I haven’t updated this in a while. I’ve just been living my life, getting older, feeling silly about putting private thoughts online for anyone to see. I’m turning 29 next month. I originally created this blog when I came to Japan to talk about Japan and process my experience. It has been five years now, and while I have gotten used to it, living in this country is still something I have to process and try to understand every day.
I’m missing people and missing periods of time. I miss Boulder and college. I miss Whole Foods and the educated hippies of Boulder. I miss having easy access to vegetarian food whenever I want. I miss Chicagoland. I miss the time I went to the Taste of Chicago by myself and saw My Morning Jacket. I miss the people who were there when I acquired that King Crimson jacket. I miss all the cool people I’ve ever known.
I’ve been following the Black Lives Matter movement and have mostly been at a loss for words. Although a new case of police brutality comes up every other day it seems, I haven’t become numb to it and feel shocked and saddened by each one. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video of Alton Sterling’s murder.
My primary connection to friends in the U.S. is Facebook, and judging by Facebook, people are really angry. Strong lines are being drawn, and you’re either on this side or that one. It’s different in Japan where people are mostly apathetic. Issues of race are not at the forefront of everyday life. My coworkers occasionally talk to me about U.S. news, like the presidential election, but no one has brought up Black Lives Matter. I wonder if they know or care. It’s on my mind a lot. I want to talk about it to my students, but it’s tricky delivering that kind of message to a beginner level English class. Maybe some day I’ll find a way to work these things in.
Speaking of work, I’m enjoying my job. I’m teaching at a private girls’ high school in Tokyo. My school has an “international track” for students who want to focus on learning English and want to study abroad. I do homeroom every morning and afternoon with the first graders (freshmen as we would call it). My students are smart and funny and delightful. I enjoy teaching only girls and think there is something special about that. Sometimes they tell me I’m beautiful because my skin is so white. There is an overt belief that white=beautiful here, which is awkward as an American who grew up with a very different belief system about race and skin color.
It’s the middle of summer and deathly hot. I walk outside and immediately start sweating. I come home and peel off wet clothes. That’s just summer in sticky humid Tokyo. I have been tired every day and got a head ache today. I realized I must be dehydrated and need to be more careful.
I’m studying Japanese every day. I took the N3 (intermediate level) JLPT, which I am sure I failed. I think I can pass next time in December. Then maybe it will finally be time to start grad school? I want to study TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) and teach at a Japanese university some day. Maybe. I think so anyway.
My husband and I are going to Iceland next month. I guess I have a thing for small, isolated island countries?? We’re driving around the Ring Road, which goes all along the outer edge of the country, for eight days. I just hope nothing goes wrong, like our car gets stuck or something. We’ve been waiting and waiting for this for months and have invested a lot of money and time researching and preparing. Living in Tokyo, I am just ready for wide open spaces and fresh air.
My husband and I are enjoying the DINK + fat spoiled cat lifestyle. At almost 29, I feel like I am too young to have kids. I think I’ll be 80 and still think I am too young to have kids and be too busy enjoying my life as it is. That’s natural for some people, and that’s okay.
That’s really it. I’m trying to live a calm and quiet life and feel at peace without getting too bored. I’m the only foreign person at my work, so I have a lot of time to myself to think. Tokyo people are kind of stand-offish, which works for me. However, there are times when I miss the passion and friendliness of Americans and my friends back there. Sometimes I think it’s so funny how things turned out, how I’m living here with my Japanese husband, trying to learn this alien language, trying to live a regular life as this American in a sea of Japanese people. At the same time, it feels like the most natural thing in the world.
I’m mostly just waiting for Pokemon Go to be released here. Why is it taking so long?
To wrap things up, here is a picture of a cat who avoided the rain:
I’ve talked with Japanese people in Japan about the United States countless times. They usually have a general idea what it’s like. The portions are bigger. The people are bigger. They’re friendly. They like McDonald’s. They drive cars. I myself had a much fuller image, having spent most of my life in this country. But as time passed by and I became more and more accustomed to Japanese life, what the U.S. is really like drifted slowly out of awareness. What I came back to, after 2.5 years, is much different than I had imagined.
Granted, I moved to LA, a city I never lived in before and only visited once briefly. This is different from the Chicago suburb where I grew up or Colorado where I went to college. It’s a huge American city representing many demographics. It’s fascinating.
So far, the most interesting thing about living here is the social pleasantries. People say “merry christmas” and “happy holidays” to whoever. They say “bless you” to total strangers. In Japan you just don’t do that. If you do talk to someone you don’t know, like a cashier, they will talk to you in the most polite Japanese possible, and you will probably say next to nothing besides thank you. In Japan, I got used to being unable to talk freely to the people around me, not just because of my poor Japanese but because of the social etiquette. Here I am with cashiers telling me, “Wow, I like your bag! Where did you get it?” It’s so bizarre.
Anyway, I knew that my perception of the U.S. would change when I returned. But one thing I didn’t anticipate is that people perceive me differently than I perceive myself. Because of the way I look and my midwestern accent, people assume I feel comfortable here. Nope! I don’t. This country is weird. Sometimes the friendliness is just too much. If we are all free to talk to each other any time, it’s like there is no barrier between myself and the people around me. Besides, I haven’t made smalltalk in English with strangers in 2.5 years. I don’t remember how to do it.
I’m totally out of my element. I heard this woman shout “stop it” at her kid in public because he was misbehaving. In Japan, she would just shush him and try not to disturb the people around her. The woman just made the situation awkward for everyone by being loud. I don’t get it. I mean, I get it, but I don’t.
Basically, I feel like a foreigner in my own country. I knew I would feel this way, but other people don’t see me as a foreigner, and that’s what is weirdest of all. In Japan, people would treat me like an alien (“Wow!! You can use chopsticks?!”). In the U.S., they treat me like I’m one of them (“Enjoy your holidays!”). But I don’t feel like an American anymore.
I am an American. I know that. I was born and raised here. But I’m a different kind of American than I was before. Diversity is a big part of American culture, and with my experience and understanding of Japanese culture, I can add to that diversity. That is a valuable contribution. But a lot of foreign people come to this country, especially a big city like LA, and feel like outsiders. As a former insider, now I know what it’s like to be on the outside, too.
I’m leaving Japan in December to go to graduate school in LA. I’ll be pursuing my life-long dream of becoming a counselor. It’s a dream that I’ve always been certain of above all else, but living in Japan has challenged even that. Moving back to the U.S. was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make (plus, I have to temporarily do long-distance with my fiance, which I’m sure will be one of the toughest things I’ll ever have to do). I’ve really been going back and forth on this even after I applied to school, after I gave notice at my job, and after I bought my one-way plane ticket.
My worldview has, of course, changed so much living in Japan these last 2.5 years. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while, but I couldn’t figure out how to sum up my experience. Basically it’s like, before I left the U.S., I was looking at a painting of the world. And when I came to Japan, I realized I had just been looking at a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and here was this other piece which showed a whole different aspect of a much bigger picture. Before coming here, I could understand that other countries were different (duh!), but I couldn’t understand how different reality seems when looking through another cultural lens.
Japan is the opposite of the U.S. in basically every aspect. What I consider good about Japan is that most people are middle class, most people aren’t religious, people don’t fear for their safety when they leave their homes, it’s almost impossible to get fired or laid off, there’s universal healthcare, and the train is always on time. What I’d say is bad is that the population is homogenous, the net immigration rate is almost zero, gender roles are more traditional, and people are expected to find a job while they are in college and, upon graduating, work at that job presumably forever. In the U.S., you have the good: diversity, lots of immigrants, feminism, job mobility and the bad: small middle class, extreme right Christians, violence, lack of job stability, healthcare only for some, and poor public transportation.
My fiance said to me, when we were discussing where we wanted to live, “We can’t have everything.” I think that sums up what I’ve learned from living in another country. My country has greater social freedom, but it’s hard to make a living. Japan has strict social norms, but an excellent quality of life. Each country has what the other doesn’t. And that’s why it was such a hard decision to go back, because there’s no clear cut feeling anymore that my country is the only place for me to call home. The picture has expanded, and I realize that there are countless ways to go about living, beyond what I could have ever possibly imagined before I came here. I’m grateful, and humbled.
But anyway, I’m going back, at least for a while. I’ve got to follow my dream no matter what, and LA seems like the best place for grad school. My Japanese isn’t good enough to go to school here in Japan, and my fiance wants to quit his job anyway. After I graduate, who knows. Maybe we’ll stay there, or maybe we will follow our hearts to some other far-off land.
It’s getting hard to continue the updates because this isn’t so much a Japanese adventure as much as I just live in Japan now. How did that happen? Life! Let me bring you up to speed. I went to the Site of Reversible Destiny, which is basically like an abstract philosophical architecture art playground, with my boyfriend and friend. On the same day, we saved a kitten from getting hit by a car. It was a tiny baby, and it was wandering onto a busy street like an idiot. But we saved it.
I saw some arts.
I rode on a train that was totally empty. That in itself is not exciting, but I thought it made for a nice photograph.
I went to a Japanese garden in Suidobashi.
I saw just absolutely the weirdest thing. I was at a park in Kichijoji, and I looked over and there was this thing. The weird part was that it wasn’t part of a festival or some kind of performance. It was just kind of there.
And now, the holiday season has come to Japan.
Now I am living in a new apartment and teaching at a different school. I am totally happy and have made some great new friends recently. I promise to update more in the future (but I’m lying).
I have been on vacation for the last week. It turns out I am really good at relaxing, possibly even better at relaxing than I am at working. I took my boyfriend to this little vegetarian place in Tokyo and introduced him to the splendors of falafel (not a well-known food in Japan). He was really into it/basically made out with it.
At a separate location, I ate ice cream out of a pumpkin, which was as delightful as it sounds.
My friends and I went to a sumo match. It was my first time, and I just couldn’t believe it. It was a totally unique experience. There is so much ritual involved that it just feels like you’re being transported back in time. There are several rounds, each of which only lasts a few seconds. In between matches, they throw salt in the air, stomp around, and slap their bodies in an effort to be intimidating. The excitement builds until finally they run at each other, and then there is a struggle and it’s all over in a few seconds. I don’t like sports at all, but I can totally get behind this sport.
Outside and around the stadium, we could see the wrestlers just walking around wearing robes. The weirdest thing for me was seeing foreign wrestlers. The top wrestler is, in fact, Mongolian. But I know that sumo is also spreading around the world and is not exclusively Japanese anymore. Anyway, it was really cool. I have to go back and see another match next time.
This is my first update in a little while. My life is drastically different now than it was two or three months ago. I actually feel like a totally different person now. I’m sure that is the natural way of things when you are young and living as a foreigner abroad. Life takes its course and you naturally evolve into a new being. How wonderful and strange. My plans for the future have totally changed. I’m not sure when I’ll be back to the U.S. Japan has changed my outlook, my lifestyle, even what I love and don’t love in other people. There are different people in my life now than before. Some people who I thought would always be there are now totally gone, while new and much different kinds of people have cropped up in their place. I had my 25th birthday, which I celebrated by hiking in Nikko. Following are pictures from my Obon holiday, including Mt. Takao, Nikko, and more.
I’m not really sure now what the future holds for me, but I’m just so excited and so ready.
The Kanamara Matsuri (Fertility Festival) is held every year on the first Sunday of April in Kawasaki. The origins seem pretty dynamic, ranging from protection against STD’s to marriage harmony to helping couples have children. What better way to celebrate these things than with a giant, disembodied phallus shrine? The crowd at this festival held the most foreigners I had ever seen in Japan. Everyone was giddy and delighted–buying penis candy, dressed as transvestites (a rare site in Japan), walking around half-naked, etc. It was . . . beautiful. The only disappointing aspect was how rude and obnoxious some of the foreigners were, giving the rest of us a bad name.
After the festival, we went to Yoyogi Park where the cherry blossoms have begun to bloom and the greasers are in full swing.
One guy had a large back tattoo, which is rare in Japan and which you can’t show off just anywhere. But I guess that was kind of set off by the innocent fun of greasers dancing in the park.
This day really brought to mind the naive and innocent side of Japan. Throngs of people laughing and following a giant penis down the street, full-grown men dancing to an ancient form of American rock and roll, twenty-somethings gathered in the park with their friends to look at flowers . . . sigh. Never change, Japan.