Life on the Island: What It’s Taught Me
By Eric Burton
On March 3, 2016
Time is an unstoppable force. Even as I write this article the clock is ticking on the time I have left here. The moments that steadily accumulated have transformed me. It’s in our nature to change, and I feel as if Japan was a catalyst to my change. I’m not at all the same person that I was a few years ago. Here are the things I learned during my time here, which helped me become a better person.
1. Watch and Listen
And then listen some more. One of the challenges of living in high context society is that things aren’t often stated in the most obvious ways. Learning how to “read the air”—as it is often said in Japanese—proved to be quite difficult when I first arrived here. It frustrated me; this roundabout way of communication. It was everywhere, and at times I felt like I couldn’t have a real conversation with anyone beyond my group of gaijin friends.
But as I learned the language, and got a deeper understanding of the culture, I started to see the beauty of saying things without really saying them. The humor in having a mutual understanding with someone through just a few shared facial expressions. I learned how to listen not just with my ears, but with my eyes too.
2. Peace is Possible
Growing up, really unbeknownst to me, I had developed a belief that crime and violence were inherent aspects of society. Maybe it was all that 6 o’clock news that my parents watched religiously. Whatever it was, I couldn’t see things changing for a while.
But then I came here.
And there was never a moment in Japan where I felt in an unsafe situation. Day or night, alone or with friends, in any part of any city; anywhere. It was such weird and liberating feeling. And on top of that, there have been times where I’ve lost things—in restaurants, in trains, on the streets—and they always come back to me! I even know a friend who lost a laptop on the train (don’t even ask how) and it was returned to him, untampered.
These things, plus the countless random acts of kindness I received over the years has showed me that my own hometown can change for the better. It may take some time, but if one place in the world can figure this out, I’m optimistic that others will catch up.
Long story short, we can survive on much less than we think. I thought I was gonna die from starvation after my first meal in Japan! All the food portions were tiny by American standards. But now my body is just used to it. I no longer eat like a pig and then feel guilty about the leftovers. Nor do I feel stuffed and want to roll into my bed soon after a meal. It’s the perfect balance.
The idea of minimalism crosses over into living space as well. Closet space is limited, kitchen space, resting space, etc. is reduced even in a particularly spacious apartment. So you find new ways to store things. You get rid of stuff. You learn how to acquire just those things that you need.
I’m really going to miss this beautiful country. I still can’t believe that I’ll be gone from here in just two months. I really enjoyed being apart of the wonderful group of unique writers here on GaijinPot. Thanks for reading! If you want to continue following my adventures, please check out my personal blog: talesofaronin.wordpress.com