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Return to the 'Homeland' and Reflections

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We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

~ T.S. Eliot

In March of 2004 I moved to Japan without much of a second thought. After applying for a job at a school here, and getting it a few days later, I was on a plane within the week. I barely had time to even process what I was about to do, let alone pack properly, though it's out of character for me to simply "take off" and make such a drastic change. In fact, a year before I never would have dreamed that I'd be leaving America and not looking back.

In all honesty, I do look back on America all the time, through the only portal I really have in the majesty of The Web. How can I not look back, when it seems that almost all of the major world news involves the trials and tribulations of Uncle Sam and his rowdy bunch of pot-stirrers? Is it actually possible to leave America behind, when your only means of international transportation is issued by that very government? I still have to file taxes as well, as if I'm a roving, tax-generating satellite from the Mother Ship.

Two and a half years out of the bubble is nothing compared to a lot of ex-pats I've met. Many have never been back to their homelands (I cringe at that word!) in many years and seem to have no qualms about it. I'm not like that at all. While I love my new life in Japan, a country far more free than America in real terms, I can't help but look back. Whether in awe, humor, horror, pity, or simple homesickness, I'm concerned about what happens there, particularly to my friends and family. How could I not be?

In August, I brought Eri, my beautiful girlfriend of nearly two years, to Ohio, the state that most of my family has inhabited since they came to America in the late 1800's. Like it or lump it, it's still home to me. I managed to finagle myself a nice three-week vacation, though Eri could only manage one due to, well, the incredibly stupid Japanese vacation system that basically has the entire country taking time off at the same time and jacking up airline ticket prices well above cruising altitude.

Landing in Detroit was a real treat! After waiting an hour for Eri to get through the customs line and get her pretty little fingerprints scanned, we were predictably short on time for our connecting flight, despite a healthy two-hour layover. After going through security again (didn't I just get off of a plane?!), we sprinted to the gate and barely made our flight. Of course, the bags didn't make it on, as bags are heavy and run much slower to the gates than people do.

The following three weeks, to America's credit, were far beyond what I expected. We spent the first week going to all of the local places that, for some reason, I had never been to. Whether skydiving, going to Amish country, or fishing up at the lake, we encountered truly good, honest people that were polite and always willing to help me with my bad directions. My memories of America involved rude, obnoxious clerks and general misbehaving on the part of the populace, but the welcome home I received was far from that. I was floored. Had Ohio changed that much, or had I just never noticed the good that was going on despite the problems?

There were, of course, bad moments that really made me lose my faith, but when I tried to describe them to my friends and family they didn't seem to understand. When I went into a local Amish trading post to poke around, I noticed that the owner has cut out an article from a newspaper describing the hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan. Among all of his simple crafts and beautiful quilts lie a massive intrusion from the outside world. My entire sense of peace was disrupted, and it's been on my mind ever since. In urban areas, the incredible numbers of police, "Support the Troops" stickers, and flags made me more uncomfortable than anything, but my criticisms fell on deaf ears. If you've ever been to a college campus and been amazed at the number of students wearing university logo clothing, you know what I mean. After all, isn't it obvious that most everyone there goes to that college? "You go to O.U? Wow! I go to O.U. too!" In the same vein, isn't it obvious that most people in America are "Americans" and don't want soldiers to die, regardless of the circumstances?

Upon reflection, I guess I'd never noticed the beauty that lies in Americans. As individuals, we are just as polite and caring as the most polite of the Japanese. As a group, and when we're rallying around something, we lose something very special. This is the America that foreigners hate and make fun of, which is mostly the cumulative average of all of our worst qualities. Take the average American off the street and you'll find a good, decent person. Take a big group of us and play us off each other, and you may get an entirely different view.

I have no love for the United States, as it makes my life complicated and inevitably directs my conversations with Japanese to how "dangerous" it is there. At the same time, I have little love for "America," as it's simply an aggregate of a massive country that has regions that differ from each other even more than anything you'll encounter in Iraq. During my short trip home I did, however, find love for Americans as individuals.

October 12, 2006