There are probably going to be things that I don’t need to do anymore but will want to do, like not crossing at a red traffic light even when there are no cars in either direction. There will probably also be things that I will have to stop doing, like bowing my head when acknowledging people at grocery stores or restaurants. I am sure soon enough, people will get tired of me sharing stories that start with “In Japan… ” but I don’t know when I will get there.
I write this as I am on my flight back home after finishing an 11 month assignment in Japan and I can’t imagine what my life would have been had I chose not to come here.
It’s never easy moving to a new workplace, new city, and new country but the general public here was probably the friendliest and most helpful I have ever met. The easiest example I know is when I first moved to Japan and was on the search for some laundry detergent. The first shop I went to didn’t have any so the guy working at the store literally walked me over to the next store (probably a competitor) and told me in his broken English that I could buy it there. That right there best captured the culture I was now living in.
I have countless number of stories like these as I got visit many parts throughout the country — Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Hakone, Nikko, Sapporo — all provided their personal touch that would break through any language barriers we might have been encountering. Having visited six other countries in the region this past year, I can’t say I had a similar experience any where else.
Infrastructure wise I couldn’t get enough of how the trains pretty much always ran on time. It’s amazing how easy and little stress it requires traveling around the country. Having a unified IC cards that lets you use your card all across the country on most buses and trains really makes traveling across Japan very easy. That said, I don’t think I could ever get used to the ‘pushers’ whose sole job is to push people into trains to make room for those still standing on the platform. Can you imagine having something like that back in America? There’s no way that would fly but that’s a common occurrence here and no one minds.
From an eating perspective, I was surprised to see how many different types of cuisines were easily available here. There were Pakistani, Indian, Italian, and American cuisines available but I’ll focus more on the local food. The sushi and seafood that I have eaten here were so fresh and so good that I’m not sure I can go back to eating sushi in America. There were times we walked around and randomly walked into a
On a more personal note, as I worked here and went about my business, I did what I thought I was supposed to do and didn’t think it was anything particularly out of the ordinary. Approaching the end of my stay here, I would have been more than satisfied with a simple acknowledgment of my time here and just spending the final day with those I had considered my closest friends to share our memories of the past year. But as I quickly learned, that wasn’t how it was going to be.
My final week to 10 days turned into a tightly packed calendar of lunches, dinners, and events after work. There were so many people who reached out to me before I left. So many people who offered sincere and kind words in private. Then the formal farewell at work where my entire section stood and listened as a few people shared some kind words about me and then had to listen to fumble words as I tried to convey my thanks. None of them were obligated to but simply making the effort they all took to reach out to me, will stay with me forever.
I am not terribly good with sharing emotions and as many of you know, I’m terrible at smiling too. So I am perfectly content with not appearing too high or too low and having to explain myself. There were times during the year where I am sure I cracked a bit and my apologies to those who became a convenient sounding board.
I am struggling to wrap this but so I will say what many of Japanese friends have already said to me — this is such a small world now that is definitely not a ‘goodbye’ but instead a “see you later”.
Hopefully sooner rather than later.
Takusan no omoide ga dekimashita. Arigato Gozaimasu.