Slowly, painfully slowly, my life is settling in to a routine. I have now been in Japan for three weeks. Over those three weeks I have been adjusting to many new things in my life. Getting used to living in my apartment has been the easiest transition. I duck without having to remind myself when I go through doorways, and am quickly adjusting to obsessively keeping the tatami clean. Yesterday as I was bringing in my clothes off the laundry line after a short walk to the supermarket to buy some food for lunch and dinner, I realized that this, at least, was beginning to feel normal. I am used to unfolding my futon at night and folding it up in the morning so that the floor underneath can breathe. I’m getting surprisingly used to the heat, though when the humidity creeps higher than usual I still struggle. My legs are getting used to biking a minimum of 4 miles every day, and slowly my knees are getting used to getting up and down off of the floor.
There are, of course, things I’m still struggling to adapt to. Every time I find another spider, for example, I feel like cursing at the entire nation of Japan for their serious bug infestation. I’m still adjusting to the fact that unless I obsessively keep everything clean, everything I own and live on will start to mold. I’m still trying to get my apartment clean. I tried wiping the walls last weekend, and now the walls look like I half-heartedly tried to clean them as the difference between where I could get the dirt off and where I couldn’t has grown more distinct. I will have to, eventually, do some serious deep cleaning of the place if I want to make it feel like a home. I will also need to obtain some furniture. I might even be able to paint the place, which would help immensely with the whole atmosphere. Painting would be easiest to do now since I have no furniture to move, but who knows when I’ll have the time or energy, or if I can get permission. At the moment the walls are clearly dirty, and many of my things simply live on the floor. For now that’s okay.
I’m also still getting used to my job here. Every day brings new anxieties about my place in the school and my position as a teacher. I think, though, that this is probably a normal experience for my first real job after undergrad. I’m trying to be kind to myself first and foremost as I recognize that this is a big transition in any number of ways.
Being kind to myself seems like the most important thing to do in order to get through this transition well. Instead of my usual beating myself up over every perceived failure, I try to recognize that there is a definite learning curve to starting a new job in a new country.
Right now I know very little about my place here. Every day I get more answers and more ideas, but I still feel sort of lost in the tide of day to day life. Weeks are passing by and I am unsure of how I’m spending my time. For now I’m spending a lot of time resting. I know that I cannot be productive and good at my new job if I’m exhausted, but I also know that when moving to another country it is easy to be so exhausted all the time you end up resting and not making the important connections and having the important experiences you need to really build a sense of belonging in a place. I am finding the balance. This weekend after a long three days in Kakegawa for our final new ALT orientation, I was too exhausted to do anything with my weekend. I stayed home, did laundry, and read books for two entire days. Sure there was something else I could have been doing with my time, but I knew that resting would serve me best for my return to work on Monday.
I certainly don’t regret taking that time when it was Monday and I was sitting there without a lunch to eat and dripping water on the floor from being caught in a storm. Mondays are exhausting. I always start them with the best of intentions, but so far every Monday has been a struggle. I never want to do anything after a Monday. I know that when I get back to my apartment, wet again from the rain and starving, it’s going to take me a while to want to leave.
Understanding the challenges of moving to another country and experiencing them are very different things. For example I can understand that feeling disconnected from the people and places around me is a part of culture shock, but when I’m experiencing it, laying on the floor and wondering what to do, knowing that it’s culture shock only helps so much. I know that it is normal to feel exhausted and only want to stay home reading shit books in English, not studying Japanese and going about my life, but I also know that this won’t help me transition well into my life here. (Also buying cheap shitty ebooks isn’t helping my wallet or my mind. I need to work out a better system before I spend all my money on literal garbage because it’s mindless and sometimes fun to read)
The trouble is, even when I understand what will help in the long run, at the moment I just want to sleep and read books. I don’t want to cook, I don’t want to clean, and I certainly don’t want to spend hours of my downtown studying Japanese even though these are exactly the things I need to be doing.
And so here, again, comes the need to be kind to myself. While I’ve been in Japan for almost a month, it’s also only been one month. These things take time. I think—I hope that in two weeks when the term starts and I am in the classroom things will be easier. That is the goal I have given myself to get the biggest adjustments made. Every week things get better, easier, and a little less terrifying. I’m going to hold on to that momentum, and refuse to give up.