I’m sitting on my little green couch, as I do every morning, having my coffee, and feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
An overwhelming sense of gratitude for the life that I have, for every breath that I take, and for being able to have this experience of growth.
This post is part reflection, part practical update on Japan.
It’s been almost one year since I’ve come to Japan I’ve learned many, many, MANY things.
First, the practical stuff.
I’ve been learning Japanese for the last couple of months now, really taking it more seriously since last December. I wish I would had started sooner, but alas, sometimes we just aren’t ready for it. I’m supremely proud of myself for sticking with Japanese.
In the beginning, I left each class almost in tears, frustrated at the fact I couldn’t understand anything and I that I felt stupid and defeated.
Now, I leave smiling, looking forward to doing a little studying on my own and finishing my homework.
Train Systems and transportation.
Next, I’ve had to learn the train system. Thanks to google maps I can get myself most places, but I use google maps less and less, know how to ask for directions (more or less!) and even know which lines are cheaper or faster or have less transfers to get to certain destinations.
There are small things to learn like while on the elevator you always stand on the left and walk on the right. When going through the ticket gate you always make sure you have your train pass handy (I finally bought a phone case with a pocket on the back for my card!) to make sure that you don’t hold the line up, and you always make sure there’s enough money on your card. Constantly having to go to the ticket machine to add money to your card is not fun, convenient, or efficient!
I’ve also had to learn how to commute to school by bike. I was NOT accustomed to biking in all sorts of weather. Of course, this is my choice, as I could take the bus, but I find it an unnecessary expense, and I really enjoy biking to and from work. At first, I found it a nuisance, but now I find it unbelievably enjoyable. It helps me transition from my daily activities to work at night and helps me wind down after work, not to mention I usually bike shortly after I’ve had lunch, and a little bike ride helps to digest my food and makes me feel fresh.
I’m a foodie and love to cook and I’ve finally figured out where to get most products I want. Some are in big stores, such as Costco, but many are in little boutique stores sprinkled around various train stops or in Tokyo. I’ve managed to find (most) of the tastes I love, and recreate them in my tiny little oven.
Speaking of ovens (I mean – toaster oven), I’ve learned to create meals (sometimes gourmet – even for 6 people!) in a tiny kitchen, with almost no counter space and only one hot plate and a small toaster oven for an oven. I am impressed with myself and have continued to discover how passionate I am about cooking – and how much I love to entertain people!
Making an apartment a home.
I’ve thriftily outfitted my apartment through ordering online (how do you get a couch to your apartment with no car? Amazon of course!) and Daiso, the 100 yen shop (the equivalent of $1). It now feels like a home and I have just enough but not too much. I’ve refined my style and taste here, only keeping and buying what I need, nothing more. I’m proud to say I use everything I’ve bought, to utensils and clothes (mostly – there may be a couple of shirts I’m not so keen on that I thought I loved!), but have managed to keep my space tidy, clean and still homey, only with the essentials.
I’ve made friends. More than I ever thought I would. I have friends from many different countries and many different groups of friends. I have friends who we speak a lot of Japanese, and friends where it’s always English. I have friends to have dinner parties with, go to coffee, and friends to eat out with. I have friends where we have potlucks to bring women from all different nationalities together in order to support each other while living abroad.
The support I’ve received has been humbling, to say the least, as well as inspiring to give back to my own community when I return home.
Food and Soft Cream.
And of course, I’ve learned the food. I’ve discovered so many Japanese dishes that I didn’t really realize existed or didn’t know much about before I came here – some of my favorite being Nabe, Shabu Shabu, Soba, Okonomiyaki, Monjayaki, raw horse meat, and many, many, MANY different kinds of skewered meat (yakitori) and innards that often I’m still not sure what part I’m eating but I love it!
I’ve also discovered that Japan loves cakes and sweets and that everything looks beautiful – their cakes and breads are mostly fluffy, which is not my style (thankfully!), but I have fallen in love with their soft serve ice cream (It’s the next best thing to gelato – but gelato is still #1!), called soft cream here – and you can get it EVERYWHERE.
Hiking, Sports, and Extra Curricular Activities.
There is food EVERYWHERE. On a “hike” up a mountain, there is often (usually) a paved path and restaurants along the way, as well as multiple ice cream shops. Hiking and outdoor activities seem to be more of a fashion statement than a sport, and tennis is also extremely popular.
Students are BUSY here. All my students are enrolled in at least 1 club activity, if not more than one, in order to fill most of their hours after school. Some of them have already been to 3 different classes before they come to me, which is often a little challenging since their concentration is often on the downslope!
But it hasn’t always been easy…
Though I’ve discovered so many wonderful things in Japan, and I could go on and on, I have also been pushed.
I’ve been pushed by my job, by the students, by having to learn how to adapt.
I’ve been pushed by physical aches and pains and still having to go to school.
Of being alone in my apartment and incredibly homesick.
Of being sick and having no one there to take care of you.
Of finding myself home alone on a Saturday night, even with so many friends, and feeling the silence, the darkness.
I’ve been pushed by the weather here, the rainy season, typhoons, wind, and the stress of living so close to so many neighbors (noise!!).
I’ve been pushed by having to go so far out of the Tokyo/Chiba area to find the nature I crave.
I’ve been pushed by making sure that I take care of my body and find a good balance between enjoying the food and not enjoying too much.
I’ve been pushed and pulled and refined, once again.
But in the end, I’ve discovered how strong I am. I’ve discovered what’s important to me. I’m often incredibly homesick, but this is only proof to me what’s really important.
I miss my family and friends at home, my support group, my confidants. I am so thankful for the internet, where I can be a click away from all these people. Though not the same as being in person, it makes all the difference.
In short, I’ve discovered that I CAN DO HARD THINGS (and so can you!). We can all do hard things.
No matter whether I’m here in Japan or at home, there will always be challenges, but the diversity is what makes life oh so sweet and beautiful. The challenges make you appreciate the hardships. The challenges will help mold and shape you and build you into the strong human being that has always been inside of you. And this is the beauty.
Maybe this is really the big lesson of life, nothing more. We can do hard things, we are supposed to do hard things – and in the process we become beautiful, refined, and lights to the world.