After yesterday’s ranting post about my feelings about Gaijin in Japan, you may be wondering why I am in Japan myself. What are my motivations? Why do I feel so strongly about other Gaijin having “proper” motivations for being here?
Well thats a long story.
Going all the way back to my childhood, I was never a Japanophile. Sure I liked Pokemon (mostly because my older brother did) but I didn’t recognize that it was Japanese. I didn’t watch any other anime, didn’t read manga, didn’t really eat sushi or other Japanese foods. It is probably because of this that I don’t recognize “I learned Japanese/came to Japan because I like anime” to be a valid reason for doing so.
It wasn’t until High School that I even developed a strong interest in Asia, and it was not until I had developed an interest in China, Taiwan and then Korea that I finally discovered Japan. When people ask me why I became interested in Japan, this is usually what I talk about. But there is an overwhelmingly large elephant in the room. One that many people–certainly the people who don’t know me–don’t even perceive. But I know, and it has gotten to the point where I want to acknowledge this elephant and put it out in the open.
The elephant in my room is Lyme’s Disease. For those of you who didn’t know, I became sick when I was five years old, and didn’t receive the correct diagnosis until I was 16, and it wasn’t until I was 17-18 that I was physically healthy again.
How does this relate to Japan? Well let me tell you.
Because I was incredibly ill, I switched to an online school in my second year of high school. Because of this I was able to switch my foreign language from Spanish to Chinese. One of my friends had lived in Taiwan for several years, and when she returned to the states she brought Asian culture with her. And something clicked. For so long I had been unable to choose what I did in my life, what interests I pursued or how I lived my life. Everything was dictated by my illness and what I was physically capable of doing. As a child I was interested in dance, theatre and art, but by high school I had been forced to give everything up.
But I actively chose to learn Chinese, and I found it fascinating–and also quickly discovered that I was good at it and had a knack for picking up languages. At this time I was still quite sick, but I held on to the fact that I was good at something that didn’t relate to my illness.
And soon I developed an interest in Korean dramas, Korean music and Korean culture. Again, it was something I chose to do, and as I gradually got better and was ready to face the world, I was able to use my interest in Asian languages and cultures to interact with my peers. At a time in my life where I was happy to simply be alive and get through even a few hours of a day without feeling sick or having an anxiety attack, my peers were out in the world–traveling, making new friends, receiving awards, joining clubs, going to parties. For so long no one understood what I was going through and I didn’t have anything to talk about that would be fun and meaningful to everyone involved. But then when I developed this interest in Asia, I finally had something I could share with other people. And it was through this interest that I gradually started talking to people other than my family and doctors, I gradually started inviting friends to come over and watch Asian dramas with me, and ever so gradually I began thinking about my future.
When you are so sick that you go to sleep at night terrified that you won’t wake up in the morning, it is impossible to dream about your future. Every thought you might have is a fantasy–no matter how simple or realistic it may seem.
I see my interest in Asia as a large portion of the reason why I was able to start dreaming about my future again. It was something I was so passionate about that for the first time in forever I imagined myself living a life other than my immediate and sick one. I imagined myself traveling, interacting with people who don’t speak English, going to the places I saw on TV. And ever since that time I have done everything in my power to take steps to making that future dream a possibility.
I still have yet to talk about how I became interested in Japan. Well, to be honest, it was a last resort. It was not a priority and I never expected to fall in love.
I took Mandarin Chinese for two years in high school, and I adored my class. But that was the only amount that my high school offered, and my only other option at that time was to go to Macalester as a PSEO student to continue the language as a senior. However, I was far to physically and mentally unwell to be able to make that happen. I knew I wanted to continue language learning, but at that point I was really down on learning a European language. More than anything I wanted to learn Korean, but after searching and searching, there were no online courses that I could take. I really didn’t want to take Japanese, but it was the only other Asian language that had an online introductory course for high school students, so I took the class.
I was surprised to find that I enjoyed Japanese, and decided to continue learning it in college. But Korean was still the language I wanted to learn, and I pushed all the limits at my university to be able to take a semester of Korean at the University of Minnesota. I love everything about Korean, and though I am an Asian Studies major with a central focus on Japan and Japanese, at that time my priority was still Korean.
As an Asian Studies major, I was required to study abroad in Japan for at least one semester.
This was an absolutely terrifying thought.
By the time I entered college I may have been physically well, but I still had a long way to go to be emotionally and mentally well, as well as socially up to speed with my peers. I also faced extreme anxiety with being away from my family, riding an airplane, being in high up places, being in crowded places….All things that would need to be overcome in order to study abroad.
So when it came time to study abroad, I had tried to prepare myself as best I was able, but there were still many things I was worried about. I thought I would get homesick, I thought I would revert to the panic-y child I was on the inside, I thought I would fail.
But I got to Japan and…everything was fine. More than fine. Perfect.
Through years of suffering, years of hard work, years of sacrifice, I had finally chosen a path to take that was leading me into a future I was able to dream about. I had chosen a path that allowed me to be a normal human being, no, a successful human being. This feeling, this life, is what I had been waiting for. And this life happens to be in Japan.
I quickly grew to love Japan, but as I have said in previous posts, I love who I am in Japan. I love that I am a successful, normal, healthy, attractive person who has goals and dreams, who pursues interests and passions no matter what they are.
And that is why I am in Japan.
Ok, yes technically I am in Japan to be a Resident Assistant for a summer internship through IES Abroad Tokyo, but this is why I am in Japan instead of somewhere else, why I want to remain here as long as possible, and why I want other people to understand what is under the surface in my decision to apply for such programs.
There is no way to make my story short and sweet–this version is about as short as I can make it. So when I see other Gaijin in Japan, I look at them and wonder if they have stories like mine. Have they overcome as many hardships? Is this moment as big for them as it is for me? Do they appreciate how amazing it is to be alive in this moment, and to be doing that in Japan?
My blog seems to have driven off the precipice into a realm of deep emotional content, so I apologize if it was unexpected.
On a lighter note, I am going on an adventure with my fellow RAs today, and I will be back soon with more Japan adventures so stay tuned! ^_^