Tuesday, August 4, 2015


It was a frenzied morning at the airport to leave Japan.  But I suppose I won't have much more occasion to better adhere to my rule of arriving at the check-in 2 1/2 hours before an international flight with a cello.  I stood at the counter for about 40 minute while the staff worked to get my boarding passes figured.  At one point there were five people behind the counter, on the phone, with clipboards flipping through manuals.  I wish someone could tell me a universal procedure to help the process.  I go through this so many times and for the majority of airline workers, this is their first time dealing with a cello.

It I finished with the check-in around 8:25, 35 minutes before departure.  Close enough that a long security line could pose a problem.  I asked them about it and they agreed and had me go through an expedited lane.  I was still in the cradle of trusting that everything would be ok until on the other side of the scanner, the security staff said they would have to check my small luggage.  And then I realized to my horror that the hand-crafted Kyoto knives were in there.  And to airport security, they are not a souvenir, they are not a gift.  They are a weapon.  And now they are gone.  

If there had been more time, I might have been able to go back out of security and mail them.  If I were coming back to Japan, I might have been able to pick them on my return, if I had a friend in the lobby, I might have been able to call them and pass them back.  But there was no time.  I pleaded with security, not that they should allow me to take them, but to help in some way with a solution.  But there was simply no time.  I was in a time deficit and risked missing my plane as it was.  "Give it up," the man said, several times.  It was a hard thing to give up.

I went down the escalator and found long lines for immigration.  I waited.  8:35, 8:40...  I got to the counter and the man asked for my resident card.  Thinking I hadn't gotten back from the check-in (I didn't recall receiving it and had been told it would be taken from me) I tried to explain I didn't have it.  A phone call, the side office, "Please have a seat," 8:45.  And then I double checked and it was there! 

I gave it to him, had to fill out a quick form, he worked at the computer, 8:48, handed me my passport and my punched invalidated resident card, and I ran ran ran.  The signage saying that gates 26-41 were just to the right of immigration actually meant there was a shuttle to them.  8:50.  I jumped in past a confused woman standing outside the door and waited waited waited for the shuttle doors to close.  

We teetered and creeped to the next stop and I jumped out at 8:52 and started down the stairs, seeing a beam of light at the bottom holding a sign with my flight number.  I ran past her through the corridors to gate 39, 8:54.

I found my seat at the back of the airplane, stowed my security-approved luggage and sat down, hot, shaken, and still upset at having made such a careless, regrettable, and irreversible mistake.  What was I thinking?  I sat there processing my emotions, thinking through the loss, acknowledging my feeling of stupidity and with that the feeling of entitlement for being flawless.  What a feeling it is to lose something you hadn't realized you had.  

And then I looked out the window.  And I realized I was about to leave Japan.  I realized I had just lost my residence status there.  This was where my mind had been when it wasn't thinking through packing clearly.  And now that it was focused on the loss of this material thing that really had no personal value to me, it was distracted from another very real separation that was unfolding at that very minute.  

The stress of the acute loss is still with me.  I keep replaying that feeling of dread at the security line over and over again.  It is an easy sort of loss to fixate upon.  A clear having and a sudden not-having. But the loss of Japan still hasn't hit me.  I no longer live there.  It is no longer my home.  And it is no longer a place from which I can miss my home of America.  There are so many things in Japan.  In the place, in the people, in the history, in the word itself.  My point of reference for the past three years is gone and as I sit in this airplane in the sky, I've yet to touch down upon another one.  

It is difficult to give up something.  I wish I had just thanked the security personnel for whatever help they could give and moved on, but I could not yet relinquish my ownership.  It was mine only a few minutes ago.  Mine.  But I'm not entitled to anything.  Japan was never my home.  I only borrowed it with kind permission for three years, and the knives have become a piece of that.  I can understand what I've lost materially in the last 24 hours, but I don't think I have any real idea of what I'm leaving.  

What is of value to us?  Why?  How do we watch over it?  What does it mean to lose it?  I already miss Japan, and yet somehow wonder if I will ever comprehend its meaning, its significance, or the loss of it.   

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