I’ve found that, here in Japan among my ALT friends, “finding yourself” is a reoccurring theme. I’m not sure how much closer I am to that goal, but I’ve already learned so much in the 6 months I’ve been here. I’ve also learned a lot from what others have figured out in their time here. Probably the biggest lesson learned so far is how to live in the now. I realize this is a bit of a cliché, but I find it a rather rare trait. So many people are too pre-occupied with tomorrow and yesterday, they are missing things happening right in front of them. I know I’m guilty of this, regularly.
As I mentioned before, many of my ALT friends have the same “translation” in mind. Ex-pats in Japan are here for one of two reasons: they are running from something, or running to something. I’ve discovered that, in my case, it’s the last reason with a splash of the first reason. I ran to Japan specifically because it appealed to me as my ideal country, but essentially, I was running away. I was running away from my future. I was running away from my past.
I’m not the only one here. This is another big lesson I’ve learned along the way. You’re never alone.
Of course, after getting to Japan, I realized that my problems don’t get stuck at the borders without a valid entry visa. They snuck in, crossed the border illegally by moonlight, and found me in my presumed “safe-house.”
The culture has been incredibly difficult too. The Japanese are an incredible group of people. Nothing in the world rivals their kindness and attention to detail. I never feel like I’m not taken care of in this country. Even something as simple as going to the convenience store makes me feel like I’m appreciated thanks to the warmness of everyone.
That said, I don’t belong here, and I can feel it. All the time.
Many other ALTs have reported the same thing. You can be fluent in Japanese and think as they would, but you’ll never, ever be Japanese. It’s impossible for a gaijin (outsider) to become an insider. Even those with the given birthright of Japanese lineage still struggle here. You’re either in the club, or you’re not. It’s as simple as that. I’m always doing my best to impress my community with my thoughtfulness, in an attempt to defy the accepted idea that foreigners are bad news.
I find that I understand far more of the language when I relax my brain and just understand and communicate rather than translate. So that’s what I do with all those cultural differences. Rather than trying to translate them into something I can relate to or fit into my Western paradigm, I just attempt to simply understand.
But, no matter how hard I try, I never entirely fit in. That said, I’m not bitter about it. I understand this. I understand them. I see this as the “way it is.” It’s an ancient, flowing river of thought that I’ll never be able to alter. I love Japan, I love the people here, I love the tiny details that are so important. However, I can’t stay here.
So, naturally, the question is, what next? Most of my ALT friends and I have this same question. A lot of us came here to stave off that burning question for at least another year. My answer needs to come before the next 6 months are out.
Luckily, I’m not too worried about it. I’m living for today. I’m living for my weekly coffee date with Carolyn at Yukari-san’s coffee shop. I’m living for my first-year classes, in which we are playing a drawing game today. I’m living for those 60 sit-ups that are demanding attention later tonight. Right now, I’ve got a lot to live for. Best to not waste positive energy on negative or stressful thoughts. At least, not today. Not right now.