I used to try to wear my pop’s shoes.

They were always too big and wide, and worn thin in places, but they looked like good shoes, the kind you could walk all day in and your feet would never hurt. I’d slip ‘em on and clump the dog for a walk. I couldn’t run in them, or even walk well, but it seemed easier and more fun to slip his on, than first, to find mine, then unlace them, re-lace them on my feet, and go.

In my own shoes, I have gone a lot of places and seen a lot of things and tried my share of new experiences. It might be interesting to keep a closet of my old shoes. On the left the little Velcro Kangaroos that I wore when I got my first hit in baseball, a soaring double that one hopped to the fence. Above them, the penny loafers — with the penny still tucked into the tongue — that I wore when I got saved, kneeling on a velvet cushion and red-faced before a forgiving Jesus. And the worn-out tennis shoes that I got my first kiss in. We were sitting in my car outside her house and I nearly stepped on the gas in the middle of the kiss I was so nervous. On other shelves, my Europe tramping sneaks, and the shoes I wore the first time I discovered golfing was different than the boring game on TV, and the black suede shoes I wore in my sister’s wedding — on second thought, I might need more than one closet.

For Japan I bought five new pairs of shoes. I didn’t really want to; it seemed excessive, and even a little womanish. However, custom dictated in and outdoor shoes and I would visit eight different schools on a regular basis, so leaving a pair of shoes at the school seemed a lot easier than toting a pair in my bag every day. Of them all, I don’t know which ones I would want to save for my closet.

Japan has been one long search for the right pair. Shoes aren’t something I normally think about. And yet, if I am wearing the wrong pair of shoes it’s all I can think about. Back at home I always knew who I was, knew what I wanted, knew what shoes to wear to get there. The longer I stay in Japan, the harder is becomes, and not just because they don’t have size 32.

Some foreigners come to Japan and know right away that they do not like the place. Or rather, they do not like Japan as much as they like home. These sort of people feel homesick right away and it never really changes. These sort of people see Japan as it is and much prefer what has always worked for them. These kind of people are momma’s boys (and girls); they much prefer living in a small town where they know everybody’s name and how much a Pepsi costs at the local gas stand. It’s a peaceful life and a simple life and a rich life filled with knowing your neighbor will help you plant the corn during the day so later you can sit on the porch swing with your wife and watch the sun go down. I wish more people were like them.

Other foreigners come to Japan and they love every minute. They wish JET lasted longer. These kind of people never really felt at home back home. Maybe they were always a bit skeptical about the ideas and actions of those around them. Maybe they couldn’t wait to get away from it all. These kind of people sleep on a futon even though they have a bed, they choose not to visit McDonald’s — ever — they study Japanese because they like it and want to understand more, and they rave about the trains as though train travel is infinitely better than pumping the stereo in their own car with the window down and wind blowing through their hair and nothing but miles of empty road ahead. I think a small part of me wishes I was one of these people. They find something in Japan I just am not able to find no matter how much rooting around I do.

The in-betweens are not nearly so definable, but I fall into this category. I am a great thinker. I like to think about life and what everything means and how I fit in the bigger picture. I can see Japan as it is and often try to fit in and have many good months. But something goes wrong and I get frustrated and I start thinking. I notice all the ways I have changed since I came here. I have been around the Japanese so long that I am adopting many of their characteristics. I say excuse me when someone else bumps into me and I say good morning to everybody I see and I would get mad if my sister or parents trampled into my house with their shoes still on. I blow my nose where people can’t see me and I feel bad that my Japanese hasn’t progressed to the point where I understand everything and I try awfully hard not to honk my horn at bad Japanese drivers. And I don’t do these things out of the respect of the country I am living in, but because I have begun to think this is the way I am supposed to act.

But I’m not Japanese, never will be, don’t want to be.

When I know I am going to be walking all day, maybe it’s an antique festival or the state fair or a day at the mall during Christmas time when I get up early just so I know I will have enough time to see it all, it’s not difficult to pick a pair of shoes to wear. I choose my comfortable shoes so my feet won’t hurt.

In ways, my life is a walking day. And wearing Japanese shoes just won’t cut it, but I realize that’s what I’ve been trying to wear. It is at moments like these that I understand I haven’t been me for a really long time.

I am entering my third year with mixed feelings. I know there will be good moments and I know there will be bad moments and I am filled with fear and elation in equal measures. Maybe I am staying because I am putting off wearing more mature shoes, maybe I am staying because I don’t want to say I couldn’t fit into these shoes, maybe I am staying because I am still hoping to find the right pair of shoes.

I think that’s all culture shock is; it’s us trying to wear shoes. Most of the time the shoe just needs breaking in, a good wet walk in the rain to loosen up, or a day or two to let the fabric mold to our feet. But sometimes, the shoes we try on just don’t quite fit and we shouldn’t try to force it. And maybe, if we’re lucky, some years down the road after we have a collection of shoes, we’ll have a good story to tell about a certain pair of dusty brown shoes on one of the shelves.

© Seth Crossman