The Pressure to Hear English

November 16, 2009

I take being surrounded by English speakers for granted. I imagine I’d feel completely liberated in one way if I were to return to Japan and begin my life with the Japanese people, but, in a far more accurate way, I’m slowly forgetting what it’s like to be in the language minority (never mind my white face; that’s a talk for another time).

“Shibuya in Action”, digika
Shibuya in Action

Of course I had outings with Americans, Kiwis, English, Aussies, Canadians, even the occasional Jamaican… but 90% of the time, the Japanese language was my sole source of communication with others. I can just imagine my typical evening after AEON hours:

1. Finish my office paperwork and bid coworkers farewell with the customary “otsu kare sama deshita“. Emerge from the building on a cold winter’s night, just opposite a gas station.

2. I might pass a student, a kid, or a random passerby. Perhaps a friendly “konbanwa“.

3. Lawson convenience store for my usual turkey and pasta bento, with a heated bottle of green tea. Do I want it heated? Hai, shite kudasai. Any chopsticks with that? Hai, ippun o kudasai. Arigatou gozaimasu.

4. Finish the walk to my apartment building. I’ll probably catch another tenant in the elevator:

Ahhh… Kimura-san. Ogenki desu ka?”
(I’m fine, Turner-san. How are you?)
Genki des yo. Oyasumi nasai.

Only when I’m back in my cramped 6-tatami mat quarters do I truly relax. After all, the internet is language neutral, though I’m sure most would agree English dominates. And this is a light, carefree evening. Imagine a full day of all Japanese. Now imagine a week. A month. A year. Five years…

There’s more to living abroad than embracing a different culture and being comfortable with your changing environment; the pressure of communicating in a foreign language builds up inside your brain without any realization. After all, you’re in Japan! An amazing, exciting experience! Who wouldn’t trade places with you?

I love Japan and I love traveling, but I get tired. There are long stretches when I wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else on the planet, but there are also plenty of times when I would give my heart and soul to be surrounded by countrymen who understand my words, my upbringing, my way of thinking. How did I combat this in Japan, once I had learned to live well?

GetHiroshima Classifieds and Events

Hiroshima doesn’t exactly have the largest population of foreign residents in Japan, but there is a sizable number… enough to warrant the publication of a online resource for expats: GetHiroshima. Culture salons, 10Ks, Japanese wanting friends… I even got replies for a Texas Hold ‘Em group; we were soon meeting once a month for a nice cash game.

Nightclubs and Bars

I admit it, I went downtown many Saturday nights in effort not to hook up with random Japanese girls, but just to sit at the bar of an Irish pub and listen to background conversations… in English. Call me a language whore.

Blog Searches

By using Google Blogsearch, I was able to find many expats in my general area, and learn a great deal about them and their travel experience. You never know who’s reading.

I followed these same techniques in Kagoshima, and found the prefecture’s JET participants had a decent Facebook page; without that, I never would have ended up volunteering at an orphanage in Aira or cycling all the way around Sakurajima for the first time.

Everyone has their own ways of coping with this pressure of feeling like you’re the only one on the planet. Lost in Translation was such a success for showing this through film. Sometimes you do have to travel halfway around the planet… to come full circle.

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