Reason #87 to Keep Living: Milestones

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For the last couple of years, school hasn’t been the easiest for me. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know a little of the story: I began my undergraduate degree at full speed in 2013. I was flying. Great marks, great motivation, and not a lot of worries on the financial side of things. But two and a half years in, my brain had run out of steam, my mental illness had flared up worse than ever, and I was ready to give up formal education altogether.

Then, I discovered Japan. After a two and a half week trip there in the summer of 2016, I was desperate to go back, and this time long term. How could I manage that? Teaching English, of course.

But in order to teach English I needed to finish my degree. Continue reading

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Reason #82 to Keep Living: Memory

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It’s a new year, with new resolutions and new reasons to keep living. And yet the past still sifts around me, like sand in the air.

I’m still living out of suitcases since I returned to Canada. I’m still incessantly looking at photographs of the past year in Japan. I’m still clinging to this place I used to be, this life I used to live. Continue reading

Reason #81 to Keep Living: Communication

Transitioning into my new life in Canada hasn’t been easy. Since arriving in my home country on December 13th, I’ve been dealing not only with jet lag, but also with a very strange type of culture shock.

It’s uncanny: things which used to be familiar to me are now foreign. Everything’s loud, the sky is impenetrably grey (I forgot winter here meant no sunlight), and the people are — to put it nicely — a little more forward, a little more open, a little less professional.

One aspect of Canada that has made my life simpler instead of harder is the language. Communicating in Japanese was a challenge that only got marginally easier throughout my year in Japan. Nearly every public part of my life was affected. From ordering food and filling out government documents to running errands and shopping, every personal encounter outside of my apartment was potentially stressful and complicated. Continue reading

Foreign As Normal and Time Like Quicksand: 10 Months in Tokyo

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Squeezing myself into a crowded subway car at rush hour, scrolling through my phone while crushed within a hoard of suit-clad businessmen and women: this is normal to me.

Ordering food using a total of three words, kore wo kudasai (“this please”), and a whole lot of pointing: this is normal to me.

Meeting gaze after gaze that hangs just a moment too long on my face, telling me without any verbal communication that I’m different, I’m strange, that I don’t belong.

This is normal to me.

Now, before you leave because you’re sure I’m about to drown you in my sob story about being a visible minority in Japan, wait a minute. I’m not. That isn’t what this is about. I’m not writing because I need someone to comfort me, to tell me that I’m not so strange, that I belong (I don’t) — I’m writing because I haven’t written purely about Japan in eight months. Because, for the longest time, I couldn’t think of anything to write about. I didn’t think there was anything to write about. Everything had become normal. And normal is boring. Nobody wants to write about “normal,” and certainly nobody wants to read about it.

But normal was exactly what I should have been writing about. Because normal was leaving my apartment at 8:00 in the morning and getting home at 8:30 in the evening. Normal was dedicating around fifty-five hours a week to work and still double-checking my bank account to make sure I could pay rent. Normal was coffee, coffee, and more coffee (and I’m not usually a coffee drinker). Normal was that deep pull in my leg muscles as I ascended the last set of stairs to my apartment at the end of the day.

Normal was also travelling only an hour on the subway to visit Disneyland and DisneySea (unique to Tokyo). Normal was taking one of the fastest trains in the world to cities all over Japan, including Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Nara, and Nikko. Normal was eating some amazing food for some even more amazing prices. Normal was watching the cherry blossoms bloom.

Like I said, normal was exactly what I should have been writing about. But normal happened in the same way quicksand swallows the body: all of sudden you’re up to your knees and there’s no use struggling. All of a sudden you’re up to your neck. Continue reading

Reason #79 to Keep Living: Blue Skies

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Sunshine is hard to come by these days. In Japan, the sun sets around 5 pm at this time of year, leaving the days short. They feel cut off, choked by the night before they’ve hardly begun. An announcement rolls across the neighbourhood out of loud speakers at exactly 4:30 pm, telling the children to go home, that darkness is coming soon. I feel my heart roll up in my chest and a solid ball form in my throat. Another day, gone. Another round of sunlight pulled down into the horizon.

So, when the sunshine is out, I try my best to enjoy it. I walk around in it, let it in the window, touch it with my hands. It’s warm and white. It heats up the inside of my apartment, and leaves it heated well into the evening.

Things aren’t so bad, when there are blue skies in November.

There are blue skies in November. There are blue skies.


Read the original post of 101 Reasons to Keep Living to discover the genesis of this project, or catch up on any posts you might have missed here

Reason #77 to Keep Living: Looking Forward

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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

Reason #76 to Keep Living: Partnership

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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

Reason #74 to Keep Living: Community

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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

Reason #67 to Keep Living: Quiet Places

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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

My Visit to a Japanese Hospital

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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