Traveling and living in a different country and culture can be very insightful and cause a lot of self reflection. I spent two months in Japan on a short contract and came away a different person. Ten years ago, I lived in Ishikari City in Hokkaido, the northern island and prefecture of Japan. Coming back was eye opening and a great way to start another epic book of travels with several chapters in different places. Below is six main things I took from my two months in Takatsuki City, Osaka, Japan.
“Good things come to those who wait.” Japan can be a culture where everything has a place and purpose (while still being beautiful), and things happen in good time. It’s not uncommon to wait twenty minutes (patiently) in a line for the post office, a train, or anything really. You either learn to be patient or you grow crazily frustrated, I think. Having been here before, I had no problem with this. But I admit I didn’t see the orderly line for samples at Costco and did try to just grab one. Mostly because it’s different in Canada and I didn’t know. Maybe I should have, though, as it’s very Japanese to “hurry up, line up, and wait.” I have found I am less likely to impatiently walk around slower families or seniors, I am accepting of waiting in line, and I am much more understanding about communication misunderstandings and so much more. Whether it’s because patience has been modelled in Japan, or just being more relaxed in general, I feel my patience and tolerance for waiting, and life in general, has enhanced greatly.
2. Sense of community
My last night in Japan, I was invited to family dinner at Shin’s parents. This was a great reminder that community and helping others is important, and it’s been really refreshing having come from a culture that stresses independence. It was a bit of an overwhelming chaotic night with toddlers and children running everywhere, grandparents delighting in the clever and funny child-isms and many conversations going at once. The Toda family expressed so much gratitude to me for coming to help out, but really I have to thank them for all their generosity, for helping me so much, and making me feel a part of their community.
The group or community is considered much more heavily than the individual in Japanese culture. As a Canadian, this can be somewhat foreign, but I really appreciate it. I found it hard not to absorb this value. From holding doors for people to stopping for pedestrians to apologizing for leaving before somebody, selflessness permeates Japanese culture. I certainly found myself apologizing and saying how much of an inconvenience it was for people to help me. I definitely feel I have become more aware of the problems I can cause people and have tried to be less trouble as well as doing as much as I can for others. The only thing that seemed missed was that I was always the only one who thanked cashiers and bus drivers, and they were always surprised and a little shamed when I thanked them! But what a lovely quality to develop so strongly during these past two months. My self reflection is that my customer service, care for family and friends and gratitude has increased and shine through! Very happy about that.
Saw a few Japanese comedy shows and man do they make me laugh. Even if I don’t understand, there is enough slapstick and outrageousness that I can’t help but laugh! My humour has definitely been enjoyed during these past two months. In addition to the Japanese sense of humour, things don’t always work out and I couldn’t always express myself, and I found I had to laugh at myself. laughing meant I didn’t feel stress, and others often joined in. And then when everybody was laughing, things smoothed over. Really, laughter is a universal language!!! Love it.
When you are living in a culture where you aren’t fluent in the language, sometimes things can take time to work out, and sometimes they just don’t work out. Kinks often seem to land smack dab in the middle of your plans! So I feel I have learned to be flexible and go with the flow a little!
Being at the Japanese level of about a five year old, I certainly have relied on the kindness and help of others during this time. I’ve certainly fallen back into bowing to express appreciation for a kind gesture, and the last few weeks have noticed it increasing. My language ability is ok to get by, but I certainly couldn’t do much by myself. I feel travelling and touring around, I have changed and become more grateful. For this opportunity, for the help of others, for my home and family and friends. Warm showers, food, shelter, companionship, my body. So grateful to have them all! Thanks, Universe! I think a life of wanderlust is certainly marvellous but not possible without gratitude. It radiates from you and others go out of their way to help you.