Tadaima! Coming home to Tokyo

Tadaima literally means “just now,” but it is used when one enters the house as an expression to mean “I’m home!” (It’s a shortened form of a longer phrase that translates along the lines of “I just came home now.”)

When we landed in Japan a few weeks ago, we were there for just one night before leaving again for our trip to Korea. In the months leading up to this big adventure, I had been apprehensive about spending so much time in Japan, navigating a city where the language is not even close to comprehensible for me, the characters so different I can’t even look things up in my Japanese-English dictionary; and the streets and subways seem to be a complex, intricate web of twisting, winding, criss-crossing blurry lines that elude me. The idea of living here for three months without Don – my tour guide, translator and constant companion when we were here before – while toting a toddler/preschooler around, was very intimidating to me.

But from the moment we stepped on the plane to Tokyo, it felt like coming home. Sure, I still don’t speak Japanese (although I do speak a lot more than the last time I was here), but as the announcements on the plane came in both English and Japanese, I was surprised by how comforting and familiar the sounds of the language feel to me. Arriving in Narita Airport, I was thrilled to immediately recall what some signs (you know, the obvious but important ones) meant – the kanji for “Way Out,” or “Women” vs. “Men” etc., actually meant things to me (you have no idea how many times, in 2011, I would just stare at the doors of bathrooms, if they had only the kanji characters for “men” and “women,” and no other clues, trying to recall which was which. “Do I go in this door, or this door?” I mean, sure, in the US I use the men’s room anytime I don’t feel like waiting in line for the women’s, but that’s my own culture’s normativity to violate. Not usually knowing the extent to which conforming to gender norms is required in other cultures, I tend to at least try to be respectful of habits and mores when traveling.)

It felt good to be more comfortable than I expected to be.

After a night of sleeplessness (Don and I were exhausted, but Aardvark had slept on the plane and wanted to play ALL NIGHT. We gave up on getting her to sleep and set her up with crayons, paper and snacks in the dark while we tried desperately to sleep a little. It did not work – she was jumping all over us all night) I gave up at 5 am and took Aardvark downstairs to the Lawsons (convenience store) in the hotel (to get food but also try to give Don a chance to sleep without a child sitting on top of him eating an apple in his ear) where we bought breakfast with some leftover-from-2011 yen I’d found while packing. And I felt like, yes, I can do this. I can take care of a kid here on my own.

We also had some fun with Pepper the Robot. Which completely made me feel like I was back in Japan – and I was delighted.

I really did feel like I was home.

And then we left for Korea. We had such a wonderful time. I immediately felt more comfortable in Seoul, easily navigating the subway and capable of wandering on my own with Aardvark, and though I could only speak a handful of words in Korean, it seemed easy and [mostly] effortless to communicate with others. I felt that even Seoul, a place I’d never been before, would have been easier for our first multi-month abroad experience since having a child than Tokyo will be. Of course, much of how easy, comfortable and amazing our experience there was is due to the fantastic hosting of Aunt and Uncle, who made sure we felt welcome, knew of fun things to do, and who fed us amazing Korean food the whole time we were there. Thank you!! (Of course, this also means we DO have to return soon!)

So after a week and a half in Korea, we arrived back in Japan last Monday.

And it took me a while to shake off the few Korean words I’d picked up – I’d open my mouth and Korean words would pop out instead of Japanese, and I wondered if that feeling of Japan-as-home was just a fleeting ease that came with only staying for one night.

But as we eventually made our way to our new apartment – and trust me, that was an adventure in itself – my excitement for living in Japan – and not just Japan, but in Central Tokyo, bubbled back up. As signs from both familiar chains and unfamiliar places to eventually explore lined the road to our new apartment, and the energy of the city – even in the midst of a typhoon – mingled with the quiet back streets of our canal path, the sense that I am home – and will love calling this place home for the next few months – returned.

And getting to call Tokyo – and adventure  – home for a while is a pretty great thing.

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