it’s your Friendly Neighbourhood Gaijin here. Today, I will be writing about Japanese Living in terms of how I view my family. When I moved to Japan, I was warned about the sinusoidal curve of cultural shock, depression and homesickness; so, I thought I was prepared coming here. Being prepared for Japan does soften the blows, but it doesn’t block the loneliness completely. There are some days when the overwhelming feeling of loneliness just flies in like a bird, a nasty bird, that just poops on your happy day.
Now we all start in Japan with our fellow JETs, Interac, ALT “friends” who we meet, but we don’t really know them yet. As time goes by hopefully you develop allies or companions who will sympathize or console you in your times of need. However, sometimes that doesn’t happen. Recently, I listened to Maydaysan’s experience with making friends as an ALT in the city – sometimes, he doesn’t seem the happiest. So, I began to think that perhaps living in the big cities of Japan is not as cracked up as it is seems. I’ve also been told it’s very hard to make friends in the big cities, so maybe it’s a kind of blessing that I’ve been put in the Inaka. I was fortunate to be placed with two ALTs that I immediately could bond well with – neglecting our adjustments to one another “;)”. Furthermore, the community in my town is fantastic and very supportive.
So with all these great connections, how is it that I can feel lonely? Well, it’s the simple disconnection of culture and language which can make a small miscommunication or worry, feel like a river has been placed in between myself and another. Everyone always asks me if I’ve adjusted to Japan, and honestly I’d like to reply no. The only times I reply yes is when I feel it would worry them if I tell them “no,” but simply put I’m just not used to communicating with Japanese people. Sure, my Japanese is improving and you can understand my words, but reading between the lines is so hard that it’s actually frustrating at times. Since I’ve never had this problem in English, I guess I never noticed it. However, miscommunication between individuals creates a feeling of isolation from one another.
Another big concern is the Japanese culture of Honne (Inner Self) and Tatemae (Expressed Self). There are many times when I can see that Japanese individuals aren’t expressing how they really feel. At the start it was very hard to observe, but as my language skills progress – I continue to read Japanese conversation and facial expressions better. When Japanese individuals don’t express how they truly feel, it confuses me and makes me question my actions because I will never really know if they are upset or not. The only thing I have learned is to cope with this situation and not worry unless they actually tell me something is wrong. Otherwise, I will end up needlessly stressing about everything. Although for anyone who knows Japanese culture, when they say there is a problem – it really means there is a big problem.
At these moments, I tend to think of those who would always support me in times like these. My family. I communicate with my family members pretty consistently throughout the week, but it would be nice to actually see them at times. Moving across the globe to the Eastern World, obviously takes away the luxury of having a 9pm Downtown dinner with your cousins. Or how about just coming home after a long day of work to have a home cooked meal. The longer I’m unable to see my family, the more I start to notice all of the great things about them. The time we spent together contains so many gleeful memories that cannot easily be replicated by drinking parties or events with co-workers.
Before we get too far, I’m not saying that I don’t treasure the moments I have with other ALTs and the Japanese community. They’ve made me feel very welcome, and recently one of my best friends showed me a nostalgic feeling which was as close to home as could possibly be (which I will be eternally grateful). Also, being an ALT is actually one of the jobs helps to relieve the feeling of isolation within Japan, my student’s happy faces and joy to see me every morning helps me neglect the homesickness. If I was working in a formal company (which could be a plausible future), then I’m sure my colleagues would not be as nice and my students wouldn’t bring me joy every day.
My point is this. When the whole world around you doesn’t look like you and doesn’t communicate like you, the isolation can become troublesome and make you feel like giving up on living in Japan. In order to not fall prey to these worrisome thoughts, you need to truly evaluate why you are in Japan and how to overcome these difficulties. They push us to try and communicate better to avoid the awkwardness for the next time. However what I have learned in Japan is that there will always be those who will never make you feel lonely, and that is something that I have learned to treasure. That, is family.