As I sat down to write my previous post about the constant wonder of living in Japan, I was reminded of an article I read on Sushicam.com more than a year and a half ago. I took particular note of the article at the time, bookmarking it and promising to share it when I felt the time was right. But somehow it got lost and forgotten…until just this morning.
I’m often asked what it is exactly that I love so much about this place. It’s a hard thing to describe, really. But I think SushiJeff does an excellent job – so for the curious, here’s the opinion of one long-term Gaijin in Japan, about just why this place does feel so special.
As my seven year anniversary of arriving in Japan approaches, I feel that I need to share something with all of you out there. It’s not really a secret, especially to all you long time Sushicam readers. No late hour confessions made after a bottle and a half of sake or anything, but nonetheless, I feel that I need to let the new readers know how I feel about a certain subject. Something that a lot of foreigners here in Japan seem to be afraid to admit, much less talk about.
So, I have decided to “come out of the closet” as it were, in hopes that my own admissions could somehow help others.
OK, here it is. (big breath)
I LOVE this place.
I really do love it.
I am not ashamed to say that I am an unabashed Japanophile.
There seems to be a lot of foreigners who live here in Japan that do nothing but bitch about this place. Call it getting jaded after a certain amount of time, or homesickness. For whatever reason, it seems the “in thing” for foreigners to do after being here for a couple of years is to complain.
I’m not painting all foreigners with the same broad brush, from time to time I do meet someone who shares my sense of wonder and enthusiasm for Japan, but sadly, this seems to be more the exception than the rule. And in their complaints about Japan, some things I commonly hear are, “this isn’t like back home”, or “where I’m from we do it like this”.
Wake up people!
The whole reason to come to a place so far removed from your home is BECAUSE IT IS DIFFERENT!
Otherwise, why would anyone in their right mind voluntarily wedge themselves into an iron maiden “airline seat” specifically constructed for humans built to 2/3rds scale in order to get here if it were just like home?
For the vast majority of us transplants, we came here by choice. For some reason in our past we all had a reason for first coming here. For most it was for a job, for some it was for love, and for others, it was the search for the perfect bowl of ramen (which I have found by the way).
Upon our arrival, and after prying ourselves out of our airline seat and re-establishing circulation to our lower extremities, we set out on our grand adventure. (But only after going to the bathroom at the airport and learning all about the horror that is a squatter toilet after a long international flight)
And almost unanymously we were all smitten by this place. But for whatever reason, the honeymoon was over much earlier for some than others. And I am sure that most would be unable to pin down the particular morning when they woke up and it felt like the adventure was over, but at some point the luster was gone. It no longer felt like a vacation, and was instead mundane.
Maybe it was some time-hogging job that was sucking the joy out of their existence, or the love they come here for had suddenly soured. But even with that, there are still plenty of reasons to enjoy this place, and some can be quite simple. Get a new job, find a new love.
But in all fairness I think that the true path to happiness in a foreign land is to never loose those “gaijin eyes”. It can be as simple a walking a different route to the train station in the morning. You would be absolutely amazed at how much more you notice when you are in a new place. A side street one block from your apartment can become a mini-vacation, and you never know when you may run into a great yakitori place… If you just make a point of continually presenting yourself with new situations, that sense of wonder and exploration will not be extinguished. And any new situation will do, be it going to new places, meeting new people, or getting to know more about those that you thought you already knew so well.
I love the fact that I still don’t “have it all figured out”. I just keep peeling back layer after layer of the giant onion that is Japan, and each deeper layer makes me even more interested to see what lies beneath the next. To me this place is an adventure. It is frustrating, it is exciting, it is humbling, it is sobering, it is all kinds of other words that end with “ing” that I can’t really think of at the moment… But most of all, it is a place so far removed from my hometown, but nonetheless, it has become my home.
Never be afraid to get a little turned around, try something new, or get a little lost. You never know what you may end up finding. That best yakitori shop could be just around the next corner. But if you are really lucky, you just may end up finding the most valuable thing of all.
So here’s to my first seven years in Japan. (Jeff cracks open an Asahi Super Dry…raises it in salute to all you faithful readers out there, takes a sip, and smiles) I have no doubt whatsoever that the next seven will be even better than the first. Kanpaii, ne.