When I lived in Canada, my Happy Place was my dance studio. It was literally my second home – I think I spent more waking hours there than I did at my actual house. I loved being surrounded by my dance family. I loved dancing.
When I moved to Japan, I knew that I would have find a new Happy Place. Turns out that finding said Happy Place would be more important than I thought, especially as I’m fighting my way through my worst bout of Stage 2 culture shock yet.
Culture shock is to be expected when you uproot your entire life and move literally to the other side of the Earth to live in a completely foreign culture. Since I came here last August, I’ve had the occasional day or week when I’ve been “Stage 2-ing,” as I call it, but nothing has been as prolonged as this.
This particular bout of culture shock started in late March when the teacher transfers were announced. Suddenly, teachers and supervisors I had come to rely and depend on were taken from me. The school dynamic changed. I spent four weeks sitting at my desk, doing nothing worthwhile because there was nothing for me to do. I was sad and bored, and I missed home.
I had a brief reprieve when my mom and brother came to visit me. I had been looking forward to their visit for months! I spent two glorious weeks on vacation with them, travelling all over Japan and fulfilling most of the items on my Japan bucket list. I forgot about being sad and I definitely wasn’t bored. But then they left. I felt like I had nothing to look forward to anymore (besides going home for Christmas in seven months’ time). The thought of going back to school after my vacation was mundane and monotonous. I dreaded it. I cried at least once a day, whether in my apartment, in my car, or at my desk at school.
Anger accompanied the sadness. I was brushing my teeth one morning in my own bathroom and suddenly got really angry about my co-workers brushing their teeth in the middle of the teachers’ room. As if that’s not bad enough, they often proceed to have full conversations with their mouths full of toothbrush and toothpaste. It’s the norm in Japan, but I think it’s gross – it never fails to turn my stomach.
Then, on one drive to work last week, another driver put on their emergency indicators and stopped basically in the middle of my lane so they could go to the bank. Despite this being an (unfortunately) common practice in Japan because parking is so limited, it made me furious. Then I got angry because there are no parking spots anywhere. Want to catch a train to Akita City? Make sure you get a cab to the station because there’s no (legal) parking for your car. Want to go to your friend’s apartment? Well, you’re out of luck because there’s no (legal) parking there, either.
These things aren’t new – people have been brushing their teeth in the teachers’ room and stopping their cars in the worst possible places since I got here in August, but being in Stage 2 means that I just can’t handle it at the moment. I miss my home culture. I miss people speaking English. I miss Newfoundlanders. I miss my family and friends.
In fact, I miss home so much that I’m starting to panic about being stuck here for the next 15 months.
This is where my new Happy Places come into play.
When I’m feeling at my worst, I like to sit in my apartment, wear comfy clothes, drink Tetley tea, and listen to Arashi. Being alone and surrounded by these comforts can make me feel so much better, even if only temporarily.
Happy Place #2 is a shrine near my apartment. There are 250 steps that lead up to the shrine, but the climb is worth it – the view of Mount Chokai and the Sea of Japan is one of the most beautiful in the prefecture. Hardly anyone goes there, so I can usually sit there for hours at a time in peace and quiet.
Happy Place #3 is my favourite café. It’s only five minutes by car from my apartment, so it’s easy to get to. I like to go there and write postcards or read while sipping on coffee and eating macarons.
But, as much as I enjoy going to my Happy Places, I’ve had to rely on them too much lately. So, today I started making a list of things to look forward to. I’ve even added new goals to my Japan Bucket List. I’m hoping beyond all hope that this stage of culture shock will soon pass so I can go back to enjoying myself in Stage 3, like I was back in February when I signed the papers to re-contract for a second year. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very long 15 months before I finally get to go home for good.