Life Lessons from Japan

Nov 20th, 2008 | By | Category: Lifestyle

“Living in Japan has helped me to lead a more conscious life.”  I wrote that sentence in March of this year in an article titled Japan – Awe and Wonder – I had only been back in Japan for a little over a month after a ten plus year absence.  Living as a expatriate in Japan has been an amazing adventure and one that I cherish even more the second time around.

“If the truth be told, living in Japan is not that different from living anywhere else.  We have to get around, shop, eat and entertain ourselves.  We love and miss our families, we worry about things.  Will I fit in?  Will anyone understand me?  Will I make friends?  What will people think of me?  How will I get around? Where is the grocery store, the pharmacy, the gym, etc? These questions would come up if you moved from Seattle to New York, Vancouver to Toronto or Honolulu to Japan.

The challenges that arise when moving to Japan are due to the fact that we have been taken out of our robot-like comfort zone.”

Need vs. Want

When you live in a foreign country, what you need versus what you want comes into sharper focus.  In the modern world that we live in it is very easy to mistake a want for a need and also very easy to take for granted all that you have and all that you are able to do.  Living in a foreign country is a great opportunity to take a look at your values in a different context and determine if they are in fact your values or values that you simply inherited and never really took the time to examine.

When I moved to Japan I was forced to take a close look at what I needed in order to live a comfortable existence and I was a bit surprised to find that I don’t need as much as I have.

Home is Where You Make It

Living in Japan has confirmed my belief that home is where you make it (and who you make it with) and it has reminded me of an inner strength that I have to make the best out of most situations.

I could have moved to Japan and bemoaned all that I was giving up but I chose to look at it as an opportunity to learn more about myself and more about a culture that is often written about but difficult for many to understand.   I have barely scratched the surface in my understanding of this ancient culture and it’s people but the more I learn the more I am intrigued and the more I want to learn.

Patience, Frustration & Independence

They say that patience is a virtue and I always joke that it’s not one of my stronger ones but it is getting stronger everyday thanks to the time I have spent in Japan.  I am more flexible too and am reminded that often that there is no one right way to do things – just because things are done one way in my home country doesn’t automatically make it the right way everywhere else.

It can be frustrating to live in a place where you don’t speak the language and my Japanese ability is minimal at best.  That can make it difficult to accomplish anything more that a basic task in Japan and while I am able to ask simple questions there is no guarantee that I will understand the answer.  I am forced to be more resourceful and independent and sometimes I simply have to make do and do the best that I can in a given situation.

I have learned to be more patient with myself and others and I now appreciate how much we rely on others simply to move through our lives.

Appreciation of Tradition and History

One of the thing that I love about Japan is their reverence for their history and religion and how it seems to be seamlessly integrated into their daily lives.  Stop into a church on a Tuesday afternoon in North America and it will likely be empty but stop by a local temple or shrine in Japan and you will often find someone pausing for a moment of prayer.   It’s a bit ironic that in Tokyo, a city well know for it’s crowds and fast paced lifestyle, that people still find time to feed their souls.

Living in Japan has taught me that I don’t need to rush through my life checking off the next thing on my to-do list and that it is good to pause and reflect on  every now and again.

Appreciation of Seasonal Changes

Seedlings are planted and crops are harvested, but in these days of world wide air shipments and modern technology it is easy to take the food on our plates for granted.

The Japanese treat good food with reverence and there is great excitement in Japan around seasonal foods.  In the spring you will likely stop by a teahouse for some matcha (green tea) and seasonal wagashi, in the summer you can’t miss the abundance of unagi (eel) in restaurants, in the fall and winter you will be warmed by Oden.  Food in Japan is celebrated and appreciated with simple preparation and small portions that are meant to be savored.  Food is a source of great pleasure in Japan and is treated as much more that a source of nourishment.

Living in Japan has given me a new appreciation of the food that I put on my plate and into my body.

Better or Different

Am I a different person that before I lived in Japan?

I am basically the same person but the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone has brought many of my beliefs and values into sharper focus.

Has living in Japan made be a better person?

I can’t say that I am a better person but I think that the experience of living in Japan has given me a better perspective on my life. I hope that the ability to lead a more conscious life stays with me well beyond the time I spend in Japan.

Japan Blog MatsuriThis article was entered into the Japan Blog Matsuri which is being hosted by DBR at Narrative Disorder this month.

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