Many people have written about their experience of “reverse culture shock”; their difficulty in adjusting when they return to their own country after living abroad.
While there may be an element of cultural adjustment (especially for those who have lived abroad for a long time and find their home country to have changed in their absence), I think a more important factor is a sense of loss. My life in Japan was my whole life, lived as fully as I knew how, with an awareness of how special and precious it was, for just over a year. And now, after just a few weeks, it is rapidly – too rapidly – becoming “just” a memory, its colour and its immediacy draining away, and being overlaid by the quotidian concerns and imperatives of our new reality in Ireland.
We find ourselves actively trying to stall this process, casting our minds back to what we were doing on a certain day, asking each other if we remember. Yuko reminded me that it was one year since the day we watched the 金環日食 annular eclipse.
Since I returned to Ireland just three weeks ago, many people have come to me and greeted me warmly, saying “Welcome home Dara! How was Japan?” This question leaves me flustered; I simply have no idea what to say in response, no words that won’t just diminish my experiences over the past year. I want to say “read my blog! That’s how it was”.
I do understand: people are friendly, and they want to hear my news. But in fact, I came to dread the question, almost to flinch. I almost felt like any response served only to inter the memory more quickly under a pile of words. Imagine if you lost a relative, and well-meaning people kept saying, “Sorry for your loss; what kind of person was he?” What could you possibly say, how could you do justice to the totality of a person’s life in a few words?
All of which is not to say that I am unhappy to return to Ireland. It is exciting to come back here, to be reunited with loved ones, to rediscover the astonishing beauty of our hills and our coast, to let the dogs run freely on wide open beaches and hillsides, to find a new place to live and make it our home, to turn our eyes to the future.
But I will miss that other life, that other home, the “specialness” of being a foreigner living in Japan, the neighbourhood I knew so well, the city I came to love, the food, the trees and the seasons, the summer din of frogs and cicadas, laughter and karaoke with my friends and colleagues, the strangeness and the familiarity, the joys and frustrations of the language; I know it’s over but I don’t want to let it go.
Hold me tight, Osaka Bay Blues