While I was at Oberlin, I took advantage of the world-class East Asian Studies Department, enrolling in Japanese language classes every semester. These classes provided me with an extra community of fellow students who were enthusiastic about studying Japanese language and culture. I still refer to some of these people by their last name affixed with -san, a Japanese term of respect. Taking Japanese was the best part of my time spent at Oberlin; not studying abroad in Japan was my greatest regret. Like many Oberlin students, I double majored in disparate fields; my Computer Science major made it difficult to study abroad.
This regret was cushioned somewhat by a wonderful two-week Winter Term trip to Tokyo and Yokohama, organized by the inimitable Kurasawa-sensei, an East Asian Studies professor. The trip was exciting - especially the weekend homestays, when I spoke Japanese exclusively for long periods of time. I met alumni who were working in Japan, saw our sister college Obirin, and ate at the Ramen Museum. Afterwards, I despaired at the multitude of sights I had not been able to see, just in Tokyo alone. On the train to Narita airport, I saw from the window my first glimpse of rural Japan. My longing multiplied. I began to dream of cycling the Japanese countryside.
But first, I enrolled at Brown University for a graduate degree in Computer Science. I lined up a job at Facebook after graduating, but discovered that I could graduate with a Masters degree a semester earlier than I had planned. Suddenly, I had the time and the resources to make my dream of exploring Japan a reality.
From March 15th to June 10th, I cycled from Kyushu to Nagano. Gray Horwitz (’09) joined me for the last two weeks, building his bike at the Oberlin Bike Co-op.
Nearly every day I flash back to some moment of my trip to Japan. I’ll hop on my bike, or see a train, and I’ll remember my first day on the road or jumping on the Shinkansen. Sometimes, I remember bad experiences, like when I got hit by a car in the pouring rain (no injuries, thank goodness). Sometimes, I remember the wonderful things, like seeing a thousand-armed National Treasure up close. Mostly I think about the everyday things, like pedaling up and down narrow roads or eating rice balls for breakfast at 7-11.
It’s hard to be really sure how fluent I am in Japanese - the Japanese are notorious for complimenting foreigners’ language skills at the first word. There are only so many times I can be asked, “How long have you lived in Japan?” before I start to believe that I’m actually pretty good. I guess I was pretty well prepared by all those years studying at Oberlin, and I didn’t forget too much in the year and a half since I graduated.
Every single day was an adventure. While I’m glad to know where I’ll be sleeping on a consistent basis again, I’m definitely looking forward to more bike adventures, more Japan adventures, and more Japan bike adventures.