I've been talking about and prepping for this trip since mid-summer. The paper I'm presenting was completed at the end of July, the plane ticket and conference registration were purchased in May, and the hotel arrangements were made in August. I've been corresponding by e-mail with the mother of an international student I've mentored, making plans for food, shopping, and sightseeing on two of my free evenings.
And yet, of course, I feel woefully unprepared to be only a week away from flying to another hemisphere. I haven't been to Asia since my wonderful 2004 trip to Seoul, South Korea -- a trip Cady Gray made with me before her birth. I've wanted to go to Japan for decades. Now that the moment is here, I find myself all aflutter. How can I make the most of my time there? What experiences should I be sure not to miss? Given a short stay and a crowded conference schedule, will my efforts at soaking up the culture be doomed from the start? Will I be able to hang with the few American attendees that I know, or should I try to break away from them and enjoy the company of new local acquaintances?
The reality is that I have to treat every aspect of the trip as worthwhile, and not constantly fret about whether I'm having the right experiences. Whether the food I eat and the sights I see are "authentically" Japanese or aimed at tourists like myself, they will be the experiences of Japan that I will have. The conference, the hotel, the airport, the Sophia University campus I'll walk through to get to the conference every day, the food vendors or restaurants nearby where I'll grab lunch -- these will be the setting for my memories. Whatever I encounter -- that is Tokyo as I will know it.
The trip will be short in terms of opportunities to experience Japan -- I'll be there only four full days, arriving Sunday evening and leaving again Friday afternoon -- but it will be long in terms of being away from my family. Internet access will be expensive and rare while I'm there (I'll probably try to grab a few minutes in the computer center at the University rather than pay for it by the half-hour at the hotel), and I don't plan to use my cell phone. I'll truly be cut off from everything here for most of my trip, and that's what I can't really fathom -- that such isolation and such difference is only a week away.