Friday, July 7, 2017

Welcome

Last night I was reading a graphic novel – Just So Happens by Fumio Obata – which brought back a lot of memories about Japan.

In 2011, I spent six months working at a law firm in Tokyo. Almost from the first week, I felt an inexplicably strong affinity for the country and its people – the trains, the beaches, the language, the street maps, even their obsession with ranking. At the end of my stint, on my flight back to London, I was thinking back on the last few days – the staff at the café where I had breakfast every morning pooling together to buy me a hamper of Japanese souvenirs, one of the older secretaries in our office saying「また来てね。みなさん待っています。」("Please come back again. We're all waiting.") – and I realised I was trying (not very successfully) to hold back tears. I had not been this sad even when I left my hometown, Calcutta, to work in London – perhaps because I knew I could go back during holidays, and when I did, it would be (almost) like I'd never left. Whereas if I went back to Japan, it would almost certainly be as a tourist, which is not the same thing at all.

Anyway, back to the book. Just So Happens has a panel showing the protagonist coming home (a faithful reproduction of Narita airport).


When I first arrived in Japan in 2011, I couldn't read Japanese at all. By the end of my stay, I could read basic Japanese, and when I went back there on holiday two years ago, I noticed something interesting. While the English text simply says "Welcome to Japan", the Japanese text has a slightly different – and for me, rather heartwarming – message: okaerinasai or "Welcome home".