During my final month in Japan, my friends kept asking, “What will you miss most?” I always struggled to come up with an answer because I wasn’t sure. I had a feeling I’d miss certain things like how polite everyone is, or having my own apartment, but I didn’t really know. I’d answer that I’d miss the food. Which is definitely true. Japanese food should be hailed as some of the most delicious food in the world. I’m not just talking about succulent sashimi or scrumptious sushi – but every single meal I had prepared by Japanese people was amazing. Maybe there’s a part of Japan that has less delicious food, but I wouldn’t believe it. I sort of wish I was exaggerating. It’s a great place for a cook - the grocery store is filled with wonderfully fresh ingredients! I miss frying up tentacles. So good!
While the food was phenomenal, I ended up missing something a little more subtle. I miss the cleanliness. Japan is fucking clean. Yes, an expletive was necessary. The only comparable place is probably Germany, but I wouldn’t know. I’ve just heard tales of its cleanliness. Which I’m sure are true, however Japan as I know it, is the cleanest place in the world. Damn. They sweep, and scrub, and wash everything daily it seems. Sometimes the streets would smell like bleach. I’m not kidding. I watched people prune trees, meticulously sweep sidewalks, and of course always remove shoes indoors. Garbage didn’t seem to exist. You can’t even find garbage cans – no joke. Ask anyone who’s lived there, you’re lucky if a convenience store has one.
Japan is beautifully, magically clean. It’s my sort of paradise. I believe in keeping things clean and organized. Apparently, they’re on board with that. When I returned to my hometown, what immediately sprung to mind was how dirty everything and everyone looked. I felt grossed out actually. I feel sort of bad about my reaction, but it was unexpected for me. I took for granted how absolutely picture-perfect everything is in Japan. People painstakingly keep their clothes tidy, and nothing ever looks out of place. Men and women in suits, children in uniforms, and even people dressed in casual attire appear freshly washed and pressed. In Canada – more specifically my blue collar hometown, people seem to wear just about anything. Ripped sweat pants and a t-shirt dappled with paint are acceptable clothes to wear in public. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I have to say I was a little spoiled. Even farmers in rural Japan didn’t appear out of place.
As an aside, the real reason Japanese people and the community at large appears so immaculate is due to their fear of offending anyone – or for that matter, bothering anyone. Seriously. They can’t even imagine intruding. It would be the worst, most horrible thing (another thing I have in common). Well, apparently my sensibilities became tailored to that environment and when I returned I…turned my nose up at it. I laugh at it now because it seems silly but it’s good to reflect in complete honesty.
So I miss the artfully clean streets of Japan, and the perfectly done up pedestrians – what else do I miss? I miss my apartment – as tiny as it was. It was my place. I ate what I wanted, came and went like I pleased, and on top of everything, had a sense of freedom and independence I’ve never known before. My family was in another country, but they might as well have been on another planet. I had no obligations outside of work. It was different. Now that I’m back home, things have more or less reverted back to the way things were.
What else do I miss? My friends, my students, the local grocery store, the 7-11 with my favourite clerk, washing and hanging clothes (oddly enough)…I miss my life there. My imaginary, brief life on another planet across the ocean. I had another identity, I was a different person. I became a person that enjoyed teaching children and adolescents. I should reiterate, I definitely miss some of my students (and others I'm all too happy it was the last time).
Thinking about how I miss everything now really makes me realize how ignorant I was before. I took the simple things for granted, and assumed I'd just be happy to be home. Which, don't get me wrong, I'm happy - but I can't help lament over the conclusion to a chapter.
I've finally returned to Canada!
One of the oddest feelings after returning from Japan has been finding a few little things that I had left behind but intended to take with me. Nothing too significant, but for some reason I immediately believe that if I had brought the thing with me – perhaps it would have rendered my entire experience more positively, and with that I feel a gripping sadness. An emotion of such proportions that in order for my ego to deal with moving, my mind imagines that it’s nothing but a faded dream. I have literally sat in silence, wondering if I had ever lived in Japan at all. A ridiculous thought that simply bewilders me to no end, but it also feels the most true.
If one day I “wake up” to find that I have been living in an asylum, and somehow had been convinced of my delusions, well I wouldn’t exactly be surprised. I might be mildly startled. “Oh? All a figment of my imagination? Some sort of strange fantasy? You think I would have imagined something better…” That’s when the psychiatrist or what-have-you would explain that when my parents visited, I pretended to be skyping them. “They went along with everything – for your sake,” the psychiatrist might say. I’d simply nod – maybe yawn, “Makes sense”.
I suppose part of the reason I could believe it’s all just a fantastical and mundane story, is that no one acknowledges that it happened. Yes, upon my return they told me I was missed, but when I tried to share some of my experiences – I found an odd thing happen. People would avert their attention and talk about something else. At first it made sense to me – if I was the other person, I might be annoyed or bored by stories of some far off land I’ve never been to – it’s a possibility. Then it just started to feel weirder. I realized that no one really wanted to hear about it. So I’ve kept to myself largely, only casually bringing up a comparison now and then. That’s when people make the obligatory “Hm!” sound, like they just heard something interesting.
Now I know that by confessing these feelings I might appear vain or self centered. One might be inclined to roll their eyes, but from my perspective I travelled to another planet and completely transformed myself. I want to share my traumas, my heartache, my discoveries, and moments of absolute delight! I want to share with the people I love and care about. Yet, I sense a wall every time I broach the topic. I generally try and avoid it altogether for that reason. All of this affirms my odd belief that it was all make believe.
Then I remembered something else. Their lives have changed too. They lived their lives while I was gone. They weren’t put on hold – stuff happened. They saw movies, celebrated events, suffered tragedies…these things happened without me. There was a literal distance between me and everyone back in Canada. In a sense, I asked for a break. “Look, it’s not you, it’s me. I know we’ve had some fun times. And I haven’t stopped loving you…but, I need some time and space. I need to grow as a person. I just think this would be better – for both of us.” Canada then nodded and swallowed hard, wanting to believe it was for the better when all it could taste was the salty tears of abandonment.
I apologize. I let myself get carried away with theatrics.
After a long time of mulling things over, I remembered that there is one place where I may vent inexhaustibly and some people might even listen. A beautiful, wonderful place – you may have heard of it before. The internet. That’s right, “the”. As in, the one and only.
From now on, I'll be updating my website daily with one story or another from my time in Japan! (Maybe other stuff too...) Look forward to it!
About two years ago I started watching videos about some very small homes. I was instantly intrigued since my partner and I shopped around and found a place a little over 1100 square feet. After watching video after video about places that were supremely smaller I was astounded at the ingenuity and efficiency. I'm inspired by the creativity of people living in small spaces and I think it's one of those things that lives up to the old adage: Necessity is the mother of invention.
As a Canadian I thought it would be interesting to share a little about Canadian history. Today is Sir John A. Macdonald Day, he was the first Prime Minister of Canada. He played a very important role in Canadian history by joining the provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the province of Canada under the British North America Act in 1867. This act created a federal dominion and defined the government of Canada.
After the official creation of Canada on July 1, 1867, John Alexander Macdonald was knighted and designated the first Prime Minister. He is credited with creating a Canadian Confederation. In the 19 years he served, he took what was a small colony and spread the population across the land with the help of the railroad. Despite his great efforts he was never truly honoured with any fantastic monuments unlike his American counterpart, George Washington. It wasn't until 2001 that Canadian parliament named January 11 Sir John A. Macdonald Day, yet you wouldn't know it since it passes by unnoticed. Largely because it's not a holiday. It's a shame since without his hard work and dedication there might not be a Canada. Yet it truly speaks volumes about Canadian culture.
Today we commemorate a strange holiday called, "National Roof Over Your Head Day". No one knows the exact origins of this holiday but I think it's an important thing to consider since many people do not have the luxury of shelter.
Every time I encounter a homeless person I feel such sorrow and shame. Sorrow because it's a very difficult situation and it's even harder to solve. Shame because I feel like I could be doing more but I don't know what that more could possibly be.
Last year my partner and I purchased our first home together. It was a large investment but we both felt that it made the most sense. Every day I'm grateful for the wonderful home I'm living in. It's warm, comforting and it's always there. I know I'm incredibly lucky. Before we decided on purchasing a place we looked at renting. It's outrageously expensive, unstable, the neighbours are not always pleasant and your rights are very limited. Living in a rented space is very common and for some a stepping stone.
Long before I ever met my partner I had lived in an apartment with my first boyfriend. It was a nice location but the apartment was a humble bachelor suite - in other words no bedroom. While it wasn't a bad size I can tell you it's not all that great for two people. Perhaps for one person it's quite reasonable but for a couple, it can make things tense and stressful. I suppose what made it more trying in my situation was the fact we didn't have a stable income. I worked and he worked but he would inevitably quit. Over and over and over again. This made it difficult to get enough money for rent and utilities, never mind food or recreation. So we barely lived from paycheque to paycheque. Sometimes we borrowed ahead on our paycheques or went to the local grocery store where every cart returned meant one dollar.
When I think back on how hard it was in that little bachelor apartment I remember thinking how close we were to being homeless. The months we couldn't pay the rent on time and begged the landlord for patience and compassion. It wasn't easy. In fact it inspired me to go to university. More than ever I appreciate the fine line between having a place to call your own, no matter how small and sleeping in a cardboard box.
So today I celebrate how lucky I am to have a roof over my head.
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