In this monthly column, George Miller, TUJ’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs (ADAA), shares what’s going on at Temple University, Japan Campus (TUJ) and with his life in Tokyo. For this edition, he writes about taking the time to enjoy life beyond campus.
My buddy John is the most sentimental person I know. He’s constantly making jokes from 30 years ago, posting pictures from when we were kids and trying to get our old crew back together again.
It’s great to have that person in my life. As a sentimental person, I appreciate his efforts and when we all get together, it’s a blast.
But when we do reunite, for me it’s less about waxing nostalgic and more about doing silly stuff with people I feel super comfortable with.
Because you can’t recreate the past. You can only create new memories.
I think about that a lot while here, in Japan, nearly 7,000 miles away from where I grew up, largely removed from a life I cultivated over 47 years. It’s easy to be homesick, as many of our students surely know.
Rather than think about what’s missing, I try to savor every second of every day.
After all, I live in Tokyo, and the potential for adventure is endless.
I always tell students that your college experience is about more than the lessons you receive in the classroom. It includes the people you meet along the way — classmates, teachers and staff, as well as the place in which you study. Experience it all.
Tokyo is not just the place where TUJ exists. It is a laboratory for learning, where students can discover history and culture, meet people from around the world, get practical work experience and build an outlook on life that is difficult to match anywhere else.
One of the first things I did when I arrived in Tokyo last August was buy a bicycle. It’s opened up a world to me. I started biking a few miles every day after work, and spending my weekends on the road.
I bought my bike from a shop in Koenji and picked it up on the first day of their famous Awa Odori matsuri. There were more than 10,000 performers and hundreds of thousands of spectators.
By biking around the city, I’ve stumbled across many festivals and all sorts of performances, like this bon-odori in Nihonbashi and this Latin Festival in Sangen-jaya.
I often get lost while roaming, thinking that my memory is better than the GPS in my pocket.
One time, on a Saturday evening, I stopped at a vending machine near Skytree and noticed a nearby bookstore with English writing in the window. I walked in and found a dark, smoky room with a ton of books and a bar in the back. As I neared the small seating area, I saw a bunch of people playing guitars. And as I sat down with my new book and a pint, the guitar players started singing Beatles’ songs.
It was magical.
And while I was roaming around Shimokitazawa with friends one day last fall, a young man called to me and said, “Don’t you teach at Temple University?”
When I said yes, he told me that he was in my 200-student lecture hall class in Philadelphia a few years ago. So random.
I used to be a photojournalist. That means, everywhere I went, I looked for different ways to see the world. It helped develop a keen way of examining my everyday surroundings, finding details and patterns and beauty that might otherwise be overlooked.
In 2009, after about seven years as a reporter, I realized that I wasn’t seeing beyond the obvious like I did when I was a photographer. So, on New Year’s Day in 2010, I began a photo-of-the-day project that I’ve been doing ever since.
Now, I look for the unusual, the things that stand out, like this strange scene in a warehouse near Shibaura.
And these dogs dressed for the holidays at Yebisu Garden Place.
And these dogs in a pram in Yoyogi Park.
My eyes are always open and my camera is always within arm’s reach.
It can be a challenge to see new things all the time so I force myself to travel different routes, to talk to strangers and witness as much as possible, from women’s professional wrestling to sumo to yakyu to monks playing soccer.
In 2012, when my grandmother was in hospice care, I visited her nearly every day. Eventually, she barked at me, saying, “Get out of here! Go live your life!”
It wasn’t that she didn’t want me there. She just didn’t want me wasting my life sitting there crying.
After she passed away, I visited my grandfather once or twice a week, every week, until I moved to Japan. We’d go out to dinner, fix up the yard, play cards, put together puzzles, eat pudding and hang out with our dogs.
And I documented all of it.
He passed away in January, while I was here in Tokyo. I feel bad that I wasn’t there in his final days but I know that during the previous six years, we made the most of our time together.
It would be easy to be sad, as family are irreplaceable. But I know that’s not what he’d want.
So, I just keep hitting the road and exploring, constantly seeking new ways to enjoy my time in this most amazing city, in this beautiful country.
I hope my students are doing the same.