光陰矢の如し ~ Time Flies!

Wowee! It’s been 4 years to the day since I landed, a couple of bags in hand, at freezing Kansai Airport. A lot has changed since that day. For one, I’ve gone from my mid 20s to late 20s. That’s slightly depressing, so let’s move on… Those bags have since turned into an entire apartment full of ‘stuff’! For a while, I was conscious of everything I bought and thought about how I would take it back to Australia. But at some point, you start to just let go and make your place home!

The usual story of expats in Japan goes that they plan to stay here for one year, and then the next thing they know it’s been 3 or 4 years. But even before moving here, I had had a bit more of a long-term plan. One of my goals was to improve my Japanese and I knew that’d take a while. Plus, I’d lived in Melbourne for 4 years and could easily see myself living in Japan for the same amount of time.

And so now, I’m about to start my 5th year in Japan, and 3rd year in Tokyo. Crazy! What have I been doing for the past 4 years, you may wonder. Well, I have improved my Japanese (phew!); I’ve gotten a lot of experience teaching English; moved 2 times and about to move again, yay!; seen A LOT of Japan; gone back to Australia twice; visited 7 countries; made many wonderful friends from all around the world; experienced typhoons, snow storms and a catastrophic earthquake; taken up snowboarding and hiking; and eaten puffer fish, raw horse meat, and many kinds of mushrooms (and survived, of course). It’s been a very busy and fulfilling 4 years!

This milestone has got me thinking about things I’ve learned or observed from living abroad, specifically in Japan. Here are some thoughts:

#1 Being away from family and close friends can be hard, and realising that you can stand on your own two feet just fine gives you a lot of confidence. But it’s learning how to lean on others when you need help or support, especially when you’re living in a foreign country, that is more difficult!

#2 As an expat, you naturally meet a lot of other expats. It’s always fun sharing stories of how you both came to be where you are. You become friends. And then a year later, they leave. A lot of people go in and out of your life and you quickly realise that goodbyes are tough. I will admit that I have held back from getting close with people who I know will be moving away soon – I know how sad that sounds!

#3 I never realised how much I would miss having space. Here, houses are teeny tiny (my current apartment is about 20 m2), narrow lanes are somehow 2-way streets and trains are jam-packed even on Sundays! Whenever I return to Australia, one of the first things I notice is how much SPACE there is! A 3-bedroom house where every room is bigger than my whole apartment… a backyard AND a front yard… and all that street parking!! Sounds like a dream!

#4 Japan has made me realise I have to learn to be more patient! Here, everything runs seamlessly because of the cooperation of the people. If you accidentally bump into someone, they won’t yell at you to ‘watch where you’re going!’. They are more likely to say ‘I’m sorry’ even if it’s not their fault at all. I also love that wherever you go, there are orderly queues. No one pushes or cuts the line; everyone waits their turn patiently.

#5 Australia is largely a mystery to most of the world. I am continually surprised when people say I’m the first Australian they’ve met. As soon as I mention Australia, the immediate reaction is often: “Oh, koalas! Kangaroos!” Unfortunately, no one knows what arvo means, what netball is, or who the Hilltop Hoods are. It’s nice when I do meet someone who’s been there, because I can say anything without worrying if I’m understood or not!

#6 Japan has got the art of comfortable living down to a tee. Where else can you find vending machines every 50 metres, trains that run precisely on time, heated toilet seats, and little rubber figurines that hold down the lid on your 2-minute noodle cup?! It makes life here so easy!

#7 In Japan, a bow can mean many things and is a very convenient way to communicate! I love how a simple nod of the head can mean so many things: hello, thank you, I’m sorry, yes, I understand or excuse me. The deeper the bow, the more respect you show. If you see someone knees and hands on the floor bowing profusely, you know they’re apologising for something terrible!

#8 Facemasks are so common here they may as well be part of the national costume! According to my high school students, masks prevent spreading sicknesses, keep their faces warm in winter, cover up acne or cold sores, cover up their faces pre-makeup; prevents their throats getting dry in winter; and can even be a fashion statement. Who knew!

#9 The seasons are very important in Japan. Depending on the season, the food you can eat, the colour and style of clothes, and even people’s lifestyle changes. It all starts in spring when the cherry blossoms bloom. Japanese people really seem to appreciate the fleeting life of these beautiful flowers. They gather under the trees to drink and eat and make the most of this short life we have. It’s almost poetry in itself!

I don’t really have any plan for how long I’ll stay in Japan. It would be awesome if I was living in Tokyo during the 2020 Olympics – but that’s 5 years away! Who knows what the future holds. I’m excited for many more adventures, wherever they may be! :-)

Can you relate to any of these points? Have you ever lived abroad? What are some of the things it taught you?

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28 thoughts on “光陰矢の如し ~ Time Flies!

  1. You ate my little pony!!
    Can’t believe it’s been so long. It would be awesome if you stay for the Olympics. But I don’t know how you live in an apartment smaller than my bedroom :)

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  2. Thanks for sharing these insights Celia and I hope the next four years, whatever they entail, are equally fulfilling and memorable. I think you forgot to mention how it must have honed your housekeeping skills. Having tried one of those apartments for a short period reminded me of the old saying “a place for everything and everything in its place”. Puffer fish – brave woman :). Cheers ….
    John

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  3. Really enjoyed reading this post Celia. Although I have never been to Australia, I am picturing it as similar to Canada in regards to how much space there is. This would have been quite a “big” adjustment, I’m sure.

    By the sounds of it, you have really adapted to the culture, which shows so much the amazing person you are.

    Thank you for sharing these 9 thoughts from your 4 years in Japan. Very informative, and written from the heart. :)

    ~Carl~

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    • I haven’t been to Canada either, but I think Australia and Canada have a lot in common. Not only the space, but I think our laid-back cultures are similar… at least that’s the impression I get from the Canadians I’ve met!

      Thank you so much for your kind words as always, Carl! :-)

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  4. This month makes twenty-five years for me as an expat. I am fortunate and humbled to be able to see and to experience these different cultures.
    As you mentioned, “Who knows what the future holds.” More adventures there are, better it is!

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  5. 「光陰矢の如し」のことわざは 美しい!セリアさんが 日本で 4年間も がんばったこと、すばらしいです。
    年をとるごとに 周りの人々への感謝の心と 謙虚(けんきょ)さが わいてくるものです。
    今日も一日、生(い)かしていただくことに 感動しながら 新しい何かを 創造(そうぞう)していきましょう。
    異文化(いぶんか)で生活していると、母国(ぼこく))の利点(りてん)を失うかわりに 
    別のなにかを得(え)ることになりますよね。その感動が 大きいようです。
    セリアさんは いつも 新しい何かにチャレンジして、輝(かがや)いた女性ですね。
     

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    • いろんな経験が人を成長させますよね。だから、私はいつも新しいことにチャレンジすることが大切だと思います。
      私もそのことわざが好きです!同僚に教えてもらいました。:-)

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  6. Haven’t lived there, but only weeks away from my seventh short trip, and planning for a longer (4 weeks?) in 2016. But I do relate to your comments about being spoilt by tranort and other service punctuality, politeness, small rooms and living spaces, and close associations to seasons.
    Nice reflections again.

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    • There’s a lot you can pick up, just from visiting a country. So I’m sure after 6 visits you’ve gotten to know Japan pretty well!
      Where are you headed this time around? Sounds like you might be here for the sakura?

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      • I am lucky enough (kids grown up, accrued leave, $$$$) to be able to do wierd stuff like travel over to Japan to attend Public Forum events associated with the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai mid-March.

        Not as an Offiical Delegate, so I have to make do with hanging around outside like a lost cat.

        Different to most of my previous trips where it has been football (soccer) that has been the driver!

        Any excuse to get there, and I am in. Fair to say it is my only vice.

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        • Right! I was wondering if there were any soccer tournaments coming up that you were going to go to!

          I’ve heard about that conference. It’ll be good to see first hand the recovery efforts in Sendai as well as hear about what’s being done to prevent a repeat of 3/11. I’m sure there’ll be some public events you can attend!

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  7. YEAR 5 !!!
    As I think I mentioned to you some time ago, gains seem to all go thru the same stages in 日本 ,.. you are thru the “comfort zone” & entering the “oh hum” stage. Although the way you fill your time with exciting adventure , you may stay in “comfort zone ” a bit longer. You really have made the best of 日本 , done heaps & documented it so well.
    KUDOS.
    I never miss one of your posts but it is very much a bitter sweet exercise for me. I really want to see what you have done, smiling to myself ” ahh I remember that 😌” but at the same time I am SO envious. Your photography is excellent & just reinforces the memories , feeling, emotions from my time there.
    Good for you to have come back to Oz twice in that time, I didn’t return till year 5,.. bit of a mistake me thinks.
    Agree re “space” but like all things Oz Vs 日本 , there are two sides to it. I have a house , big b’yard & f’yard, but my fav space in my very “squeezy” office/media /reading room/ fiddling with things room.
    Is gaijin work really becoming more available? We still have a hope of moving back when my daughter starts high school but the unknown of employment is stressful.
    Keep up the posts as I know you will , [ jokingly ,..please change your icon, seeing you smiling all the time makes me so jealous ]
    PS. are the sakura budding yet ? I am hoping we time our visit for Ohanami better this year , we were a bit late last year?

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    • Hello there! Nice to hear from you again :) Haha, I think I will be stuck in the Comfort Zone forever – which is not a bad thing! I’m itching to get back out there and explore the country again this year. At the same time, I want to enjoy Tokyo life more and get to know the city better. It’s hard to fit it all in! My bigger apartment means higher rent, so that will keep me in check!

      I’m happy my posts take you on a trip down memory lane – although not sure about the jealously part haha. I’m sure you had a lot of great experiences when you were here, too. I do think the demand for foreigners will increase, especially for those working as English teachers, with the Olympics coming in 2020. Would you get back into teaching if/when you come?

      The early blooming sakura are in full-bloom, but the main ones are a couple of weeks away. Exciting!

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  8. “Would you get back into teaching..” , probably. But , as I think I have mentioned before, I am no longer a “fresh face young think” so desired by 日本人 as an English teacher. My 日本人 wife will probably get a job easier. Hence our trepidation. Gone are the days when I arrived & went to 8 interviews & got 8 acceptances in 2 weeks.
    My “niche” was kids , especially little kids, that age most gaijins don’t want to teach because it is hard work, so I might have to be there for a while to search out a place that needs that type of teacher.
    Each time my daughter goes over to attend Japanese school for a few weeks , I usually get asked by the school to do a class or two , which ends up being many more. We have a blast. Unfortunately , my daughter stole my thunder last year & conducted the classes herself [ she is 10 !] even creating her own lessons 😳.

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    • Your daughter sounds so cute and outgoing. I don’t think you need to worry about her if you move back here at all! :-)

      The fact that you have ties with Japan because of your past and your family would be very favourable and they would see you being more committed/long-term. I think you have that in your favour! Principals know that those young faces don’t have much if any experience and usually only stay for one year…

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