Golden Week is a scam. A string of national holidays falling within the same week, it is when the entire country is on spring break. But it is not a week, but a string of weekends. One will find oneself in class with exams and assignments due on Monday and Friday during this break, a jarring interruption to what should be a relaxing time. Everyone complains about it. One can either suck it up or skip. I skipped.
I found the week to be less reflective than other times I’ve had in Japan. It falls at an interesting time in my stay. I’ve been here long enough to be over the initial hump of acclimation. I’ve thought the grand adjustment thoughts and made the global cross-culture comparisons. After all the mental and physical strain that came with the first six weeks, the settling into a new university and new classes, I’ve become comfortable enough to do whatever I want with my time. It’s liberating, and comes as an intangible milestone, one that is fundamentally underwhelming because it signifies a lack of struggle rather than a triumph over it.
So I took my milestone and went to Yokohama with friends. There was rumored to be a J-Pop festival in Yamashita Park. I’ve never really listened to J-Pop, but I know the scene is colorful. There were festival food stands and one tent of cos-players. More or less measly. We later found the action was going down in Chinatown.
I’m sure there was a reason for all the parading, and I’m sure it had to do with the holiday that was taking place on that day. I don’t know what it was or why, but the drums in the streets, firecrackers, and dragon gave off more energy than the (lack of) festival in the park. The parade dragon entered into restaurants and harassed those eating to the nervous shooing of the proprietors. We then tracked down the Buddhist temples. Some one who knew much more about the culture explained to me the differences between Chinese and Japanese temples while we timed our photos of the paper lanterns with the sun going down. The time was care free in every sense.
It is strange to be past the cusp of mere tourism and to be onto something more culturally authentic, while still being a tourist. At times when I may not give myself enough credit, I will notice the difference between myself and the nervous over-packed westerner who fumbles and elbows their way through the pulse of Tokyo. I forget how that person and I were once the same. Dissolving into a culture is more of a tiered process than I’d originally thought. One begins to figure out where to go intuitively if one wants something more than branded trinkets. At the same time, I still cannot order food in Japanese. My progress there is the brute loss of shame in pointing at the menu with a smile. I can see where the next tier begins and where the last one has ended, and I have a growing curiosity in how my self-image will have changed once I return home.
As Golden Week concludes, there is a depressing realization. The vacation feeling of my semester has gone. From here on out the weeks will creep by in uniformity until the finish. I know the time will fly, but will also be full of busy work. It will be a persistent effort to keep making the most of my time, and I’ve learned already this persistence is one’s most essential asset when traveling. Once adventure is replaced by complacent routine, one essentially ceases to travel, and might as well head home. I’m not quite ready to head home yet.