These seven months back in America have been all right. Since April I've gained a car, an apartment, and a job close to my hometown, which are all great blessings. I've also had the opportunity to speak about my J-3 experiences at a couple of churches, as well as visit friends and family I haven't seen since before I left for Japan. In May Caroline and I had the opportunity to visit each other in our respective hometowns, something we've been talking about since we lived in Tokyo. God's been taking care of me, as always.
There are a few reasons I stopped writing. A big one is that I just plain no longer live in Japan, of course. But another one, one that I didn't expect, was that reverse culture shock hit me harder than I thought. At first it was kind of amusing. The first week back I found myself bewildered by things like fire hydrants and USPS trucks, and it took me a while to re-learn which side of the car has the steering wheel. I had to resist the instinct to eavesdrop on every English conversation in earshot. Sometimes I felt like I'd been in a coma for two-and-a-half years, but other times everything felt so familiar and comfortable that it seemed to only have been a few months before that I was last at my aunt's house, not three years.
|Downtown Kumamoto after the last|
International English Service I attended.
But I felt it unfair to leave this blog unfinished; I still have stories and photos to share. Back at the end of March, after packing up, shipping out boxes, and sending our suitcases ahead of us to Tokyo, Caroline and I hopped aboard a train to Aso for three days of melting the stress of international moving away in the Kurokawa hot springs.
|Taking a break between soaks.|
Then it was on to Okinawa, which is almost like the Japanese equivalent of Hawaii--it's a tropical island chain, a popular vacation destination, was formerly a sovereign kingdom, and has its own unique culture. We'd been wanting to visit since even before we arrived in Japan. Okinawa is just beautiful, with bright sunshine, colorful flowers, friendly people, and delicious food. We spent most of our time in and around Ocean Expo Park on the northern part of the main island. The biggest attraction is the Churaumi Aquarium, one of the largest aquariums in the world, which houses some of the few whale sharks in captivity. We also found time to explore a reconstructed historical Okinawan village and the Tropical Dream Center botanical gardens, as well as just hang out on the beach.
|View from our hotel room balcony.|
|At Ocean Expo Park, gorgeous Okinawa ocean in the background.|
|Exploring Motobu. This bench is a local landmark (really).|
|At Churaumi Aquarium. It's hard to tell exactly from this photo, but whale sharks are MASSIVE.|
|Historical Okinawan village.|
|The Tropical Dream Center.|
|Fun fact: we decided to head to the beach right after seeing a terrifying exhibit at the aquarium about all the deadly camouflaged animals that live on beaches such as the one we're goofing off at here.|
We finished up our J-3 adventures where they'd started: Tokyo. The pastors at Tokyo Lutheran generously let us stay in the guest room behind the kitchen for a couple days while we reconnected one last time with some of the first friends we'd made in Japan. We also stopped for one other thing...
|Can't go through the Ōkubo district without getting hotteok!|
The Japanese Lutheran missionary association very kindly let Caroline and I book the same flight out of Tokyo (and sit next to each other!), so on April 1 we boarded a flight bound for Vancouver, where we met a friendly Japanese gentleman who gave up his seat so he could sit with his fishing buddies and we could have an entire row to ourselves. It made the flight much more comfortable than it could have been. In Vancouver we went through U.S. customs and said our goodbyes as I found the gate for my connecting flight to San Francisco. Just a few hours later, I was in a car on my way home with my father and brother, eating a turkey sandwich my mother had made for me that morning, and my 30 months in Japan were over.
When I look back on those 30 months, I can see that God was with me the whole time, even when I didn't feel like it. Nowadays it's strangely hard to believe God's with me now, in unexciting old America, with a secular job and relatively mundane responsibilities. But God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, in Japan and in the United States, and I know He'll keep guiding me, even if it's harder to tell.
More to come.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139:9-10 (NIV)