This is going to be the last entry here. I’ve returned to the UK now and am settling back into British life. But I wanted to properly close off this record of my time in Japan.
I sometimes get asked what made me decide to drop everything and move to Japan for a year. It’s a question that I find quite difficult to answer convincingly. In truth, the kernel comes from a very young age when I loved videogames almost as much as I love music now. I would read all the magazines, buy games the week they came out and generally sat in front of my Nintendo for as long a period as I could get away with. At that time, Japan was THE place for anything to do with computing and video games. Nowadays, changes within gaming have meant that the US is very much on a par with Japan when it comes to game development but at the time, Tokyo was to a videogamer, what Detroit must have been to a fan of Motown. My burgeoning obsession was boosted by a series of articles in gaming magazines and a particularly mindblowing episode of the TV programme Bad Influence in which the beautiful Violet visited early-90s Tokyo.
As I got older, I played games much less. But at the same time, Japanese culture remained trendy, alien and rather baffling in many ways. Some Japanese people have a total misconception of why people like myself come to their country. They think their country is famous around the world for its temples, tourist attractions and food. Whilst that’s true to some extent, it’s the shallow, disposable kerrazee Japan that attracts a large number of tourists. I have to admit that this was true in my case. The beautiful nature, constantly surprising culture and friendly people were not really relevant to my choice of Japan as a place to live.
Another reason why I chose to visit Japan was that I needed a break from my UK routine. I had always wanted to take a gap year but for various stupid reasons had never done so. Even having done my year abroad now, I still wish I had taken some time after university to travel or do something similar. It’s baffling as to why I didn’t do this, especially as I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life around that time.
So I made it. I got on the JET programme. At the time, getting on the programme seemed like a great achievement, given the volume of people who are rejected. But in retrospect, as someone who had already been in the workplace for a few years and knew therefore, how to approach job applications with a professional attitude, it should never have been that difficult. Nonetheless, I can still remember the thrill when I got accepted and got given a year’s leave from my job in the UK.
That’s another thing. I was tremendously lucky at being allowed to leave my UK job for a year. It would have been tough to return to the UK without a job to go back to. If I had quit my job, I think I would definitely have wanted to stay longer in Japan. As things turned out, family reasons mean that a second year would never have been viable so it all worked out nicely. But I could happily have stuck around longer than I did.
It was tough clearing out my apartment. I was very aware that my predecessor, whilst generally awesome, had left a lot of junk behind that I’d subsequently had to dispose of. At the time I’d been annoyed but when I came to pack myself, I suddenly became aware of how incredibly hard it is to dispose of anything in Japan. You can’t just take stuff to the dump-you have to plan weeks beforehand so as to put your trash out at the right time for the refuse collectors to pick it up.
I insisted on arranging my own travel to the station. I like to be self-sufficient and I hated the idea of being seen off at the station. In some ways I’d come to doubt the sincerity of the kindness that some colleagues had shown towards me. I appreciated their generosity, was incredibly grateful for the effort they’d made but I never really knew what they thought of me. It was so rare to be able to have a frank, open conversation with work colleagues that I never really knew where I stood. One part of Japanese culture that I struggled with is the compartmentalising of certain subjects and issues. I like to be able to talk about anything with my friends, without it making them uncomfortable. But that just isn’t the Japanese way. I could never adapt to the idea that giving opinions is a problematic thing to do.
I was a little sad that I somehow couldn’t manage to see Fuji from the shinkansen. I made it to my Tokyo hotel in Nakameguro. After a year of staying in inconvenient parts of the city, I’d finally been recommended a cheap hostel in a perfect area-just right for exploring the parts of the city I was interested in. My time in Tokyo was dirty, frenetic and exhausting. It contained all the things I love about city living and all the elements that make Tokyo so appealing to me. At times it felt like a non-stop headfuck-like a series of baffling episodes that have now merged into one. At the start of a Tokyo night out, anything is possible.
I paid a visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine and museum. The museum is very interesting but certainly isn’t the same history of the second world war that I was taught at school. It was definitely worth seeing though. I also really liked the Tokyo Museum, finally saw the Meiji shrine, hung out in Yoyogi Park and got introduced to some very fashionable cafes. All good stuff.
Leaving was no massive trauma. I feel like I’ll be back. I know it’s no hassle to return to Japan in the future. Okayama will always be there. What’s difficult is the occasional sense of loss that you feel living back home. In particular I miss how easy it was to eat great food without expense or hassle. I miss the bright lights at night and the tiny bars. English customer service is certainly a massive shock to the system too. I miss the beautiful countryside that I wrote about repeatedly. The friendliness of the people, the chaotic city centres on a Saturday night, the ease of travelling around. Sigh.
I got a lot out of my time in Japan. I will always have a love for the place and all its silliness. I envy the new JETs but I know I’m in the right place, with the right people now. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and that it wasn’t too dull or self-centred. Goodbye Okayama.