An American in Japan

Miami, San Francisco and Osaka

For around six hundred dollars, the goal that I have spent my college career aspiring toward can be summarized by the purchase of two airline tickets. This is an amazing feat, and I have managed to cram the experience of four years of college into two petite flight tickets, yet I still can`t manage to cram a year’s worth of supplies and a few nostalgic items into the average suitcase.

From Miami International Airport I depart for San Francisco. As a traveler to Japan who is destined for an international flight, both of which are firsts for me, I feel like any other normal human being. Nervousness is creeping over my tired, bag-lugging body. Despite making a year-long commitment to live and work in a foreign country, I feel like any other USF graduate. I feel ready to take the next step from college on to a career. Although I have spent three years learning the Japanese language, history and culture, I feel from my size-twelve shoes up like any other American. But in the year 2004, what does ‘any other American’ really feel like? What does ‘any other American’ even mean?

What I found when I was one step through the gate at Miami International and two steps from landing in Japan is that I do completely understand what “any other American” means. While remembering the last goodbye I had with my family and picking up my carry-on off the x-ray belt, I had an epiphany. I will miss America horribly. My inability to pinpoint what the average American would feel like in my shoes may just be the best part about our country. So I do feel like any other American. I feel like an American saying goodbye to America.

San Francisco International is the layover airport for many flights to Japan. As most people taking a flight with a layover know, the second city is a lonely place.

While pacing and circling the international flight section of the terminal, I realize that I do not personally know one soul for a good square mile in each direction, if not more. I’m a lone stranger.

From various areas enter Japanese teens, professionals and families creeping toward the final boarding gate of the same flight I am taking to Osaka. These Japanese were, here and now, ending the reciprocal experience that I am only beginning. They ventured to a foreign country and so will I. Wow. No longer do I fit the lone stranger mold. No longer am I stuck at San Francisco International, the layover Twilight Zone. With Japanese wandering by to get to their seats and get settled, I am basically in Osaka already. I suddenly remember why I decided to go there in the first place.

What images come to mind when you think of Japan? Everyone in the world has his or her own vision of this place. Close your eyes. Do you see a plate of sushi, a sumo match or picturesque view of Mt. Fuji? Could it be a kabuki play, The Last Samurai, or I cringe to say it, Pokemon? It is extremely difficult to pinpoint what exactly is so refreshingly cool and different about Japan. I couldn’t even explain why I have dreamed of living in Japan or why I decided to learn Japanese in the first place. I guess everything goes back to that vision of Japan we all have when we close our eyes. That vision we have of any familiar place that we have never been to. As I walk down the cramped aisle toward my seat, I know that I have reached my goal. Now I can close my eyes, and see if the image of Japan in my head is as vivid and lucid as this magical country is in reality.

Daniel Shimek is a former Oracle Graphic Arts Manager and now lives in Japan.