I’m Comfortably Uncomfortable

But its Tokyo

This could be any big city, but it's Tokyo.

Right now, everywhere I go I feel like I’m listening to everyone talking with a towel over their mouth or something : Japanese sounds familiar, it sounds like something I should understand, but nothing makes any sense. It’s a strange and unsettling feeling, and one I’m anxious to fix. Too anxious, it seems. Here’s a story:

Every day on my way to work I pass a small family- owned (I assume) grocery, where a little old man with a bent back stands stooped over his vegetables. He always gives me a nod when I walk past, and I got it into my head that I wanted to be friends with this old man. He would become my unofficial Ojiisan (Grandpa), and he would teach me Japanese, and be delighted at my adorable attempts to learn his language — and he would give me free groceries.  So the other evening as I’m walking by, I gave my best casual wave to him and called out “Oyasumi”.  My roomate, who’s walking next to me, bursts out laughing. I’m thinking “oh man, what’d I do now?” She tells me I basically told the old man something along the lines of “you have a good sleep now”. It was about six in the evening. The old man’s response? He just nodded as usual, as if to say “yup, as expected.”


If I had my way I’d be fluent in Japanese in the next month, too bad that’s impossible. But I still feel I’ve made an excellent choice in Japan, specifically Tokyo, as the place where I will begin to expand my horizons. It’s like slowly dipping into the cold ocean. Even though I’m well out of my comfort zone, there’s something so familiar about this place. It’s got the same big-city feel as Toronto. And I’m finding, to both my amazement and relief, that it’s perfectly possible to live here without knowing how to speak Japanese.  Yep, I can get by just fine on the King’s English, but can I learn anything? Can I really understand this place, and in doing so better understand myself? No, I don’t think I can.

And although there are quite a few things that are familiar, there’s still a lot that’s different.  Say I go out and buy lunch. I take it back to work. I’m the break room, laughing it up with the coworkers, having a good time right? But then it comes time to throw out the container. I’m suddenly darting my eyes around, waiting for someone to make the first move, because I never quite know where the hell I’m supposed to throw the thing. It’s plastic, but there’s still food in there. Or it’s plastic, but what about the chopsticks? The garbage system here freaks me out man, because  –  and no one’s told me this officially yet but — I’m pretty sure that if I throw something in the wrong bin red lights will start flashing and alarms will go off, and a spotlight will centre right on the criminal who so thoughtlessly put non-combustible material in the combustible bin, and Japanese police will rappel down from the roof and crash through the windows to haul me off to garbage jail. I must have been lucky so far, but I’m dreading the day it happens.

Whoa…I’m in Japan?

Outside Shibuya station. Not sure where to look? Neither was I.

Oh, how perfectly I have named this blog. I’m surrounded right now by this bubble of the surreal, and I think that may be what’s keeping me from freaking out entirely. It’s real now. I’ve been living in Tokyo for almost a week. I’ve been one of thousands hustling under the crazed neon glare of Shinjuku. It’s no longer something shiny in the distance, but I still can’t quite believe I’m living this life.

What will it take to convince my brain that what’s going on here is reality, and not some unusually long dream? It’s not enough that I can’t talk to any salesperson anywhere? It’s not enough that no one looks anything like me? It’s not enough that even the crows speak a different language? (Here it’s not “caw” but more like “ahou”). What about the fact that I haven’t eaten ketchup in six days? (Absurd, I know).

And despite my desire to be a positive person, and only focus on positive things, I must admit I have been on the lookout for the ugly. Maybe I’m just trying to be realistic? As it is, I haven’t yet experienced the “gaijin” seat on the train. I did get randomly stopped and asked for my passport while waiting for the Narita express from the airport. The cop was nice about it, but still it wasn’t fun standing around while he wrote down God knows what on his little notepad.  I’ve had some staring, mostly from kids, but I just wave back at them. One time two old men were on the train and one looked at me, leaned over and started whispering to his buddy, but I like to think he was saying something along the lines of “look at that exotic gaijin (foreign) woman, oh ho ho if I were a younger man…”. Yes, I like to think that.

I expereinced the Tokyo clubbing scene and…it was exactly like clubbing in Toronto except I was surrounded by Japanese people. Alright, there were some differences. For example there were a few guys in business suits — you’d never see that in Toronto. And at one point a man came out of the woman’s bathroom (one of the guys who worked at the club). Not sure what that’s about but according to my room mate I should “not be too surprised”.

I even got to cross off one of the experiences in my “Top 7″ list. I had Kaiten Zushi my first day in Tokyo. I’d like to tell you it was everything I dreamed of and more, so I will. It was pretty cool, a good place to eat out for cheap. Although I did order one roll that…well it was nothing short of nasty, but I ordered it special so I had to man up and eat it. Thank God for pickled ginger.

I feel like I’ve made a huge twisting leap and now I’m trying to stick the landing. In my first few days here I was afraid to leave my house alone  because it’s in a residential area and all the houses and roads look the same. Now I can get to the  train station and back. As with anything, it’s just a matter of learning the ropes.

And on the teaching front, I’ve had my first day of training, and so far this job seems like it will be very close to what I expected. Tomorrow I get to observe some classes, so I’m looking forward to learning more about what I’m up against.

For the big finish, a picture of my pad. It’s a luxurious 1 bedroom plus den mansion with…oh wait there goes my wishful thinking impulse again. It’s a typical Tokyo room, see for yourself :) .

My Tokyo Guest House Room

On the upside, it's great for pretending I'm a giant.

Countdown to J-town — Week 1

Forest Shrine

This week’s post is a little early because…oh yeah, I’M MOVING TO JAPAN TOMORROW!!

I was thinking that since I wasn’t working this past week, it would be a nice vacation, with no responsibilities, just doing whatever I wanted to do. Um…how about no? No, this week was hectic! I made trips to see friends one last time before leaving, went on an epic quest to find a decent suit, got interviewed twice, got stopped in busy yonge and dundas square for a street interview about New Years’ Resolutions (look Ma I’m on the news!), ate all the foods I can ‘t get in Japan, packed and unpacked and repacked, saw the new Narnia movie (two thumbs up) and finally got the details on how to get to my new home from the airport. Phew!

The hardest part has been the good-byes. I’ve never been hugged so much in my life. But the boss fight is tomorrow, when I say goodbye to my immediate family at the airport. I’m just really lucky I’m able to see and talk to them on Skype. There’s so much I want to get out of this move, but most of all, as I’ve said before, I want to grow up.

The Deep Sleep Crew

The Deep Sleep Crew From Left: Lil' Leo Leonardi, Young Sponge, Polar Ice and B.I.G BlueBear-y

And that’s why I also have to say good-bye to my homies, the Deep Sleep Crew, but I’m not worried. I’m sure they’ll become just as tight with my sister when she moves in.

Well here I go, down the rabbit hole. I doubt I’ll get any sleep tonight. I’ve got way too much going on in my head right now. I’m excited, nervous, scared, happy and bewildered. It’s hard to get my brain to accept the fact that this is finally happening, that I’m moving on to life, stage 2. This moment is so ripe with potential. I wonder what will happen in the year to come?  I hope I can face the challenges with grace and calm, and that the benefits far outweigh the hardships.

I’ve got a ton to do before I leave tomorrow. So for now, Sayonara, and wait up for my next post coming from Tokyo, Japan!

Countdown to J-Town — Week 2

Countdown to J-Town Week 2

I’ve started saying my good-byes, and started the monumental task of packing. Damn, this thing is really happening. And even though I have a week to go, there’s still so much to do. But I wonder, can you ever really be 100% ready for such a drastic life change? There are so many variables, so many dark spots – imagination can only take me so far, and who knows what’s in store for me in Japan.  I’m sure mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation for me right now.

Last week was spent tying up a lot of loose ends, especially financially. And I’m all about spending time with friends and family right now. My overall mood is one of excitement, but there’s sadness there too. I sometimes wake up in the morning, sit up in bed, look around at the room I’ve lived in for over 10 years, decorated in my own paintings, and think “wow, no more of this.” But this move is about more than seeing Japan, or teaching, it’s about growing. I live in a flower pot, and it’s cushy and safe, but I can only get so big in here, so I’m transplanting myself to life’s garden. Oh sure there will be squirrels and gophers, and the soil is different than I’m used to, and cats might try to piss on me from time to time,  but there’s also pure unfiltered sunlight and most importantly, infinite space, and infinite possibility. I could be a redwood tree, but without room to stretch up I’d never know it.

There are so many things I will miss, but it’s only temporary (I think), and I try to focus on all the new experiences, new friends and new wisdom I’ll gain in Japan. And you know what, I’m proud of myself too. I’m proud because instead of sitting and thinking about it, wondering about it, or fantasizing about it, I took the steps and made this happen. I researched, I weighed the pros and cons, and I made this decision to move with no fear or regrets. To anyone out there who’s thinking about moving to Japan or any other country I say, why not? Really take a long stern look at whatever is holding you back, because sometimes what you think is an iron door is really just its reflection on fragile glass.

Well, I have tons of packing (and re-packing) to do, so bye-bye for now. But look out very soon for my first post in Japan.