My dad used to say that he never wants to retire because when you retire, you die.
But this isn’t true. For example, the average Japanese person lives far past retirement. There are more centenarians here (people who live to the age of 100 years) than anywhere else in the world.
Don’t worry. I won’t let this turn into another long spiel about Japan. The point is, many elderly Japanese people are more active, both physically and mentally, than elderly Canadian or American people. I’m not saying this is the sole cause of their longevity, but it can’t hurt. They go to the park and exercise; they volunteer in the community, cleaning up garbage around their grand kids’ schools, sweeping up the roads, or running classes at the local community center; they read and play musical instruments and bike, bike, bike.
The elderly Japanese fill their lives with not only things that keep them busy (like watching TV or listening to the radio), but with things that give them purpose. Things to look forward to. Continue reading
Although the word ‘partnership’ elicits a sense of formality or legality, here I mean partnership as more of a long-term friendship or relationship. I mean it as the pact you make with someone, however overtly or implicitly, that says you will be leaning on each other now, counting on each other, working for each other.
Partnership means there is someone out in the world standing up for you and standing by you. Making you laugh, making you talk, making you go to work, go to bed, making you tea (or coffee, or a smoothie, or bringing you milk and cookies). Continue reading
Is it strange to say that in Tokyo I feel more connected to the people around me than I ever did back home, in little London, Ontario? Is it odd to say that I feel less like a number, that in a city with a greater population than all of Canada, I can walk down the street and feel part of something — part of a community.
It feels strange, it feels odd, but is it really? In a country where people are culturally trained to show common courtesy, to bring their garbage home with them, clean the toilet seat after using it, and be quiet in the evenings, is it really so bizarre to feel a sense of camaraderie with these people? Continue reading
Sumida River, Tokyo
Life can be loud. Traffic on the street, birds in the trees, people talking in a clamour at the subway station, sometimes even your own headphones in your ears — it can all be loud.
Life can also be loud in a spatial or visual sense. Although I’ve generally become accustomed to bustling Tokyo, there are still times that shuffling crowds of people, tightly packed buildings, and bright billboards overwhelm me. They seem to be shouting, and maybe they are — at least in the sense that they all fight, squabbling, for my attention. Continue reading
Visiting the hospital can be frightening under the most comfortable of circumstances. Visiting the hospital in a foreign country, while having to speak a foreign language, can be downright terrifying.
I’ll never forget my friend who had to go to the hospital in Barcelona because of kidney troubles. “We’re going to give you a surgery,” the doctor told her (in English). After she protested and refused, the doctor consulted an English translator and corrected himself: “We’re going to give you an X-ray.”
This, mind you, was in Spain, where there is a lot more English floating around than here in Japan. In fact, the English and Spanish languages aren’t that vastly different to begin with. English and Japanese, on the other hand… Well, good luck.
I first knew I had to go to the hospital in Japan when I started having symptoms of what could have been post-surgery complications. I won’t get into the grimy details, but a minor, laparoscopic surgery before leaving Canada made me wary of my body in ways I hadn’t been before. Now I knew it was better to be safe than sorry, so I started my research on what hospital to visit in Japan. Continue reading
When my employer first told me that I was going to be working and living in Tokyo, I believed that the monotony of my life — at least for the time being — was over. It was Tokyo, after all! The most populated city on Earth! A city I had already visited and hardly even gotten a taste of. Surely, in a year, I could have a significant bite, but never, never the whole meal.
I think I was right about never experiencing all of Tokyo: it’s so massive and diverse that it would take a lifetime to do so. (Without being able to speak Japanese, it would take longer. An eternity.) But I wasn’t right about my monotonous life coming to an end. It turns out that no matter where you are in the world, no matter what city you live in, what people you know, or what work you do, your life will be monotonous if you let it be monotonous. Continue reading
Although we all know to some degree that the cliche, “existence is suffering,” is more true than we ever thought it could be, it’s often difficult to reconcile this suffering with the need to keep moving forward. What I mean is that it’s easy to forget how to feel bad strategically, so we can continue through our daily lives. It’s easy to forget how to be indulgently sad, or how to feel bad at the appropriate time and place. Continue reading
If you follow me on Instagram, or if you know anything about my reasons for coming to Japan, you’ll be aware of my obsession with cherry blossoms. The flowers on these spectacular trees scattered all over Tokyo began to bloom about a week ago, and they are fading just as quickly. Already I have seen their tiny petals dotting the sidewalk. Continue reading
When I arrived in Japan almost two months ago, I expected some big changes. Having grown up in Ontario, Canada, I was used to crappy public transportation, large houses (not to mention big backyards), and toilets in the same room as the shower.
Everything is different in Japan.
I knew this would be the case. Like I said, I expected some big changes. I knew the public transportation here would be amazing (I’m not kidding — I get frustrated and confused now when my train’s a minute late); I knew everything would be crammed, from my apartment to the sidewalk to the places at which I eat and shop; and I knew, because I had visited Japan before, that my toilet would most likely not be in the same room as my shower.
But there have been some differences that I didn’t know about or expect. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on and on about the vending machines and convenience stores (which are endless and always actually convenient). These three differences were more subtle. They took longer for me to notice. And, most importantly, I think they speak to the deeper differences between Japan and America as a whole. Continue reading
Looking in my bathroom mirror recently, I can’t help but feel surprised by the person I see. The expression on her face is always a bit alarming, balanced somewhere between total exhaustion and relief at being home finally at 8:30 pm. The hair on her head doesn’t have any opinion: it’s pulled straight back into a ponytail, braid, or a variety of other methods that help her pretend it doesn’t exist during the day.
And those eyes… I try to not even think of those eyes, let alone look into them. They’re tired, always. They remind me of how much older I’m starting to look, how much older I’m starting to feel.
Surprisingly, despite the rush of this new life in Japan, despite the stress, the busyness, and the millions of tiny frustrations and disappointments, I am getting along just fine. Continue reading