Now that I’m completely, independently living on my own, rather than in a guest house where four of my roommates were Japanese, I’ve accidentally turned up the heat on this whole living in a foreign country experiment, and the chemicals in the beaker are starting to bubble. I have to do a lot more things in Japanese, and although my Japanese has improved in the last eight months, it’s nowhere near sufficient to make any of this easy.
At the moment I can only pick out the small amount of vocabulary I know when someone is speaking, and only if they’re not speaking super-fast. The place I hate to go the most is the post office because for some reason, even in the heart of Tokyo, no one there ever speaks a lick of English. So I have to do my best to fumble through with one word answers, grunts and body language. Every time I leave I go home and furiously study from my textbooks.
Another thing I hate to do is reschedule a delivery if I miss it. I’ve been ordering things online for my apartment, and I pray every time that the delivery guy will come when I’m at home. But alas, he comes when I’m at work, and when I come home I see the dreaded missed delivery slip sticking out of my mailbox. So then I have to go to the convenience store and buy some light booze, drink it, and then make the phone call to a guy who speaks only enough English to say “sorry, I can’t speak English”. For every short sentence I make, for example asking if he can come back today or tomorrow, I get like four or five long fast ones in Japanese back from him, and I never understand any of it, and I can’t smile and nod because it’s over the phone. Usually the both of us just give up and he ends up coming back the next day and hopefully I’m home.
There’s some stuff I want to buy like a full length mirror and a chest of drawers. My clothes have been piled up on the floor gathering dust, and I’m in constant danger of leaving the house with my shirt on backwards all because I’m dreading trying to set up the delivery in Japanese.
Then lately, maybe because of the crappy typhoon weather, I’ve been feeling somewhat isolated. This was not helped by the guy who recently moved my bed for me. He’s been living in Japan for three-and-a-half years, and gave me a lovely monologue about how the Japanese don’t want us here. “They are so racist, I’ve worked with them and I’ve seen it. They always ask ‘when are you going back?”
Perhaps I’ve just been lucky so far in that the Japanese staff I work with have been amazing, and many of my students too. I hate thinking, “the racism is just around the corner, if I stay here long enough it’ll get me too.” I just want to enjoy my time here, especially while everything is still fun and new, but sometimes I meet people who have been here a long time, maybe five years or more, and they seem…downtrodden, or bitter and I can’t help but think, “damn, that’s what’s in store for me?”
I don’t want to leave, and there is an ambitious/sick part of me that even enjoys facing these new challenges, but I do hope that as my Japanese improves and I “get the hang” of how this mundane, everyday stuff works in Tokyo, I’ll feel a lot more comfortable.