Those kind of questions are hard to answer, however. They belong in the same category as, "Why did you study that in college?" or, "What's the meaning of life?" It's not always easy to give an answer to such without leaving something out, or sounding trite, or leaving your audience wondering why they ever asked the question to begin with.
Of course, once I return home I'm sure to hear from anyone who knows, "So how was Japan?" wherever I go. Here's what I'd like to tell them.
"Upon landing in Japan, I was accompanied by my sensei to the small coastal fishing village where I lived and worked. There my sensei introduced me to all those whom he knew including a few subsistence farmers, local merchants, and even some well-to-do industrialists out developing new uses for old tracts of land. While each day was sunny and bright, I could tell there was a cloud hovering over my sensei. Little did I know that a private rivalry between my sensei and another prominent civic figure was plaguing the social conscience.
"I found the local people to be quite charming and invigorating as I observed the simple activities of their daily lives. Nary a coarse word and eager to make friends, these people were of the same earth they worked. I even saw a relationship on the horizon – with a sweet, young girl who was into traditional Japanese dance and worked there in the town office.
"I found the older male youth to be somewhat troubling, however, always chafing at the same simplicity displayed by their elders, and without a reasonable outlet for their aggressive instincts. I had to turn a deaf ear to their constant outbursts in class for fear of a confrontation, yet that same avoidance was apt to bait them into confronting me directly. Once I even surprised these same young studs, breaking the ice between us as it were, by writing a lengthy string of kanji on the board, proving to them that at least I wasn't afraid to immerse myself in their culture.
"The night before my sensei and I were to present a controversial set of curriculum we had been working on to the town, one that sought to drum new methods of English language learning into the system, a massive tsunami hit. Many of the townsfolk were evacuated and gathered in a central safe place. During the evacuation I helped ensure the safety of a young grade schooler who had been caught out alone in the storm. She was fine; but the look in the face of those hotshot males, let's call them 'the Chosen' (for their choice to be separate from everyone else), was not. They held nothing but contempt for me, the 'brave gaijin.'
"A week later, to help commemorate the town cleanup, we held a special O-bon festival in the ancient courtyard of a daimyo's former estate. It seemed all thought toward holding grudges and internal rivalries was dead, and a truer happiness that could not be imagined anywhere else settled over the town. That is, until one of the Chosen, their appointed leader, erupted on to the scene eager to have it out with me. I tried to head him off, 'Look man, I'm sorry–' but he wouldn't hear it. 'Sorry will not give me back my honor!' he barked. That was it then. He extended his arm, hand held in a thumb-wrestling pose. He wanted to publicly embarrass me. No turning back, so I took hold, and as I imagined the faces of all those who loved me, something told me that, 'I am the man who would fight for their honor.' It was tough. He was good. Even craning my finger as far as it would go, nothing seemed to work. Finally, it dawned on me. The secret of my being here. The culmination of my experiences boiled down to three little words: 'Live or die?' Thus, I won. He chose to die. And I choose to live."
(Gee, that all sounds very familiar.)