Sunset from our front door
The intense feeling of ‘being a foreigner’ is starting to fade. These past few weeks there have been several occasions when I’ve been out and about, and completely forgotten that I’m a member of the 2%(ish) minority population of non-Japanese residents in Japan.
Upon arrival back in Japan last September I often found myself thinking about how the Japanese person serving me at the supermarket might be perceiving me, or wondering whether I was being spoken to in deliberately gaijin-friendly Japanese at the bank. Having been away from the islands for over a year I found I’d regressed to those times when I didn’t understand Japanese at all, when I perceived myself as a nail sticking out. I was very much in Japan, and I felt it keenly whenever I stepped outside the door.
It would seem though that after about 4 months I’m becoming acclimatised. The areas of Tokyo I frequent (mostly Gakugeidaigaku, Shibuya and Kudanshita) and those areas outside Tokyo I infrequent (Saitama to see my in-laws) are no longer overwhelmingly ‘Japan’, they’re just ‘home’.
I think part of the reason for this is I can now get by with very little effort in any of these places. Initially, going from A to B, buying such-and-such in such-and-such a shop required planning, thought, and conscious effort. Now I can walk and shop in these places without thinking. I usually use my time spent walking checking blogs, writing emails and studying Kanji. Unless I’m somewhere that will stimulate my senses (such as a park or an area of notable architecture/interesting people) I don’t like to not be doing something else whilst walking.
I appreciate that this must seem a bit sad. Walking around eyes glued to the screen. But I don’t see it like this. Not only do I get enourmous pleasure from following the antics of my friends, acquaintances and role models around the world, but I also give myself the freedom to use my time at home (when I would otherwise be checking blogs etc) to do things that are far more constructive. I’m the kind of person that can waste hours and hours watching mindless crap on YouTube – I know I have this weakness and so have created a web usage technique for myself that prevents my doing this – it’s called using an RSS reader (NetNewsWire to be precise) on the iPhone. It discourages endless link-clicking, thus I limit myself to about 250 web-based stories a day (over half of which I only read the first line of).
Hmm, seem to have gone down a rathole there. The magnetism of the iPhone. It draws you in no matter how far away you started off. All Mumbles lead to the iPhone…
Anyway back to my gaijin bubble then, that thing that makes the difference between being in Japan surrounded by Japanese people and being on planet Earth surrounded by human people.
My gaijin bubble is thinning out. Gaps are appearing in its liquid walls. I’m finding myself interacting directly with the people around me without any awareness of there being any difference / barrier between us.
And it’s awareness that’s the key. When I recently spoke to someone about the fading of the film, I found that in that instant, just by voicing this ‘fact’, the film became even more translucent.
It’s all my perception.
I know this. I’ve always known it, only a lot of the time I choose not to acknowledge it.
Recently I’ve been pretty down on myself regarding my Japanese ability. It was just before New Year that it hit me hardest. I’m not sure what brought it on, but it’s likely to have been my experience at the office, as that’s where I struggle the most with clear communication. Thus, New Year at the in-laws saw a pretty quiet Joseph, a passive participant. I surprised myself.
I decided to stop that this morning. I decided that I could speak Japanese, and that I was actually pretty good at it. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise then when a couple of hours later I found myself watching Joseph explain to a colleague, in Japanese, the workings of the new database (new as of this morning when I completed phase one of the merger of my new Access database with an existing Access databases – the two miraculously agreed to talk with each other).
Hey, I’m not that bad at Japanese after all. I just thought I was pants. That’s pretty cool. What else can I think into existence?
Ah yes, the problematic relationship with that colleague. How about a resolution? Hey presto! at 3.30pm it was solved, the problematic relationship made a 360 degree turn. It wouldn’t have happened had I not decided that there was ultimately no problem between us.
I’m currently on my second listen of The New Psycho-cybernetics, which I’m finding very inspiring [what is psycho-cybernetics?]. I’ve Mumbled about it before, and I’ll say again what I said then: there’s nothing in this book that you haven’t read in The Secret or any of Anthony Robbins’ books. Nonetheless, I like the approach, and it motivates me to act. It’s this book that has encouraged me to shift my perception of things like my gaijin bubble or ‘lack of Japanese language skills’.
This past week has (not unsurprisingly) seen an abundance of blog posts containing reviews of 2008. I considered writing one myself, but decided that it’ll be easier to get someone else to do that for me when I can afford to outsource the revamp of my website and the drafting of my autobiography 🙂 But still, I found other people’s reviews pretty thought provoking. Some were in the form of meme’s, encouraging the authors to not only list what they had achieved, but also to detail how they thought they’d changed over the previous 12 months (for example, see this one by my friend the talking orchid).
This got me thinking about how I’ve grown over the past 12 months. Of course, marriage has been the biggy for me, and I must say the last 4 months since the wedding have taught me a lot about myself that I didn’t necessarily want to know. I’m fortunate to live in an age in which emotional intelligence is considered a great asset and not some feminine weakness, and thus I am encouraged to act on bringing my behaviour back in alignment with what I know is ultimately right, rather than what is merely considered ‘ok’ by society at large. *Twinkle* has no complaints, I’ve not been a bad husband, but I know I can be a better husband. There have been times when I have held my love back when I have (unreasonably) felt threatened or undermined by her behaviour. She deserves my love and support at all times, no exceptions.
I’m also glad I had a few ‘serious’ relationships before meeting her. I recall times when, if challenged, I would only be able to rest when my partner was feeling thoroughly wretched.
How horrendous is that?
However, whilst of course I am very sorry to have hurt my partners I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to learn in situations where the stakes weren’t quite so high, thus *Twinkle* doesn’t have to put up with all that kind of crap (it’s not a path I recommend though. If possible just be perfect from birth).
Anyway, It’s taken New Year to make me act on this one. It’s only too easy to get into sloppy patterns of behaviour. Once in that rut one can forget what life was like when one was free, acting in accordance with high-energy spirit. The effort required to ‘be nice’ when one really doesn’t want to be nice isn’t actually an effort at all, as the benefits (which are soon felt) are so great they act like helium balloons, pulling you up. The only effort is in making that initial decision.
Going back to changes seen during 2008, I’m also happy to have seen a considerable progress in my dealing with fear, although I don’t see last year as having been the real milestone – that’s this year when I begin to act with courage in the light of firmer foundations. My self-image still needs considerable work. I’m far too fearful down on myself if I really want to realise many of the dreams I have.
Ironically, by stating these things I’m only making the situation worse. It’s time for an end to ‘recognising’ things. Whilst recognition is the first step, it alone will not bring about any change.
OK. so let’s make 2009 the year of Action Without Fear.
You might think it silly to have to label a year like that. But I’m greatly encouraged by such statements. I love words. I love quotes. I even have an online collection of them at http://thanks.tumblr.com (although I’ve not added to it recently).
I only have one excuse left now.
I haven’t got time.
That’s a load of rubbish too though. Look at me, I’ve just spent two hours sitting at the kitchen table mumbling.
Many of my goals are related to online ventures. In the past week I’ve taken positive steps towards establishing 3 of them, doing things like purchasing domain names, contacting web hosts, and building a prototype site.
I’ve also taken action towards resurrecting the student of Japanese within me, by sorting out my various Anki databases.
Today, I made enquiries about taking time off work in order that I can dedicate a day or two a month to making these things happen, and that’s a distinct possibility.
I’m going to keep a record of action taken, and review it on a weekly basis. I need to do this to keep myself moving forward.
Anyway, I’d best be off to bed, I’m doing another photo shoot at the nail salon in Shibuya tomorrow night, and need to figure out what I’ll be doing for backdrops.