What I'll miss.

After about a year in Japan, I've gotten used to the little things I won't have at home

Even my lifestyle has changed, thanks to Japan's amenities. Whether I'm out late till 2 AM, or wake up early to an empty fridge at 5 AM, I know there's a Lawson conbini around the corner that always has its lights on.

I'll never forget "Lawson Picnics" with my friends, sitting on a concrete barrier with only the light from the conbini windows to illuminate our space. The men by the news stand reading magazines would look up from their manga to see what all the laughter was about. I'll never forget the moenai gomi incident, when my friend and I hauled two huge bags of non burnable garbage to the conbini to ditch it. We hauled ass running away after, even though the Lawson workers all know our faces.

I'm going to miss going to the Lolita shops, and not necessarily buy anything, but seeing the new prints on mannequins when the reserve goes up. I'm going to miss the familiar faces of the shop girls; a girl with pink hair who always works at AP. The bleached blonde at AATP, who never said いらっしゃいまっせ, just nodded in recognition. The girl at Meta with blunt bangs, who always wears her hair in a bun and speaks in a high, saccharine voice. The gaggle of shop girls in the tiny Putumayo corner, who have conversations with me and call me Nee-san. The fortune teller who reads palms in the corner.

I'm going to miss Violet Blue in Oosu. Not even because of the bargains, but because of the man who runs it. How he always plays Jrock, especially Dir en grey. Not even the new stuff, but my old favourites like the album Kisou. How when I leave he says いつもありがとうございます。How he pushes his daughter on a dolly cart around outside the shop. Or when she sits with him behind the counter as he evaluates used clothing, he shows her and coos かわいいね? I'll even miss the girl with purple layers in her hair. She always regarded me from a distance, sounding testy as she checked me out at the register. But over time she started to smile when I came in, and called me by name when she learned it.

I'm going to miss the Giant Cat in Oosu, and the performances in front of it. An Irish band with dancers on St. Patrick's Day. Oosu's version of AKB. The tiny cat cafe up a tiny, shady staircase. The man in his corner window tobacco shop across the way, gazing distantly with a fading eyebrow arched, vending cigarettes hesitantly to men with hands deep in their pockets.

I'll miss being able to set my purse down in a classroom and walk away to buy a drink or use the bathroom, and no one will ever touch it. Or when I went to Dir en grey, I left my messenger bag in line to use the bathroom, and came back and it was untouched, and no one jumped my place in line.

I'm going to miss keigo. And how the guy at the conbini asks if he should humbly attach a spoon to my yogurt. And how even the train speaks to you politely. I'll miss the talking garbage trucks that tell you to watch out for them, and the ambulances that apologise for getting in the way.

I'm going to miss the freedom, and how easy it is to go anywhere, just hop on a train or a bus. And it's, in general, safe to do so alone.

More than any of these snap shots, I'm going to miss the people that I've met. Whether we were watching fireworks or lantern ceremonies or concerts or movies on the floor, those smiles are irreplaceable. And when they grip a cigarette and start crying on your shoulder, that embrace is unforgettable. The bonds we build and relationships we make determine how we view the place we live. It's the people who make your experiences.

The people I've met on this study abroad have changed my life, for the better. I'm not the same shy, naive person I was when I came here.  I've learned how to talk to people instead of just listening and taking notes. And since I've talked to more people and made friends, they feel like the best friends I've made. I've even changed how I feel about lolita... I'm not obsessed with collecting the newest or rarest lolita dress anymore, I've learned that the fun outings I have with people in it are more important.

The world has gotten a little bit smaller, but because of what I've learned about people. You learn how people around the world are different, but more so, you learn how they're all the same.

I don't know, this is just about all I want to say, but at the same time it's like I haven't scratched the surface.

This was probably the best year of my life so far. Before coming to Japan, I had no idea what I wanted to be, or do in the future. I had no confidence in myself to decide, or ask for help. But making the decision to come to Japan was the starting point, where I gripped my future and what I had to work with and just took off running. It was probably the first decision I had made for myself, instead of reacting to life and convenience. Now slowly, my vision for the future is coming into focus, and I know who I am.

In shorter terms, coming here is so much more than studying Japanese. It changes you, and it changes your life, but it's not just opening your ears and your heart... it's also about being brave enough to go out and see, speak, and learn. That's what your teacher won't tell you.

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