Friday, 29 May 2015

The Japan Files ~ Life Lessons

So, I've just crossed the 18 month marker for my duration in Japan and as with all of my experiences, I often take a moment to evaluate myself and how far or otherwise I have managed to come. It isn't always apparent but some experiences have a way of changing people, whether it amplifies already present qualities, eradicates them or creates different ones all together. It'll be interesting when I visit home later on this year to see how the people closest to me reckon I've changed, but for the time being, all I can do is take a good look at myself and decide what Japan has done for me, or done to me.

"I like knowledge"

History. Culture. Language. Society. While all of these things have always been accessible, with social-networking so prevalent, I can access these at the click of a button. If someone says a word I don't know, rather than asking them to explain, I can quickly Google away and find out something for myself. At night, after a hard day's grind, it isn't uncommon for me to cycle through
Odawara Castle ~ One of the first
places I visited when I arrived.
my news feed and line up a bunch of articles that other people have shared so that I can read them in succession. I find myself following interesting discussions or watching short films and documentaries on Youtube. Sometimes, if the fancy takes me, I'll find myself looking up random Japanese sentence structures to make sense of how its used. I often ask friends and acquaintances their opinions on matters of interest just to strike up interesting conversation. And after all of that, I might even end up forgetting but it won't stop me from looking things up again.

"I am not trusting"

This isn't a particularly new issue. Growing up, I had a hard time trusting people around the real me so I put on a mask and behaved neutrally. I only showed my true self to the small selection of friends that I trusted. Since I've grown, I'm more openly myself but I still don't trust people easily and since coming to Japan, I believe this has exploded exponentially. Japan is a society where people are not particularly open and honest about their thoughts and opinions. As a result, it's often difficult to guess who is genuine. I now prefer to take my time when getting to know new people. After all, it isn't uncommon to meet someone on one occasion and never hear from them again here. I don't like to feel like my time has been wasted so if I can keep them at a distance for a while, that is satisfying to me.

"I am worldly"

Japan is a homogeneous nation. So it's not unusual to be met with both suspicion and wonder. But based on the, at times, misinformed opinions of my hosts, I must say that growing up in London has made me very culturally aware. I've taught lessons and had students tell me that they despised Islam when what they should have said was that they disliked ISIS, the Islamic terrorist group. In some minds, there is no differentiation between the two. I've heard of cases where people have said they dislike the Chinese without having ever been to China or come into contact with Chinese people. I can freely form an opinion on my own personal experiences or even hazard a guess about a situation that I might not know about but in Japan, things are fairly regimented. And while I reckon there probably has been a shift in the last decade or so, it has been said that people are taught what to think here. There is only a right way and a wrong way. There is no grey area.

"I am not forgiving"

Growing up, I believed in second chances. I gave nearly all of my previous relationships a second chance and on each occasion, it just didn't work out. I forgave acquaintances and tried to start anew. I took a lot of crap and let people walk all over me; I'm still not except from the latter. But I think I have become even less forgiving over time. They say one of the greatest virtues is forgiveness but I think that because I've been let down of various occasions, I've now developed a "one strike and you're out" rule. And it could be anything as small as lending money, or wronging me at the post office. I don't like lending (or borrowing) money anyway, and I will file a complaint (yes, I've become one of those people). As a sign of my resilience, if the issue was particularly bad, I will reduce or cut off all contact altogether. No drama. No problem.

"I am self-sufficient"

Even though I have lived alone before, technically it wasn't really alone. I was at university, living in shared facilities with other people. And while I may have had my own space and my own responsibilities, something was always shared. When I arrived in Japan, my previous company set me up with house and home and provided me with a loan (which I repaid in full) to get me started. In my latest accommodation, while I had much help finding it, I pretty much fit the bill myself. I paid for the moving costs out of my own pocket. I've furnished it and I fit all the bills. I manage my money so that I'm able to save a little and play a little each month. I feel positively comfortable in both my living situation and day-to-day life.

"I am not patient"

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but in Japan, people are punctual here. And they don't arrive on time; they arrive well before. During my first job, it was expected that I arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of my first lesson. In my current job, I arrive at least an hour early to prepare the lessons for the day. This has crossed over into my every day life. Whenever I meet friends or head to an event, I plan out my journey with Hyperdia and specify that time that my train will arrive. So when people are late, it really winds me up. An old friend of mine once said to me "what right do I have to waste someone else's time". I didn't really pay it much mind then, but I understand it completely now. I also understand that sometimes being late can't be helped (even I am late on occasion), but the selfish side of me wonders why those who are chronically late can't get with the picture.

"I am not maternal"

You would think that working with predominantly children for one year and then again sporadically for the time after that, that I'd be pretty well versed in children. And sure, I know
Is it weird that this does nothing for me?
what kids are like. They can be very good and they can be very. But I've realised recently that while the idea of having kids is still very much on the table, I am not particularly maternal. If a child is crying, I find the act of comforting them a little bit uncomfortable (but maybe it's because they are not my own). Younger children are often particularly difficult for me because nine times out of ten, they'd rather be doing what they want to do. I haven't quite figured out how to engage younger children because while they are children, they are still people who think and behave differently to one another. So while one kid may enjoy colouring, another kid might prefer something a little more active. And above all, I think I've grown to dislike pandering to children. I haven't forgotten that six-year-old girl who used to bawl when she lost at something but I'm still of the mentality that kids need to suck it up.

"I still have a lot to learn"

I had a look at the 4 stages of culture shock that foreigners are said to face when they move to another country and while I'm aware that I'm a long way off from the final stage (mastery), I think that I have days where I'm either in the Negotiation phase or in the Adjustment phase. Certainly, there are aspect of Japan that I find positively frustrating but on other days, I can't help but think how easy it feels to live here. And because this culture is not my own, I'm always going to come across something that is completely new to me. That's why I feel that I still have a lot to discover - both about Japan and myself. Because after all, nobody stops learning once they reach adulthood. And while I like to think that I'm very self-aware, I'm sure there are aspect of myself that I've yet to uncover or that might even change over time. And as a result, I'm looking forward to it.

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