Monday, September 21, 2009

Rising Sun

Excerpt from an email sent to my brother earlier this summer while I was in Russia:

On Jul 30, 2009, at 6:59 PM, Alex Michaelson wrote:
I had a thought today, regarding some more reasons why I want to go to Japan. The culture absolutely fascinates me, and I feel drawn and connected to it. For one thing, I've heard many times that Japan as a nation is having a sort of national identity crisis, and that intrigues me in my own search for identity. The class I took called Introduction to Japanese Culture was fascinating, and the journaling I did for that class did a lot for me. [Moreover,] there are themes in [many] of the cultural products I've seen that I really like and feel drawn and connected to--the human drive toward happiness, [intense psychological confrontation], a penchant for random silliness, a sensitivity for wonder and romance, and technological awesomeness.

I've always known that I would study abroad, and Japan became my choice for several reasons, not to mention many of the wonderful and intriguing cultural products themselves. As I've grown to know myself better from perspective and experience I've gained this summer, I look forward now to Japan as a fantastic opportunity to continue doing what I set out to do--in simplest terms, to develop a confident, secure self. That comes from perspective, experience, personal space, self-reflection, and conditioning.

Everyone says it's going to be amazing, and it should be good for me too, whatever that means.

But I don't worry about what that means so much as I used to. I'm concentrating now on living my life the way I want to live my life, not on what may or may not be "good" for me.

Visa: obtained.
Flight: confirmed.
Housing: confirmed.
Airport transportation: scheduled at both ends.
Orientation schedule: received.
Shopping: almost finished.
Packing: in progress.

Six days.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Go have fun!"

That's what the employee at the window at the Consulate General of Japan said to me today when he handed me my passport complete with multiple-entry Japanese visa good for 15 months.

I can hardly believe that I'm leaving now in 11 days. A year is a long time, and Japan is far away. It's going to be so good for me though, and I truly felt nothing but excitement at the Consulate today when I picked up my visa. When the man handed it to me at the window, I thanked him and then just stood back and looked at the visa for about a full minute. The man asked me whether everything was alright with it, and I said yes, it's great, it's fine, thank you! "Take it to the airport with the Certificate of Eligibility," he said. "Go have fun!"

That's what I aim to do.

I'm in another in-between period right now, nearing the end of my six weeks in LA between summer travels and my year abroad. I've accomplished nearly everything I was serious about doing during this time--I've made some money, spent as much time with friends as I could, traveled around the city, discovered the library, gotten some things to prepare for my trip, gotten my computer fixed (and even upgraded), and even gotten a new guitar. I haven't been blogging, reading, or working out as much as I'd like to, but that has taught me some important lessons about free time, routine, and personal space. Anyhow, I've been doing those things and actually a lot of cool stuff, but something peculiar seems to have happened.

Peculiar? Maybe not so much. I'm referring to what it was like to come back to LA after such a crazy summer of traveling. My dad picked me up at LAX and took me back to the house, and when I walked just didn't feel like coming home anymore. I've grown up a lot in the past several months of my life, and part of that is wanting to move out and away. I'm looking forward to having my own place in Japan--even though it will be tiny, it will be mine and mine alone.

I'm a sentimental guy, that's no secret. I finally finished Travels With Charley, and Steinbeck says a lot of great stuff in it, but in the final chapter he says this about a great journey:
"I speculated with a kind of wonder on the strength of the individuality of journeys and stopped on the postulate that people don't take trips--trips take people. [...] Who has not known a journey to be over and dead before the traveler returns? The reverse is also true: many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased."

The thing about that book is that it took me at least two years to get through it. "How boring it must have been!" one might think--but no, I actually enjoyed it so very much that I kept stopping to let it soak in. I could always tell that Steinbeck was also a sentimental guy, and his ideas have a way of really getting to me.

It's late again and I'm thoughtful.

Downtown LA on Monday. That "US Bank" building is the tallest in LA and across the street from the huge Central Library, where I found and checked out a copy of Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan by Alex Kerr, on the recommendation of a friend who experienced the JET program as a teacher of English in Japan for a few months. The building on the right, in California Plaza (between 3rd and 4th streets on Grand) houses the Consulate General of Japan on the 17th floor. Can you believe that these clouds and tall buildings are Los Angeles, of all places? Maybe the palm tree is a clue, but it didn't feel anything like the LA I knew. I rather liked it, though. Downtown LA is pretty damn cool.