|The view from my office. (Please excuse the reflection in the clouds. I’ll edit that out eventually.)|
I got an email this morning from a friend asking me, now that I’ve been here three weeks, what has surprised me the most. Well, I thought it sounded like a good blog post, so here we go. Not much has surprised me, to be perfectly honest. I feel like I was pretty well prepared. I read a lot, talked to people who had lived in Japan, and did quite a bit of internet research. I knew the toilets would be something to behold. I knew I’d feel like some sort of Amazon woman. I knew, despite what I had been told, that it would frustrate me to know end to not be able to speak/read/understand Japanese. And I was fully prepared to be homesick. Probably overly prepared.
Those of you who know me know that I am a firm believer in managing expectations. I would always rather expect less and get more than be disappointed. I like being pleasantly surprised. And so, that’s exactly what I did in preparing for Japan. I managed my own expectations. I know, I know, you’re ready for me to get to the point. So, here we go…
- I have been surprised by how not huge I feel. Which is really quite shocking when you consider just how petite and thin every Japanese woman is (and I mean EVERY SINGLE ONE) and I’m taller side for a girl even by US standards. I have thought a lot about this and I have a few hypotheses. First, I stick out so ridiculously anyway that there’s no way to even begin to compare myself. Second, I have no idea whether or not these women (or men, for that matter) even care about being thin. Third, one of the beautiful things about NOT being able to understand Japanese is that most of the woman I sit by at work everyday are Japanese and the non-work conversations occur mostly in Japanese. So, unlike in the US where I can overhear comments about what so-and-so should or shouldn’t have eaten, or how much weight such-and-such has gained or needs to lose, here I have no idea whether those conversations even happen. Based on what I see my coworkers eat, they do not. I wish I knew what their secret was, but the fact is, and this is surprise number two…
- Japanese women can EAT. Maybe they just eat in public and then eat nothing once they get home, but whenever I’m with them.
- How nice it has been to not have a social life. I knew when I left New York that I needed a break. Don’t get me wrong. I adore my friends and I have amazing ones. It wasn’t my friends that were the problem. It was my overcommitment to stuff. Soccer, kickball, classes, dinners, game nights, etc, etc, etc. I’d quit working out. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. It was just go, go, go, go, go. I hit a point, after two weeks here, when I decided I needed to make some friends, but I also decided I’m going to try and stick to to “weekend socializing” which is convenient since most of my potential new expat friends are married with children.
- How happy I would be that I only watch a few tv-shows religiously in my normal life. In Japan, on the cable available to me, there are two channels that show prime-time American television with an option to listen in English and guess what is showing. Grey’s Anatomy, Castle, Awake and they are awesome shows. Who knew? (Okay, well everyone knew Grey’s was good…I was just a little late to the party.
- How sad I would be to miss the Olympics. I mean, I knew I’d miss them, but it was slightly heartbreaking. And not having a DVR to capture the stuff I wanted to see (or even knowing if I could…there was a lot of table tennis and judo being shown ’round these parts…).
- That the first (and only) time I’ve cried since I got here was due to PMS and someone reminding me just how very single I am. (Normally, this wouldn’t make me cry, but it was a Sunday and, as stated previously, I was a little PMSy–apologies to those who didn’t want to know that much about me.) That said, given the circumstances, I probably would have cried whether I was in Japan or New York or Arizona. I really expected that the first time I would have cried it would have been because I was homesick or frustrated or something much more traumatic (and acceptable, in my view…sure I’m single, but my life is pretty freaking awesome). But no. And I don’t want my family to thing that this is because I don’t love and miss them. It’s just that technology has made it so easy to stay connected to them that it doesn’t feel much different than if I were still living in New York.
- How little I miss American food (or American utensils)…with the exception of Diet Coke. Truth be told, Asian foods (which, I realize, covers a lot of different countries and food types) are by far my favorites, so I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me. But not being able to even access Diet Coke. You’d think someone had taken air away from me. And it’s not that I can’t live without it. I can. I go through phases, some that have lasted as long six months, of not drinking it. But to not even have the option. To not be the one in control. That is killing me.
- How awful sitting down on a “warm” toilet seat really is. And we’re not talking warm like “someone was just sitting on it warm” because that, while unpleasant is not awful. We’re talking like “warm” you lift your bum right off of it because it’s so “warm” and awful.
- How much sleep I would need. I am seriously exhausted at the end of everyday. Between work, and working out, and trying to communicate to get everyday stuff done, all I want to do what I get home is go to bed.
- How funny the Japanese are. And I don’t mean funny like “weird” or “quirky”. I mean, literally, funny. And they love to laugh! And they are so warm and kind, if a little shy at first.
- How much of a stretch my job would be. I don’t really like talking about work here (I don’t think it’s especially prudent), but I’ll just say that it’s been much harder than I was expecting. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hard means progress as I figure it out, but the learning part isn’t my favorite.
- How nervous (and I shy) I get when trying to speak Japanese. It seriously is like I become this person I don’t even know. It’s weird and uncomfortable and so, the sooner I learn enough to feel confident in at least ordering at a restaurant, the happier I will be.
- Just how awesome Japanese bathrooms and self-filling, deep bathtubs are. I don’t know how I’m going to survive without them when I get back to the US.
- How easily I would get used to the (almost daily) earthquakes. They’re just little, but for some reason, they are much less alarming than I had anticipated. And Japan is much better prepared for a serious earthquake than California could ever hope to be.
- How much I really do love it here. Part of that might be knowing that this isn’t forever, but with any luck, it will be longer than six months. (Family and friends, you are all welcome to come visit!)
- How long it would take me to feel geographically oriented and how irritating it would be to not have a clear sense of direction. (I miss my grids!)
- And the final (and possibly most surprising surprise) thing is how much I don’t miss all of my stuff. Now, I’m guessing this will change as I make more friends and want to do more things, but for now, I’m fine. That said, I do have my music and my pictures, and technology…and apparently that’s all I need in terms of material things.
I am loving all of your updates! And realizing that I'm a terrible friend for not emailing since you've been there. 😦 So proud of your fearless-ness!
Ok. This is spot on. We're convinced the Japanese are built that way, but it helps that the rarely drive and have to walk everywhere.Also if you need diet coke, try theflyingpig.com. They can ship items from the Costco in Hawaii. I'm guessing its on there.
Loving your adventure! How close to camp Zama are you? I have a friend you'd love stationed there for the next few years. And how on earth do you survive without diet coke?