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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Homesick In Japan - Some Anecdotal Advice

I have no idea why you readers prefer my own original thoughts and ideas as opposed to regurgitation of news about Japan that you can find elsewhere, but I appreciate it.

But you do know that overtime I write about something newsy, I get you more information on the subject that any other news article will offer at one time.

I'm just saying, is all.

Poor grammar aside, lets discuss when homesickness will kick in while you are staying for a long while in Japan - as opposed to a simple vacation in the land of the rising sun.

The obvious answer that homesickness will kick in at different times for different people and will come in differing degrees that can last minutes to months.

D'uh, eh?

I spent three years-plus in Japan (1990-1993) and honestly I didn't feel homesick very much… first off by homesickness I mean I would rather be back home in Canada than in Japan.

Despite some monumental ups and downs—pretty much all women-related, by the way—I never really wanted to be back in Canada while I was in Japan - which was why I easily re-upped the then two more times on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

Regular readers know that I never wanted to go to Japan… that I was initially applying to JET to impress a girl… and wouldn't have cared if she and I were in the bowels of Hell as long as I was with her.

So, when I got into JET and she didn't, I really had no intention of going to Japan.

It was never a life-long dream of mine. It was never my goal to teach English. It was never my goal to learn a new language, experience a new culture or do anything, actually.

I was going to be a journalist… a writer.

So I figured that maybe I could get some good writing material if I went to Japan for a year.. plus if I was able to lose my virginity to something other than a paper-tigress Miss August (1973 - Patty McGuire!), that would be a bonus.

Plus my dad dragged my a$$ down to the airport as I begged him not to kick me out of the house.

So… with no expectations about Japan… and no preconceived notions about the country or its people.

I only knew there were once samurai warriors, ninja, they made Godzilla and Gamera… and all the women were geisha and wore kimono, and I suspected that Hiroshima and Nagasaki must still have a higher level of radioactivity after being bombed during WWII.

Basically I went without researching a damn thing. Not even the weather.

Yeah… it's effing hot now… but wait a few weeks when it's tsunami season and then the temps drop, and you'll be wondering where your sweater is and why the hell the Japanese buildings lack central heating and seem to leak the cold inside.

Later when you still have to ride your bicycle through the winter, you'll be wondering where you can buy gloves that fit and perhaps a scarf that doesn't have images of Commando Santa and his reindeer on them.

The first time people experience the homesickness can be when you receive that first letter from home… and people are telling you all about stuff they are doing that you all of a sudden miss.

Fortunately, I didn't miss any of that stuff because I was getting laid on a regular basis in Japan.

Next, it could be your birthday… while it's true that your Board of Education or workplace knows and may even take you out to a French restaurant and offer you sea turtle phlegm atop chilled tomato consomme (worst thing I ever tasted!)… but unless you gave prior notice to some other foreigners, it's a stark reminder that you are in a foreign country.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Festivus  or whatever you celebrate is also another time when people in Japan question their own sanity and wish they were back home sucking the marrow out of a steak or biting into the crispy skin of a bird…

For Thanksgiving, I, a Canadian, was ignored on Canadian Thanksgiving, as I'm sure it's not on any calendars made in the U.S.A… but I knew when the American Thanksgiving was because, dammit, we Canadian's are pulling a Machiavelli and are slowly trying to subvert American ideals. I bet Canadians know more about the U.S. than even the Americans do… or certainly we know more about the U.S. than we know about Canada.

So… even if finding a turkey is next to impossible in Japan (I found one), finding an oven big enough to cook it is impossible (I had a restaurant cook it for me). Discovering that your American girlfriend blew off your surprise American Thanksgiving dinner with a Canadian to go and party with a bunch of other lonely Americas - priceless… well, actually it cost me several hundred dollars, but who's counting.

For Christmas, I bought a coniferous potted tree, made decorations, bought some at a foreign store and made the home homey.

While all the other JETs took off from Japan to jet around the nearby world during Christmas - including my girlfriend who dumped me, bought the ticket to go hang out with friends, realized she wanted me back and then realized there were no more tickets to Thailand to join her, well, luckily I had Matthew around, who along with his supervisor, Mr. Suzuki, took me out for fun.

My own supervisors, Kanemaru-san also dragged me out to his estate on New Year's Day to help pound some rice into mochi (delicious but dangerous)… so I had peep around me who cared.

Sure I wish I was home, but i wasn't homesick.

Holidays, birthdays, people from home making you nervous.. that's when you get homesick…

Then again… it's also when things go wrong.

Maybe you get yelled at by your boss for always being late (never, in my case… I was never late), maybe your co-workers don't like you (I've heard that happens, but  again, not my deal - but this is a rough one. If everyone hates you, maybe it's not them, but you… self-examination and introspection may be required), maybe you hate the inadequacies of your apartment, or maybe the fact that you live in a hamlet and you are bored and horny and there's no one about, or maybe the weather sucks that even weepy Seattle seems like a dry town to you.

Maybe you are tired of being stared at, or being called a gaijin (outsider/foreigner) or having your a$$ grabbed or being eye-humped.

Whatever… it could happen.

But it's all in how your deal with it… conflict resolution.

I can't provide a solution for any of that stuff - not confidently, anyway, without knowing everything - and being in Canada, I can't provide that kind of help… but, I would recommend you contact other JET leaders, or members… or note that there are confidential help lines - yes, even for homesickness… whatever… it's a form of depression, right?

It's okay… I had it… but like I said, it was usually caused by women. I haven't even talked about being stalked by a Japanese woman who looked, was built and acted like a porn star, or having the love of your life thinking you're a slimeball because that's what she heard from others (other Japanese who apparently can't tell one gaijin from another).

How do you survive?

Surround yourself with other foreigners (at least for that first year) until you gain some real Japanese friends or comfort in your ability to drink to excess or your ability to screw women until the pain of homesickness dulls itself.

I did all that, but I did most of my heavy drinking with the Japanese, and maybe with my friend Matthew and my girlfriend Ashley.

I'd not recommend you do the heavy drinking, though - at least not because you are homesick.

Okay… the one time I did get homesick, it was the month of February, 1991.

My JET girlfriend had dumped me again - and Valentine's Day came and went - alone.

A friend died in a car crash back in Toronto.

My cat died back in Toronto.

My grandfather died back in Toronto.

Each happened one week after the other. It wasn't a good month at all.

I must have been a functioning alcoholic. I was bombed pretty much every single evening that month. I never got into a fight. Never said anything stupid. Never passed out. Never got a hangover (it's genetic or something, but I've outdrunk a biker gang  - a story for a blog I haven't created yet). I only puked three times in Japan, and none was during that month.

At the same time, I never missed a day of work, and never looked anything but my usual jovial self. Still wore a tie every day while I dressed better than everyone else (except for the time I wore a sweater - those sweaters in the early 90s were horrid, in retrospect!)

You also gotta have a shower everyday to get the stink of defeat off you.

But… starting in March, from that depth of despair… and again… I wasn't homesick, but I did wish I was there for those trying times… starting in March… it was my friend Rob's birthday at the end of March… and so I wrote a letter (not a text or e-mail (this was in the time before that existed) telling him I would write to him every week day for the month as a birthday present.

Okay, not much of a present… still, I did as I said I would, but got bored after day 2, and decided I would send him a freshly created short story.

And so I did that every day for a week… and then I got bored… and so I began  writing two short stories a day and then three….

Poor Rob… he's the only person who may have actually read those tales… but, and I'll go to my grave believing it… that was my most prolific and creative time on this planet.

I guess I'm saying that sometimes, there are some really good times after the bad. 

There's nothing wrong with being homesick, I suppose. Nothing at all.  But if it last longer than a couple of days or if your demeanor changes… talk to someone and revel the truth.

Best of luck.    

Japan isn't bad. It's what you make of it. It was pretty damn good for me. It' why I can write about it 25 years after I first set footy on a steamy evening Narita Airport tarmac taking that first breath of Japanese air and inhaling poisonous jet exhaust fumes. Ah… good times.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

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