Some of my friends in Japan have recently found themselves struggling with a disillusionment that seems to strike foreigners anytime after about the first year in Japan. I remember an ALT before me saying near the end of her 3rd year that she thought 2 years was a good amount. This stayed with me for some time before I realised that it could only really be true for her, because everyone’s experience is different. Obvious, I know, but I get what she was saying. For her, one year wasn’t enough, two helped her understand the place and have the deeper experiences she was after, and in the third, she’d had enough and started to feel a bit over it.
Most of the people I’ve met who come to Japan have a magical, sparkly-eyed first year where everything is amazing, there’s so much to learn and it’s all fascinating. Temples, anime, karaoke, food… This was the case for me. I made heaps of friends and went out a lot. This continued into the second year, where I started wising up to some of the naive or just plain dumb things I said and did in the first year and began to feel less like a cool famous person and more like I wanted to be a normal person with normal amounts of anonymity. (This is probably especially if you’re non-Asian looking.) The more I understood about the language and culture, the less romantic it was, and the more… well, I was going to say human, but that’s not it. I guess the rose tint on the glasses seemed to fade.
After that point for me, it’s been ups and downs. I’ve found that I got fed up with some kinds of interactions, but as my understanding of the language and culture increases over time, I’ve been able to have more genuine interactions than would have been possible in that first honeymoony year.
It was disillusionment and frustration with Japan, an encounter with a homeless-looking man in a park in Osaka, and a boredom I got to know in Gifu that led me to start this blog. I thought it might help me rediscover some of the things I was sure I loved about Japan. (I don’t know if it was the blogging, but happily, that particular phase did pass.)
So these friends of mine who have been feeling cranky with various aspects of Japan decided to start projects like taking a photo every day of something that made them happy. It seems to be working for at least one.
I’m not doing that at the moment, but I did find something that honestly made me smile.
The sign reads,
These are umbrellas of love
After using, please return umbrellas to this stand – let’s all use them.
If you have an umbrella you don’t need, put it in this stand.
Return after using – Kind heart
I was talking about this with a friend and they thought in Australia and other countries, most people would never return the umbrellas but some would, whereas in Japan, most people would return them but some wouldn’t. I don’t know, my friend is probably right. Would I return one? Would you?
I have a nice thing to share about Australia too, though it’s not just Australia. When I was home (in Aus, that is) in August last year, I read this article about suspended coffee: when you buy yourself a coffee in a cafe, you can pay for an extra one or two or three. Then later on, someone who can’t afford it is able to have a coffee. Apparently this started in Italy and now it’s happening in lots of countries, though not yet in Japan, according to the Suspended Coffee website. If you’re interested, here’s a list of cafes that do it.
You’re not all bad, Japan. Same to you, Australia. Come on 2017, let’s make good things happen.
Oh, and one more thing. I’ve been pretty unmotivated about improving my Japanese recently. Maybe it’s time to start writing this blog in Japanese too… although Watanabe-sensei reads it! All my mistakes will be on display. Lucky there’s an edit later function. So, readers, adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu. See yieu next week.