Saturday, November 23, 2013

The traveler versus the tourist

I've never been fond of the word tourist.  For me it conjures images of overweight Americans in shorts, big, white, Seinfeld-style sneakers and fanny-packs, eating in the local McDonalds.  I prefer the term traveler.  This word has romance and adventure.  A traveler is someone more deeply committed to the journey.  It is someone that injects themselves into the bloodstream of another nation-state, its traditions, its routines, from the extraordinary to the mundane, and loses themselves there.  Traveling really is an exchange where a piece of the traveler is left in a country, and that gap is filled with something taken away from that land.  The tourist simply brings themselves and their habits to a new place, seeks out the familiar and returns to their homeland unchanged.

I realized that after more than two months in Japan I am neither traveler nor tourist.  I live here.  And if I am successful in changing my visa status I will continue to live here.  The difference between my sojourn in Kyoto and your average tourist is not the length of stay, it is the responsibilities that come with residency, even a three-month stay like mine.  A tourist is most likely staying in a hotel.  They do not have to make the bed in the morning.  They do not have to make coffee and breakfast.  They do not have to do the dishes or laundry.  They do not have to go to the market to buy onions and milk, udon and eggs.  They have no housekeeping responsibilities.  They are not studying Japanese.  They are not looking for a job.  They are not researching visas and Japanese immigration.  They are not creating a new body of work in an upstairs atelier and hustling their art at galleries.  They are not planning exhibitions for the New Year.  They are not applying to foundations for grants.  They are not going to acupuncture for a sore neck.  They are not getting their hair cut.  They might be meeting new people, but there probably aren't any subsequent render-vous with these new acquaintances.

I enjoy all of this (well, maybe not Japanese immigration law) because it is part of the experience.  It means I'm here, living in Japan not just visiting.  I like knowing which streets connect, and when the last train is (23:58).  I like having a local cafe where they know me, if not by name, at least by face.  I like saying "Ohayo gozaimas" to the neighbors in the morning instead of a hotel staff.   It's cool.  

It's cool living in Japan.

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