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

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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

Reason #66 to Keep Living: Discovery

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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

3 Things in Japan That You Don’t See in Ontario

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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