Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One Year Reflection

I’ve been in Japan for almost one year now.  At this time last year, I had finished packing but I wasn’t ready to go.  In fact, I would’ve taken almost any other job if something had come up.  However, as fate would have it, no job offer magically appeared and I was on a plane to Tokyo within a few days.

Since living in Japan I’ve hit really high highs, and lows lower than anything I could have ever imagined.  I felt a whole range of emotions in the extreme – homesickness, longing, heartbreak, contentment, isolation, discontent, optimism, betrayal – and I continue to discover a new intensity to old emotions that I thought I knew, such as happiness and sadness.

I’ve spent more time alone than I ever have in my entire life. In a city that has nothing that I used to enjoy at home – such as cozy coffeeshops where one is invited to linger with good friends or a good book, lovely libraries, Fourth of July fireworks, backyard decks or front porches, impromptu day or weekend trips, accessible yet private pianos – I’ve needed to make new hobbies, quick. I’m reading more books, I’m sketching occasionally, I’m trying to pick up some French, I’m learning to cook for myself in a kitchen designed to thwart all my best intentions, and I’m continually trying to create meaningful relationships with people that I meet.

Everything has to be so planned here, so much so that it bothers me.  I generally like well-organized events but it’s become too much. The friends who speak English as a native language are so scattered that spontaneity is impractical.  Most of my Japanese friends – even those who speak terrific English – plan things beyond what seems natural to me.  If someone says that a barbeque starts at 1:00 and goes until 3:00, it is exactly that.  No one will say anything, but you are late if you get there at 1:15 instead.  It is weird if you leave before the set end time.

Re-reading that barbecue example, I see that the example might be a bit underwhelming.  But, imagine if that kind of mindset pervades all social events.  Then, there’s an enormous amount of pressure to drink on top of the punctuality issue, though some people are fairly understanding.  To top it off, I’m one of the few young, American females in the city and there is a certain pressure to behave a certain way.  Any mistakes I make will likely be translated as an assumption for all others who fit my profile.  Being unable to relax at social events is a new challenge and an unfamiliar one too. There is so much structure here and so many expectations that I feel a bit suffocated.  There’s no spontaneity in my life anymore.

I don’t regret coming to Japan, but I sincerely hope that I can return to the States after this next year.  I’ve been telling those who ask that there are only three conditions under which I’d consider staying a third year:

1. I fall head over heels in love with a man I know I’ll marry.
2. I get a transfer to Sapporo.
3. The American economy collapses.**

Thanks to the struggles of this past year, I’ve been forced to reevaluate what is important in my life and what makes me happy only to discover that there is no difference between the two.   Little things like coffeeshops and backyard decks seem trivial but they symbolize much more than coffee and barbecues.  These small things that I enjoy, I enjoy because I am with family, I am with friends, and I am being creative. 

I would like to say thank you to my friends back home who have supported me through this time, however little you think your support was, it meant the world to me.  My friend Miriam, who has been experiencing Japan with me this past year though across the country, has been more helpful than she probably even realizes.  Thanks Miriam.  I also should thanks some of the genuine friends that I've met here as well, I wouldn't be here for a second year without them. And of course, thank you to all of my family.  The Skype calls, letters, email messages, the thoughts and prayers – it only reinforces my belief that I have the most caring, supportive, and intelligent family that I could hope for. 

Je t'aime, te quiero, あなたを愛して

** A few months ago I assumed that meant I’d be going home for sure after this next year.  Now, of the three possible conditions, #3 is looking like the most possible. Even so, it would take extraordinary circumstances for me to stay a third year.  Let's hope for everyone's sake that this extraordinary circumstance doesn't materialize.**


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  2. Kim! With your birthday approaching this coming Sunday you have been in my thoughts lately! I think of you often, even though I don't always get around to passing the greeting along. As you know, we all miss you and I look forward to the day that I hear you are coming home! I enjoy reading your blog and I'm always impressed with your writing style. Keep up the good work! If you are ever wanting to feel "crafty" or feel inspired, check out craftgawker.com or pinterest.com I love both sites!