Making My Way Home

Gerardina Ciriello

Ochanomizu University

“In dreams begin responsibilities” (Yeats)

I still remember the first time I read the epigram above. It was during a scorching hot summer day four years ago and I was entertaining myself with a very well-known novel, namely: Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami. I remember the epigram being uttered in a stream of thoughts by the 15-year-old protagonist, a brave and restless boy who had headed out for a symbolic journey in the attempt of turning the tide of his destiny. Words cannot express how much that single quotation had impressed me, but suffice it to say that I have not forgotten it ever since then. Four years later, I have somehow came to believe that I had not fully grasped its meaning until I finally resolved to set out for my own personal journey. Every journey, indeed, gives us a new insight into things and turns us into better, more balanced people, but it also requires a certain degree of sacrifice and discomfort from our part.

Thus, here I am today, a 24 year old girl from a small, remote town in Southern Italy, coming to grips with life in one of the biggest and most exciting metropolises in the world: Tōkyō.

All of my life I have been fascinated by Japanese society and culture. As most people of my generation, my first contact with Japan was through anime and comics, but growing up I had the chance to learn something about its traditions and history at school or through the Internet. I used to look, almost mesmerized, at the pictures of stunning temples set against breath-taking natural scenarios, and of refined, stark inhabitations. In those moments, I remember almost feeling like such places could only exist in fairytales.

Needless to say, soon after high school, I ended up enrolling in university, resolved to learn as much as I could about Japanese language and culture.

The more I studied about Japan the more my interest grew. I began venerating everything concerning its culture and felt particularly attracted to its arts and traditional sense of aesthetics, as it was completely different from what I had experienced until then. I wanted to go to Japan with all of my heart, but, being born in a quite humble family, I always had to put off my plan and wait for a better moment. However, that moment finally arrived in the form of a scholarship provided from my university. I studied hard in order to get it and, to my surprise, I actually managed to win.

To put it briefly, my dream had come true. How many people can claim the same? Conscious of my good fortune, on October 2013 I officially embarked on that dream. I became an exchange student in Ochanomizu University, a very well-known women’s University. I have been studying at Ochanomizu University for almost seven months now and I am extremely glad for the chance I have had to improve my Japanese language skills and to meet people from all over the world, who have enriched me in ways that I will never be able to put into words. The months I have spent here have been so full of emotions, experiences and discoveries that I know I will never forget, as they will always be a fundamental part in my life journey.

Nevertheless, no fairy tale can possibly exist without at least a complication, and not surprisingly, my story is no exception. I had left with the most genuine enthusiasm and with the naive belief that nothing could have weakened my joy, but I was soon to be proved wrong.

After arriving in the super technological, never stopping Tōkyō, I struggled for some time to find the Japan I had pictured in my mind. All around I saw tall buildings, neon lights, and very busy salary men making haste in the streets, but absolutely no trace of the almost otherworldly country I had imagined. The beautiful kimono and the enchanting landscapes were nowhere to be found. Instead, I had been catapulted into a much more lively and chaotic reality which I was not sure I could handle.

I suddenly felt lost.

For far longer than I could even imagine, I had been concentrating all of my energies on studying a language and a culture that were completely different from what I had previously thought. I realized I was discovering the real Japan for the first time toward the end of my academic life and this made me feel quite uneasy. What if I had made a mistake?

At the same time, I was having some difficulties getting to know and making friends with the locals. I have always been a very shy person, and as such I was no stranger to that kind of problem. However, in Japan it got even worst. It might be the cultural differences or my hesitations in speaking the language, but I could not help feeling inadequate and uncomfortable whenever I tried to have a conversation with somebody. I admired the elegance and composure of the girls I saw at the university every day, but I felt as we were poles apart and I was completely unable to establish any contact with them.

I lived my first three months in Japan in a sort of alienation. I forced myself to do as many things as possible: go sightseeing, try the local cuisine, and put effort into studying the language, but still I could not enjoy any of the things I did, absorbed as I was into my own emotions. It was as if my confusion and anxiety had taken over my whole self and I could not feel or think but through them.

Then, one day, something started to change. Time was healing my wounds and, contemporarily, it was giving me a different prospective on things.

In dreams begin responsibilities I remembered and now I knew why.

For such a long time I had nourished the idea of a perfect place, somewhere I could take shelter in order to escape my own reality and I had suddenly been confronted with the fact that such a place does not exist. As hard as it was, I realized that it was about time I accepted the truth and got over my childish misconceptions.

Never before I would have expected that realizing my only, long-awaited dream would have eventually put me through such an harsh lesson. But if there is anything I have learned from this experience, it is that achieving one’s dream does sometimes imply facing hardships or unwanted tasks, but this does not lessen its value.

So, I chose not to give up and not to resign to the feelings of confusion and bewilderment. I had been lucky enough to fulfill my desire, and now I felt the responsibility to not to abandon my journey halfway and to go all the lengths it required me to go. Moved by this brand new resolution, everything started going into a better direction. I realized that the Japan I had always imagined was not a mere fantasy, but it cohabited, in a more complex way, with its more chaotic and modern side. I started exploring the city with new eyes and finally found that before I had only seen a part of Japan’s multifaceted ever-changing identity, and that the aesthetical principles I had so much admired in my students years, could be actually appreciated everywhere from the small gardens that sometimes sprouted up among the high-rise buildings to the temples, or even in the contemporary architecture.

Liberated from the blinding darkness of disappointment, I could finally rediscover the love for this culture and live everyday like a blessing. I also found myself less and less disjointed from those girls I used to consider so far from me. Indeed, going beyond my initial impressions, I realized that, despite the cultural or ethnic discrepancies, they were just like me: obstinate and resolute women who were trying to make their way through the world.

Now, after seven months in Tōkyō, I can hardly recall those feelings of anguish and pain. This city has became my home and I would not want to be anywhere else. In these months I have came to love it and to appreciate it as it is. I no longer feel lost.