For the first 1 year in Japan, I admit I was pretty much a wreck.
Between days pushing myself to improve my Japanese language proficiency,
I suffered serious bouts of homesickness and with many instances spent in the bathroom bursting into angry sobs just wondering what I have signed up for.
Loneliness and melancholy filled my first winter’s nights.
I spent those cold nights curled up in bed,
listening to the deep silence suffocating my sleep.
I studied Japanese like crazy,
but none of those hours invested felt ever enough.
I couldn’t express myself properly and couldn’t understand conversations at all,
so I ended up shutting myself out for a while.
I was angry and disappointed at myself.
Why wasn’t any of it enough even after studying so hard to improve my Japanese?
Why wasn’t I making any progress?
In the first year, I was so busy fighting with myself and trying to get used to life in Japan that I missed many milestones – like the birth of my first nephew, many friends’ birthdays and graduations. When my sister fell gravely ill and was hospitalized for dengue fever, my family only thought to notify me when the doctors said she was, quite fortunately, on her way to recovery. People could easily say that I was making excuses for my lack of presence. “But you were roaming around Japan and sightseeing and having fun, weren’t you?” Do I have to lock myself in even when I was struggling like crazy? Do I not need to take a breather and remind myself why I came here when the going gets really tough? If it was one thing I learned from depression, it was that it never works to stay in and shut yourself out. I was too tired to explain myself, and in fact, I didn’t have to, but I still felt like I was an incredibly irresponsible person to the people I treasured, which made the struggle even worse. I think if it hadn’t been for the two Singaporean girls who came together with me, I would long have given up on this journey.
But soon, I started making more friends – who, even though they couldn’t speak a word of English, they were patient in explaining things to me, who spoke slowly, who reached out and tried their best to include me into their conversations. The second winter here felt a lot easier to get by now, since I now know that down feather futon blankets are the most effective in keeping the body warm, and fleece/windbreaker jackets were extremely good in blocking off the cold winter winds. I now know that spring brings pollen that makes the eyes itchy and the mouth dry – so I make it a point to drink more water and would always wear my glasses out to prevent pollen from getting into my sensitive eyes. My Japanese proficiency improved so I could at least understand conversations and sustain them instead of the usual despondent replies like ‘yes yes’ and ‘oh i see’. What a difference it all made when I got to know Japan a little better. I was seeing in through a different pair of lens now. I think I can finally say: I can get used to this.
Well, there is still a lot of getting used to. Everything is still new to me but as they always say, this, too shall pass. And time will make it better.