This is part 11 of what is intended to be a collection of overview reports on living in Tokyo by someone who is here for longer than a short stay but shorter than a long stay. Hopefully they will be helpful to others in similar situations.
Thanks to the International Date Line, I arrived back at Rurikia just after I left Tokyo. Granted, I had lost that time on the way out, but it is a somewhat unique experience to spend many hours travelling and arrive somewhere almost before you left.
The initial hours at home were a blur; unpacking gifts and souvenirs to show to the family members who met me, re-acquainting myself with the house, meandering through the orchyard, and otherwise desperately trying to stay awake so I could go to bed at a semi-reasonable local time to avoid jetlag carrying over into the next day. I do try and follow a rule when I return from a long trip of no power tools or internal combustion engine operation until after a good night’s sleep, so despite the temptations to head down into the woodshop or make use of the afternoon to mow the grass I basically did nothing I would consider productive until I finally was able to drag myself to bed.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of my neighbor’s rooster. It did not register immediately, but slowly dawned on me. I kept trying to make it the sound of the Yamanote line coming into Shinagawa… but that wasn’t it. I opened my eyes and saw myself in a bedroom seemingly the size of my entire Tokyo flat; I looked out the window and saw a large maple tree with houseless fields stretching to the horizon. I could not see another person anywhere. At that point I knew I was not in Tokyo anymore. For the next several hours it was as if I had stumbled into a strange and novel world; everything was so different from what I was used to.
I did not have long at home; a couple of days to unpack, do laundry, and repack to head off to the desert for the next role… so the first few days were a mad rush of activity. Most of it was around the house trying to make up for lost time; pruning out fireblight from the orchyard, repairing a broken door, etc… Then it was off to Tucson where, with no house or orchyard to look after, I was able to reacquaint myself with things I had forgotten.
It was the middle of summer and it was hot in the desert. My 20,000 + steps per day in Tokyo dropped to barely 3000, and those were the days where I wandered around Lowes, Home Depot, or Walmart as I reacquainted myself with American consumerism. I had only been away 8 months, but having gotten used to Japanese “home” shops (Tokyu Hands, Cainz, etc…) I had a hard time recalibrating myself to warehouse stores. Larger selection, lower prices,… but not quite the same quality, or even items. I looked in vain for a large kitchen knife sharpening stone. The products I did find seemed oversized, rather plain, and generally boring having been exposed to other options. I stopped in a dollar store and was appalled at the lower quality of similar items compared to 100 Yen shops in Japan. I found soba noodles in the grocery and made some for dinner, but was shocked to open the cutlery drawer of the kitchen I was in and not find any chopsticks. Later, I was unable to find chopsticks in Walmart either. I missed the trains, and I hated driving.
It was also election season, and the intersections littered with campaign ads stood in stark contrast to the cleanliness of Japanese streets. It was abhorrent to see nationalistic ads supporting candidates whose platforms echoed those of 1930’s Japan or Germany – having seen the exhibits on propaganda in Hiroshima it was inconceivable that a current society could not only fall for but embrace the same nationalistic nonsense that had led so many other societies to ruin.
In many ways reverse culture shock is harder to handle than normal culture shock. Normal culture shock is usually tempered by excitement of being in a new place and a subconscious expectation that things would be different. Reverse culture shock usually has neither the excitement nor any expectations of difference; you are home, but home is not how you left it, and having seen other ways of life you are more prepared to challenge the base assumptions of your own ways. In normal culture shock people around you can help with the transition; it’s fun to introduce your culture to a stranger. In reverse culture shock the reaction is opposite; you are the outlier within your own culture, the one who dares to ask questions, to not simply accept what has been as what should be.
Reverse culture shock operates in waves; you begin to reacquaint yourself to your native culture only to be triggered by something to start seeing things through eyes accustomed to other cultures, and usually finding fault with that which before your travel was perfectly normal. It may happen hourly or weekly, but the process of critical comparison carries on long after arrival. It may be triggered by walking into an electronics store and suddenly keenly missing the electronic excesses of the flagship Yodabashi or Bic Camera stores; it may be seeing one bottle of sake in the grocery rathar than a shelf full of choices; it may be ordering a meal and finding 4 times the quantity you expected to be on the plate; in short, it may be anything.
Waking up to the sound of a rooster was only the first of many reminders that I had left Tokyo behind me. Over time the impact of this realization has lessened, but memories ad expectations remain. To travel deeply is to encounter that which you did not expect, and it should come as no surprise that returning from such travel carries with it additional cultural dimensions through which to see your own, and the resulting pictures are not always positive.