Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Japan: A Survival Guide

As exhilarating as living in Japan can be, some days get very lonely, and inevitably culture shock does happen. I thought I was immune to it since I went through it BIG TIME back in Korea, but apparently not, as I went through a mild version in Japan this past month. Living in rural Japan is a totally different story than living in Seoul, and it comes with new challenges, such as people following you at the supermarket to see what you put in your basket, or elderly people refusing to sit next to you on the train.

And as wonderful as my relaxed work schedule is, all that free time can be difficult. I've never spent as much time alone as I have since I moved to Japan, which is good because it made me a lot more independent. And despite the amount of friends I quickly made in my little town, I still feel loneliness and isolation in small doses, and that definitely is the most difficult thing about living in Japan.

After another failed trip to the supermarket and a teary phone call to a very understanding boy (who has lived here for much longer than I have), I opened my inbox to find a sweet and funny message with tips I wanted to share:

Explore you local area... If you find nice things, you become happy about your location.
Even if you live in a small town and it seems like there is nothing to do, you should hop on your bike and go explore. I live in the most rural region of Japan, which is full of natural beauty: Temples, beaches, and mountains abound, and I have a gorgeous castle in my backyard, where I enjoy picnics on its grounds.
{Bikes rides with friends! Always fun.}

Eat fun food...Yum yum! But not sweets, they make you feel gross after.
Oh, Japanese foods!! I wrote an entire post about it, and yes, trying new foods is always exciting, and there is so much variety, you can never get bored. As for sweets, I tend to disagree because I love sweets (especially Japanese ones), and they motivate me to go running on a daily basis!
{Mmmmmmmm Japanese sweets...}

Learn something new
I study Japanese. I go running and hiking. I read books and watch movies. I meet some friends for lunch or coffee. I write and take photos. I bake. And yet I'm left with MORE free time. Living in Japan is your chance to focus on something you really love, or try a traditional hobby: calligraphy, martial arts, ikebana, ceramics, kimono wearing. Learning Japanese has been keeping me busy, and understanding the language a bit more has clearly improved my quality of life here!
{Studying hard!}

Although his choice of words were a bit more graphic, I think rewarding yourself is important. Even in the smallest ways, and especially after a rough day. Whether it is a bento box, a bike ride, a magazine, a new book, a Skype conversation, a soak in the bath, a fun movie, a walk by the sea, a trip to the import food store... cheer yourself up with little things! And... I have a box of Mac 'n Cheese on hand for emergency situations.
{I love browsing through Japanese fashion magazines and cutting out pictures.}

Too much indie is bad, too!
Whatever that means? Well I did try to listen to less sad songs and more upbeat stuff, and yes, it does help.

Having things to look forward to is one of the best ways to cope with loneliness/culture shock: planning little getaways to nearby big cities really spices things up, and seeing more of Japan is wonderful. Despite the daily challenges, I still have so much love and fascination for this country, and it has been oh-so-good to me.

{Touching deer is soothing!}


Anonymous said...

aww vivian <3 culture shock is definitely hard to matter how big or small. i miss the daily challenges or that excitement or suspense of living abroad though :)

music is always my medicine. check out "new soul" by yael naim. that song always makes me smile. and for some reason "give it to me right" by melanie fiona always seem to make me like i have the strength to push through anything lol.

Nicole Marie said...

i think this is a great survival guide for living or traveling abroad anywhere!

David said...

Why was it a failed attempt at the supermarket? I lived in the inaka for 2 years. Yeah, I was stared at. Yeah, it sometimes bothered me. But I realized that I was providing a a bit of a thrill, a story to tell....I was providing service to the bored denizens of my town....

Vivian said...

Hey David! Yes, I agree, I do provide entertainment for those folks, which can be kind of exciting when I'm in the right mood. But some days I just feel like going unnoticed, and those days suck. And maybe I'm being wrong, but sometimes I think foreign girls get A LOT more attention than guys...

I think it was just a weird mood I was being in, some old people looked so scared to see me, and a baby started crying, and I was stressed out= failed supermarket trip...!!

But things are definitely okay with the right attitude! Thanks for your comment.

DiamondsandTulle said...

Great tips Viv! I can't imagine how I'd feel to move somewhere so foreign to me. You're doing incredibly well and showing the rest of us how we could do better!

xx Vivian @

Erika said...

This is such an amazing post! You've made me want to take a trip anywhere abroad - Japan, London, Australia. Oh, that would be amazing!! :)

David said...

Hi Vivian,

Yes, I agree that foreign women have it much harder in are judged by both men and women. In my experience, most men don't really judge other know, that once-over twice. Of course, it all depends on the person. But my female friends tell me that women just face so much scrutiny-- even from other women....where is the sisterhood? I live in Yokohama, only 24 minutes by train to Shibuya. I am almost never stared at. People just don't have the time....foreigners are just a blip on their radar... In fact, on the train I have notice that people would rather sit next to me than some schlubby salaryman.... I am planning to escape the urban jungle this summer and head down to your part of the archipelago, to Ashizuri in Kochi.