Friday, November 25, 2011

What I've learned about myself from being in Japan....

First day of ALT orientation in Tokyo.
 When I first saw this prompt on the blog, "Whoa... I'm in Japan" I thought, "No problem! This will be an easy post! I reflect constantly about the choices I make, the way things have turned out and what I want to do about the future! This will take 5 minutes..."

... and after 17 days of letting this post sit in the "drafts" section of blogger, I think I finally have something to say. For whatever reason, when faced with the task of physically putting words on paper (or type on screen, in this instance), I couldn't pinpoint exactly I've learned about myself in the past year and a half of living and working in Japan. I can always start with the obvious:
  • I'm effing tall
  • I've gotten better at Japanese 
  • and worse at English
  • I can play the guitar
  • I have a higher tolerance for beer than I did in college
  • I know how to pay bills
  • and cook for myself
But those are just facts and skills. Things that come along with the act of living on your own and trying to fill the empty time between work, sleep, and the weekend. Not really things that have changed me as a person. Now at the same time, I can't say that I've changed drastically as a person either. Not that most people change 180 degrees when they have life changing experiences like living abroad, but I do know that I've gotten stronger in some regards. I can say with certainty that I've become a more confident person. While the simple idea of standing in front of people used to make my heart squeeze in anxiety, I am now ecstatically looking forward to the first live show with my band in January. Instead, I'll break it down into three categories.

Soccer event I went to last year around this time on "freedom island" as one of my stoner Japanese friends called it.
My first Kikusui zadankai (sake tasting)
Social: I am more of a "people person" than I ever thought I was. Not to say that I need attention 100% of my day. I'm the type of person who has a few super close friends, a couple of good friends, and a lot of acquaintances. No, I figured out that just the mere act of being around other people (being near people in a coffee shop/book store/shopping center) is enough to keep me from falling into some sort of depressed slump. I just never knew that the energy from being around people was so important to me. I think that's my biggest motivating factor for wanting to move out of Aki (the definition of countryside) and get to a bigger city.

Lounging with his beer and cig in front of the venue.
 Tolerance: It will sound strange to say that my tolerance has gone down, but it is true. I am no longer the over-all tolerant human being that I used to be. To be more specific, I no longer have much tolerance for unadulterated ignorance. I used to smile politely when people would ask if I was able to eat rice, use chopsticks, or if America had TVs. That sort of ignorance I am no longer able to tolerate. It makes me cringe and I have to put a lot of effort into not responding in a snotty fashion. Especially the type of ignorance that won't stop asking the same question until it hears the answer that it wants to hear and expects. Instead, I have gained a lot of patience for curiosity. I appreciate questions that are asked out of a pure desire to learn about something/someplace/someone new. My friends here are those sort of people; the type who want to better themselves through knowledge and not remain ignorant to the outside world.

Screaming into the abyss is one of my favorite past times :)
Individual: I understand what it means to be an individual so much more now than I used to. I understand how it feels to be lumped into the massive labels that are "American" and "foreigner" while trying to fight against the sort of negative connotations that others automatically associate to both. I am me. I am not part of the mind-hive that some people think societies have. I am an individual with my own thoughts, beliefs, experiences and morals. Just like it's not fair to say "the Japanese are..." any certain way. I have met so many people while working here that step outside of the stereotype and "norm" of Japan. People like to look at the differences between Japan and America so much so, that they forget we have more similarities than anything else. All foreigners don't speak English, and all Japanese people don't like natto. It's that simple.

It's an appropriate time of year to start reflecting on oneself, with New Years coming up. I just finished a column for the local newspaper's (in Japanese) January issue about this as well. Hopes and dreams for the New Year. It's interesting how once we change our calendar, it really does feel like we have a bit of a fresh start. Even though the difference between the minute we are living in and the "previous year's minute" are no different. It's a good time to start making resolutions, writing out goals, and thinking positively for the new year we are going to face in a month's time. 頑張ろう!

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