Monday, December 12, 2011

Hello Japan! Goodbye Japan!

As our move across the ocean gets closer, I can't help thinking about all the things that I'll miss about Japan, and equally those things I Won't Miss. So for the last (at least for a little while) Hello Japan! mini-challenge, which asked us to share some Japanese favourites, I thought I'd share some of them with you.

Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa, Tokyo

I WILL miss ... spring-time in Japan. Spring is such a beautiful time of year in Japan, first with the ume (plum blossoms) and then a little later the sakura (cherry blossoms). I love the fact that the Japanese still celebrate nature and I love the pale pink and white petals everywhere. So pretty!

I WON'T miss ... the miserable (for me anyway) hot and horribly humid summers that follow those few short weeks of spring. From June to the end of September I always wish I were somewhere else. And I won't miss the winters either. Despite the fact that it never gets REALLY cold in Tokyo (I grew up in the Canadian Prairies!), since most homes and apartments have almost no insulation, and you generally only heat one room at a time, winter feels very chilly indeed.

I WILL miss ... traditional Japanese temples and gardens. There's something so calming and peaceful about the simple Japanese nature aesthetic. Even in the middle of crowded Tokyo, you can escape the madness just by entering one of the many beautiful gardens, and the Zen temples of Kyoto are always some of my favourite places to visit there.

Nanzen-ji, Kyoto (October 2011)
I WON'T miss ... the crowds and the lack of space though. It still amazes me that if you compare the numbers, approximately the entire population of Canada (the whole country!) lives in Greater Tokyo. No wonder the apartments can be so tiny and there are no yards. I have to admit I really miss the wide open spaces of Canada.

I WILL miss ... Japanese food, especially the variety and regional specialities. Apparently you can get some decent Japanese food in California so I guess we'll have to see. I will definitely miss Japanese vending machines! So many choices of teas, coffees and other drinks. Especially UNsweetened teas, which I'll surely miss. And the hot drinks in winter. Such a great idea!

Japanese vending machine
The drinks with the red tags beneath are hot: various coffees, green tea, hot chocolate, and even corn soup.
I WON'T miss ... natto, or octopus. Or uni (sea urchin). ;)

I WILL miss ... Japanese ceramics and the artful presentation of food. I've always liked the unique and varied hand-made ceramic Japanese dishes, but ever since my trip to Kyoto in October I'm a little obsessed. I especially love the slightly rustic, rough style of traditional ceramics. It's very Japanese to see the beauty in imperfection. And I love the beautiful way that the dishes and food complement each other, both often chosen according to the season.

I WILL miss ... the shopping. Tokyo is a cosmopolitan wonderland. You can find all kinds of things here from all over the world. (Except breakfast cereal, and shoes for my big "gaijin" feet!). Everywhere you turn there are shops to explore. And don't get me started on the stationery stores with their clever erasable pens and whatnot, and the beautiful washi and other traditional Japanese products. Not to mention the polite, customer service that is standard.

Ginza, Tokyo
I WON'T miss ... lugging said shopping home on the train. I have to admit I really am looking forward to having a car again. Not having to carry heavy bags of groceries home during the hot summer months sounds fabulous!

I WILL miss ... the convenience of public transportation. The train map looks complicated but once you get the hang of it, you can get around Tokyo quite easily. After living in England, where the trains weren't always punctual *cough*, or in Victoria where the only option is the slow city bus, the reliability of the trains in Japan is pretty impressive. And I can't forget the bullet train!

I WON'T miss ... having to buy most of my books online. ;)

Showa Kinen Park - Japanese Garden
Showa Kinen Park, November 2011
In total, I've spent over 11 years in Japan. Not consecutively (we had our 4-year stint in England in the middle) but it's still a fairly long time, and over the last couple years I've really noticed how my perspective has changed. When I first arrived, the hustle and bustle of Tokyo was exciting and everything was an adventure. Now, 11 years on, I think if I boil it down, the main reasons I'm looking forward to leaving Japan are climate, language, and quality of life.

It's probably just me, but each summer seems hotter, more humid, and longer than the last. No fun. And somewhere along the line I lost my motivation to study Japanese. It is a difficult language but this means that there are a whole lot of things I can't do by myself, or can't do very well. Which is frustrating.

Also, even though Japan is great at creating weird and wonderful technology, the houses can still seem quite primitive, by North American standards anyway. In addition to no central heating (brrr!), my friends in Canada, especially those with kids, can't believe that we don't have a clothes dryer, or even an oven. And as I'm getting older, I find myself wanting the ease and comfort of those things too. And the Canadian in me is really longing for some space.

Hello Japan!So, those are some of my thoughts on leaving Japan. I hope this hasn't come across as negative because I will always love Japan and I truly think that a little distance will be a good thing. Besides, we'll still be back sometimes to visit the in-laws. And by bringing some of our favourite bits of Japan with us, we'll hopefully be able to have the best of both worlds. :)

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  1. It must be a weird feeling, leaving Japan after living there for such a long time! This was a really nice post to read, very balanced and a personal glimpse into your feelings towards the country. Best of luck with your move!

  2. I can imagine you will miss:
    - feeling safe in public areas, like transport
    - not being afraid of theft. To lock tour bicycle with only s tiny lock
    - feeling safe to carry the enormous amounts of cash money (you need as a tourist without a Japanese bank account)

    And not to miss:
    - the peculiar way of numbering houses
    - feeling gajin. It's the only country I felt being looked down on, even I'm way taller...

  3. Wow--11 years. I'm sure this move must feel like a really bittersweet one, but what an awesome experience.

    But no oven? Really?! ;) How does one bake! Ha.

    Best wishes to you Nat. Hope the move goes smoothly and you find lots to love in California.

  4. Wow, no oven or dryer really threw me for a second but then D. reminded me that most everything is cooked stove-top, so . . . I guess it's not a big deal if you're not dying to bake something from home, right?

    Hope your move goes well. I would miss the service, more than anything, I think. Not the crowds, although they're certainly polite crowds, for the most part. Love the photos!

  5. A great post to illustrate the difference between Japan and Canada. I can understand you're not keen to leave certain things behind and ever so happy to get back to certain comfortable items/weather that you've been missing.

    Good luck with your move!

  6. Thanks for the interesting perspective. Do most foreigners feel the same way after many years living in Japan?
    Does it become harder for all gaijin as time passes? Would love to know...

  7. 11 years is a very long time to live abroad, this post seemed very bittersweet.

    Your photos are beautiful too.

  8. I have a good friend from college who's been in Japan for about 10 years now, and she feels some of the same concerns wearing on her. I know you love Japan dearly, but I'm sure it'll also be nice to be a little more autonomous (language and all) and enjoy some of those Western comforts.

  9. I'm sad that I discovered your blog just before you leave, but it contains such a wealth of information that it will keep me occupied for a long time. I'm also looking forward to your posts from Canada.

    As for your miss/won't miss list, I could've written that myself. I'm from South Africa. Big sky country, like Canada. All my frustrations with Japan - and I love this country, for the record - have to do with too many people, too little space. Perhaps I should move to Hokkaido?

    Good luck with your move, and lots of happiness back home!

  10. You have been there for such a long time, I imagine the adjustment will be difficult, but California might be on of the better places to make it. I miss many of the things you said you'll miss about Japan...and as the commenter mentioned above, feeling safe is definitely one of them. Life is always a trade-off.

  11. I loved this post. I don't think there are many places on earth that don't have their own pros and cons when you actually live there. We always see the beautiful side of Japan from your photos but there is the real day-to-day aspect of it too. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Iris - Thanks! It is weird to finally be leaving Japan. I'm glad it came across balanced. Sometimes I think all I do is complain. ;)

    SaskiaRijn - Very good point about feeling safe. I will absolutely miss that. It's amazing really that in such a huge city, we can feel so secure. I know what you mean about being "gaijin" though. No matter how friendly people can be, we'll never completely belong.

    Thanks Trish! - It has been a great experience! As for baking, one just doesn't. Not really. Being able to bake is one of the things I'm really looking forward to! :)

    Nancy - Yes, typical Japanese cooking doesn't require an oven but I have missed not being able to bake, at least sometimes. You commented on the service quite a bit when you were here. I know I'll definitely miss the politeness. :)

    Judith - That's exactly it! I am both sad to leave and at the same time, can't wait!

    Harvee - I can't really speak for ALL "gaijin" but I do think a lot of it has to do with language. Those foreigners who have been here for a long time and seem to be perfectly happy here tend to be those that can speak Japanese fluently. They have been able to fit in, more or less. Although it's equally true that no matter how well you speak the language or follow the customs, you'll always be considered a "gaijin".

  13. Sam - Although I feel ready to move, it is bittersweet. Thanks!

    Andi - Yes, I'm quite looking forward to being more independent and not having to rely on H or someone else for certain things. There is lots to love about Japan, I think I just reached my limit and the reasons to leave outweigh those to stay. :)

    Rurousha - Welcome! I'll still be talking about Japanese literature and other things Japanese after we move. :)
    I have often joked to my husband that we should move to Hokkaido. Actually my ideal situation would be to spend the summer months in Hokkaido and the rest of the year in Kyoto. LOL.

    Amy - Yes, I expect it will take some adjustment (reverse culture-shock) and I am a little worried that we won't quite fit in in California, but it's a new adventure. :)

    Kristen M. - That is very true. Nowhere is perfect! Everywhere has good and bad. It's the daily life side of Japan that I've grown tired of but I'll probably find things about California I don't like either. LOL. Like Amy said, it's a trade-off. :)

  14. What a lovely post! I do remember how horribly humid Japanese summers can be. But I'm sure you'll miss the food:) But I hear there are a lot of good Japanese restaurants in California.

  15. Will be interesting to hear of your perspective, when a little time has elapsed and you are settled back in the west. I also love the Japanese idea of Wabi Sabi, that idea of beauty is in the imperfection of things and not in a sterile perception of a perfect article.
    Been great hearing about Japan from you & looking forward to the next stage.

  16., you're leaving Japan after 11 years. I like every bit of your post,the miss and the won't miss.

    If you don't like Japan's climate...I guess you'll hate Indonesian climate, too hot!

    Wish you luck with your move :)

    Even though I like things Japanese,I don't want to live there, would love to visit there...but not living there.

  17. Culture-shock, for sure, for a born & bred Canadian. This Canuck isn't sure she could have done it.

    I'm glad there were so many things you enjoyed about your stay. What an experience to have had!

  18. You're moving to a more hospitable climate, at any rate; even when it gets hot in California, it's rarely humid. And people here come from everywhere, so don't worry about fitting in :-). Best of luck with the move!

  19. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 11 years is a long time and there will come a point when I have to say goodbye to my adopted land that I'm staying at some point. I'm sure Japan will be a part of your fond memories. Whatever will happen next to this blog? I enjoy it so much and it's one of the best around. Would you still be hosting it? or will it be Hello Canada next? :) Either way, thanks Nat for all the discussion and challenges you present in this blog of yours. I wish you the very best of luck in your future endeavours.

  20. I absolutely loved this post, and it doesn't seem a bit negative to me. I travel a great deal for research, and even after a month abroad I am ready for the absolute luxury of NOT needing to negotiate a different culture. I cannot give you enough credit for having done it for 11 years. I hope you have an uneventful trip back to Canada, and that you enjoy having two wonderful countries to call "home." Warmly, Col

  21. I imagine this will be a culture shock of some kind, perhaps a good one, oven and dryer included :)) very convenient.

    Welcome to my side of the ocean, then again I live on the East Coast, still not as far as Japan.

    Your blog is one of the best and I am sure your adventure in California will bring us a new view of your life in a very nice State.

    Good luck Nat :)XOX

  22. I loved reading your thoughts. Reminds me of my trip to Japan (which was in that spring period, even though my Aussie bones say it was winter temperatures in Hokkaido!). Everywhere has positive and negative points - I'm so surprised at no oven though! My oven is so necessary!
    All the very best for the future, glad you'll still get to visit.

  23. Unfortunately, Southern California doesn't have much in the way of seasons. However, there are some lovely parks and, of course, the beach (which I find very soothing for walking along the shore). The summers aren't miserably hot and the winters are mild. Even if it gets warm inland, you have those ocean breezes to cool things down at night. Did I mention how jealous I am? ;) And, you get to eat all the Cheerios you want! :)

  24. I don't think the post sounds negative at all. You listed numerous aspects you would miss. I think anywhere we live gives us both positives and negatives. It would be hard to leave if you only had positives so this will make the transition easier!


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