Four years ago on this day, I arrived in Japan, the country I currently call home. I still remember the confusion and sheer terror I felt when arriving at Shinjuku station, seeing all of the bustling people, thinking, What am I doing here? and wanting to turn around and go straight home.
But I stayed.
It has been a roller coaster ride of firsts, of skyscraper highs and rock bottom lows. But one thing remains – my love for this country and its people (oh, and the food and kawaii culture of course, and probably most especially).
I am not the same person I was when I stepped off the plane all those years ago – how could I be? And yet, the base essence of my self, if you can call it that, has remained unchanged.
I do not think that I would have grown up so much if I had stayed in England, in my comfort zone, close to my family. The growing up I had to do could only be done 10,000 kilometres away from home.
Japan has been good for me in so many ways – particularly in my self-confidence, self-perception, and self-esteem, and this has had to do with teaching English, especially where I am now.
My students are truly wonderful, and although they sometimes infuriate me, or I get frustrated with them, I have come to realise that I have a lot of love for them. They bring me up when I’m down, make me smile when I’m sad, give me energy when I have none, and make me laugh when I need it the most. By the end of next March, it will have been a wonderful three years.
To anyone as shy as me who has had to stand up and talk in front of a lot of people, teenagers are a tough crowd – probably the toughest to please in the world. But once you have that connection, it is a wonderful thing. They really do surprise you in the most unexpected and beautiful of ways. My kids don’t even believe me when I tell them how shy I naturally am. They pooh-pooh me and say, “But you stand in front of us every day!” “But I know you!” I retort every time.
Living here creates challenges all its own but, ultimately, for me, for now, the pros far outweigh the cons, and no matter what happens in that future that always throws unexpected twists and turns our way, a part of my heart will always belong to Japan.
Well, that ended up being very sentimental. I do apologise. I may write about the “rock bottom lows” one day, when I’m ready, but for now, I’ll just stick to a list of the 12 things I love about Japan!
1) Purikura – it’s like a hobby to me and I can’t get enough of it.
2) The food is so good and they have the best snacks here.
3) Kawaii culture. Airou, Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma and all the others just put a smile on my face.
4) Arashi – the best boyband in the world.
5) I feel safe when I’m on my own, even if I’m out and about at crazy hours of the night.
6) Transportation is reliable.
7) The culture is so rich – it caters to everyone’s tastes, whether you prefer the more traditional aspects, or the more pop culture references like manga or anime.
8) Convenience stores – they’re so, well, convenient!
9) Japanese festivals are pretty awesome.
10) Japanese people are so kind and helpful.
11) Attention to detail. They will include and ice pack with your sandwich or cake to keep it fresh if you are not going to eat it right away.
12) Omiyage – These are souvenirs, usually food, that friends or colleagues bring back from trips. I love buying them for others, and love it when people bring back fun or unusual ones for me.
There are a number of other things, like 100 yen shops and so on, but I need to stop somewhere!
And here are 5 things I will never understand about Japan:
1) Chonmage (the samurai hairstyle of the olden times)
2) Natto (sticky, fermented soy beans
3) Why so many girls walk around pigeon toed.
4) How school girls can stand being outside in their skirts, bare legged, with just those loose socks to keep them warm in the middle of winter. Surely your bum would freeze, wouldn’t it?
5) How people can wear woolly hats and go to hot springs when it’s boiling hot outside.
I will leave you, now, with a few photos for your enjoyment.
Much love to all of you,