Japan is known as the Land of the Rising Sun. It’s so far east that it’s one of the first countries to be woken by the sun rise. And it’s definitely woken me up. It’s been the most challenging, surreal and obscure six months of my life, but I’m still here. I’ve already changed so much and I am learning something new every single day. This is what I want to share.
Being here has taught me more about being grateful. This is a never ending process. Sometimes we say we are grateful and don’t mean it. Sometimes we say it and don’t believe it. Other times we just forget what it as we were grateful for in the first place. I live in a place where the houses look like they are made out of paper and hand stitched fabric, where the sunsets are almost blinding, the trains are never late, and there are umbrellas everywhere. I walk past as rice fields, temples, and bonsai trees every day. I hold on to tiny details because they are what make up the bigger picture, and I can choose how I want my bigger picture to be.
Every day I am grateful to live in such a beautiful and unique country. I will admit there have been days where I’ve woken up thinking, why am I here? Really what am I doing in Japan? It’s been a struggle and I’ve almost walked away. But those feelings have been temporary and when I really think about my life, I realise there is no way I would let go of what I have here. There is so much beauty and so much potential.
Someone told me; find the tiny joys each day that make waking up worthwhile. It’s another lesson I am learning, another habit I have to build. When something is new it’s easy to be excited about it. Further down the line the shininess wears off and maybe the excitement with it. So when everything becomes routine, what can I look forward to each day? Because when training is tiring and teaching takes your energy and your computer screen hurts your eyes, something as simple as 大福 (sweet bean rice balls) can make the whole day sparkle again. You make little land posts throughout your day to keep you going from one thing to the next with ease.
Connecting to a place that is completely unknown takes an open mind, patience and a willingness to learn. Whether or not you can connect with people in another language is more of a mindset. I was terrified of going anywhere on my own when I first arrived. I didn’t have any confidence, and I was very aware of how different I was. Learning a new language and three new alphabets has opened up part of my brain that wasn’t being used, and I am finding language more and more fascinating. It’s brought more awareness to how I interact with people, the pace at which I speak and pronunciation. Talking is so natural and we don’t even think about it when we speak, but I am a lot more mindful every time I open my mouth.
I am always going to stand out here. I know the culture is very different, but if you just respect it, you can let it be part of how you live and part of you. I’m used to being the only white person on a train, and now it’s just normal. I’m not worried if someone says something to me and I stare at them blankly because I don’t understand. And it doesn’t matter that I have blonde hair, blue eyes and white skin, people still want to talk to me and help me, and occasionally come up to me and touch my hair. (Which is weird.)
But I think that the hardest connection you have to make when living in a foreign country is the connection you make with yourself. Facing yourself and embracing yourself.
Everyone has aspects of themselves that they try to hide from, but there’s nothing like moving to another country to bring up all your problems and lay them out in front of you. You already ran away from where you came from, now you can’t outrun yourself. It took a while to realise that I am the one who chooses how I react to things that provoke uncomfortable feelings. A situation is only the way it is based on my perception. That doesn’t mean I can always apply this or react in a rational and controlled way. I still freak out about minor issues. And I will keep making mistakes. But everything I do and everything I experience is making me a better person. The bigger and scarier the challenge, the more it’s worth taking on.
Like my training. What training is to me now and how it’s part of my life has changed so much in the past six months. And I still know I don’t fully understand the point of everything yet. It’s a ongoing process to learn the why’s behind what I am doing. Breaking my foot meant taking a step back anyway, but since then I’ve learnt that set backs will always occur. Life can change in seconds and you need to be willing and able to adapt. This means keeping yourself detached, and not placing all your happiness and self worth on that one single skill or outcome. Don’t train with tunnel vision, find a fresh perspective by doing something new. Think about taking your training backwards by breaking something down and building it back up, just like our muscles. Keep it simple, but remember there are an infinite number of ways you can move your body, there is always another way, so never stop exploring.
I have so much support and guidance from my coach, Ryan, but he doesn’t tell me what to do. He encourages me to feel what my body wants and needs each day. I still don’t always get it, and sometimes I don’t listen, but I am making progress. I am trying to understand. I’ve been able to heal my body a lot in six months but I have a long way left to go and I’m still learning where my limits are. I’m figuring things out by trusting my coach, trusting the process, but also knowing I can trust and think for myself. Now he’s in America for two months and I can’t wait to start the rigid 10 hour a day programme that he hasn’t written for me that I won’t be doing. For the next couple of months you will probably find me in trees, with slightly worn hands but all bones unbroken.
Being in Japan has made me think a lot about what home is. I was so intent on England not being my home. So convinced it was the wrong place for me despite all my friends and family. Now I think that home starts inside you. Home isn’t necessarily physical, it isn’t even the people around you. It’s having that sense of security that wherever you go, you will be safe because you trust and love yourself. Everything stems from that. A house. Furniture. Clothes. Family. Friends. Just because you leave the place you grew up in, it doesn’t mean you are going to lose that sense of belonging. Every second of support I’ve had from the people around me and from the people far away from me has helped me keep that feeling. Home will be wherever you go, because you can find beauty and love anywhere as long as you open your eyes and let it in.
So lastly, what am I willing to struggle for?
I was asked to think about this question. Every second of discomfort, uncertainty and fear of being in a new place, away from everything I know is worth it for the life I can create here. You will always struggle at times, but don’t let go of the reasons why you need to push through it. In the last six months I have laughed, cried with frustration, cried with exhaustion, been terrified, broken a bone, broken down, felt uncontrollable excitement, been ecstatically happy, wanted to leave, wanted to stay. I’ve struggled with myself, with my environment, and with my perception of life. If it continues this way over the next six months, it’s still worth it for everything I have here. But I want to take my experiences, learn from them and then let them go. Then grab onto a tree branch and embrace the intoxicating heat of Japanese summer.