Time flies — and we have been here in our Tokyo apartment for three months already! Things don’t seem so strange here anymore. In fact, the “strange” thing is how normal things are starting to feel here. Despite the fact that we don’t speak much of the language… and that we look different, dress (somewhat) differently, and come from a completely different culture, we are feeling pretty comfortable here. Human beings, apparently, are adaptable creatures. Given the basics, we can pretty much figure out the rest. Yes — there are still difficult things living here, and difficult days, and days when we feel homesick for things back home, but for the most part, we really like it here in Japan. We have settled into a nice routine. Some things…
- The sun comes up really early here. We have sliding doors to the balcony in the bedroom and the living room. We have drapes on those doors, but we love to see the lights of Tokyo, and the Tokyo Tower at night, so we always leave the drapes open when we go to sleep. Then… when it starts getting light at 4:30 in the the morning (yes… it does!) I wake up. I can usually go back to sleep until 5:30 or so, but pretty much we are up by 6am. I don’t mind getting up early when it is light out.
- We walk A LOT here. No car. I miss my car… for the places I could go with it back home. But I don’t miss having a car here. Does that make sense? I love my car… but I don’t need it here. I like to walk, and I can take the subway anywhere I need to go in Tokyo, and a train to anywhere I need to go in Japan. I am enjoying the walking (and running) here in Tokyo. Our part of the city is very residential (even with the high-rise apartments all around.) There are lots of parks and schools and lots of families and children. Not really what you’d think about living in a huge city. In the US, it seems that most families with children move out to the suburbs… but there are families all over the place here!
- Grocery shopping doesn’t seem so weird anymore. I go to the supermarket almost every day (you know… I have a really small refrigerator.) I have a routine list of things I buy. Yes… it is different from what I buy in the US, but we have adapted our diet to living here in Japan, and eating more like they do here. I miss some foods from home, but less than I thought. The food here is wonderful. We are enjoying trying new foods here. You have to give in to the culture… It would be much more frustrating trying to find the ingredients for our usual US diet here. Again… the food is wonderful here. Yum. (Except for the natto. Yuck.)
- Shopping can be a challenge — depending on what you are looking for. There are so many shops and department stores here, but nothing (that we have found yet) equivalent to Target. I miss Target. I miss having a place to buy… everything-I-need-all-in-one-place. Here, I have to go to lots of different stores to buy things I need. Right now, I am looking for potting soil for container plants for my balcony. I have no idea where (close enough to carry home) to buy it. We have Daiso stores here that are roughly equal to dollar stores back in the US, but some of their merchandise is a little… cheap, and they don’t have everything I need.
- We do have online shopping… and Amazon.jp is great, but even on the “English” site, there is still a lot of Japanese to wade through. We are now “Prime” members on Amazon.jp, and they do have fast and efficient shipping. Target has a JP site now too, but I haven’t tried it yet. Receiving packages here is a little different… there is no UPS here. The delivery person rings from down at the entrance to the building, and I have to let them in (remotely.) They come up to our door, and I have to sign for every package.
- Money. Money issues have probably been the most frustrating things we have dealt with here. Mostly because our US bank and credit card companies don’t communicate with our Japanese accounts. There are so many financial hoops to jump through here. But we manage. Day to day, the thing that was hardest to get used to was carrying cash and paying almost everything with cash. Back in the US, I rarely carried much cash, and paid almost everything with the credit card. Japan is (strangely — considering they have so much technology) very much a cash society. I did not expect this. We use the credit card rarely. And I have to make sure when I shop at the supermarket that I have enough cash to pay for it. I know I could use the credit card if I needed to, but most people here prefer to use cash.
So… Three months into this assignment, we are doing fine. Last week we were in St. Petersburg, Russia, and I got to meet some other expat spouses (with my husband’s company.) We all compared notes about what it was like living abroad in our respective countries. We all talked about how hard it was to arrange everything and get settled, but most everyone in the group was happy about their expat experience. Some — who were finishing their time, and preparing to go back home — lamented that their time was almost up. I expect to feel that way at the end of two years. Yes… it will be nice to be home, but yes… I think I will miss my “home” here.