English, but not as we know it.

Deep within the heart of Mt. Fuji, there lies a man. A giant man, bound by chains. Bubbling lava flows dangerously close, whilst hundreds of shiny metal heaters train their orange glow on him. The scorching, immeasurable heat causes him to sweat profusely. Day in and day out, small men in funny suits swarm around him, collecting his sweat in giant vats. The brilliant sunlight and the cool, fresh mountain air of the outside world are unknown to him. He knows only the dim, cramped cauldron of endless heat. His only refuge is the lukewarm sugar water consistently pumped into his mouth via a giant straw from a humming machine. His name is Pocari. This is his story.

And don’t even get me started on this one:

It’s widely known that Japan is home to some very strange English. Signs, products, advertisements, and more are attempted in English, only to come out in, well, something that isn’t quite actually English. I mean it’s English, but not as we know it. Sometimes it’s meant to be informative for foreigners, and sometimes it’s just there to be trendy. Japanese is just such a completely different language that direct translations don’t exist (for most things), and when you find something that more or less directly translates, it’s used in different contexts than what would be it’s English counterpart. I’ve had a number of Japanese people ask me how to say “itadakimasu” in English, for example. There is no cultural precedent for us having a word for this in English. Maybe you could say it means, “I will receive,” but it’s commonly used before a meal. When do you ever say this right before you dig in? From this example, you could say it means something more like, “thank you for the food,” which in this case may be true, but then there are its other uses. What about when you receive a gift? Surely, you wouldn’t say, “thank you for the food” if you weren’t receiving any food. So back to “I will receive,” we go. But then you also can’t use it for non-physical things, like advice. This leaves the translation to being something more contextual-based, rather than something that’s able to be directly translated. And this is just one word. Imagine the whole language.

But for this, I am thankful. Partially. It’s a blessing and a curse. I have a really hard time learning Japanese, but the silly English I find is highly amusing. Over the course my time here, I have gathered many examples of this awkward and funny English. It’s a bit of a hobby of mine. Sharing is caring, so here we go:

I took this picture two years ago. I still don’t understand what it’s for.
Whatever floats your – wait, no. Sorry, that’s not allowed.
Snacks sure are great. The best, really. Snacks are beautiful, kind and everybody loves them.
Ah, the infamous cheese sand. It’s made of… what, again?


So this is the drug sto- wait a second. Something’s not right here. Is this the drug store or a clothing store? A clothing store owned by the drug store, perhaps?
Hey, that’s a nice… uhh, yeah.

Not to be confused with:

See, this is why recycling is important. I think?
“Is it cold?”
Umm, yes. Thank you. I suppose I will… do that thing you said. The sensation of taste will be enjoyed. Thank you, Okayama.
You won’t find any style here.
Not in this beer.
I guess we’ll never know.
Another store that can’t decide what it is.
Is this… heterophobia?
Not even sure how to fix this one.
At least they actually sell baggage.
Interesting choice of name for a coffee shop.
And it was all going so well up until the end there.
I’d like a little bit of an explanation, to be honest.

Thus concludes the best of my collection so far. I actually have trouble believing how often I see English on clothes and wonder, “why does that shirt say that?” You would think that maybe they would get a native speaker, or someone more familiar with English to at least spell check these things before they decide to run with them. But apparently the demand is not high enough to be of any concern. It would be difficult to find someone to do such a small job, and most Japanese people wouldn’t understand it either way. A dreadful situation, really. But fortunately, it gives me a golden opportunity. Maybe every once in a while I’ll share some new ones I find.

What’re You Made Of?

I keep thinking to myself, “it’s probably just a matter of time before I really get it.”

Japan. Where the background music is in English, but nobody can understand it. The land of the rising sun. Where any amount of time I spend trying to get to know it feels like it’s not enough. There’s just so much to it. It’s a whole ‘nother world.

For my last post I decided to put to paper my deepest feelings about the struggles of moving here. It’s been a journey of discovery. About the world and about myself. And it’s certainly been a struggle. Some days feel like I’m in some kind of exotic theme park, while others feel like there’s an impenetrable barrier between myself and everyone else. And those other days can really break you down. But it takes some breaking down to see what you’re really made of.

The move to northern Japan went relatively smoothly, but going from a comfortable western-friendly city lifestyle to being dropped in the thick of rural Japanese culture has been a huge shock. Another bout of culture shock. I feel I’m closer to the core of Japanese culture, but there’s still so much I don’t understand. And it doesn’t help that the accent is so different here. But to be fair, I was warned about this before I came here. Japanese friends told me they couldn’t understand anyone out here, even though they’re still speaking Japanese. I feel like I’m in the Newfoundland of Japan. (Canny a word adem Newfies.)

Everyday it’s as though I’m sent down the rapids to navigate through my day. It’s a bumpy ride, and I have no idea what’s going on on a daily basis, but whatever it is, it’s happening regardless, so son-of-a-bitch, I’m in. I’ll figure it out eventually. Hopefully.
But even if I don’t, I’m at least enjoying myself. Picking up whatever responsibility I can, trying to learn and do my best.

I keep thinking to myself, “it’s probably just a matter of time before I really get it.” But how long do I have? And how long does culture shock last? Until I fully integrate with this new place I find myself in? Can I really do that? It’s all so different here, compared to back home in Canada. Part of the same world, yet somehow worlds apart.

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I feel like I’m missing something. I find myself feeling nostalgic for old Canadian things I used to use, eat, watch, experience. Maybe I’m finally homesick.

Sometimes it’s hard not to just feel like I’m some kind of spectacle out here. Allow me to paint the scene: I walk into class. Emphatic surprised noises echo amongst the students. The Japanese teacher says something along the lines of, “BEHOLD! as I attempt to communicate with this foreigner.” And there I stand, trying not to embarrass myself (too much), trying to speak in this strange balancing act of actual English and something they might understand.

But those everyday struggles, – the simple things that wouldn’t even cross your mind back home – they feel like big accomplishments when you don’t know the language or the customs or the rules. Somehow something so small begins to feel so big. Baby steps, I suppose. Even if you fall flat on your face every time, at least you’re getting somewhere. Getting through those everyday struggles, breaking down, and rebuilding yourself – that’s when you start to find out. What’re you made of? Something that sinks? Or something that can swim? Maybe you’re someone who can tread water after all.

A Warrior Dies to Learn Who He Is

We’re all warriors; fighting our own battles.

You’ve come so far. Built yourself up, atop of your ideals of how things should be and ideas of how the world works. Then something happens. Everything shudders, shakes, and when you look down, you realize. It’s as if you’ve awoken from a dream. Your eyes widen. You’re not on a solid foundation. This isn’t bedrock. It never was. You’re skating on thin ice. You’re treading water. Trying to stay afloat and keep your head from going under.

What you thought you knew is on a collision course with another world. A completely different world. At first, you only see the surface. It’s all so foreign and intriguing. It excites you, exhilarates you, as some kind of exotic theme park might. And for a time you are content with things being like this, although you sense something deeper lurking below. And it’s coming closer. When you eventually penetrate the surface, the sensation is entirely overwhelming. From your fingertips to your chest, from the crown of your head to the bottom of your feet, you’re left in a shaking anxiety. Everything falls apart. Everything you were, everything that was, everything you thought you were, everything you thought that was – everything you thought. You don’t know anymore. What did you just crash into? Where even were you before? What were you? You can finally grasp the ends of whatever lurks in the depths. Somewhere in the abyss dwells the answer. You feel you can never make it there. It’s as though, at least for the time being, it repels you. You can’t understand why. It’s a different world with a different structure. It’s all too complex to wrap your head around. You notice you’re still holding on to the driftwood of old ideas, as you attempt to tread water. You can’t help it. You’re not very good at this whole treading water thing. You fear these pieces of driftwood are actually holding you back from doing this effectively. They have great big holes in them. But you don’t know how to let go.

Those ends you could grasp – those tendrils of truth – they’ve finally led you to what you think is the core of this world. The secret lies within. The answer you seek. Could you really be almost there? You peel back layer after layer trying to get to it. With each one you pull on, your aching body increases in desperation, and the prospect of this endeavour bearing fruit seems more and more futile. You grow weary. There’s no end to the layers. It’s a puzzle on a scale you’ve never even witnessed, let alone imagined before.

Whether you were to wake up and realize it or not, life always was and always will be this way. Ideas are nothing solid, after all. You can only pretend to stand on them. The whole universe is maddeningly complex, and it’s under no obligation to make any sense to us. It’s best to learn to tread water, lest you drown trying to stand, or drown holding onto something that will pull you under.

The water begins moving. Quicker and quicker, it pulls you along with it. You’re sent down the rapids in a big yellow raft. As much as you think to yourself, “I don’t want to go down here,” it doesn’t matter: That’s where you’re headed. You can try to paddle back or close your eyes and make believe, but you’re powerless within the forces of nature. Maybe the whole situation scares you so much that you panic and flip your raft, and get helplessly sucked down into the bottomless depths. Yet another sure way to drown. Alternatively, you can brace yourself, and learn to navigate the rapids, steering yourself toward better waters. Maybe it turns out to be fun. Or at least enjoyable. You can’t stop life. But you can make it better.

This all comes with the realization that there are a seemingly infinite number of ways one can live out their life. And they can be so bafflingly vast in their differences. All of them are valid. Life can truly be whatever we want it to be. Why do we settle for this?

Back Into the Great Unknown

When everything slows down to a grinding halt – when every day feels the same – when everything feels comfortable in such a way that it’s become stale, you know. It’s time for a change.

When I was thinking of where I was at that time, I felt depressed. Doing the same thing day in and day out became so wearisome. Did I really come all the way to Japan just to be dealing with the same tiring shit over and over again? Ah, but that question reveals my answer. I was focusing on the wrong thing. I forgot there was a reason I came here. At moments like these, it’s time to go back to drawing board. To plan what’s next. To recalculate where your aim is. I got caught up in the routine of my day to day life and lost track of that aim. And what’s most important is to have that aim in mind. I came here to experience new things, visit new places, meet new people.

Thus, I once again decided to move somewhere completely different. Somewhere I had never been before. I decided to move to a small town in Tohoku region. Where even less people will know English. Where many people I’ve talked to say the dialect is difficult to understand. I have a feeling this will once again be a similar experience to moving to Japan for the first time. Back when I understood virtually no Japanese. Back when I basically started my life over in Kagawa. But this time, I’m starting over in Iwate.

Is it scary? Of course it is. But that’s precisely why I’m doing it. Sometimes I think back to how easy life would have been if I didn’t break out of my comfort zone and make the trip here to Japan. How easy it is to do nothing. But then, I wouldn’t have visited such incredibly beautiful places, or met such wonderful people. I wouldn’t have been able to challenge myself and grow as a person in nearly the same way. I wouldn’t have had all these amazing experiences. The easy option isn’t worth it. The scary option has the reward.

And so here I go again, into the great unknown. Wish me luck.

State of Emergency

The last line of defense in the face of an epidemic: teaching English. A candle in the darkness. A bastion of hope. Everything else may have closed, but my company refused to. I stepped through a dark, abandoned mall to make it to work. It was eerie, but people were truly counting on me in these difficult times. The only other place with their lights on was the supermarket.

In April, Japan extended it’s state of emergency from the hard-hit prefectures to the entire country. Things out where I live slowly started to change. But there was never really any social distancing. Stores measured out and marked how far you’re supposed to stand from each other in line. That’s about it. People were and are still gathering just like before, though it’s quite rare to see people not wearing masks. More recently, everything around here began to close early. And some places have just been closed period. Of note, many of these places are restaurants, which has thrown a wrench in my regular schedule for grabbing lunch at work. This whole corona virus thing may have killed thousands of people and thrown economies into disarray, but now that it’s inconvenienced me, it has gone too far!

I hope everyone read that as a joke.

The number of cases in my prefecture have been at a standstill for weeks. And just yesterday, the government announced that it will be lifting the country-wide state of emergency, and maintaining it only in heavily affected areas. This means things will hopefully go back to normal around here very soon.

In other news, Golden Week, the week-long Japanese holiday, just went by at the beginning of May. Originally, I wanted to travel to Hokkaido, but with COVID-19 on the radar, I had to cancel. Instead I joined my friends on a surprise hiking expedition that was going to take “two hours” (it was actually closer to six), where we visited three temples in the mountains. The fresh mountain air and the scenery were fantastic. The temples were all unique and interesting. My feet hurt like never before. It was one of those snap decisions that will be memorable for a lifetime. It was a small reminder that no matter what happens, we can always use the time we have to do something worthwhile.

Then, the other day I found myself staring out of the employee break room window, at a magnificent view of lush distant mountains. I longed to be out there in the fresh air, adventuring. And that brought me back to my school days, staring out the window at a beautiful summer day while the teacher talked on, having the same feeling. Every now and again growing up, I would always look back and ask myself if I’d changed, but looking back now I feel like I’m still the same kid I always was: the one who brought a soccer ball out on the playground with the other kids during a snowstorm and slid around the field through the cold white fluff until the school bell called us back in; the mischievous child who, during class, used to take things from his friend’s pencil case, smother glue on them and throw them at the wall until they stuck; who skateboarded as fast as he could to school because he was always late; who was always training for and playing hockey, and ended up breaking his arm twice; who never did his homework, because homework is for chumps. Trying new things, longing for adventure, wanting to push myself, refusing to do things I disagree with. It’s as though all of these things have always been a part of me from the beginning. To me, I’m still the same little kid I always was. But now here I am: an “adult.” Someone who the kids now have to listen to. The more I think about it, the more I realize there were never actually any adults. There are just kids who got older.

Everyone on our hiking trip.

No Men Enter, No Men Leave

What’s that like, I wonder?

April in Japan is beautiful. The weather has been nice, save for a few rainy days. The cherry blossoms are out and so are all of the people. Wait- what? Why are all these people out here? When I scroll through the news and my social media, I constantly see stories about COVID-19. Everyone is talking about the lock down, social distancing and what to do in quarantine or self-isolation. Lock down? That sounds serious. Social distancing? Interesting… Self-isolation? Sounds like something an avid gamer really wouldn’t mind. Plenty of them were already doing that, anyway.

I feel like I’m somehow missing out on something here. Everything in Takamatsu is life as usual. When I went out to see the sakura trees, families and friends were still having picnics under the pink and white blossoms. I was surprised at how many kids were outside in the park. Then when I looked around, I realized it wasn’t only kids. Many people were wandering around. I went to a restaurant a few nights ago and it was packed. Only two tables were open in the whole place. And this is something I’ve been noticing when I pass by restaurants, stores, arcades, and the like: They’re still filled with people.

I have to wear a mask when I’m teaching, and hand sanitizer is readily available in virtually all businesses. Those are just about the only noticeable changes that have occurred in recent weeks. They still aren’t testing people out here. One of my coworkers had a fever and a cough, and when he went to the hospital, they basically told him that since there were only two confirmed cases in our prefecture, that it was probably nothing, and he could return to work. Seems like the criteria is rather high for being too sick to miss work – so again, no change there for Japan. The plan here seems to be to wait until a lot of people get sick, and then reluctantly try to curb the virus. I’m constantly wondering how things will turn out here, and I’m constantly worried about the state of affairs back home. Luckily, for myself, I’m not in a high risk area (as of yet, anyway). But people are still traveling around Japan. Schools are opening again, and apparently, this is the time of year that everyone is moving to go to a new school, or start a new job. Tokyo is on the brink of calling a state of emergency. Major cities and possibly even their entire prefectures will be affected. And this is only the beginning. Does some sort of lock down await all of us? I guess we’ll see how things shake out in the next couple of weeks. Wherever you happen to be in the world, stay safe.

March Madness

Japan: The country where the ATMs are the only ones who don’t have to work overtime. March: Tax season and warmer days are upon us. After winter nearly started in December, but never really seemed to get off the ground, I find myself asking, “is it spring already?”

Currently, fears about the new corona virus are the only thing spreading faster than the virus itself. Everyone is wearing surgical masks, but that behaviour isn’t all that new in Japan. Although these days, masks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and medicine are suddenly selling out. Why toilet paper?! I’m actually running out of that and now I can’t buy any. Rough times are ahead. The government also suddenly closed down all schools for the month of March. People are confused and upset. Will this really help? I don’t really know, but there sure are a lot of kids hanging out at the mall now. Since I teach for a private company, we’re staying open – and it seems that students are still interested in coming in, which is either a good sign of people’s morale and tenacity, or a gigantic mistake. A big potential problem here is that people aren’t being tested for the virus. The difference between the number of confirmed cases and the number of actual cases may be incredibly different. The truth is we just don’t know. But, so far, there are no confirmed cases in the prefecture I’m living in – they’re only in every surrounding prefecture.

But there’s always a silver lining: due to the corona virus, the deadline for my taxes has been pushed back another month. We can all breathe a sigh of relief. A couple of weeks ago I received a large stack of papers in the mail, written entirely in Japanese. Doing these tax returns is already a difficult affair for native Japanese people, and I can’t even read any of it.

On a more personal note, I’ve been thinking recently about growing up and growing old. I still don’t know where one ends and the other begins. I’ve found some meaning in the old cliche: Be true to who you are. The only problem is that they never told me I had to figure out who I was first. And I expected to have that done by now. I haven’t lived up to young me’s expectations. And that’s one thing that’s made growing up so difficult. But what can I do? How do I relieve the pain? How do I forgive myself?

So I thought, maybe I should start doing things that I’ve always wanted to try. I do need new hobbies out here. So I’ve taken up kickboxing. And it’s really resonated with me. In a strange way, I feel like it’s what I’m supposed to be doing, which has made the experience very fulfilling. What’s something you’ve always wanted to do? Find a way to make it happen. Life is all about learning new things.

Resolution and Acclimation

My New Year’s resolution, and what’s changed.

Long time no see. Happy new year! How many people do you think make new year’s resolutions? Guaranteed, far less actually follow through with them. I’ve never seriously had any. But being in Japan has made me think that I ought to correct course, at least for this year, seeing as how things have been so different out here, and I couldn’t have possibly expected everything that’s happened thus far. So I took a moment to think about what’s missing. Lately, I’ve felt like something is off. There’s been a sort of frustration, and depression looming within me, probably amplified by the language barrier. What I’ve been lacking is a means of expressing myself. So this year my resolution is to find more outlets for creativity. I guess we can start right here. Writing is a therapeutic process, and it’s perhaps the only way I get to express myself anymore. But I haven’t written anything since my cat passed away. And the other problem is that the type of blog I wanted to create was one that’s polished, and not all that personal, so I feel like I can’t just sit down and write nonstop about what’s going on with me, and then actually post it without major overhauls. Maybe this one will be a little bit different. Sometimes detours are fun.

Fushimi Inari, Kyoto

On Christmas eve, I sat on a bus headed for Kyoto, racing through tunnels and over highways. I peered through the window at the passing mountains splashed with lovely autumn colours: Deep greens, vibrant oranges, spots of yellow, reds here and there. It was hard to believe it was nearly Christmas. Not a speck of snow. In fact, it was quite warm. During the day (and even now), it sometimes gets up to around 15°C. This is not at all the winter I’m accustomed to. I was told that Kyoto would be colder, but I still couldn’t tell the difference. In Canada, the past few New Year’s in recent memory have been extremely cold. The one night with the most pressure to go out, party and have fun, and I’d rather just stay inside where it’s warm. Here in Japan, it’s customary to go to a shrine rather than go out drinking (though nowadays, many people do both). In fact, since the Japanese work so much, many of them take this time to continue working instead of doing anything celebratory. Needless to say my New Year this year was much different from any I could have possibly had back home. From Christmas to New Year, I visited more shrines and temples than I could even keep track of. And for New Year itself, I tried the traditional Japanese food for the occasion, Nabe.

Whenever I visit the big cities in Japan, one thing that always unexpectedly stands out to me is when I hear something other than Japanese. Especially when it’s spoken to me. When I went to Tokyo, staff tried to speak to me in English, which really threw me off because I had prepared Japanese in my head. Surprised and unsure how to respond, I stood there staring at them, like a deer in the headlights. I suppose after hearing only Japanese for so long, I’ve just grown used to it. Lately, I’ve started thinking of what I have and haven’t gotten used to here in Japan, and so I made a short list:

Things I’m used to:

  1. Hearing Japanese. Not only from people, but all of the audio that’s played everywhere here. Wherever you go, there are automated voices speaking to you in Japanese, from the subway to the ATM to the supermarket. When you walk around virtually any store here, there are advertisement videos playing loudly on a loop all over the place (which are very, very annoying). At first I was awestruck at how different it was that there were so many sounds playing everywhere. Now, I wear headphones when I shop.
  2. Paying my bills at the convenience store. This is actually very – dare I say – convenient.
  3. Crowded and chaotic subway stations. I realized in Kyoto that this doesn’t faze me anymore. When I first arrived in Osaka, I was floored by how many people there were going every conceivable direction. It was madness. At the time, trying to figure out how to navigate myself through all of that was a daunting task. Now, it all feels pretty normal to make my way through the crowds. (Though, the massive crowds during peak hours in the food court at the mall still scare me.)
  4. Super toilets. Nothing bad can be said about these. Every country should have them. Bidet? You got it, fam. But that’s not all. What angle do you want it at? What water pressure? Hot or cold? Do you want the seat warmer on? Turn that sucker up. How about the music? Louder?

Things I’m still not used to:

  1. Speaking Japanese. I’m still very much a beginner at Japanese. I can get by just fine as a tourist, but having any sort of meaningful conversation is still beyond me.
  2. The temperature outside. In the day it gets real warm (~15°C), and then at night it gets pretty chilly (~4°C). This is not even close to the usual winter weather I’m used to. It feels like I’m trapped in perpetual autumn. I didn’t even have a coat until about December, and when I take it with me during the day I feel like I don’t need it, until I’m leaving work at night and thankful that I brought it. I’m not complaining, though. It’s much better than the cold back home.
  3. The temperature of water in my kitchen. My kitchen sink has two possible temperatures: cold and liquid magma. Attempting to get anything in between is a fruitless endeavour.
  4. Squatters. The opposite of the super toilet. Man’s worst enemy. It still amazes me how, wherever you go in Japan, you either find a super toilet or a hole in the ground. Nothing in between.

And one final honourable mention: I’ve seen a lot of weird shit in Japan, but nothing was weirder than when I was at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, and there was this tourist, nicely dressed, as though he was on a date, but with a stroller. Okay, fair enough; maybe he was there with his wife and kid. Nope. To my surprise, inside the stroller was a little brown dog, that looked like it gets better treatment than the queen. It had just been groomed; it’s fur was perfect, it had a nice little bow, and an expensive looking collar – like it was on a date. And as I watched him struggle to get the stroller around the temple, I just couldn’t get this image out of my head that this man was on a date with his dog at Kiyomizu.

And thus I’ve concluded this last decade by doing something completely different far from home. It’s been a long strange trip, but I’m so glad I made that first step. One day I decided to go to Japan, and then before I knew it, I was here. It doesn’t even feel like it’s been that long; but then, someone will ask me, “how long have you been in Japan?” and then I start counting the months, and I can hardly believe it. My initial plan was to come out here and travel all over Asia. Suddenly, I’ve made a life for myself here in Japan. It’s a shock for me to think about, but isn’t that what I wanted? I think it’s going to be harder to leave than I first expected.

First sunrise of the year in Japan

Frustrations and Realizations

The path starts here.

It’s a little overwhelming, suddenly not understanding anything. At first it’s okay; you’re in a new and exciting place, and it’s to be expected. But then time goes by, things aren’t all that new anymore, and finally, it sets in: you really don’t know anything.

Before I left Canada, I tried to learn some Japanese. I thought I knew enough to get by; if I was only traveling through here, that may have been the case. Being here to stay has hit me with the stark realization that I know nothing; and the language barrier can be very frustrating. Direct translations are terrible and nonsensical. Why does this chicken say south pole?! Only one of many unsolved mysteries. I pick up unknown things in the supermarket and try to Google Translate, but it just leaves me demanding, “what are you?!”

This has made it extremely difficult for me to balance my diet. In Canada I would look at different foods and think, “am I able to eat this?” before I came to a decision. Now, in addition to that, I first have to ask, “what in the world is this?” which usually leaves me guessing for long periods of time, and often to no avail.

So to compound my frustrations with the language barrier, I have also often felt sick for eating questionable things. There’s nothing more disappointing and frustrating than cooking a meal that seems healthy, only to have your body destroy itself over it. At times it’s left me wondering: am I doing the right thing? Am I in the right place? Am I where I’m supposed to be?

There have been countless times when I didn’t know where I went wrong. But not understanding is the first step to understanding. Maybe you don’t want to admit it, but things could always be better – and they could always be worse. Which are you going to focus on? To aim for? The path starts here. Focus on where you want your path to go, and walk it. And don’t be distracted by other paths; that’s how you lose your way.

I question myself. I have my doubts. But then I leave work, and suddenly it hits me. Holy shit. I’m in Japan. I made it. Goal accomplished. Dream fulfilled. Time to live it. What’s funny is that of all the different things here, the strangest feeling I get is when I’m leaving work. I step out of English immersion, and cross the threshold into a world overflowing with an entirely foreign language. It’s like being hit by a brick wall of Japanese. And so, every once in a while, I get this feeling: “whoa, I’m really here.” And it all seeps in that I’ve been taking steps in the right direction. I’m out here carving this path for myself, and I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I’ve been accomplishing my goals all along. How strange that I never noticed before.

At the beginning of my blog I asked a few questions: “What am I doing here? Should I be here? Is this what’s right for me?” And here I still find myself asking the same sorts of things today. Everyone seems to ask these questions at some point or another. When we do, it’s easy to be stricken with anxiety over all of the different options we’ve faced in life. What if we chose differently? Could our lives have been better? There are infinite possibilities we could mull over, but let’s be real here. Do any of them really matter? Not at all. Even if life may have been better otherwise, it ultimately doesn’t matter in the slightest. We can’t live in the past. And if we try, we will surely miss out on what’s most important: living here and now. We have to start from here, because here is where we are. Make the best of your situation from here on out. Especially if that’s what you’ve been griping about not doing before. Take the path towards something better. Time to trailblaze.

Why Are You Where You Are?

Why did I come to Japan? What a difficult question. And I get asked it every day. How often do you get asked, “why are you where you are?” Strange to actually think about, isn’t it? In one sense, I made a decision to come here, so here I am. But in another, there was so much that went into this. First, I needed a simple answer to satisfy my students that barely spoke english, but I also wanted to contemplate my honest answer.

The short answer: this place is different. The long answer: that’s what I wanted. I wanted to throw myself alone into a foreign world and see how I fared. Am I someone who sinks or swims? Jump into the deep end and figure it out. There was a part of me back home that was unfulfilled. And so I left to start looking. Not for something out there, but within myself. Looking for my dreams, passions, love, happiness, excitement and wonder. Looking for something to challenge everything that I know. Looking for myself. I know I’m around here somewhere…

I went all the way to the other side of the planet to explore myself. And, undoubtedly, the experience has been nothing short of extraordinary. My job teaching has been great so far. Many days I come home knowing that I helped students learn English, yet feeling like I somehow didn’t do any work. Where I’m living now is also breathtakingly beautiful. Surrounded by mountains and the inland sea, this port town is famous for udon. Not only have I been able to take in amazing views, but the food has been absolutely delicious. I ride my bike around the city, seeing new things, hearing foreign sounds, and smelling mouthwatering food. It’s like nowhere I’ve been before, yet it has some things that are reminiscent of my hometown. Though they call this the country, to me this is the suburbs – with fields of crops here and giant buildings there. I remember when Brampton was full of open fields. Now it’s all housing. It makes me wonder if and when a similar fate will overtake this place.

I’ve been constantly trying many different things, but I’ve found a few restaurants that I really like, especially a certain western-style one. Amongst the excitement of everything new, I found myself in want of something comfortable. I think I now fully understand why China Towns always pop up everywhere in the West. In a world suddenly so unfamiliar, it’s nice to have a place that feels like home.

Not knowing Japanese in the smaller parts of Japan is difficult, but the experience is very rewarding. When I’m actually able to speak to and connect with people, I feel like I’ve somehow made a breakthrough. But there’s still so much to learn. And that keeps driving me forward. It’s a constant challenge that I’m here to overcome. It’s the challenge of discovering more about myself the hard way. Will I sink or will I swim?