Walking around the Japanese garden, I stop when I come to the take. I stop of just a moment, envisioning myself in Japan, in the real Japanese gardens of the world. Tears come to my eyes, and I wonder Why? What’s going on? Why am I suddenly crying? Why am I shaking inside from my sternum, as though panic is coming up?
And I realize: I miss Japan. Not so much for the whole experience, but for some of the experience, and, especially, for the part where I fit in appropriately, in the right way. I was expected to stand out and not to do exactly as others did. I was expected to turn heads and to surprise and shock those around me. And I did. And I was comforted by the feeling of ‘fitting in’ in that odd sense of it, fitting into the expectations my surroundings had of me.
But it is different being here, where I am expected to fit in one way, but I don’t fit in that way. I am American, but I am multi-cultural. I used to think those two a little more synonymous with one another. But, based on how I look on the outside, – my skin and hair and eyes – I am expected to be on a similar ground with those around me here. Perhaps we have visited other countries, but that was for vacation. Living there, being truly part of the culture, is not in the books for most of those around me, unless they specifically came from that country directly, through their heritage, and moved here after having lived there in the earliest years of their lives (as is the case with one in four people in Houston, actually). However, I am not expected to know how to dress someone in a kimono or yukata better than someone my own age back in Japan. I’m not even expected to know the difference, unless I am what would be considered a sort of geek of Anime and Manga (at which point one still might not know the difference between them, but it is less surprising for them to know such things). I don’t fit into that category, and yet I know so much about Japanese culture and life in Japan, and I have experienced so much of it, that I often find no need to talk about it – it’s become so a part of me and my life, it is similar to putting on shoes or brushing teeth. Sure, we do them both all the time, but hardly ever do we consciously ponder on them and share about them with others. They’re just part of our subconscious and our mostly-daily lives.
Anyway, that was what I was feeling today at the festival in town celebrating Japan and Japanese culture. When I ran into a friend who had spent even more time than I had in Japan, I mentioned to him how I wasn’t quite sure what I was feeling, but I felt as though I was about to cry. Something about feeling like I belong, but then not belonging after all. ‘It’s your first “Japanese culture” experience post-Japan.’ I confirmed his questioning declaration. It was, in fact, the first time I had experienced something that was all about Japan from this country’s perspective since I had actually spent time in Japan. If I had attended the same festival before going, I likely would have felt quite wonderfully walking around the festival. I had a different view of Japanese culture in Japan back then.
This was something like seeing a “Mexican Restaurant” in northern France that time, and feeling a giddy sense of hilarity at what kind of food could possibly be served in there. Or the “American Restaurant” (that was it’s name) in northern Spain, where the “american hamburgers” were nothing like our actual hamburgers. (Think meatloaf, with a slice of thin ham, on fluffy, dense bread.) But now, instead of it being Texas and US culture, it is Japanese culture. And so it was also weird to be relating to Japanese culture – a culture with which I struggled greatly at times, and still do – in the same sort of protective way as I traditionally have related to my original home culture. It kind of added this whole extra layer to my identity semi-crisis. And all that just because I went to a festival.