Two years ago today, my husband and I stepped off the airplane at Narita Airport to begin our — at that time — two year adventure as American expats in Tokyo. Back then, two years seemed like a long time, and we thought it would be plenty of time to get to know this country and this culture, and these people, and then be ready to step back into our life in the US.
After that first year flew by so fast that we hardly had a chance to say “Ohayou gozaimasu” (good morning), we were offered — and agreed — to stay for a third year. Now, as we have reached the end of our second year living in Tokyo, Japan, a few notes and observations come to mind:
- We did not take the decision to come here lightly. We knew it would be difficult — and it has been more difficult than anything we have ever done together in our marriage — but also, we had no idea just how amazing, rewarding, and fulfilling this experience would be. This culture is fascinating. The Japanese people are kind, generous, and welcoming. We have learned so much in the past two years. And not just about Japan… about ourselves as well.
- The things I miss most about “home”… my pets. My kitties. I know, you expected that I would say my kids, and I DO miss seeing them in person, but I am in contact with them via the internet just about every day. Our children are grown now, with jobs and significant others and busy lives, and they are spread out over the country. Even if I were at home in Georgia, I wouldn’t see them more than a few times a year. My cats, though… I can’t talk to, cuddle, or hold. When I visit back home, they shy away from me now. That hurts.
- I do miss my house, but I am enjoying this big-city-30th-floor-apartment-with-a-view-life. I miss my car, but… I don’t really miss driving my car, so why do I miss the big hunk of metal sitting in my garage in Atlanta? I am perfectly happy riding trains and buses here in Japan. I would happily ride trains and buses in the US… IF that were EVER possible.
- I used to miss my “stuff” in my house at home, but not so much anymore. I have lived for two years without most of it. I found out that we can very happily get by without all that “stuff.” I think when we do go back “home”… there is going to be some serious down-sizing of the “stuff” pile.
- Yes… sometimes I still do get homesick and wish I was back home. The thing is, as much as I sometimes would like to immediately go back to by life THERE… I can’t help but think about all the things I will miss about being HERE. Even though I am very much a “foreigner” here, I find myself feeling very possessive and protective of my temporarily-adopted-country. I can never be Japanese, but I love living Japanese… lol.
- The Japanese language… is very difficult to learn. Lol… I know I have said that many times before, but the more I learn, and the more I study, the more I realize I still have to learn. You see, the language is not just words. It is a culture. A culture that is still very new and unfamiliar to me even after two years here. I can memorize word lists and verbs, and learn hiragana and katakana, and even learn some of the kanji, but this language is so filled with the culture and history of this place that I will never be able to learn it all. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t made significant progress, because we certainly have. It just means that it is a lot more complicated than we realized.
- Japan has changed me. The conundrum that is arising in us is whether we will ever be able to happily go back to that life we had before. I don’t know… It is perplexing visiting back home (as we did over the holidays). I almost feel like I have two lives, and I, in some ways, feel like I am two different people. I am different here from the person I am there. It is hard to explain, but sometimes I am just not sure which life/person I prefer.
- A conclusion. New experiences are good. Grab as many as you can! Sometimes new experiences take you outside your comfort zone and make you squirm. Do them anyway, and realize that the discomfort is much more interesting than the same old, same old. Change is inevitable. Roll with it. Embrace and live life as fully as you can, for as long as you can.
What will this next year bring? Certainly some travel. A couple of trips “home” and some visitors from there. And… everyday life in the biggest city in the world. How will we feel after our third year here? Only time will tell…