How 1-Year In Japan Changed Me

It’s been a year and a couple months since our relocation to Japan, and it only makes sense to glance back and review how I’ve changed.  Not just the structural changes of everyday life, but also looking into my brain and analyzing what I’m thinking, and feeling as compared to a year ago. This probably leads right into how my anticipation of life in Japan “lives up” to the reality – but that may require it’s own blog post entirely.

Here’s what I think has changed in me after 1-Year:

Communication
I’m not exactly sure what I expected in terms of Japanese language growth. I’ll say that I feel improvement has been a matter of inches rather than miles – however, but simple conversation comes much easier. I’m no longer afraid to engage others, and even seek it out – while knowing there will be much I don’t understand. I guess I would say I feel like I’m at ground-zero, with everything still ahead of me, but enough of a “foundation” that I actually have something to build upon. I would call that progress.


Friendship
With so much of the last year about getting settled and getting our kids into a routine – I never gave much thought about making friends. But i do see now that in the long term, I could feel isolated without others to confide in. Due to recent events I’m meeting more foreigners and with improved language – more locals as well. While i wouldn’t say I have new close buddies, I don’t think it’s impossible if I stay longer.

Courtesy
It’s pretty clear that once among Japanese language and culture, there is a level of courtesy unique to the country. From bowing, and common phrases of appreciation to being quick to apologize – if only for the sake of politeness. After a year, these tiny rituals have become so normal that they almost come without thinking. Honestly I feel that if suddenly back in the US, it would feel quite odd, because I really do feel the urge to tell someone “Otsukaresama” when I see that they have worked hard, and there’s no English equivalent.

Public Persona
Right in line with courtesy, I am more conscious of how I am act in public. I generally don’t raise my voice or make a big deal about small problems – publicly, where as in the US – sometimes it’s necessary. It’s seen as immature here, while in the US – speaking out and being passionate about something be looked upon favorably. I feel adjusted to my surroundings but it may also highlight a weakness, of being unable to negotiate awkward situations. This can only come with improved communication.

Sense of Family
In the last year we’ve faced a challenges as a family and it has brought us closer. But it’s also made me value and miss my own family more, and wish we had easier access to my US family. So on the whole, I think it’s brought a greater perspective on the importance of family.

Grocery Shopping
Finding good deals and making delicious meals is a favorite pasttime of mine. But the foods which are available at different times of the year, their best prices, and meal outcomes are totally different in Japan! It’s been a lot of fun adjusting to the new situation, planting my own garden and learning some new dishes. I’ve also found ways of replacing “most” of the foods I love from back home.

Passage of Time
Time is passing faster here! I generally explain this by the fact that I’m living in a place with true seasons, and seasons that change quickly and dramatically. This leads to anticipating the next season, and preparation, and the feeling of forward movement. Everyone says they are jealous of my past life in California, but I actually feel more motivated to succeed right now as I feel time passing and I know the number of seasons ahead are not infinite.

Driving
Yes, I bow a lot and let other people go first. They do the same for me. I think being in a small town, and one of the few foreigners has me more cautious than normal, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good to have others be equally courteous – especially coming from Los Angeles. (see my page about passing the Japanese driving test)

Sense of Acceptance
Is it there yet? Will it ever be? Hard to say. Probably not. By and large people are sweet and accepting. The kids of the city love me, but that’s most because I’m such an alien oddity here! There will always be those who simply don’t like foreigners and have to be the thorn in the your side, but we can’t let those people ruin our experience. If I think about how rude Los Angeles must feel to a newly arrived foreigner – there is no comparison. I’m rather happy where I am, and I only see improvement with time.

Thanks for stopping by! Give us your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

Feel free to check out my blog post about 6 Striking Personality Differences.

What is the first step ?

The first step is the decision.

Once the decision has been made, and the psychological switch has been flipped – we’ve entered the planning mode.

I won’t lie, the reality takes a little while to sink in. Wiping the slate clean – starting fresh somewhere entirely new. Thinking about everything that needs to be done can be overwhelming. For us… living in a house with kids, one in preschool, and 3 cars, and multiple jobs and a house full of accumulated stuff – where does one even start with preparing for an international move?

When eating an elephant take one bite at a time. – Creighton Abrams

It’s important to break the pieces of such an endeavor down into small, achievable pieces. More than that, it’s important to maintain a clear and positive state of mind and live in the moment while completing each steps, with each one bringing you closer to the final goal.
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For those considering such a transition, my recommendation is to:

    1. Start with a date. Mark the calendar. Now you have a timeline. There is an end to your time here – no matter how distant it might seem. One trap I could see falling into, is letting this seemingly distant date make you think… “Hey, I’ve got plenty of time!”. Because let me tell you – that date will arrive faster than you think.
    2. To combat this way of thinking, you’ve got to have  some short term goals. Monthly, and preferably weekly or daily. Get this up on a calendar and post it UP at EYE LEVEL where you are forced to see it daily. Want to rely on your cell phone? That’s your choice. But I don’t recommend it.  I’m a fan of big changes to my current life, which remind me that the date is coming – and force me to consider things differently, every single day – outside the normal daily grind.
    3. Start consolidating. I’ll go more into this later – but it’s time to start thinking about what you really care about. Is anything worth saving? Is anything work paying $2000+/YR in storage? Maybe you have a place to store things with family. Regardless, if you are anything like us, you probably have a ton of things you don’t need. Don’t get stuck having to scramble at the end. Craigslist, Ebay, Selling Apps and even a big fat Garage Sale (or three) can be your friend!

The Pre-Blog History

You may be asking, “what is the point” of this Blog. Let me try to make a long story – short;

As a kid i always had some curiosity about other cultures, especially Japan. But it wasn’t until I was an adult, around the age of 25, that I took my first Japanese language class on a whim (at SBCC), and really enjoyed it. I ended up making few language partners who became life-long friends and further engaged my interest in the language and culture.

Then the trail kind of goes cold for a while. I had quit my job in technology, and went back to school for audio & video, and chased the dream of a career in the music industry. After going on to help make many amazing records, and still being quite broke – i met my future wife, who at the time had been living in the US for about 5 years.

Fast forward a few years, and we we’re married, with me in marketing as my primary career, with plenty of time spent with her amazing family in both the US and Japan.

Fast forward a few more  years – Ive got two kids, and my Japanese language skills are still basic. But with a few Japan trips under my belt and a love for the Japanese countryside, the people, and the culture – the decision was made to move. Will my language skills ever be passable? Will my kids grow up truly bilingual? When will they pass me up? There are many questions .

The decision to move;

Seeing my son as a toddler enjoying the pristine countryside on a Japan trip, rather than having to prevent him from touching everything (like on a walk through Los Angeles) was certainly thought provoking. Yes – having a support system of family, rather than always “going it lone” in LA was a factor. But the “Aha!” moment was probably when seeing our son play at a Japanese pre-school, and how happy, and healthy he looked – It really got our brains working.

As humans we’re always looking for “what’s next” or the next challenge to overcome. Knowing that raising two kids in Los Angeles was not what we wanted for their younger years, we’ve opted for something different. Selling it all and starting over. The rest is details. But like everything – it all starts with making the decision.

I hope that you follow along with our experience.