I’ve been doing a lot of scribbling of notes lately, and thought it was high time for an update. I neglected the blog a bit recently due to becoming very busy with a variety of things! But it’s time we caught up. I won’t put everything I’ve been writing into this post because it would become a novel, but to recap:
I have a little over a month left here. I can’t bring myself to say “my last month” because I know this won’t be my last month here. I know I have to return to the states after my internship for evaluations and paperwork (plus, it’ll be the holidays), and I can’t change that. But I have a ticket back on January 4th. I’ve had it since the day my “return flight” was booked. I didn’t anticipate using it initially, but with every day that passes, I feel more and more as though
this is the place where I should be.
Of course, with that statement comes many questions: Where will I live? Where will I work? Can I make enough money to support myself and pay student loans? What will I achieve by moving here? Why Japan? How do I know I won’t love some other place just as much?
Research (which I’ve been doing a lot of these last few months) only reveals so much; many jobs I’d be able to apply for in the states I can’t apply for here because I’m not fluent in Japanese, and that’s a requirement for many positions. I might be otherwise capable, but the language barrier does present a challenge. I’ve had the opportunity through my current job to meet and speak with a wide variety of people in very different industries. There are so many interesting potential careers out there. How do I choose? I’ve always thought I knew pretty well what I wanted to do.
I’ve never really considered teaching as an option until recently. I know I don’t have the patience to wrangle adolescents, and I lack the confidence to teach adults. But I’ve been around small children a lot lately (at festivals, at the zoo, etc.). This might sound silly, but little Japanese kids are disgustingly adorable. They’ve also been the only people who unabashedly look at me or ask me questions. Their innocence and genuine manner makes me melt. I had a little boy come up to me at the embassy event and ask me (in Japanese) if I knew where “the circus clowns with the funny blue makeup on their eyes” were. I was amazed. Of all the people to ask, why me? He didn’t seem at all concerned to come up and question me, despite me being a foreign stranger. I felt so happy! When I heard a tiny girl exclaiming to her Mother on Odaiba: “that dog is cute, huh?!” I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face (though I tried).
It’s moments like that which have lead me to start researching children’s teaching jobs. I’ve also had the chance to speak to people with teaching experience. The responses have typically been: it’s great. The kids are young, but interested and enthusiastic (as long as you are).
But why Japan? Why not another country? How do I know I won’t love somewhere else? What if I love Europe, or find Australia interesting? How do I know? I guess I don’t. Does anyone?
What I do know is that there are a huge number of things I love about this country. I love how easily reachable everything is; how I can sleep on the train and nobody looks twice. When I can’t sleep and it’s 3AM I can go for a walk in my neighborhood and feel safe. Every person I meet has a new, interesting experience that is uniquely theirs. People are, for the most part, polite. I can find just about any food I could possibly want (and even some food I don’t!).
This isn’t to say that Japan doesn’t have its problems. There are things I dislike, but every country has its issues. I’m poor with Kanji. Problems with the economy, a declining birth rate (and rising elderly population), and troubles with the public education system are just a few examples of very real issues. It’s easy for me to overlook those things right now just because I want to stay here so badly. These are all issues that can affect my future should I choose to remain. But there are going to be issues in any country. Why not stay in a place where I feel safe and happy? Why leave? This place feels like home.
When I told someone recently that I feel like I “fit” here, the reply I got was: “Why? You don’t look like anyone. Don’t the stares bother you? This is so unlike home.” It’s more than just looking the same to fit in. It’s a feeling – that I’m on the same wavelength with the people around me; that I finally feel I have purpose and direction. I looked like everybody else in high school and college…and I never felt like I “fit”. I was constantly striving to be someone acceptable – trying to mold myself to whoever I was trying to impress.
It has been almost effortless here. I know I can be shy and tense when still getting to know people. But I’m finding more and more that I am able to do something I’ve never been able to do – be vulnerable. Whether I’m singing Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of my lungs at a bar in Roppongi at 3 in the morning (it was so fun), eating a fish head (it was actually pretty good), or sleeping on the last train home (so soothing), I can’t help but feel wonderful knowing that for once I’m putting myself out there on the line, not just the person I think others want me to be. It’s relieving in a way, to know that there’s no act I have to keep up depending on the person I’m with. Maybe I’m a little more relaxed in one situation than another, but it’s always me. I’m still learning that vulnerability is okay. For a long time, I made every effort to fly below the radar – keep myself away from others to minimize the chances of getting hurt. But now that I’m putting myself out there and taking the risk…I feel so, so happy.
I suppose this post became a novel despite my best efforts. Oh well. Lest I continue to wax poetic about my future…let’s focus for now on the past and what I’ve been up to since my last post.
I had the chance to share my experience with a guest and long-time friend for almost two weeks. We checked out some of the interesting things Tokyo has to offer. I had the chance to visit the Edo-Tokyo museum.
It’s a 6-story building with a wide range of artifacts and information detailing the history of Tokyo. The atypical architecture made it especially cool; you start by taking an escalator to the top floor, then work your way down.
This is the bridge at the dimly lit 6th floor of the building. Crossing it takes you to the exhibits – swords, pottery, and miniatures of old palaces are just a few examples of some of the interesting things you can find here.
The 5th floor stage area is the setting for a number of different live shows. I happened to catch this – a woman playing a traditional Japanese instrument called the Koto.
Another day brought us to Yoyogi park, which is very close to my office. We walked around Shibuya, grabbed Starbucks and some Freshness Burgers (YUM), then checked out the Sri Lankan festival. It wasn’t quite as exciting as I had hoped it would be, but we had the chance to see a few minutes of some traditional dancers:
Just down the road in Yoyogi park are some less traditional dancers:
Yes, that’s right. This is a group of Japanese people dressed in black leather with greaser hair. And they were dancing to rockabillyish music. I’ve come to this area on Sundays before, but haven’t seen them. It was pretty entertaining to finally check it out!
Just a couple minutes’ walk away on the bridge next to Harajuku station is the (in)famous Jingu Bashi. This is the place where you can wear just about anything you want, and not only will you get away with it, but people will take your picture. Oh, Japan…
I should apologize for my crappy pictures in this post – I thought if I just took stills from video it would turn out all right…but I guess not.
I also visited the zoo at Ueno park (I shared some pictures from that area in a previous post), headed back to Odaiba a couple times for fun and for a Mexican festival, and worked.
We’re getting into crunch time at the office. The run is just a couple weeks away, and Pink Ball not far behind that. My computer has quickly become covered in post-its because suddenly there’s so much stuff to stay on top of! Forgetting even one thing could mean the foundation misses out on a donation or loses a valuable volunteer. I still make mistakes and it stresses me out a bit, but apparently somewhere along the way I ‘ve learned to get over it, fix it, and move on. So far, so good.
The run is on the 17th, and the ball on the 30th. We still have so much to do! It’s fun, if getting crazy. On top of that, we’re moving on Friday! Aaah! The phrase “so much to do, so little time to do it” has never been truer. Naoko and I were talking about this on the way to the station last night. Even though times like this are stressful for us, it’s good to think back about why we’re doing it in the first place. What’s a few weeks of stress and planning and maybe a few sleepless nights? We’re ultimately doing this to help people – people who face significantly more stressful situations than planning an event. And when I think about the hundreds of women all this work is going to benefit…it’s all so worth it.
Well. I seem to be in a rambling mood. I wanted to get a new post up because I know it’s been a while since the last one. The rest of this week will be busy – we’ve got two volunteer orientations and a move to take care of, and it’s only Tuesday! Sleeping and eating are big excitements for me now. So I think I’m going to do both, now that I’ve wrapped this up.
I promise not to let so much time pass before the next update!