Four Days in London: Kyoto and Coming Home

Christopher Round
Jun 29 · 11 min read

Part of Four Days in London: A memoir about trying to find a way to the Olympics, and finding something else instead. These stories take place in March 2010

After getting back to Kyoto late at night, I didn’t have a whole lot of time before things closed. I swiftly changed into a pair of jeans and a fresh t-shirt and started walking around. I initially tried to catch the Kyoto Imperial Palace, but regrettably, it closed just before I got there. The pictures below are all I saw of it.

That night I was restless, so I went out for a walk. I ran into this temple. Later I’d see it again when watching videos made by some of the Youtubers affiliated with Tokyo Creative. I had no idea what it was, but I enjoyed just sitting there late at night. No one was around and I thought about how fortunate I was to be sitting there in that place.

All I saw of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. It was still fun to see.

The next day I had a clear agenda. I first went to the Golden Pavilion. The Golden Pavilion is a famous tourist site in Tokyo, and to be honest it is worth the trip.

The Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) in Japan

Next I went to something I had been looking forward since I made the decision to go to Japan: The Internationl Manga Museum. At the time, this was the best museum I saw the whole I was in Japan. The exhibits were well designed and had explanatory material in multiple languages. I would come back here five years later with my friend Alex.

The Mascot of the Museum
Cosplayers gathered for Sunday cosplaying

In the evening I boarded the bullet train to return to Tokyo.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —Going Home

It was finally time to go home. Getting back Sunday night, I missed the last train to Tsukuba. I spent a night in Tokyo and the next morning grabbed the early train to Tsukuba. I started to pack and quickly assembled most of my things. I went to one last practice. I think Sam was there either. Sam would ultimately stay a full year in Japan. He’d get an apartment and I think even had a work permit. Last I checked he was back in Wales and has a family. My nemesis definitely wasn’t there. I have no idea what happened to that SOB whom I’d fight tooth and nail with every night, but I respect him enough to hope my old nemesis is doing well. In my rush to leave, I, unfortunately, forgot to say goodbye to Okada Sensei. I did remember to say goodbye to Taka and my new friend Yuki. Yuki Kubota was the one person who grabbed me the whole time I was in Japan to help me with technique. I thankfully ran into him years later and was happy I did.

My poor roommate Sawano was probably happy that I was leaving, but was kind enough not to show it. When Sawano and I got back to his room, I realized I had left a couple of things in the locker room by accident. Thankfully he ran back for me and retrieved. The man was a saint. I finished packing my things and left. I gave Sawano my DVD copy of “This is It” and a Red Sox hat as parting gifts. I fell out of contact with him and I wish I hadn’t.

I called my college girlfriend, figuring whatever the bill was going to be it was worth it. She was picking me up from the airport in Boston so I could surprise my parents. I sat on my bags by the side of the road as we talked, hoping to flag down a taxi. Tsukuba was just large enough to have a few of those running around at any one time.

I plotted what I was going to do with my last 18 or so hours as I sat on the train. It wasn’t a rapid train, instead of taking its time to get to Tokyo. I was thankful for this when I realized I was out of cash and needed to stop some place with an ATM. Japan is infamously very cash-based, and access to ATMs can be spotty at best. Still, I took my chances on a random stop and got lucky. There was a 7/11 in walking distance. The memory of that dark wet street is hazy, but it was still in the countryside. We weren’t in the metropolis of Tokyo quite yet. Thankfully another train pulled up just as I got back on the platform. That was when I finally realized I was actually leaving.

I got to my room at my cheap hotel and I dropped off my stuff. It was too late in the evening for me to do a whole lot. At this point, I really didn’t have much left that I wanted to do. There was one thing, I wanted to go to the New York Bar and Grill. The New York Bar and Grill is in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Like other high-end Hyatts around the globe, it is comfortable that can host luxury guests. It is also the setting for the movie Lost in Translation.

Lost in Translation stars Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansen. It is difficult for me to describe, though it could be classified as a romantic comedy for introverts. I don’t need to say much more about the movie itself, other than that this is one of my favorite scenes in cinema.

See this movie. It is really worth it.

I will, however, say that this movie has played a role in my life. I didn’t know much about this movie when I downloaded it off the internet shortly after finding out I was going to Japan. When I watched it, I didn’t totally get it. I enjoyed the movie, but I didn’t quite understand the feeling it was making me feel. I knew what it was like to be an outsider, what it’s like to be a barely active observer in a fast moving world. This was different. What it made me feel wasn’t quite loneliness. It was this feeling of hopeful isolation as if I had turned back in on myself. What I didn’t know was this was a feeling I would grow to feel accustomed to in Japan. It’s a feeling that I’ve only felt in Japan. I’ve watched this movie three times now. The second was on an early date with my wife. The third was just before I returned to Japan.

I wanted to stay in the Park Hyatt but without a previous reservation that wasn’t in the cards. The sting didn’t last long when I found out the cheapest room was 250 USD a night. I stayed that night at a more reasonable hotel but made my way over to the New York Bar and Grill that night. The bar itself is where several pivotal scenes of the movie take place. When I got there it was too late in the evening to order food, and in fairness I was too ignorant to realize how expensive the place was anyways.

At the same bar that Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in when they filmed “Lost in Translation”
My first introduction to ordering an overpriced beer at a fine restaurant

I remember ordering a beer. I also remember that beer costing around twenty dollars. The bar is towards the top of the building. You could walk right up to these large windows, but it was foggy that night and you couldn’t see the city. If you weren’t willing to let that stop you from looking though, you could look at the fog in relation to the building. You could get a sense of just how high up you really were as you looked down and couldn’t see the streets. It was beautiful in its own way.

This picture does not do the view any actual justice

When I woke up the next day I had realized there was a crucial thing I had failed to do: locate the Toho Godzila statue. While I can’t say I am still quite the hardcore Kaiju fan I was growing up, I can say I have seen nearly every Godzilla movie ever made. Of the older movies, I still have yet to see Godzilla versus the Smog Monster, but considering how universally panned that movie is even among people who like Godzilla movies, I might not be missing much.

My guide book it turned out was slightly outdated. A frantic search followed that involved me pestering the concierge at multiple nearby hotels, attempting to dig up information by way of the internet on my phone, and finally nearly walking into it. It was, unfortunately, smaller than I would have liked, and apparently had endorsed a political party. Regardless, my bucket list was finished. I would have liked to have gone to Mt. Fuji, but I hoped I would come back again someday. Better to leave something to return to see.

I hear the camera adds about seventy feet

How I got home is a blur to me now. My only real memory of it involved convincing a taxi cab to take me only a mile down a road because I didn’t want to drag three bags down the crowded streets. The plane was the opposite of what it had been on the trip out. It was crowded, and I felt weird to be around all English speakers again. When I opened the front door my families house, our young husky stopped, looked at me for a moment, and then literally jumped into my arms. My family hugged me shortly afterwards. I broke out the gifts. I was home.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

How Japan Changed Me

There is a loneliness that comes with being in Japan on your own. My buddy Ajax and I discussed this once. You spend most of the day alone outside of practices where you can’t really socialize with anyone. You go back to where ever you are sleeping, and your options for entertainment are limited. This loneliness wasn’t so much that it ruined my time, but rather it forced me to confront my own biases and mature.

I won’t discuss politics very much in this series, because it doesn’t fit. It should be known though that Japan was the first time I was in the position of being a minority. I am a white American of English and Irish descent from New England. I had a stable upper-middle-class upbringing complete with a car at 17 and no question of whether I could afford to go to college. While I grew up around people of color and was intellectually aware of some of the problems of racism, I can’t say it was something that occupied my day to day life.

In Japan, I regularly ran into issues of racism and prejudice. Outside of Tokyo, there were restaurants that would refuse to serve me. I would be met with suspicious looks by older people and facing constant reminders that I was an outsider. On a similar note, without ever having taken a course in law up to this point, I didn’t see what the issue was with practices like stop and frisk. That was until one evening when two officers stopped me in the middle of the street in Tokyo and gave me a very detailed pat down. When I asked why I was stopped, they responded by saying they were checking me for drugs. Shortly after I got home from Japan one of my coaches from outside Pedro’s Judo Center, Dr. Rhadi Ferguson, an African American graduate of Howard University, sent me some stuff on societal privilege. After being in Japan I think I understood it much better.

I used to be part of the crowd that asked why people coming to my country did not seem to put in the effort to learn English and integrate. This was, as I learned later, a somewhat ignorant view that ignored many of the realities faced by immigrants (people do make the effort to learn English, it just really is that hard to become fluent). While I never groaned about pressing one for English, my views were the none the less slanted. In Japan, I found myself in a situation where everyone around me spoke a difficult language to learn and I was clearly not a member of a dominant culture. I was making an effort, but I clearly was not learning fast enough. I was in this place I had dreamed of being in for most of my life, putting my best effort forward, and I was still struggling with the language.

I had to become very comfortable in my own skin. I developed something of a resilient shell around myself. I learned how to roll with the punches when something went wrong. At the same time, part of this meant addressing a major personality issue: I was notoriously absent-minded. In Japan, I knew that if something went wrong, there was no one I could call to save me. If I got locked out of someplace, the best case scenario was I would lose time waiting for someone who could unlock the door. The worst case I knew was that the items in the locked place were lost. I had stress dreams that my passport would be stuck in a locker.

I can’t say that Japan made me a responsible person overnight. I still misplace my car keys and rely on the “Find My Iphone” application to function as a human being. It, however, was what forced me to develop compensation strategies for my absent-mindedness. The time alone made me take the time to understand my own strengths and weaknesses. I gained some insight and begun to think more about perspectives that were not my own. I think Japan was what frankly sparked the beginning of my transformation into an adult. Something in my brain clicked, and years later I’m still very glad it did.