My business trip to Matsue came happily after just one week in my new residence here in rural Japan. I was being sent to the capital of the prefecture for ten days for training and orientation. This was a much-anticipated break from the rather difficult adjustment phase I was going through at “home”.
Matsue is a city of about 200,000 people. By Japanese standards it is considered the countryside, but compared to my town of 3,000 people, I could not have been more excited to see neon lights after dusk and hear that rumbling sound of a train going by every few minutes. The first thing I did when I reached Matsue on a dark Thursday evening was go to Starbucks at the Matsue train station. Unlike bigger cities such as Tokyo or Osaka, Matsue has only one Starbucks and it is the only Starbucks in the prefecture.
Over the course of the next week and a half, Starbucks became my haven. It’s not just that it’s a recognizable brand, or that it has unique drinks, or that it has consistent hours of operation (not something you find with local cafes in Japan), or that there is always plenty of seating, or that they never kick you out no matter how long you stay there…it’s that it truly was conducive to relaxation and escape. At first, I would just walk in for a drink, then I started to linger around and read Toni Morrison’s Beloved on my new Kindle. I had started reading Beloved from the library while in Portland, and I found it to be so well written that I would linger on pages, phrases, and words for lengthy amounts of time, and thus I was not able to finish it before moving to Japan.
I am a late adapter to the ebook craze, mostly because I love the smell of a book, I love how the font and margins are expressive to the content, and I love feeling the thickness and thinness of the remaining pages in my hands as I read. You don’t get any of that with an ebook. You don’t get to appreciate holding 900 pages of Anna Karenina between your hands and the satisfaction that comes with finishing every one of them.
I waited a long time before buying an ebook because I just didn’t think it could compare with a physical book. But given the fact that I travel a fair bit, and will be moving from country to country for a while, the portability or an ebook just made sense. So I swallowed my pride and bought one. All that lingering at the Starbucks in Matsue Station finally gave me a chance to use my ebook which I have now grown to love. Apart from being lightweight and capable of storing 1,000 books, I loved reading from the Kindle because unlike a real book, I could prop it up on the table and read from it hands-free, without tiring my arms, or straining my neck.
With my newfound love of the Kindle and Starbucks’ Chocolate Brownie Matcha Frappuccino, I could wait to escape to Starbucks every chance I got. My trip was busy, and I was constantly surrounded by people at the social events that often followed our long days. Being an introvert, this constant interaction tired me, so whenever I got a chance I would recharge my emotional batteries by reading alone at Starbucks. I tried to imagine how I looked to other people, going into the same coffee shop day after day, taking the window seat at an empty table, and reading to the sound of the rain. I remember thinking, “this is exactly who I am.”
Matsue gave me the change to recover from my bouts of culture shock, and reclaim myself so that I could face the challenges that accompany any major life change. Eventually, I had to return to my rustic residence in the mountains, but when I did, I found that my feelings towards it had entirely changed. I was back where I belonged, it felt, Starbucks or no Starbucks, this was going to be my home. A home with no quotation marks.