Amanda: Amanda in Japan
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Japan, etc.
I grew up in the U.S. and had always been interested in anime and video games as a kid, so I jumped at the chance to study the language in college. I had originally intended to major in the fine arts, so you can imagine what a shift it was when I realized I’d rather major in Japanese. But the language was so rewarding that I found myself applying to study abroad for an entire year there. And that year in Kyoto was so magical – it was my first time to Japan, it was the first time really on my own, and it was the first time I really felt like the person I was supposed to be – that I just knew I had to live and work here. Kind of a far-winding road from a little kid who was obsessed with Pokemon, but here I am.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
While I was studying abroad, I needed to do a service project for a scholarship I was receiving, and part of that was writing a blog. I found I liked writing about my experiences so much that I just continued to do it even after my year abroad was over. It’s really morphed into something special to me over the years - a way to deal with some of the angst I didn’t anticipate I would feel in my twenties, and a way to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- Dinner with the O-sans, and Hinamatsuri
- How I came to decide to stay in Iwate Prefecture for another year
- My experience of the Tohoku Earthquake
Tell us about the ways your new life in Japan differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I’ve lived here for a few years now, and all the things that were weird to me in the beginning seem very normal now (so I end up getting culture shock when I go back home). But I suppose what’s hardest to get used to is being an outsider. Of course, there are people who I can trust and confide in, where it doesn’t matter that I’m not Japanese. But to most people, most strangers, I’m some anomaly in their day, and that means I have to deal with the staring, the incessant questioning, the general feeling that I don’t belong. Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me – but there are some days that I wish I had some sort of disguise, that I didn’t stand out so much (incidentally, being on display all the time as resulted in quite a sizable growth in my ego, so there’s that as well).
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Japan? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I would have just relaxed. I was entirely too worried about preparing myself for every single little thing, and basically ended up freaking myself out about all of it. Life has a way of working out, even if it’s not in a way you thought it would. There’s no point in asking if they sell peanut butter in the grocery store or if you’ll even be able to understand what anyone says – you’ll find out when you get there. You’ll adjust. It’s all good.
(Then again, I had studied for a few years and was fairly knowledgeable about Japanese culture before I managed to get over there. That was definitely an advantage!)
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Oh, gosh, a lot of things are inside jokes and you-had-to-be-there type events, but there was a particularly funny picture one of my friends took while he was on a late-night train in Tokyo. At that time of night, lots of salarymen are coming home drunk as skunks, and this photo was of one salaryman who had fallen asleep, but it was in such a ridiculous position – his body had slipped off of the bench so far that only his neck was supporting the rest of his body, his arms were dangling off to the side, and his legs were sprawled out in front of him. It was like some strange yoga position. But yeah, weird stuff happens in Japan at that time of night.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Japan?
- Learn enough Japanese to introduce yourself, to order at a restaurant, and to pay your bills at a convenience store. The rest will come in time, but you have to work at it.
- Don’t believe everything you read about living here on the internet – your experiences are going to be your own.
- Resist the urge to wall yourself up in the foreigner community. Get out there and explore Japan!
How is the expat community in Japan? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
As long as you live near an urban area, there will be plenty of places to meet up with English-speaking foreigners. However, considering many Westerners here are young and single, the majority of get-togethers will involve alcohol and partying. But there’s all types of people here, and luckily the “charisma men” are a very rare find these days. If you live out in the sticks it might be harder to meet fellow English-speakers, but there are plenty of Asian foreigners who participate in internationalization events like cooking classes and cultural festivals.
How would you summarize your expat life in Japan in a single, catchy sentence?
More than the anime, and the temples, and the wacky, there’s something special about Japan that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else.