WOW! What a weekend! When I’ll catch my breath, I will write it all down; for now, here’s a bit about my first few moments in Japan.
A small prologue.
I remember the day as if it was yesterday. July 13, 1994. My first day in America.
My family got “in line” to apply for an American refugee visa in 1991. It took us only three years until the departure day arrived. I was ecstatic. I said good-byes in school and among my close friends. It was a sad day for them but I was too overjoyed at the thought of coming to America to realize that I was saying final good-byes to most of them. I wore by best outfit. Deep purple velvet skirt and a blouse to match. This “exotic” outfit was accompanied by an enormous hat. I thought I looked phenomenal.
The plane was huge, crowded, loud and full of refugees. My brother played guitar and people sang along. We were all nervous and excited. Our final destination was JFK, New York.
I remember going through customs, twirling my skirt, annoying mom, reprimanding my brothers, and then finally walking outside. What happened then, I consider my first memory of America.
I walked outside and smelled the air. To me, America will forever hold this scent. Mid-July was very humid. The air was thick and moist. It smelled like damp carpet and French fries. It smelled like taxis and tow-trucks. It smelled like warm water and summer flowers. They were all mixed together into cacophony of unrelated odors yet it was a single unique aroma. I can’t say I love or hate this smell. I just know this is how America smells to me.
When I decided to travel to Japan, I wondered if I’ll encounter a scent that will stay in my memory throughout the years as a distinct “Japanese smell”.
I landed in Narita Airport (Tokyo) at 3pm. My lay-over was 4 hours and I had plenty of time to go outside and enjoy a breath of local air. I was nervous. I was finally in Japan. My fantasy. What will happen to me outside of the airport doors? Why did I come here? What will happen to me along the way?
I took a long deep breath and walked outside.
- Hmmmm….there’s something in the air. Something very familiar. Hold on, don’t rush. Let’s sit down on this bench right here to my left. There. Relax. All thoughts aside. Clear my mind. That’s it. It’s about 75F. Nice, cool breeze.
It smells like incense. Even though there are buses and cars, I smell fresh, crisp air and a tiny hint of incense. It smells like an autumn morning.