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Friday, June 7, 2013

Only The Lonely - In Japan - Part 1

I wanted to talk about going to Japan and being lonely. I'm going to talk about the JET participant - and maybe even cobble together something for those who are not on JET.

You'd never think it would happen.

There you are - those first days in Tokyo after arriving in Japan for the JET orientation. People everywhere... everything is so new... exciting... the women... the men (if that's what you are into)... the sights, the sounds, the smells. Booze. Late hours... it's blur of excitement.

It will never end. Japan is an exciting place.

Then you get taken to your new city, town, village or podunk hamlet. You are not close to Tokyo or maybe you are - it doesn't matter. You may be the only foreigner in your area. You may not be. It doesn't matter.

It's all new. That helps a bit, doesn't it.

Maybe it's your first time being away from home. Maybe it's not. It doesn't matter.

Your bosses from the Board of Education proudly show you your new apartment. Cool. They may even show you some of the cooking implements. Cool Maybe you know how to cook. Maybe you don't. It doesn't matter - you'll figure it out.

And then they leave you alone.

Now what? If you were lucky, you already made friends with other people in your prefecture... call them up. But you can't visit them... these prefectures are huge! And you don't speak the language and don;t know where the trains or buses are and maybe you have no idea how to get where you want to go.

Now what?

Maybe a walk around your apartment... to familiarize yourself with your surroundings... why is everyone staring at you? You smile. They bow and scurry off. Maybe someone says 'Konichi-wa' - that means 'hello', right?

Hmm... now your are lost... no wait... there's your apartment... whew.

So... now what?

Watch some TV? Wow... Japanese TV sure sucks the big one. And you don't understand it anyways. Why do they have samurai dramas on TV? That's the equivalent of cowboy TV shows in the US... it hasn't been done since Bonanza went off the air back in the early 1970s.

Hungry? Do you remember how to work the machinery in your apartment? The bosses left you food. Eat that. There's dinner and breakfast... what the hell are you eating? Who cares? It's not bad. IF you like Japanese food. Not everyone does. Why the fug did you come here?

Should you call home? Maybe. Or maybe use the computer to do a video call... no wait... 16 hours time difference.

Write an e-mail? Sure.

Now what? Call up an AET? Maybe... oh yeah, unpack... did I bring a book? My camera? A pen? Crap!

And this is just the first couple of days in your new place. Thank whatever God you may or may not channel that the bosses come by in the morning to check in on you to see if you hung yourself...

Why did they come at 7:30 in the AM? Why did they ring the doorbell 40 times?  Why did the phone ring just as many times?

You like your apartment just fine... good... this is your hiding hole from the world and Japan.

Could I possibly be bored already?

Now... this could all have happened to anyone of you (or could happen). I nearly happened to me 23 years ago, but I already had a girlfriend one town over - Ashley, whom I met during the orientation. And Matthew - who lives 10 minutes away.

But what if I didn't have them around? What then?

Holy crap... I'm alone.

Japan scared the crap out of me.

After arriving in Tokyo that day, I walked out onto the streets from my Keio Plaza Hotel... walked around the block... not knowing where anything was or what was going on... I walked back into my hotel... and back up to my room... my roomie was there... yakking on the phone (Tom, was his name?)... so I hit the washroom and walked back downstairs... and ran into Kristine... who would be living some 500 kilometers away from me. I didn't know that then, but she sure was gorgeous... and friendly and stopped me to chat. Who knew this Japanese-American had left her India(n)-American boyfriend behind... and poof - there was another Indian. Canadian actually, but she didn't know that... I had a new friend.

But I was lucky. I have a personality that screams - hey - this guy might be fun. So people talk to me. I'm not really all that fun... I'm shy... but knowing that pretty everyone else in this stupid country that just arrived here is also experiencing a bit of what I am experiencing, is a bit of comfort.

I want to share with you a line from a blog that was handed to me by my Yankee buddy, Vinnie...

It's from a blog called: This Japanese Life (see HERE).

There's a disturbing line in the well-written artsy-fartsy blog:

"I found Japan’s vague sense of communication (and facial expressions) a constant assurance that I was a nuisance and a burden to everybody who had to talk to me."

I want you to know that while I respect that person's opinion (it's their opinion and thus correct), they are completely off the mark.

Vague sense of communication? Are you kidding me? They have 47 different ways to say 'maybe'... which is said to you when they don't want to disappoint you with a 'no'.

Facial expressions - vague? That's bullcrap! It's also borderline racist.

He knows he was a nuisance. And a burden?

The writer has issues.

You can't go in there (Japan) and think like that! The people are warm and funny. Great sense of humor. Love to laugh. Drink. Smoke. Party. Live.

The poor writer doesn't believe that.

Perhaps like begets life. The love you take is equal to the love you make (Beatles).

If you go to Japan to be a mouse... to hide in your apartment and pretend that all artists are shy and have angst - you are all ready fugged. Get the hell out. Go home. You will not enjoy Japan. Why come? Why stay?

Japan is the brave new world... yours to discover. It's life, baby... live it or lose it.

I quickly got out of my shy rut and began exploring my city of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken. I smiled and said 'konichi-wa' and bowed to everyone I passed - I smiled and waved at kids. Parents. Grandparents. I don't know them and they don't know me (maybe), but dammit... I was going to have a new experience.

I had never left home before - not even for university. I didn't know how to cook, clean, wash clothes, iron, sew. I had never had sex before, except for a stack of High Society and Hustler magazines. I was ugly, and my mother dressed me funny.

I sure as hell didn't speak the language. I had only ever eaten Japanese food once before arriving in Japan - and that was three days earlier...I knew nothing of the culture (just WWII) or the people. I knew about Godzilla. And Mothra. And Gamera... I drove a Mazda 323 in Toronto... but I knew nothing about Japan. Ninjas and geisha and busineess men in suits with no sense of humor, right?

All crap!

Man... they told me that to get hot water, I would have to turn on the hot water heater. What the fug is a hot water heater?

Seriously. I had no idea.

No friends. No family. No language skills. No computer (this was 1990!!!) (I couldn't even Google myself or my town. I probably did Google myself, but not the way we do that in 2013.) No nothing. I'm hungry. No fast food restaurants I recognize... they drive on the wrong side of the freaking road, too... I nearly died twice in the first few hours of arriving in Japan! I survived a small earthquake that scared the crap out of me while I was on the toilet - a lucky break, as I did not soil my underwear.

Chopsticks? How the fug does anyone use these?

What the hell am I doing here?

Let me tell you. You are having an adventure. You have to look at it this way. Japan could be the most fun you ever have in your life - if you let it be.

I survived. You can too.

You have to get out of your shell and leave the comfort of your tiny apartment.

Yeah... I had the largest apartment of damn near any other JET in the programme. I had a few good people around me. I had perhaps the friendliest BOE (Board of Education) in all of Japan. I had an outgoing personality hidden beneath my introvert skin - we all do!

I survived. I thrived. I grew.

Loneliness? Sure. Sometimes. Homesick? Sure, sometimes. Broke? Sure, sometimes? And I hadn't even started teaching or going to any sort of work yet.

But you know what... My OBOE bosses made things easy for me. They took me out to meet their families... they dragged me out to see the festivals... see the city (it was a rural city with rice fields and 7-11's everywhere!) I had never even been in a 7-11 before... we didn't have them in Toronto at that time.

Sake? That stuff is good. It's hot. Man... the Japanese women are sure pretty. The men at my BOE hardly speak any English... they do... or rather they try to... with dictionaries... I have two as well..Japanese to English and English to Japanese. They are very important... though I suppose nowadays you could look it up on-line.

People are smiling and coming up to me... What's a gaijin-no sensei? (Foreign teacher).

Everyday... more and more people to see and meet... more words and phrases and names to forget... I'm lousy that way.

Lonely... I didn't have time to be lonely...

And sure... it's into a rigid work schedule after the first month in Japan... but by then... you should have met a lot of people. Joined everything you can. Never say no.

I was part of the Ohtawara International Friendship Association. I didn't know I was, but I was. Japanese people who want to meet with foreigners.... and I'm in a city called Ohtawara that literally means 'big-ricefield-field'.

That poor writer seems to feel sorry for himself. I do too. For the writer.

What a wasted opportunity. Now... perhaps that person suffers from depression or social anxiety disorder... that's rough. But aren't you supposed to have ways of dealing with that? And if you don't - go home and get some. Get your life in order. Move on. Japan will cripple you. Then again... so would any country, if you have a mental illness. Get help.

Japan does have many services to help the foreigner in need... but how do you find them. In 1990 - you were screwed. In 2013... Google it! Call and get some advice or help! Read these damn blogs and type in some key words and get MY perspective on things... I might even know what I'm talking about...

Okay... that's enough for now... more later.

Be good. Get out of your comfort zone. Gain knowledge. Learn something new every day... no matter what country you are in!

Andrew Joseph

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