April 29, 2017

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Britons Don’t Say Goodbye

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By Gabriel Phillips

Well this is it. It has been a fantastic 10 months but my time has come to an end. When I first arrived in Japan, I was filled with a self-doubt about what to expect. Whenever you arrive in a new place you don’t know what to do. My first week in Japan was spent trying to understand how the ATMs worked while also trying not to accidentally break any of the vast array of rules that provide Japan with the aura of mysticism and beauty (side note: don’t eat on the subway. Not even sandwiches, people look down on that).

If you ask me what experiences I’ve had over the past year, it would be far more sufficient to say ‘Japan’ instead of delving into meaningless platitudes about enlightenment. Japan is an experience. None of the other experiences are worth considering without Japan as they all occurred within that context. A bar can be found in any other city, a similar temple can be found in dozen different countries, but the ties that bind us together is the fact that we have all come together into that one special place which is Japan. Our common interest unites us, binds us and will keep us together in strength.

When a person welcomes you into their home with open arms, when a worker insists on paying for your lunch because he enjoys chatting about Manchester United, you realise that Japan has already become a metropolitan stalwart, no matter where you travel. Friends are there to be made and the onus is on you to go out and do it.

Whenever I’ve mentioned to a British person I was studying Japanese, or to a Japanese person that I was from Britain, the response is always the similar refrain “Ah, we’re both island people, we have much in common”. However, whenever I’ve studied Japanese and Japanology, there has always been a keen point to stress how different Japan is and how it must be studied. From my experiences sitting in bars drunkenly chatting about football and first loves, giggling in tea houses with the staff as I choke on bitter matcha, or even just exchanging a casual smile with the owner of ramen restaurant, it is clear that we are all one and the same people. No matter what barriers we may throw up to protect ourselves, what I have learnt from my time in Japan is that it is our humanity that shapes and unites us.

We have far more in common than which divides us. Remember that. Never forget it. We are strengthened by our solidarity, friendship and willingness to expand our horizons.

And so on that positive note, it has come to this: Goodbye, Al Wiedersehen, Arrivederci.

To quote the memorial Vera Lynn, “We’ll meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day”. It’s never the end, there will always be a next time where we shall both run into each other’s warm embrace.

Goodbye Japan, here’s to that next sunny day.

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