10 Observations Upon Returning to the United States


So a bit ago I gave a few of my impressions on returning to Japan, and I thought I would follow up with a few notes from returning to the U.S. I like seeing what things catch my senses, even after only being away a short time.

So here are 10 things that stood out to me during my first few hours back.


1. Less Stark Than I remembered.


I think when we left the US this time it was easy to notice a lack of color in the quickly winter-ing weather and the bland environment of the Newark Airport. On the way back things seemed much more colorful to me. New murals were complete on the walls, and gone were the duct taped ‘Welcome to America’ posters on the walls. Things looked more resolved then I had ever seen them before. Even welcoming.


2. Rough Voices


As soon as we got out into the airport the texture of voices around us became immediately apparent. Its not that voices sound mean or angry, its just that tones feel more intense and more hurried. The staff seemed very friendly, but there was also a undertone of “Don’t fuck with me today,” to them as well. Away from the airport even, people seem to annunciate everything a lot more. Perhaps its not caring about being heard, but everyone speaks out in public here.


3. Agression Immediately


Although this was the friendliest return I had in sometime at an American airport, The aggression of the culture was immediately apparent. The wild hand gestures and barking of the staff is a major difference from the mostly quiet of Narita and a lot of public spaces in Japan. Even our fellow passengers were much more vocal – chatting on cell phones and talking amongst one another. Very noticeable.


4. The Smell of Wet


Much like Japan, the air outside smelled quite a bit of wet. We returned after a storm and the air maintained that sense of humidity and/or growing mold. It seemed very similar to the air we had just left in Tokyo. My wife remarks that the weather in Tokyo and southeast PA seemed very similar throughout the summer. No doubt that changes as we get into the colder months. Have to say I am happy to have colder weather.


5 Noticeable Quiet


Its interesting how noises – voices, cars, horns, sirens all seem louder in the U.S. But correspondingly the quiets seemed so much quieter, and much more full of the nature. Wind, and moving trees seemed really present in the immediate environment. Right outside the airport I could feel the presence of animals and trees.


6 Enormous Trucks


Driving back from Newark there are a number of trucks cruising along with you. I generally love the design of big rigs in the U.S., but they really seem big and scary when you have been away from the roads. The scale of trucks seems very odd to me at times – way bigger than they seemingly need to be. But then the scale of everything seems larger than human here.


7. More wild  driving


The rhythm  of driving in Tokyo and New York couldn’t be more different. There is this slight kind of hum to the freeways in Tokyo, I feel cars move along like they are trudging in mud, one by one behind each other. This is then punctuated by the wild moves of a motorcycle ignoring that rhythm like a rabid minnow in a amongst a school of mackerel.

In the US though, the rhythm feels much more fluid. People fly by and around people and at times its pretty freaky – but then I just hate driving and don’t care for it in any country .


8. Touching Each Other


Immediately upon arriving in the airport you can see folks leaning into each other, holding hands, tapping shoulders and resting their arms on someone else’s shoulders. I am not a toucher by nature – at least I think. That constant touching always feels so apparent to me when I come back from Japan, where touching just doesn’t happen like it does in the U.S.


9. Friendliness


Right from our first interaction with the immigration officer, there is always so much open friendliness in the US. The immigration officer talked with us at length about her children as she worked us through the process of getting back in the country. Surprisingly a fun experience. And this carries through to so many interactions here. The first few months we were here, I think my wife thought that I knew all of the cashiers at our local Target.


10. Weird Weather


It was warmer than Tokyo when we arrived home. Then a few days later it was freezing. A few days after that warm again. And then the following weekend we had nearly 6 inches of snow on the ground. I think there is no more amazing or defining aspect to the east coast of the U.S. then the way weather is so wild and unknowable.


One feels as though weather here permeates everything. The attitude of the people, the aggression, the friendliness, the starkness, the color, the very wild sense that things could change at any moment. I think that also defines so much of our family’s desire to stay here for now. There is an energy here even to the calm rural place we now call home. You can hear things grow and thats a good sound to have for the interim.