I can't tell you when, exactly, I changed.
I can't tell you when I stopped missing my old life in Chicago -- a lovely little life that included readily available Mexican food, size 8 high heels, the various smells of the CTA, and the unincumbered use of the English language -- and started realizing that I had built a new, different kind of life here.
I can't tell you when the people here -- especially my fellow Fukui JETs, folks that came from all corners of the world -- stopped feeling like random strangers and started feeling like family.
I can't tell you when I stopped feeling like half a person -- one who could barely communicate, could barely pump her own gas or buy her own groceries, one who couldn't even eat fruit correctly -- and started feeling completely alive.
(The picture above, taken by my dear friend "S" on a perfect, puffy-white-clouds-in-the-blue-sky kind of day at the Tojinbo cliffs earlier this month, is my best attempt at illustrating what "feeling completely alive" might actually look like. Kind of like the "I'm king of the world!" scene from Titanic. You get the idea.)
I'm not quite sure when it happened, but at some point, this random, rural corner of Japan started to feel like home. The rice paddies. The mountains. Vending machines in the middle of fields. Swerving to avoid bicycle-riding octogenarians weaving in the road. The beeping sound my little car makes when I put it into reverse. The 30-year-old washing machine on my front porch. The stares at the grocery store. Everybody in my business. My local celebrity status. The excessive use of gesturing when attempting to communicate.
I can't tell you when all of this stopped feeling so difficult and strange and started to feel comfortable and, well, normal.
I can, however, tell you exactly when I realized that the change had occurred: it was this week, when I booked my one-way e-ticket to fly back to Chicago. As I pushed the "confirm purchase" button, I felt a strange churning in the pit of my stomach, similar to that slow, sinking feeling you used to get as a kid towards the end of summer vacation.
The party is almost over. The real world awaits.
A wise man named Confucius once said, "When a person feels happiest, he will inevitably feel sad at the same time." Big C speaks the truth: just as I am at the top of my proverbial game here in Japan, my enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that my time here is limited.
I have only eight weeks left in Japan. That's only eight more Saturdays for long runs through the rice paddies. Only eight more Fridays for laid-back, laughter-filled morning classes at school. Only eight more Wednesdays for taiko drumming and yoga classes. Only eight more weekends for random adventures and waking up in strange hostels in strange Japanese cities.
Time to live it up.
Ch-ch-ch-changes. It's official: the urbanity-loving, anonymity-craving, sarcasm-spewing Chicagoan has changed and now officially embraces the Japanese inaka.
And she will miss it terribly.