Thousands of Miles from Home


And There Shall Be a Triumphant Return

It’s been a while. In fact, exactly two weeks since I stepped into that pressurized Northwest airplane departing from the multi-million dollar Kansai airport. Due to the magical realm created by Time Zones and International Datelines, my arrival in America actually preceded my departure in Japan by almost a full hour, following a twelve hour flight through wispy clouds and timeless sunrises. You would think, what with all the quiet hours of observation provided to me in Japan, that I had become a better observer and analyzer of everyday life. I wanted these two weeks since my departure to represent a time for decent observation into what Japan meant and changed in me. Even still, I realize that my year in Japan cannot be fully comprehended and digested in a measly fortnight, and I would be grateful to ever truly understand Japan as a country. I can produce curt sound clips on street corners to friends I have not met in a full year, but those cursory explanations can’t begin to encompass the experiences, friends, and sense of maturation I found in Japan. Which leads me to wonder, when I realize that…

I have a hard time identifying any specific changes in myself.

To tell the truth, my friends say that I haven’t changed aside from longer sideburns and a slight British accent. I didn’t know quite what to expect from the long awaited reunion with my parents at the airport, but my homecoming was surprising commonplace. Heartwarming, to say the least, and certainly not mundane, but to where, exactly, did that year in Japan disappear? Where are the exchange kids that gain 30 pounds, grow a beard, and have to introduce themselves to their parents at the airport? There was no uncontrollable sobbing, no cries of relief, just warm smiles all around from two people I love. It felt as if I had only left for a week. As far as I can see, the only perceptible change is that of my sleepy Morgantown, whose population jumped after the addition of 20,000 college students in the most recent census (qualifying this town as a city, and gaining four Starbucks locations since I left in August).

I could make a small list of the ways that America has both shocked and awed me following my return to the country, but my recent trip with Rahul (friend and fellow exchange student living in Fukuoka, Japan) to visit his host sister Shizuka (whom he never met) in West Lafayette, Ohio, put some excellent closure on both our experiences in Japan over the last year (Rahul and Shizuka were actually Rotary Exchange partners, Shizuka came to America while Rahul stayed with her family in Fukuoka).

West Lafayette, a “good ‘ol town” with a population topping off at around 2,000, must have been a strikingly different Rotary exchange from what Rahul and I found in Japan. As the two of us rolled up, to Shizuka’s house on the astonishingly broad streets of Coshocton, I couldn’t help but be shocked by the pure, almost palpable American ambiance. You could already smell the BBQs cookin’, past fields of corn stretching toward the unadulterated horizon.

After meeting Shizuka’s first host father (who unlike Japanese men was not working dawn to dusk) fixing his Chevy truck (and not a super small Toyota) in front of his wide lawn (not a miniscule driveway leading to a narrow road), he directed us to the house next door where Shizuka and her friend were preparing for the town’s Homecoming festival. I was excited to be able to speak Japanese with Shizuka, and I’m sure she was anxious for some Japanese flavor before she departs this week for Japan (even though she says she does not want to return home).

The streets of West Lafayette are lined with American flags, porches draped with flowers, and the ever-present bunting. The town has four police officers and two patrol cars, which means that any more than three simultaneous robberies are a guaranteed success. I could relate the whole story of West Lafayette to you in great detail (which would also be a quite interesting read), but a bulleted list will suffice:

Shizuka, her friend Laura, host mother (an older widow who was the most outgoing woman I have ever met) Rahul, and I ate dinner in a town called Baltic, at a restaurant run by the Ohio Amish and serving the most delicious fried chicken west of the Pecos. During the meal we talked of India (Shizuka’s host mother is very well traveled), the drama club at West Lafayette High School, and lemon meringue pie.

On the ride back from the restaurant, and while eating licorice sticks bought from the Baltic Country Store, we passed a group of Amish people in lawn chairs on an open trailer being pulled by a farm tractor, headed to the Homecoming festivities, no doubt.

At the Homecoming festival, there was a show stopping performance by Melvis, an Elvis impersonator with the given name Melvin, who was flanked by a troupe of cloggers wearing sparkly silver jackets. Simply amazing.

I purchased dragon tattoos for $1 from very shady Circus folk.

Aside from having our collective minds blown by West Lafayette, Rahul and I blew most everyone’s mind by being semi-ethnically diverse in an area where demographics can be followed as the rule. Shizuka said she didn’t feel too conspicuous, and appeared very happy in her little county of Coshocton. Strange to say, but this trip to Ohio made me glad to be back in the United States, and even happier that Morgantown is the place that it is. It’s great to be able to communicate and express myself again in English (with an occasional added flare of Japanese) to anyone and everyone I meet.

On the way back to Morgantown, Rahul and I stopped at an ice cream shop and could barely finish half of the smallest cones on the menu.

All jokes aside,

Great to be home.


  • Ah, sounds like home. No seriously, i have been to coshocton and have ate one too many an amish meal. that was very enlightening since i won't be on ohioan soil until december. natsukashii ne!

    By Sarah, at 2:13 AM  

  • Hi Benjamin, as far as I can see, no change in the eating and visiting habits. :-) All jokes aside, it's good to see/read you back on the web. Kind regards from somebody still on the left side of the road. Take care, Bibi.

    By Bibi Blogsberg, at 6:09 PM  

  • would you believe i've been to coshocton too? my mother was on a vain quest to discover our ansestry, but the potato chip factory had replaced the old graveyard... i almost certainly have been to that same restauraunt.
    glad to see you posting again! hope you keep it up.
    xo c

    By Claire, at 5:15 AM  

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