The general question / assumption that I get from people as I draw closer to Japan is that I must be excited. But for the longest time, I felt the most ominous sense of calm and neutrality that would make anyone question whether I genuinely want to go to Japan. And believe me, I do. I’ve been wanting to go for many years and to finally have a shot at both going there and starting on a potential career path is simply awesome. In fact, exactly one month from today, I will be getting on that plane but the excitement still hasn’t fully set it yet. And further still, there will be a lot of things that won’t be easily accessible to me and a lot of things that I will have to get used to – whether I find them easy to adjust to or not. And of course, sometimes there will be those moments when I’m sitting alone and that sense of aloneness will make me consider what I’ve actually left behind.
The fact that I was born in London and that I grew up here means that I am very much aware of how to get by. Simple things such as buying something at the supermarket, travelling to another part of the UK or sending mail via the post office are extremely easy for me to do but doing such things in Japan where I’m not fully aware of the practises, nor do I have a common language, are going to seem ten times harder for me. Other typical things such as navigating my way around or ordering take away over the phone are going to be extremely trying and probably frustrating as well. It was only by chance, when I was drinking a bottle of Lucozade while queuing up to pay for it with a Japanese friend of mine, that I found out that opening any item of food or drink before actually paying for it in Japan would get me in serious trouble, whereas in the UK, as long as one has the intention to pay for it, this isn’t the case. I’m going to have to adapt to a completely new set of rules and methods for doing things. My little conveniences will be next to no more.
In London, I live in a pretty good place. I have a large park about two minutes from my front door and this place is great for those keen on exercise as well as the odd festival or fun fair. Five minutes from my house, I have shops and take away establishments for my every day (or once in a while essentials). There is a bus stop not a minute away and I have easy access to both the underground and the overhead trains. If I travel into Central London for a night out on the town, I find it incredibly easy to get home at four o clock in the morning. In fact, I can travel just about anywhere from my location and Google Maps has been so good to me. As I’m still not aware of where I will be living for the next year or so, I have no idea whether my living space will be as good as the house I grew up in. I will certainly miss it and all the benefits that come with it.
Everybody has a favourite food and while I’ve gone through my share of weaknesses (which might still actually be weaknesses) e.g. chocolate, there are quite a few things that I know that the Japanese simply won’t have. In fact, I’m going to have to find new goodies when I’m over there and say goodbye to all my luxuries. For example, I’m actually a great lover of cheese – especially when melted – but I know that it’s very difficult to find in Japan so I’m pretty much getting my cheese fix in the next month so that I can prepare myself to give it up. Other goodies like Ribena – my childhood fixation – and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes – which are truly truly addictive – will have to go on the scrap heap, because I doubt I’ll come across them in Japan and as with other food that I’m used to, I’m sure it’s not gonna taste exactly like home (unless it’s imported that is). This is not that big of a deal however - it’s not like I’m saying goodbye to food in general - but I don’t doubt that I won’t miss a great steaming heap of Mexican chicken in a brioche bun once in a while.
As I’ve mentioned previously, London is a multi-cultural hot pot. There isn’t a race or culture or type of person that doesn’t exist here and even if they don’t, if they were to enter into the UK ad introduce their culture to the city, I doubt people would bat an eyelid much as it’s all been done before. I’m a third generation West Indian. Both my parents were born in the UK while my grandparents immigrated here in the sixties. I’m no one special. People don’t pay me any mind, but in Japan, I’m going to stand out ridiculously. I’m a woman and by British standards, I’m average but by Japanese standards, I’m huge. I’m also black and we make up around 5% of the population in the UK but have had enough presence to warrant a sense of normality. In Japan, the amount of black people or non-Japanese is very small meaning that I won’t be able to blend in at all. I’ll be a constant abnormal presence in Japan and I know I’ll be stared at to the point of irritation. I’ll miss not be able to fade into the background.
In the same way that all my favourite foods will be left behind, so will all the products I’m accustomed to using. As a woman, I have my regime. I’m not overly feminine but I’m aware of what works for me and I like to stick to what I know. It’s therefore unfortunate for me that Japan doesn’t have any of the products that I use or that are necessities to me. I’ve heard a rumour that Japanese deodorant is weaker than the western variants and that a lot of Japanese toothpastes don’t contain fluoride (please feel free to confirm or dispute this as I’m not in the know). The fact that I won’t be able to access such products with ease any more did have me concerned for a while until I found a website from the UK that does actually deliver every single one of my items overseas. Naturally however, this will probably cost a fortune and so while I hope I’ll be able to find some products in Japan that might agree with me, I’m still leaning towards what I already know.
It’s no secret that the Japanese are on the English flex in a similar fashion to most non-English speaking countries around the world. I have heard that if a Japanese person can speak English (and if they’re confident enough), they will use the opportunity to converse with English natives which is pretty useful for us foreigners. However, just because there are some that can speak English, it doesn’t mean that this is the case for everyone or everywhere. The news will be in Japanese, newspapers will be in Japanese, signs will be in Japanese…etc, because low and behold, I will be living in Japan. This means that I’m not going to be understood all the time and that even speaking to Japanese people who can speak English will be, on occasion, fraught with difficulties. And while I know that I shouldn’t expect English speaking to be an everyday occurrence and nor should I simply give up in my conquest to learn Japanese, there will be times when I’ll simply desire to switch off my brain and have a typical conversation in English with no problems or misunderstandings whatsoever.
I’m not the kind of person that seeks to have many friends. In fact, I’ve brushed shoulders with a lot of people in my life but there are very few that I consider my friend and fewer people still who I trust with myself. In all honesty, as bad as it might be to say, I find it incredibly easy to cut people off if I feel like there’d be no benefit to keeping in contact with them. Additionally, however, I can often go long periods of time without contact with others – even my closest friends – but despite this I still value their friendship. I have odd relationships with people and choose what I share with people and what I don’t share with others but I will miss the relationships I’ve struck up with them. I will miss going out to dance the night away or rolling on the floor laughing until my sides split. I will miss sharing a meal at TGI Fridays or having a diplomatic conversation with those of my friends who are likeminded. And even though I know that some of my friendships will transcend time, I will miss the measured proximity I’ll have had with them when I’m halfway across the world
I’ve talked about my family on my blog before and how I don’t generally feel that close to them and while in some cases, this does still stand, I think it’s only recently that I’ve realised that despite our differences, I’m going to miss my family most of all. I’ve stated up to this point that I haven’t actually felt any other emotion about my moving abroad besides neutrality, but I was actually met with a bout of sadness not too long ago and it didn’t actually hit me until my mother’s birthday party. All my family were around me. When I unveiled my flight date, there was a still sense of (what I now believe might have been) sadness from them that I initially mistook for coldness but then as everybody began to enjoy themselves and I started mingling, I realised that I was getting homesick and I hadn’t actually left my living room. As a gift to my mother, I got a professional photo of us done together and even looking at it hanging up on the wall makes me relive those feelings even more. But fortunate, I’ve been told by others who have upped and left that this is normal so I don’t feel completely bad for it. But I will miss them because despite our lack of togetherness and the occasions when they’ve driven me insane, because they’ve always been there for me. And even though I won’t be able to physically reach out and touch them, they will continue to be there for me still.
So yes, I have slandered London and there are quite a few things that are ugly about this place, but it’s my city and it’s in this city that I’ve lived my life up until this moment. And even though I know it’s not forever, I’ve never taken quite as big a step as I will be taking next month. So I will miss it terribly. But I’ll definitely be back some day. And hopefully with a string of adventures, teaching experience and life experience under my belt.