By Sonya Dubinina
The honeymoon stage lasted all of a week in Japan for me. I started working the day after I got here. My schedule is such that Saturdays and Sundays are my busiest days. Such is the life of an eikaiwa teacher. An eikaiwa is an English conversation school. Look at me throwing out Japanisms left and right! It’s been exactly 6 months since I got here. I had a couple of Sundays to myself, which I used to meet up with a Japanese friend from university. She took me on a lovely sightseeing trip to Asakusa (one of the major tourist destinations) and on a wee boat trip around the bay. Mind you, Tokyo is sweltering in August, and we constantly had to duck into shops and restaurants.
I can’t say I was enamored with the city. It’s overbearing in every sense of the word, intimidating in some parts, and suffocating in others. Especially in August. In fact, it took a few discovery missions around the 13.5 million city to actually start liking it. You see, when you live and work in a place, everything becomes very routine. While it feels fantastic to be able to visit and travel around the metropolis, the magic is diminished by the limitations of the curfew and the routine. The bustle drowns out the childlike earnings.
And thus came the culture shock. Why are these people not looking where they’re going? How are they not constantly running into each other? Why are they shouting at me everywhere I go? Why don’t they label anything in English in the shops save for pointless incomprehensible phrases for the sake of the looks of Latin lettering. How is it that they spend so much money on English lessons, yet so many of them don’t speak the language? Why must I wait for my visa to get a cell and internet at home? Why is meat in everything? Why is fruit so expensive? Stop shouting at me! Stop shouting at me! Stop shouting at me!
Yes, it’s absolutely pointless to compare two absolutely different places, yet your brain constantly goes there. “This wouldn’t happen in Seattle. Seattle does this better. At least a lot of Pagans speak English.” This is the most ignorant thing to do, but you’re so used to having things a certain way, that you cannot help but act petulantly. Throw your toys, go home and cry, but get over it, sojourner. Get a hold of yourself, adult human being.
And whether you want it or not, you come to adaptation. You stop noticing the driving on the wrong side of the road, you get used to using sign language when you’re purchasing something (anything), you tune out the noise, and open your eyes to the beauty of this new place you’re inhabiting. A place you never thought you’d have the chance to visit, much less inhabit for a time. You breath out and accept it for what it is without judgment. Well, some judgment, but not nearly as much whining.
Sonya found plenty of castles and a long snowy winter in Prague last year. Frankly, she just didn’t care to reminisce about being snowed in and animal skin-clad for 7 months out of the year, and so here she is – a lizard in the sun, the rising sun of Japan that is. She is now spending her days in Tokyo confused and often lost, mesmerized, and bewildered.