Crushing Expectations

December 9, 2008
By Alexis Shankle, Austin, TX

As I stepped out of the plane into the terminal of the Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan, I was expecting to tower over the sea of black hair. I was expecting to be lost in a maze of language that consisted of noise, not words. I was expecting to travel through a technological era unlike the United States. But the more steps I took the more defeated my expectations became.

It was faster moving than any other city I stepped foot in. There were more people walking on the street than driving in cars. The only automobiles on the rode were taxis, waiting for that lazy person to finally come along. It became chaos trying to cross a street as everyone sped like animals to reach their destination before the light changed.
The first time I crossed a cross walk I realized that I wasn’t any taller than the rest of them, some even towering over me. And the hair color and style changed every time I looked a new direction. Girls in plaid skirts and blue blazers laughed and carried on as boys in uniform navy pants and white shirts rode their bikes along side the girls. They flirted in the same manor all the other teenagers did back at home. They weren’t different. They weren’t aliens. To them I was the alien. I had dark skin, which stood out from the skin they all shared. I had dark hair, darker eyes. I dressed differently and spoke words that were hard on their minds. But they didn’t look at me like I was an alien. They greeted me with warm smiles and even softer words. Picking up on their language wasn’t easy, but after entering multiple stores, I attained the necessary da meh maz, si mah seen and of course, konichiwa. Once they started responding with short, choppy phrases that I used in my every day conversation, I grew jealous. It was over my head how they picked up so easily on a language, with syllabols and letters, unlike their own. More jealousy struck me when I rode on the trains or the subways. Not only was I envious of this mean of transportation, but every person my age in sight had some cool gadget, each one a different tool than the other. When the train stopped in Akihabara, the famed technology district, my jaw dropped. Neon lights were everywhere while people flooded the streets. Standing still was a health hazard as the people didn’t stop. One store had more video games imaginable to the human mind, while the next had every kind of camera or camera accessory ever manufactured. Each block had something bigger and better than what we had back in the United States. I knew I was not in a different technological era, but a completely different realm. A bigger, faster, more advanced realm.

My expectations of Japan were stereotypical and shallow. The city, the people, and the way of life proved every expectation wrong. Tokyo opened my eyes to different ways of life. I gained respect for a new race of people, one that I had been partial to for so long. I desired to travel more and to have more expectations disproved. Most importantly, Japan opened my heart. I fell in love with the people and the lifestyle.

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