I suppose one could say that I’ve been up in the air for a long time. The pressure up there is different, and so whenever I touch back down to Earth, like clockwork, my ears pop. Before too long I always acclimate, and life becomes normal again, living under a different sort of pressure. Or so I thought, until I landed in Japan.

For as long as I can remember I’ve dreamt of my inevitable pilgrimage to this place: It is the vessel of a rich and resonant history, and above that, the mecca of my most fundamental curiosities. My arrival here is synonymous with a culmination of years of swelling study and anxious intrigue, and over time, I finally accumulated a knowledge base sufficient for my arrival.

Or so I thought.

Two months have passed, and my inner ear still throbs from the pressure differential. Thus far my failure to fully acclimatize is puzzling, engaging gears of investigation within my mind. I detect only muffled hints of an answer, yet they all uniformly suggest an explanation whose credibility I have denied for far too long.

Japan is a cesspool of repression. It jars me not only because it throws my long-standing denial into harsh relief, but also because the duality of this culture allows for a problem to quietly fester within a steeled, gilded and shared countenance.

Additionally, I find difficulty in recognizing a cultural quagmire in Japan, because any indication of such is promptly buried under more charming connotations, such as their addictively vibrant media export or their stout, shrewd economy. Spend enough time here, though, and through the cracks, a different image renders.

In a six-story arcade, I cannot avoid noticing all the patrons wearing business suits, nor can I ignore their astonishing skill level, which forebodes the regularity of their attendance. I see that the games are chiefly single-player, and wildly complicated. Every few minutes they will reach into a gallon bucket beside their feet, half-full of coins, which at once tells me how long they have been here, and how long they intend to stay. More than simply an arcade, it is heaven for the modern hermit.

Likewise is the schism between genders. The fault line is so severe it seems that no one dares settle in the center, lest they suffer the wrath of the earthquakes so prevalent in that territory. Gender and sexual minorities seem nonexistent in the Japanese lexicon, and the deflated birth rate threatens to singlehandedly buckle an otherwise diligent workforce.

Worst of all is the morning rapid express train to Shinjuku. We are sardined such that “personal space” is redefined to the five inches between your clavicle and the next. The car is vacuum-packed, and yet more insist they get on anyway, and they push from the platform, back first, and five inches become four. Our number is matched by our silence, and inversely proportional to eye contact.

As if the pressure allegory weren’t already tangible by now, the train may lurch to a sudden halt and across the marquee appears the understatement: “Delay: Passenger Injury.” But trains do not leave scratches, and from within, we understand: that for someone, the pressure became too much. Yet still, the silence persists.

Celeste Chisholm is a senior in the College. An American Hoya in Japan appears every other Thursday at thehoya.com.

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