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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Relax, It's Only Japan

This is a public service message for those of you minutely planning your soon-to-be senses-shattering expedition to Japan.

Having been removed from my experience of living and working in Japan for over 20 years now, I can sit back in my uncomfortable computer chair at home or work and reflect back that I have indeed been lucky.

Yeah, yeah, I'm the lucky bastard who slept with plenty of women, had a great Board of Education office that treated me with respect and trust, pretty much great students to talk to, friendly folk in the international community who looked out for one another in the JET community, lots of great Japanese people in my city who also looked out for me, but were content to let me grow into the community as much as I dared…

but really… I'm talking about being lucky in that I simply got to go to Japan.

It was never a life's goal for me… I didn't even want to go to Japan… I just wanted to get laid by a particular woman… and when she didn't get in the program and I did, all I got was the cold shoulder instead of a reach around.

Perhaps it's because I had no expectations about Japan… no ambition about what Japan could mean to me prior to leaving Toronto, that I simply just went with the flow and enjoyed myself.

I can recall it like it was yesterday. but the night before I got on the plane to travel to Japan, my father said to me: "Just enjoy yourself and the opportunity. You'll never know if you'll get such an opportunity again."


We had discussed me being worried that leaving Toronto right now - just after I had graduated school and entered the Toronto Star newspaper as a reporter, that I might never get that opportunity again—but my father, unfazed said that "if it's meant to be, it's meant to be."

I had been panicking up until then, and admittedly I was still quite anxious until I was sitting down in the airplane that would take me over to Narita Airport in Tokyo… but the anxiety I felt after my father talked to me was actually just wonder at what I might expect… would people like me, would I like Japan, how the hell would I survive without any language skills, I'm not a teacher—they have no clue I failed Grade 12 English once, right?—I don't know a single, damn thing about the country except that it was bombed twice by atomic bombs in WW2, there were samurai, there are geisha, I should be careful with the rice wine that tastes like water but hits like a ton of bricks moments later, and Godzilla and Gamera, while popular to me, might not be that interesting to Japan.

Well… it turns out that Godzilla and Gamera were still popular enough that I could chat about it with my student and adult friends - though it was hardly a topic that came up more than twice in three years; sake tastes like sake and goes down like water and I can drink more of it than anyone else I ever met in Japan and never got sick or had a hangover; I only ever saw one women in geisha garb—maybe; samurai—one of my bosses, Kanemaru-san, was descended from a samurai family and people in town knew that and respected him for it, and while he never put on any airs, it was obvious to me that he respected his past with honor and dignity—as well as a pack of smokes, funny jokes and a kindness to me that can never be repaid.

And yeah, while I visited Nagasaki, I never got to Hiroshima (though my mother did in my second year), I actually got to befriend a Japanese man  - a Japanese Catholic priest!!! who was at that time merely a caring young man - who walked into Hiroshima the day after the blast to see if he could lend any help to the survivors.

Japan… can be ugly… but I didn't try and put myself in situations where that ugliness could rear its ugly head.

I lived in the farming city of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken that has the Japanese people living in the big cities now referring to it as a hick town or as someplace they would never visit.


I actually felt sorry for all those people who were posted in big cities. Yes, they had more amenities available to them than those of us in a small city, town, village or, god help you, a hamlet, but I loved the fact that I could go anywhere and do anything and have people say hello and know who I was and wonder how I was doing because they really did want to know.

Even in Toronto, a large city of about 3-million or so, I live in the suburbs and can enjoy a quiet, mostly anonymous way of life… saying hello to the neighbors, but not expected to hang out with them.

It fit perfectly with me as a shy loner who was very private, but honest enough to answer anyone's question about just 'what was up'.

Japan was where I grew up, fell truly in love for the first time in my life, learned that things don't always go my way, and that I was one lucky Sonnuvabeeatch for having gone to Japan.

This is just a refresher blog to all of you prepping frantically for your trip to Japan.

Remember the motto of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy: "Don't Panic".

Sometimes not being too forewarned is far more fun.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Two years later in September of 2016, I have finally re-read what I wrote and fixed the grammatical mistakes. Stuff happens, but that's no excuse for crappy writing. Sorry.

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