15 February 2014 § 1 Comment
Whenever I hear “We are Young” by Fun I think of a particular night in Osaka, a year and a half ago, when I had gone to see Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” on my own. It was sometime on the weekend and it must’ve been in the midst of rainy season. The movie had finished, and I loved it. I wandered out of the theatre, texting my boyfriend to say that it was over. He was on his way to meet me. As I left the comfort of inside, I found a dry spot to sit down to wait.
I sat, captivated by pouring rain, lit up by the glow of the little, blue-white lights. “We are Young” was playing in the background. Living in Japan, I wasn’t aware of a lot of new music, and by then, the song had already been out for some time. I recognized it from hearing the Glee rendition over brunch at Summer’s flat one Sunday morning. And when I think back to sitting there, watching the rain, listening to that song, Japan becomes some kind of personal Neverland. I won’t ruin the metaphor with detail.
London has felt like an arranged marriage so far – one that hasn’t yet moved beyond the early stages of mild discomfort and vague curiosity. An arrangement of practicality, involving very little emotion. I have faith, however, that over time, I will find things to love about England. I remind myself regularly that as with any large city, this is not indicative of the character and culture of the rest of the country. I haven’t ventured to many places around England yet, but I’ve read about the Lake District, Oxford, Dover, and a handful of other places that I’ve dreamt of visiting since my studies in literature at University. We will get to know each other and become closer for it, I hope.
It’s difficult not to compare this place to Osaka. To Kozu 3-Chome. To Kansai. What convenience, being able to cycle anywhere in the city within a reasonable amount of time, without the mad drivers of London threatening to knock me over! What excitement, knowing that most of the country is accessible via prompt, frequently running, relatively inexpensive trains! What wonder, living in a culture so far removed from the one with which I am most familiar!
I have no doubt that my memory is skewed and that my image of Japan has become increasingly idealistic since I left. Knowing that, however, doesn’t make it any easier to think of the plum blossoms at Osaka Castle, probably on the brink of emerging, and me, not there to see them.
I would venture out of London this weekend to get to know England better, but I’m afraid a large amount of it is underwater, or being blown away.
24 December 2013 § Leave a comment
Christmas in London, England. It’s not exactly the romantic comedy Richard Curtis led me to believe.
1. It’s not all pretty blue skies and perfectly timed snow.
It’s gusting sheets of cold, liquidy precipitation all the time. Blue skies may peak out from behind clouds now and again, but they quickly retreat as the next wave blows in. Why is it that movies always depict pretty white England Christmases? LIES!
2. There’s no silly, unnecessary drama, designed to pull at my heartstrings.
Thankfully. I can live without it.
3. Christmas shopping isn’t as easy as meeting up with Emma Thompson in front of a Christmas tree.
No, it’s bogged down with getting from place to place on various forms of dysfunctional public transit. It’s giant crowds. It’s ridiculous line ups at all the stores.
It’s not all completely different, though…
1. Staying in watching films on a couch with a loved one (but without the pesky “carol singers”).
The horrible weather forces us to stay in, which really isn’t so bad. I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of movies since I left for Japan nearly three years ago. Lots to catch up on. Lots of old favourites to rewatch. No one knocking at our door trying to confess their undying love for my significant other. It’s nice. (That’s never happened to me, but I can’t imagine it’s great.)
2. Christmas concerts.
I had the pleasure of attending my school’s Christmas concert (sorry, “Christmas Miscellany”). Complete with dramatic sketches, choirs, soloists, dancing, and teachers singing back up. No little Spider Man king at Jesus’ birth, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for next year.
3. Having drinks with dear coworkers.
No staff party with dark corners for dark deeds, but an after school meet up at the local pub for a couple drinks. It was a lovely, laid back way to finish up my first term here.
4. Christmas with family.
With family here, and family in Canada. Flying into Toronto tomorrow, and should arrive in good time to have Christmas dinner with the family. From what I understand, it will also be a white Christmas. I really couldn’t ask for anything more.
Happy Christmas to my family and friends around the world – in England, Japan, America, Canada, and everywhere in between! xx
16 October 2013 § 1 Comment
Things that moving to Japan and moving to England have in common: lack of funds.
Certainly, somehow, some way, there was enough money each time, but not enough to afford the (somewhat frivolous) comforts of home. The nicer bread. The extra virgin olive oil. A desperately needed replacement pair of shoes. Zucchini. Little things, but things that cost more money than I really needed to spend after having just moved to a new country and weeks before getting my first paycheck.
We just opened up a new bottle of washing up liquid (dish detergent, whatever you want to call it) and it’s such a delight because it’s not the stuff from the £1 shop and it actually makes things nice and soapy. In August, though, what a deal to be able to get two big bottles of washing up liquid for £1! £1 for 2 bottles! Brilliant! After a couple days, we regretted our thriftiness.
Two months in, we’re still using an upside down cardboard box as a coffee table. It’s functional. And it’s more out of not having had enough time to go shopping that we haven’t replaced it with a proper table yet.
But despite penny-pinching at first, we find joy in the little things. Playing 20 questions in Japanese while playing cards. Sitting around on a couch, entertaining ourselves with conversation and wordplay. Browsing through furniture on the IKEA website. Watching the entire Breaking Bad series (well, we’re two episodes away from finishing up). Going to a huge music festival for the entire weekend with £5 tickets (and what a weekend it was!).
A lot of people that I work with have asked me if it’s very different here from Canada. My response the other day was that it’s more like everything’s just a bit different, such that it seems nearly like Canada, nearly like home, but not quite – almost like being in a dream, or like being the victim of Amelie Poulain’s revenge scheme. The cars are on a different part of the road. There isn’t French on all the packaging. Instead of Walmart, there’s ASDA. Instead of Food Basics and Zehrs, Sainbury’s and Tesco. My students look at me funny when I say notebook instead of exercise book. I was out for a drink after work with some coworkers a few weeks ago and we were listening some tunes from the 1960’s – they all sounded very similar to the songs I grew up listening to on Oldies 1150 , but I wasn’t familiar with any of them. It’s eerie sometimes.
I might go visit somewhere new in a couple weekends. Explore a bit. Go relax. Take a break from lesson planning. Take a break from London. Remind myself that I’m living in England, which is kind of cool.
11 October 2013 § 1 Comment
Less than half a year ago, I was living in Japan.
Three months ago, I was living in Canada. Working at the same two locations as I was in January 2011, prior to moving to Japan.
Nearly two months ago, I packed my bags again and moved to England.
Culture shock has been minimal.
If anything, I’m still experiencing the culture shock that I started experiencing upon leaving Japan. It’s the shock of leaving the first home I established for myself independently. The shock of such a big life goal being accomplished – past tense. The shock of no longer living in a country in which I feel safe. No more cycling everywhere with ease. No more cheap kaitenzushi. No more cheap, amazing, punctual trains. No more ex-pat community (not one that I’m part of, anyway).
It’s the shock of not being sure anymore. I have no idea what’s next. Where I’ll be in a year. It’s trying to wrap my head around home feeling now split between three countries. The home that always was, the home I made for myself, and the home I now find myself in. A constant sense of displacement.
Anyway, I’m here. I’m pretty settled in. Teaching’s a crazy, stressful, beyond full time job. I love my apartment. London’s pretty cool – though I haven’t had any time to really check it out. More on these things and more.. at a later date when I’m not exhausted from the work week! x
12 July 2013 § Leave a comment
Someone I was chatting with last month was talking about her friend who had also decided to work and live abroad, describing her as having chosen to do “the selfish thing”. She didn’t say this with too much of a negative tone, but continued to explain how much this friend meant to other people, etc.
Sometimes, it feels like the selfish thing to stay home. To stay comfortable. To stay with the people I love and obviously want to be close to. To stay in the place that I know best, where I’m not confronted with the stress of language barriers, cultural barriers, and lack of understanding a different system.
Sometimes, I wonder if it’s other people that are being selfish who are saying, “Stay!”
I loved living in Japan. I loved moving there. I loved getting to know Osaka and the amazing people who lived there too. I can’t wait to go to England and actually teach in a high school there. But it’s not easy. Sometimes, it’s terrifying. It hurts. Leaving home without knowing exactly when you’ll be back can be heart-wrenching. After being gone for awhile, that pain goes on a back burner or gradually decreases, as you put down roots wherever you are, meet people, get to know new streets and new neighborhoods and new rhythms. And then when you leave that place, it happens all over again. And again.
I get it though. I can see why it would seem selfish. Traveling to exciting new places, going off on my own (though I won’t be alone in England!), pursuing adventure! Gathering no moss!
But, perhaps whether I stay or go, it would be selfish. And either way, there would be something to lament. Leaving people behind. Staying in one place. Being an outsider (good or bad, though, depending on the day). Not following my heart (cheesy, but true).
I wish I had a dokodemo door.
30 June 2013 § Leave a comment
Sometimes I feel like an optical illusion. I get lots of “Oh, you’re part Japanese? Wow… I couldn’t tell at all!”, “I knew as soon as I saw you that you were like, half Asian or something”, “Yeah, I guess I can kind of see it…”, “Mixed kids are so good looking”, and other comments. In Japan, it wasn’t much different. Sometimes, people were surprised, based on my appearance, that I didn’t speak fluent Japanese. Other people would hear my name and ask what my husband’s name was, because I obviously wouldn’t have a Japanese maiden name. The conversation sometimes then turns into a brief talk about my background.
Random person: So, is your mother or your father…?
Me: My father.
RP: So when did he move to Cana..
Me: He was born in Canada.
RP: So he’s Canadian?
Me: Well, yeah, but his parents moved to Canada from Japan in the 1920’s.
RP: Oh, so he speaks Japanese then?
Me: Well, not really. Like, he might understand some vocabulary from having heard it a lot, but I guess I know more Japanese than my dad.
RP: (disappointed, for some reason) Oh. Hahaha.
(Conversation moves onto something else)
I mean, I had a basically Canadian upbringing. No onigiri, Kraft dinner. No Ghibli, Disney and Nickelodeon. No sento and onsen, public swimming pools while wearing swim suits. But there were things. Like my grandparents old Japanese music player and all their old enka. My dad’s shogi board. My grandparents headstone, which is how I’ve always known what 森本 means. The inarizushi that my dad makes for family get togethers and picnics. The smell of rice vinegar, which I’m only fond of in a nostalgic sense, that accompanied him making the inarizushi. The various books on our shelves about Japanese cooking and gardens and scenery. The brief memoirs that my grandma wrote about her life coming to Canada, written out in kana, romaji, and English. I’ve always been vaguely aware of my paternal background, and always curious.
So I went to Japan for awhile. Popular topics in conversation when you live in Japan: Why did you come to Japan? Where are you from? Do you like living in Japan? What’s your favourite Japanese food? I went to teach. I went to travel. And I went to meet some of my family. As previous blog posts might mention, they were lovely. Welcoming. Friendly. I hope to see them again one day. While it was awesome chatting with my Japanese relative who was the closest in age – she’s pretty fluent in English from having studied abroad in Australia – it was also wonderful meeting her grandparents. Two people who knew my grandmother as an aunt. Who, I’m pretty sure, knew both my grandparents. Who are cousins to my father. During my first visit with them, I relied on my aunt from Canada to do most of the communication (except with the cousin who is fluent, and her father who has some conversational English). My second visit went smoothly because my fluent cousin was there the whole time and we spent the day together. And my third visit was not so easy, as my English speaking cousins were preoccupied that day with a taiko performance and after celebrations – but I had been studying Japanese for awhile at that point, and I could actually hold my own (mostly). It felt amazing to be able to talk with them about going to see autumn leaves, about what we’ve all been up to, about my boyfriend (“Is he cute?” “Is he Japanese?” “Do you have a picture?”). They were very kind, and every time I left their house, they would load me up with Japanese oranges from their yard, persimmons, or chocolate.
Living in Japan was an interesting experience overall. I don’t feel like being half-Japanese made a huge difference. My name and background was an interesting conversation point for some people for awhile. A couple of my students said that it made them feel like they could relate to me more. It meant that it was fun meeting other half-Japanese people – and there were lots of them to meet (shout-outs to a few of you who I know are reading this!). It meant that this one time, my boss sent another half Japanese girl to work at a school an hour out of Osaka because he confused her with me, thinking that she had family there (not the best articulated story, but you get the idea? Maybe?). Every time I was out with my other non-Japanese friends, I would be the one that taxi drivers and store clerks talked at because I was the most Japanese by default, I guess. When I was backpacking around Japan in August 2011, my blonde, blue-eyed companion, whose Japanese was superior to mine, would do all the talking when we needed to ask someone questions. I, his vaguely Japanese-looking partner in crime, would do all the smiling, nodding, and “wakarimashita”s as the store clerk or whoever would respond directly to me, and not to him. Another time, a couple of friends got into a taxi before me, and had already tried to tell the cab driver where we wanted to go – the guy who asked first definitely surpasses me in Japanese ability – but the cab driver didn’t understand. Nope. Not until I got in the cab last, and he could ask me where we were going, did he understand the name of the neighborhood that we were trying to get to. It had its benefits, this dark hair, these dark eyes, and these half-Japanese features. On bad days when I just wanted to feel like I blended in, when I didn’t want to be stared at for being a gaijin, I would throw on some sunglasses, and I went from Clark Kent to Superman, from Tsukino Usagi (or Serena, if you will) to Sailor Moon. Maybe people could still tell I wasn’t from around there, but I felt invincible. It was also a delight living in a country where everyone could pronounce my name (and better than I could, at that!), everyone could spell it, and at every silly souvenir store I went to, I could find something personalized with my name on it (for the first time in my life, I had a relatively common name and it felt great!).
And now I’m back in Niagara, in Canada. Most days, it doesn’t feel like any of it happened. I’ve had the odd person ask if I have some Asian background, but I’m usually asked while I’m at work at a Thai restaurant, so I don’t really count that. Having lived in Japan, I can see connections between my family in Canada and Japan, I can also see how blatantly Canadian I am – I guess. I mean, being there has raised some questions. What does it even mean to be Canadian? What does it mean to be a Canadian abroad? An ex-pat? A third generation Japanese Canadian? A lot of my friends in Japan joked around that Canadians are really apologetic. Being back now, I notice that we do say sorry an awful lot. (I bumped into a guy at work the other day. I said, “Sorry!”. He said, “No, I’m sorry!”. I said, “Sorry!” by which point he’d already walked away). Having lived in Japan and now looking forward to living in England, I’ve also wondered about how I relate to my own language. I went to Japan and I had to relearn how to say my name, which is technically Japanese. English words become appropriated and become unfamiliar – it’s common to see the word “naive” on skin lotion bottles, meaning that it’s for “sensitive” skin. When I went to the UK for interviews and I was being introduced to some students, I wondered if I ought to pronounce the “t” in my last name as a “d” or a hard “t” – would it change what they thought my last name was? If I say pants, will the students giggle uncontrollably or will they understand the cultural difference and move on? (I would giggle).
Over the next while (however long I can keep it up, in other words), I’m going to be contacting my half-Japanese friends to ask them about their experiences and thoughts, and posting about it on here. If you’re interested in contributing, whether you know me personally or not, let me know. The more the merrier.
22 June 2013 § 2 Comments
There are a few questions that are difficult to answer upon return:
- How was Japan?/What was Japan like?
- Did you get to see much of Japan?
- It must be nice to be home, ‘eh?
- Are you glad to be back?
- What’s the plan now?
Difficult, because there’s too much to say, and there are too many emotions that go along with all of it to really properly express what I mean. The fourth question, in particular, is a challenging one. Like Alan Parrish and Sarah Whittle in Jumanji, the Pevensie siblings in Narnia, Samwise and Frodo, Harry, Hermione, and Ron – once you’ve been through an adventure, once you’ve left the comforts of home and found other worlds, it’s difficult to return and be content, knowing what you’ve left behind, knowing what you’ve been through, and knowing what might be ahead. That being said, of course, I am happy to be home. But it’s not simple.
Yes, there’s culture shock. For example:
- I assume everyone wants to steal my things. My purse, my (parents’) car, my sweater, my lip balm. Trying to get over this feeling.
- Becoming aware that Canadians really do say “Sorry!” a lot.
- A dislike of the word “deserve” that I didn’t have before going to Japan.
- Awareness of the way in which people don’t try to perform at their jobs to the best of their ability – a certain attitude or laziness, perhaps..
- The state of public bathrooms.
- More than a few times have I gone to put my grocery basket on the conveyor belt at the store, and then realized that that’s not what we do here.
- Frustration at how slowly lines at stores move due to people using credit/debit.
- The vast size of grocery stores.
- There are lots of big parking lots. Not pedestrian friendly.
I could go on.
I’ve been keeping busy. I had a week of interviews and things in London (England) in May. I found full time work as a high school teacher there starting in September and subsequently bought a one way flight for August. I’m working a couple of part time jobs, while also continuing my work for Waylines Magazine on the side. I’m trying to deal with and sort through the mess of storage bins I left behind in early 2011 before leaving the country again. I’ve been going to lots of poetry things (I meant to be at one tonight, but have found myself completely disinterested in making verbal communication with anyone this evening). I’ve been spending time with my dear family and friends.
And, as anticipated, it feels like it was all a beautiful dream.