Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Driving to Ann Arbor, I felt that I was coming back to the United States afresh and with a vengeance, albeit in a different context than yesterday's.

My travel in the United States continues.

A 30 minutes drive from the Detroit airport brought me to Ann Arbor. As the car approached the academic city, memories swelled in my heart.

In the summer of 1986, I participated the 38th Japan America Student Conference. This conference was my first exposure to the American culture. As part of the itinerary, we visited the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

We stayed at the student dorm on campus, and talked late into the night. As the conference was finished for the day in the evening, we strolled into the streets. As I recall, I realize that was one of the prime times of my life.

At that time, I was seriously considering of moving out of Japan and going to the United States. I don't know what made me walk away from that adventure eventually. Possibly, it was a fear of losing my own roots.

At that time, as is the case today, America was a huge crucible in which things got mixed and then melted and fused. I think I was unconsciously afraid of being lost in a ocean of constantly moving trends of miscellaneous unknowns.

At the time of my visit to Ann Arbor, I did not know Yasujiro Ozu, had not visited the Ise Shrine, and had not rediscovered Hideo Kobayashi. Perhaps I was not confident enough in my own cultural tradition to set out to the vast of ocean of contingencies in the United States.

Shortly after the conference, I made a decision to go to the graduate school in Tokyo. My first long-term residence in a foreign soil was then to be the postdoctoral years in Cambridge University, U.K. In this era, my heart was rather remote from the things U.S. To this day, I do not know if I made the correct decision.

Driving to Ann Arbor, I felt that I was coming back to the United States afresh and with a vengeance, albeit in a different context than yesterday's.

Once in the city, I suddenly remembered that there was an Ice Cream place called Steve's. Nostalgia made me curious if that was still there. Memories of the conference in 1986. The walks we took to the Steve's Ice Cream, smiles of my friends, arguing which flavor was best, making jokes, bursting laughter, patting on the shoulder, tasting each other's, exchanging remarks, outreaching of cultures...

When I checked the web in the hotel room, I learned that the precious Steve's is gone. An entry from "Ann Arbor's lost eateries" reads:

Steve's Ice Cream, corner of William and State, now a Jimmy John's; 80s ice cream mix-ins.

So a gem in my past is no more. Gone too is the young I who aspired to be a global citizen, not knowing exactly why or, more importantly, how.

Time flows and flew, and here I am in Ann Arbor again, looking at the phenomenon which is the United States with renewed vigor and bits of educated bewilderments.


Yuzu said...

I feel that you are in your cherish memories.
Also I was shocked that you did not Yasujiro Ozu,
had not visited the Ise Shrine,and had not rediscovered
Hideo Kobayashi at that time,1986. I thought that your life have been always with those like Einstein.
This is so fresh to know and how wonderful time
which you spend until now.I look forward to listen to your impression in the United States of America.

(ma)gog said...

What a coincidence again!  In the summer of 1986, I was also in the U.S., although it was only a two-weeks stay, I was mainly in Michigan, a few days in Denver, and in Los Angeles.

At that time I was working as a full time teacher at a Tokyo Metropolitan high school, and I used the summer vacation to make a trip to the U.S. with a friend of mine who was also a teacher at a different high school.

It was my first and the only trip to the U.S., and I remember it as the most joyful, carefree, yet fully adventurous trip in my young happiest days! We felt like we were still students, and indulged ourselves in the casual way of American life style (as you mentioned several days ago.) As we stayed with American families in each place, I could glimpse at the ordinary average family life there, which left me deep impact after years to come.

Well, I have started to wonder why I have not ever bumped into you before while you seem to have been in the places at the same time I was hanging around where you were…

Greg said...

Many universities and the communities that surround them are cultural and intellectual treasures where individuals from diverse places, traditions, and societies can gather to create the "crucible" that you speak of. it's also interesting to explore the relations between colleges and their towns. Berkeley, Washington, D.C., and Westwood as well as Ann Arbor have different "feels" with their respective universities. It sounds like you are having pleasant experiences with reminiscences and new discoveries.