but I suspect there are many others who clicked and perused, but never commented or mentioned it. Seeing that little counter at the bottom of every page grow as my journey progressed provided justification for writing. My main audience was future-Nicky as I expect this will make a great diary, but I hope you were entertained and maybe even learned something new!


As I said before, the best lesson I learned from my travels was the importance of self-motivation and how a list of goals can help, so on my first day back to Los Angeles and on my last submission to this blog, I would like announce 20 goals for the not-too distant future. There will be no blog-updates though, so if you're curious as to how I'm progressing or would like to offer a hand, please give me a ring!

  1. Attend a game by each of the  Los Angeles sports teams (even the Sparks)
  2. Attend Doug Loves Movies
  3. Become a member/supporter of KCRW and volunteer for them
  4. Buy the Lonely Planet guide to Los Angeles
  5. Continue the journey of embracing sushi
  6. Find a favorite restaurant and introduce my friends to it
  7. Finish book with Richard
  8. Get a real job with real bosses and real employees and be there for at least one-year
  9. Go to Blipsy Barcade
  10. Have an article published by an online magazine
  11. Join a gym that doesn't smell like feet (Sorry, LA Fitness)
  12. Move out of Kraftland and into my own place
  13. Perform stand-up in front of an audience of strangers
  14. Produce to completion Happiness documentary
  15. Read a novel by: Faulkner, Austen, Joyce, Camus, and Ellis
  16. Really learn to surf
  17. See a show at: The Echo, The Wiltern, The Fonda, and The Greek
  18. Sell car and get a new one that better suits city driving
  19. Subscribe to and read The Economist
  20. Take the coast starlight train from LA to Seattle
It ends how it begins

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