Photo by Diabolo-Spinner
Every day I’m finding it harder and harder to leave Japan.
It’s not just that my boss has offered me more hours, more pay, and a chance to design and run my own weekend art courses. It’s not just that my friends question my sanity and guilt trip me with “Everyone is always leaving me!” It’s also that well, Japan is a tough place to leave.
Just ask all the people who came here for “just a year”, 15 years ago.
I think my friend described it best when she compared living abroad to her daily running routine. She hates to run and yet she does it because she knows it’s good for her, just like she may hate living in Japan at times, she still knows that she’ll be a better person because of it. I like that analogy.
If living abroad can be compared to a morning jog, then I’d say that living in Japan is like a marathon run up Mt. Fuji. It’s agonizing, exhausting and a giant pain in your side, yet it’s one of those things that when it’s all said and done, you’re glad you did it.
Even though it’s been the most difficult past 10 months of my life to date, part of me is afraid if I leave, I’ll miss the constant challenge. I’ll long for that ‘runner’s high’ you get after accomplishing some small feat that anywhere else would be considered mundane and trivial. Like that first time you place in order in a restaurant without having to point at the pictures, for example, or that first time you watch a TV commercial and find that you’re able to understand every word of it. Every-day activities like trips to the bank or the supermarket become these huge, all consuming events, extra-curricular activities even.
Take grocery shopping, for example. I dread it at home and often live off of plain bread or canned olives, just so that I don’t have to trek to the store. But when I travel or live in a foreign country, it becomes one of my favorite things to do. I could (and do), peruse the ailes of Peacock (Japan’s version of Safeway or Stop and Shop) for hours, examining food labels and snacking on sushi or wasabi-flavored potato chips.
Sometimes the process can be irritating, like today when I mistakenly bought vinegar thinking that it was vegetable oil. But I guess that’s one of the things I love best about Japan: It can be really mind-numbingly difficult. But difficult is interesting. Difficult is an adventure. Difficult is definitely not life back in the US.
I tried to explain this to my mother today, but I don’t think she fully understood what I meant. A trip to the dry cleaners doesn’t have to become a four-hour saga in order for life to be interesting, she pointed out. “That’s what hobbies are for,” she said. “Take a yoga class if you’re bored.”
But it’s not the same. Comparing the mental and emotion stimulation you get from living abroad with a yoga class or a book club meeting, is like comparing a two week vacation at a resort on St. Lucia with a weekend at the Ramada Inn in Albany. There’s just no comparison.
I think the hardest part is knowing when to call it quits. Where do you draw the line between a healthy amount of ‘difficult’, a healthy amount of pain and struggle and just plain, ‘beat your head against the wall’ insanity?
I just can’t tell anymore if the pain I’m experiencing means I’m getting into shape or if it means that it’s time to, you know, climb off the treadmill.