Tuesday, September 17, 2013

10 Reasons Why I Stay in Japan

(BGM: Don't Belong  by Andy Duguid feat. Leah)

I can't believe it's been twelve years since I first made the jump to fulfill my lifelong dream and move to Japan. To be honest, I had no idea I would spend more than a year here. I seriously believed at the time that I would come back after the short stint was over, see my family and friends again, be reunited with all my things and live happily ever after in the land of the familiar. Back then, seeing the future was easy. Though I'd overcome quite a few challenges already, I had no clue about the way life and death really worked, nor did I care. But choices have consequences that are impossible to foresee -all good, but some not so comfortable.

Several of my loved ones would depart this earth during my time away. Still others would simply stop communicating with me, even after all my attempts to keep in touch. My things would be sold, my home included. Now I am adrift in a country I'm not legally allowed to call 'home,' with no way out and nowhere to go back to. I have become a gypsy. A nomad. Follow the work, sing and dance in the firelight, pack up and move somewhere else. It's not a living, but wow, what a LIFE!

This kind of ride doesn't come without its own risks. It's hard to keep friends in this situation. And it's quite impossible to think of settling down to have a family. I am married to another ex-pat, which means that most of the benefits of our host country are unavailable to us. We aren't sure at our age if it's worth pursuing citizenship. The idea of having children is so unrealistic and impractical, that it has since become a running joke between us. We're too old now to consider it, anyways.

But it's not as grim as it seems. For me, being an ex-pat has countless more payoffs than drawbacks. My life is an ongoing adventure. If I were to die five minutes from now, I can seriously look back on my life and feel good about how it all went. I've contributed to making this world a better place and got the chance to help lots of people. I've met some amazing souls and done some incredible things. I've had the pleasure of savoring experiences my peers back home could only dream about. Not everyone I know can say that.

So, there's nothing left to do but to just keep enjoying where I am, while working whatever jobs I can land to survive and hopefully, start giving back to all those who contributed to getting and keeping me here.

Just in case I forget, though, for those times when I'm caught up in the thrill of survival, these are the 10 reasons I decided to stay in Japan as an ex-pat, and why it's not that awful of a life, at least, not for me.


Tensai Bakabon figures for sale at a shop in Odaiba, Tokyo
From the complex language to the way the Japanese train their children to bow at just the right angle, it all intrigues me. Japanese culture is my passion to this day. But more than anything, I'm attracted to learning about the old ways when folk lived much closer to the land than they do, today. It's still very possible to enjoy this old Japan outside city limits.

The traditional Japanese diet centered around fish, beans, vegetables and rice is as healing as it is nutritious. There are countless forests and mountains to keep my hiking feet happy, and the national love of sports and outdoor activity means that I'm in good company for keeping myself fit. It's a great place to lose weight and keep it off, cheaply. 


Some of the kindest strangers I ever met :-)
I've met some really incredible people here. I consider many of them my extended family. Their love and constant encouragement help to keep me here. It's so easy to have the most eye-opening, mind-expanding conversations with complete strangers in Japan. And their hospitality to solo travelers is legendary for a reason.


The Yoshino River flowing through Iya Village (Tokushima Prefecture)
The metropolises do indeed sparkle with bright and colorful lights. But Japan's true colors are green, purple, gold and azure -not fifty shades of concrete gray. Part of my mission here is to show off to the world Japan's inner beauty inaccessible by public transportation.


A ghost crab caught on Tachibana Beach, Mukaishima Island (Hiroshima Prefecture)

The Japanese archipelago has a staggering variety of birds, insects, wildflowers, marine life and other creatures. Many are unique to the islands. I love challenging myself with the daunting task of learning their names in both English and Japanese.

In Japan, there's true freedom of expression and religion that isn't really appreciated or practiced where I am from. I aim not to offend by this, but culturally, there seems to be more of a respect of personal privacy and individual thought here than in the USA, a place where strangers outwardly approach you to engage in intensely personal conversations about your deepest beliefs (or lack of them). In Japan, you can live without the constant judgment and harassment for thinking one way or another. Sure, the Japanese tell each other how to behave every moment of the day. But at least you can freely believe what you want without any of reproach. To illustrate my point, in Japan during the Bush Jr. administration, when I said I was against war, even people who didn't agree with me (hard to find back then) would simply accept my opinion for what it was: my opinion. But whenever I said the same thing in the US, I would be labeled a "liberal" and a "commie" by not only strangers, but by co-workers and relatives, some even claiming to be religious. True story!


An Organic Farm at Shigaraki-no-Sato (Koka City, Shiga Prefecture)
For the time being, Japan's treasure is still its agricultural network. At the time of writing, it's very possible to live nearly anywhere in mainland Japan and get most of your produce locally grown at a reasonable price. An increasing number of farms are going organic. Farmers markets exist nationwide. Practically anyone can take their own land and turn it into a garden. The lack of neighborhood zoning laws makes for a country full of fresh and beautiful food. I say "for the time being" because trade agreements like TPP threaten to destroy the whole system by squishing the small farmers who can't compete with bigger corporations. But for now, I am grateful for the chance to enjoy non-GMO, locally-grown food while I still can. 


The Yu-Momi Show  at Kusatsu Onsen (Gumma Prefecture)

I'm forever fascinated by the way Japan has harnessed the powers of the earth for relaxation and physical health. I'm eternally grateful for this, too. Much of my gratitude will be expressed throughout this blog.


A simple yet elegant salad with sesame dressing (Ebisuya Lodge, Beppu City, Oita Prefecture)
Japanese food is a whole universe in itself. This alone is a worthy reason to remain in Japan as long as possible. 

It's great to not have to worry at all about my credit rating if I'm late on a payment of any kind. Most stores in Japan accept cash, only. The same goes for most public services. It's nice to be able to live somewhere without needing a credit card for day-to-day living. It makes me feel like my life is actually owned by, well, me.

So there you have it. I'm sure I left out a gazillion things. I'm not trying to paint an unrealistic picture presenting life in Japan as all sushi and roses. There's much here to trouble and perplex the foreign mind. I'm well aware of the fact that the only constant in life is change. I'll have to pick up and head somewhere else in time, I'm sure, and that's okay. But for the sake of my own survival, I've made it a habit to appreciate to the fullest the wonder of where I am. I prefer to do that wherever my 'home' is. 

Wide Awake In Japan is a celebration of this wonderment. May it educate and inspire.


 Copyright 2013 Robynn Lee. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

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