In 12 more days, I will be saying goodbye to Japan and moving back to the states. I have to admit, I am feeling a crazy mix of emotions. More than anything, though, I am excited.
I realized that I have yet to experience adult life in America. As soon as I graduated university, I was packed on a plane and shipped here. My entire adult life, I have lived in a foreign country.
Now, as excited as I am to leave, I can’t say that I regret my life here in Japan. It has definitely taught me a lot about not only adulting, but a lot about being a good person.
More than anything, though… it has taught me to not take a single thing for granted.
There are the obvious things, of course. Family and friends, lack of language barriers… But there are so many things that I just didn’t realize I was so lucky to have.
First, I guess I will start with the obvious ones.
Family. My family is tight-knit and always has been. I won’t lie, though… I used to not be close with my family at all. I still am not crazy about a chunk of them because they have such strong personalities, but my immediate family and I have become much closer.
I went from barely talking to my father and being scared of him to Skyping with him every Sunday and watching him tear up as he tells me how much he misses me.
My grandmother and I actually talk at all now, which is kind of huge. I realized how much we actually have in common and I am very happy that I can be there for her when we are both struggling so much with the loss of Grampa.
My mom and I talk every Saturday morning, too. It’s nice to maintain that bond that we’ve always had.
My little sister and I not only talk, but heck, we are friends now. That’s something I never thought would happen. I’m actually moving in with her when I get back.
I’m still working on fixing that bond with my older sister, but we will get there.
Cars. Oh, my goodness, I miss having a car. I’ve been without it for seven years and I cannot tell you how difficult it has been. I can only go grocery shopping for one day’s worth of groceries at a time because I have to make sure it fits in the basket of my bicycle. Days that I need to buy rice are an ordeal because I need to make sure my husband goes with me to the store because only my basket isn’t enough.
When we wanted new furniture? That’s a whole other thing! We need to pick it out at the store and then set it up to be delivered within the next week because I can’t fit anything on my bike. Things like dressers or bookshelves or even just chairs. Things that could fit in the back seat of a car.
Going out is even more of a hassle, too. I hated having to go to the immigration office to renew my visa every year (before I was changed to my longer spouse visa). I had to take a train and transfer three times. Not to mention the wait time for certain stations where the trains sits for about fifteen minutes. To go to the immigration office from my house by train takes two hours and twenty-two minutes, given there are no unexpected stops (which happen often).
By car, it’s one hour and eight minutes. Maybe longer for a stop to grab a snack somewhere.
I can’t wait to get behind the wheel again and just make a trip to Walmart.
Now, some people have actually told me they think it’s cute that I hang my clothes outside to dry. It’s less cute when it’s your only option. And when the rainy season starts, hanging them inside isn’t fun. Especially when the humidity in the air and the slow drying time makes the clothes smell all musty. The rainy season can last for about two months and it’s pretty much nonstop rain for weeks on end.
We can drag our wet laundry to the laundromat and use the dryers there, but remember, now… we don’t have a car. Have you ever walked through the rain carrying three loads of wet laundry on your back to a laundromat six blocks away? It isn’t fun. Not to mention the fact that everyone in the area has the same idea. There usually aren’t any dryers even open, so you have to stake it out and wait for someone to come pick up their laundry when it’s finished and hope you get to the next open dryer first. It’s best to go late at night… if you can stay awake that late.
Central heat and air. In Japan, it just isn’t a thing. At the schools, each classroom has a unit that it controlled by a remote control. But a lot of schools don’t even have one. Houses are the same. We have one unit in our apartment but it’s in the living room. In the summertime, we need to use a complex setup of fans to make sure that the cool air reaches the other rooms. Especially when we have it set on the Dry function to help with the insane humidity. Mold is a huge issue here.
The winter is pretty mild so it isn’t that bad. It’s just that it’s a damp cold that gets down into your bones.
Privacy. It’s kind of nonexistent here.
The living situation is pretty small regardless of where you are here. When you want some time to yourself, there’s really not much you can do to get it. You can close the doors and stay in your room, but you can hear the people in the next room pretty easily. The walls are paper thin. Japan can’t make thick, soundproof walls because of the whole earthquake thing. The walls are flexible to allow the vibrations to move through and keep the structure stable.
Do you know what sound is?
That’s right, vibrations.
I can hear the people upstairs open a drawer. I can hear my next door neighbors watching TV even though it isn’t loud. I can hear the school down the street warming up for band practice. Heck, I can hear the mailman pull onto the street. And when the neighbor’s doorbell rings, sometimes it’s so clear that I think it’s my own! Sound travels very well in Japan, so I can’t even Skype my family in privacy. My neighbor told me not too long ago that she could hear when I talked to my dad and that is was “cool to hear people talking in English”. She doesn’t speak English so I didn’t feel like she was eavesdropping, but it did kind of feel like an invasion of privacy – until I remembered that privacy simply doesn’t exist here.
I am the kind of person that’s constantly singing to myself. I used to sing in the car every day on the way to school or work or even grocery shopping. I can’t do that here because one, no car. But two, I feel like everyone can hear me no matter where I go. I can hear when I neighbor behind me coughs. The lady down the street plays piano and I can hear every note. Imagine singing in the shower? I can’t do that anymore. I hum on my bike on the way home sometimes but I shut up the second I see another soul.
Books. Since you’re reading this blog, I assume you like reading. I, for one, love reading. I’m struggling with sending all my important books back to the states at the moment – my signed copies are going in my suitcase because I can’t bear to risk sending them in a box. Imagine being a bibliophile with extremely limited access to books. You may think, “Just use Kindle or something!” I cannot. Alas, I cherish the paper between my fingers too much. A real book doesn’t disappear if it runs out of energy. A real book isn’t hard to read when it’s super light around you. A real book had that special smell to it – be it fresh ink or aged pages. Besides, nothing can quite compare to the anticipation of turning an actual page.
Going to an English bookstore is a big deal here for me. It’s a day trip – not because I can get so lost in the rows and rows of books as it is in the states. No, no. The nearest real English bookstore is an hour and a half away by train. It’s about half the size of a one-story Barnes & Nobel but to me, it’s paradise. It’s English books for the most part, but they have French, German, Chinese, etc., as well.
It’s the “foreign books” section on the 6th floor of the Kinokuniya in Takashimaya Time Square in Shibuya, in case you’re in Tokyo and want to go. Fun fact, though, it’s easier to get there from Yoyogi Station than it is from Shibuya Station!
Because it’s so far away from me, going is always a big deal. I always end up spending too much and then carrying the heavy load back. It’s always worth it, though.
There are so many other things that I can put in this list, but it is getting a bit long. I’m going to stop here for now and hopefully I will write again soon.
Thank you so much for the huge influx of followers I’ve suddenly had! Your support means the world to me!