The holidays are quickly approaching, and the end of 2017 is in sight. Last week we were in Paris (a business meeting for my husband) and next week we will be visiting back in the US for Christmas. Originally — as the blog name says — we were going to be living in Japan for two years. But as I mentioned recently, we have been extended for a third year here in Tokyo. Maybe it is time for a little “check-up” of our thoughts about living here…
All in all, we are very happy in Tokyo. My husband likes his job, and feels appreciated, and accepted by his Japanese (and Indian, Pakistani, South Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, British… ) co-workers. He has learned a lot, and enjoys the work he is doing. He travels some — but not overly much — and sometimes I have the opportunity to travel with him. We have accumulated lots of skymiles (and let me tell you SkyPriority and airport sky lounges are a definite perk!)
On the home-front here — my domain, since I am not employed here — things are fine. We like our (tiny) apartment. It is very comfortable, and has a great view of Tokyo Tower and part of the bay. I do miss my house in the US, and I miss my “stuff” sometimes. I definitely miss my car, and my kitties, and my family… but I am happy in my life here.
Just what is it specifically that we like about living in Japan? I think the thing that strikes us most about Japan is the kindness and respect that the Japanese people have shown to us. We are strangers here, with only a rudimentary grasp of the Japanese language, and yet they have been almost unfailingly kind and generous to us. They — by nature — are not outwardly, gregariously friendly. In fact, as a whole, the Japanese people are really pretty introverted. But yet, everyone we have gotten to know or have interacted with at all, has been very kind and polite to us… helpful, generous, and accepting. That has been really important to me — to us — as outsiders in a foreign country.
A few weeks ago, after our trip to South Korea, we took a few days vacation and traveled to Kyoto, Nara, and Hiroshima. Kyoto is about 3 hours southwest by Shinkansen, and is the historic capital of Japan. We have been there a couple of times, and there is much to see. At Hiroshima, one of my husband’s business acquaintances spent two days showing us around the city and surrounding area. It was really amazing to get a personalized tour from someone who actually lives there. We saw and learned so much in those two days.
On our last night in Hiroshima, we walked to Peace Park to have one last look at the Atomic Dome. It was just after dark, and a little boy — probably about 5 years old — approached us and said “hello” in English. He asked us where we were from, and as we talked with him his mother pedaled up on her bike. In halting English, she told us that her son had been learning English in school. We tried to speak some of our limited Japanese with her, and in simple English to her son. Soon, the mother reached into her bag and pulled out two paper cranes. She said her son had folded them in school. She handed them to him to give to us. It was such a sweet and touching gesture — to share their symbol of “peace” with two strangers from a foreign country. It touched my heart.
Several months ago, we spent a weekend in Nagano — a city to the north and west of Tokyo in the heart of ski country. We visited shrines and temples, and saw the snow monkeys soaking in the hot springs. Before we left to come back to Tokyo, we stopped in at a little shop to buy Japanese tea. As the woman packed up our purchases, she reached into a basket on the shelf and handed us this origami paper ball. She told us that her friend liked to fold the balls and had asked her to give them away to her customers in appreciation.
I go to a spouse’s language and culture class at my husband’s company about three times per month. I have gotten to know women from many (mostly Asian) countries. Yesterday was a farewell class for two of our group who are soon returning to their home country of India. After the language portion of the class we had a party luncheon, and then a small cultural lesson on gift-giving.
This is a paper gift envelope that I folded and decorated. It is called a noshibukuro. In Japan, it is very common to give money gifts in these folded envelopes. They are sold in all the stores, but many people opt to personalize them by making them themselves. At weddings, instead of buying a gift or household item for the couple, the Japanese usually give money. Likewise… they also give a monetary gift at funerals, birth of a child, New Year’s, and graduations, etc. The Japanese have a keen appreciation for beautiful things, and the wrapping of a gift is very much a part of the gift itself. They take great care and pride in packaging and wrapping gifts beautifully.
These things may seem to be pretty minor and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it is these small kindnesses — and I have many more examples — that have touched us the deepest. Small.Everyday.Kindnesses. I think we need more of these in our world.