26 Apr Honest Insights As a Foreigner Living In Japan
“We have two lives,” said the Chinese philosopher Confucius. “The second begins when we realize we only have one.” Before the pandemic I felt a tug on my heart and soul. The world called out to me; I longed for true adventure.
My instincts, my interests and my curiosity told me to move to Japan as an English teacher, and I couldn’t live with the regret of never giving this a shot.
We must choose our regrets in life, explains the writer Douglas Murray on Modern Wisdom. What does that mean?
It means that regardless of the path we take, we will always wish something could be different. I’ve missed my family and friends since I’ve been here.
I’m definitely not making a ton of money; I’m getting by (although despite public perception, it can be quite cheap to live in Japan).
I’ve missed more holidays at home than I ever have and at times I’ve felt pretty damn low. But that is why I’m here. It’s all part of the adventure I crave. These are the regrets I’ve chosen.
Through the inevitable peaks and valleys I’ve learned more about myself and about this mysterious thing called life than I ever have.
Are things perfect? Of course not. Life never matches our expectations exactly; it never will, and that’s part of the ride.
Still, I’m garnering the eye-opening experience of living and working in a foreign country, and no matter how hard it gets, this is something I will cherish forever.
Teaching English in Japan is work, and like all things, the reality both surpasses what I imagined and has its setbacks.
Sometimes the work culture of Japan gets to me. It feels like the foot’s on the pedal and everybody feels the infinite weight of expectations, but there’s nothing that can be done. The machine must keep moving.
Like any culture it’s far from perfect, and that’s what makes it interesting.
I work at an eikaiwa, which differs from a regular school. Students of all ages — I literally teach students between one and 81 — come in after school or work to join private lessons of between one and ten students.
My commute to the different schools throughout the Kansai region (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto) takes between 20 minutes and a little over an hour. The commute is half the adventure.
Perhaps just because I’m a foreigner, but maybe not. I choose to see the beauty of this country, the peculiarities, the magic; of course when it’s all you know, the poetry of everyday life becomes prosaic.
However, perhaps we may learn then to observe like an outsider, even when we’re home. Japan’s uniqueness is infinite, and to me it’s nature’s weaving with modernity that makes it such a captivating place.
I’m often the only one on the train watching that distinct unity of scenery pass; most people are in a different world, staring at their screen.
Trust me, I’m usually not any better. I’m looking at this screen while amid other human beings, and literally every single one of us is looking down. When I realize this, I look up, and honestly, it’s somewhat eerie.
The silence. The lethargy.
I often wonder what world we really inhabit, as on the train, walking, any time at all, I’m looking at the screen of this small device the size of my hand, but which contains a relative energy to the sun on my back.
We pass by one another like zombies, and I try not to think too much of it, but it’s strange. If only we’d look up. We might pass our life partner and smile.
A flower blooming might smile back.
We might catch the sight of a little kid in thought as they gaze at the sky, and that’ll give us a more insightful answer than anything on our phone ever could.
It’s not just Japan, obviously. It’s the world we live in.
But in Japan, dare I say anywhere on this great big earth — there’s so much beauty to look up for.
I didn’t come here just to be happy. That’s never really been the goal. I moved to Japan because I felt a call that I couldn’t ignore. Moving to a foreign country and learning about the world seemed like a meaningful endeavor.
What is meaningful?
Meaning is somewhat indescribable.
What’s meaningful isn’t just what makes you happy, or sad, or inspired, or afraid. It can be these things, but I think meaning is what makes life worth it, so really, it’s all of these emotions.
We’re rocked to our core by what’s meaningful, and that creates the sense that this, whatever this is, matters.
I write this at dusk at one of my favorite spots, about a fifteen minute bike ride from my apartment in Osaka. I’m sitting on a bench by a lake that’s crossed by a striking red bridge. It’s a peaceful spring evening; the last of the fallen cherry blossom petals scatter across the pavement.
A few still cling to the sakura trees like pink islands amid seas of green leaves.
There are a couple of older men on the other benches, taking in the surroundings. The red of the bridge reflects hazily on the water, and I’m content reading Ready Player One, feeling it in my hands and finding joy in that touch as I listen to the sounds of the ducks and birds.
Am I happy?
I’m a little sick, and honestly, I’ve been feeling kind of low lately. But I’m bouncing back.
Am I inspired? Afraid? I think a bit of everything. I feel something deeply, for my mind never stops seeking connections, intrigue, curiosity, meaning. It’s a simple afternoon, and yet I’m overwhelmed with emotion.
I’m here, in Japan, and this ordinary moment is stunning.
If you’re wondering what it might be like to teach; if you’re ready to take a leap and try something very new, I say go for it, be it teaching or whatever you question would be interesting to try.
There, of course, are difficult days.
But there are also days when my heart’s torn open by something so seemingly mundane that the money I’ll make, the choices I’ll flop, the path I’ll never walk all become meaningless.
I remember when a little kid poked their head into my room as I wrote on the board preparing for a class; I saw nothing but their eyes behind a pair of glasses, and then they shied away.
I laughed and continued writing on the board. Then I looked back and there they were, chuckling, popping their head into the doorway, playing hide and seek. It’s moments like that when I lose my sense of self — my ego, my dreams, my pain — it melts away.
This little interaction is not unordinary, but I remember it as a clear example of a moment when the often critical inner voice just stops and says, I can’t believe this is your life; you’re doin’ it, kid.
And in that, all I can feel is an overwhelming sense of love.