Today’s sort of an anniversary for me. Two years ago, on August 1st, 2011, I moved into my apartment in Aomori, Japan to start a new life. Admittedly, the first sentiment that comes to mind when I think about this is the clichéd “Where has the time gone?!” feeling. At some points, it feels like I only left my family’s house in little old Mars, Pennsylvania last week. But on other days, it feels like half a lifetime, instead of only two measly years, has passed.
Last year, I was off gallivanting around Paris on August 1st, so I didn’t really properly get to celebrate or recognize my first year’s benchmark in Japan. (Okay, by “gallivanting,” I really mean “lounging in a park with a friend while gorging myself on cheese and bread and watching the sun set.”) Today, though, it’s easy to realize just how much the past two years in Japan have impacted me.
Despite what most of my blog posts might suggest, I actually wasn’t always happy in Aomori. In fact, when I first walked into my apartment, dread was the overwhelming emotion. (I admit that that feeling had a fair bit to do with the state of my apartment itself, which my father memorably described as “a shack” the first time he’d seen it via Skype. Thankfully, it’s been substantially revamped and is definitely home sweet home now.)
At the time, I’d had no idea why I thought that moving to Japan had been a good idea. Getting through a single year, the original length of time I’d planned to stay on the JET Programme, seemed like it was going to be damn near impossible. That feeling was compounded by the fact that a nasty injury incurred during Aomori’s main summer festival, Nebuta, meant that my third morning in Aomori was spent in the hospital with an ankle that looked like it belonged to the elephant man after someone took a sledgehammer to it. I limped around for the next two months or so and spent several afternoons tearful in the doctor’s office with electrodes stuck to my calf muscles. Talk about a rough way to start life in a completely new setting. I wasn’t the happiest of campers.
Unfortunately, that streak continued for my first few months in Aomori. Though bright spots obviously punctuated life, more than a few mornings were spent with me crying during my morning shower or placing Skype calls to friends back home, only to break down into a snotty, sobbing mess after thirty seconds. I struggled at first to adapt to living on my own, when I’d always lived with my family at home or close friends at college. I constantly stayed logged into Skype on my smartphone in an attempt to keep in 24/7 contact with friends. It didn’t help that one of my strongest friendships went irreparably nuclear two months in.
And cooking anything more ambitious that grilled cheese or scrambled eggs was largely beyond me. (I’d always had my mum or a meal plan to take care of that before.) One memorable failure sticks out in particular; I’d overcooked fresh ramen into a gluey, inedible mess, and after choking down two or three bites, had decided that cheese and ice cream would have to suffice for dinner that night.
One of the things that was hammered into our heads at the various orientations for new JETs was that we would hit a roadblock that would make us question our decision to ever come to Japan. It was an inevitable part of uprooting your life to a new place seven thousand miles and an entire culture away from home. It was only after that low point that you could truly begin to adapt to life in Japan; anything previous to that was just the “honeymoon” period. Funnily enough, now I’m almost glad that I’d gotten hurt. It meant that I encountered my foxhole a whole lot sooner than expected and, by extension, I could genuinely settle into life here more quickly.
Thinking about how I’ve spent my life and changed throughout the past two years makes me realize just how good Japan and especially Aomori has been for me. I am healthier, more stable, more independent, and just all around better in most every way. I travel more than ever. And thankfully, I’ve come a long, long way in the kitchen department; I may not ever be able to moonlight as a chef, but cooking and baking have turned into things I absolutely love to do. Perhaps most importantly, I truly love my job, something that I know makes me an incredibly rare and lucky 24-year-old.
The idea that I originally planned to leave after only one year here seems laughable to me now. I would have missed out on so much. As of right now, I’m contracted to stay on as a JET until August of 2014, but unless something very drastic changes, I’ll be surprised if I don’t end up staying the full five years allowed by the JET Programme. (Sorry, family.)
As quickly as the past two years have flown by, I know that the next year (or perhaps the next three, if I’m honest) will go by even more quickly. When August 1st rolls around next year, I can only hope that I’ll be gearing up for another year spent living in Aomori, rather than preparing to get on a plane to leave this life behind.