Apparently Japan was the number overseas travel destination for Australians in 2015. That doesn’t really surprise me a great deal given that every other person I met these days is either going to or has recently been to Japan. With super cheap airfares (using some low cost carriers from the eastern side of Australia you can get a return flight for around AUD$400), a so-so exchange rate of around 90cents/100yen and the popularity of Japanese food & skiing, it seems a logical place to go these days.
I actually thought that the number one destination would be Bali. Bali to Australia, is like Ibiza is to the UK or Cancun to the USA. It’s known for its cheap food, beaches and $5 love-you-long-time. I went to Bali on my honeymoon and I haven’t felt the need to go back since. Although the cheap food and cheap everything is a big drawcard, I don’t enjoy feeling like a walking cash machine (a source of money that can and should be scammed) when I go somewhere, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting.
Maybe I just need to go with a group of peeps and have a wild time to understand the attraction. Particularly while living in Perth, as it’s actually cheaper to go to Bali than to travel domestically and closer than flying to Sydney so it seems like a no-brainer.
Anyway, I was thinking the other day about whether my ten years in Japan was good or bad for me in the sense of ‘did’ anything to me and if it did, was it anything different to what another country would have ‘done’ to me. Deep questions, I know, right?
I didn’t spend any time adulting in Australia before I went to Japan (I was still underage and living at home) so it is a little bit difficult to say what type of person I was back then and I also have to admit to not remembering what I was like 20-ish years ago, but I have a feeling that I was different pre and post Japan.
It’s easy to say that Japan is soooo different and of course it’s going to change you, but I feel like it’s the little, subtle things that change you more than the really big things. I feel like sleeping on the floor, using chopsticks and bowing doesn’t change you as much as needing to be harmonious with those around you or understanding concepts such as wabi-sabi (loosely a feeling that ‘less is more’).
Any environmental change is going to affect you in some way – that’s a given. Who with, where and in what manner you live will change your outlook on life and how you process interactions with other people. When I went to Japan I went through culture shock (or wtf are these people doing? as it is more commonly known) and then when I came back to Australia I went through reverse culture shock (or wtf straya?)
My culture shock was mostly to do with why everything had to be made difficult/manual/overdone in Japan and my reverse culture shock was extreme irritation with people not doing what they said they would do, shoddy service/products and the general inconvenience of Australia when compared with Japan. For a long time I had a feeling that Australia sucked and Japan was so much better or many levels, but now I think I’ve reached that happy medium where I can appreciate that Australia does have some things going for it and that not all is good in the land of the rising sun.
I’ve been back in Australia now for ten years, but I’ve spent those ten years still having Japan in my life – whether it be through work, travel or the internet. I haven’t actively studied Japanese for about 5 years, but I still get a reasonable amount of exposure to it. People often ask me would I ever forget Japanese? Honestly, I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that it’s such an ingrained part of my life that I don’t think I could forget it completely. I can certainly forget some words easily enough, but forget the grammatical rules, structure, sounds etc? No, I don’t think so.
So back to the original question, did it do anything to me? Yes. I think I am a lot more empathetic and considerate about other people. I don’t touch stuff that is not mine and I always go to extremes not to be a burden on other people. Japan makes you very self-reliant while requiring you to be a part of a group (or many groups) at the same time. I don’t ask other people to do things for me and I would never think about ‘dropping in’ on someone (which I hear is a thing that people often do in Australia.) I constantly assess whether what I’m doing affects other people and will endeavour not to affect people in negative ways.
I also have an increased appreciation for aesthetics e.g. presentation of things and minimalistic beauty and am much more adventurous with food. There was a time when I couldn’t stomach the smell or sight of seaweed and that the thought of fish still wriggling on my plate would make me heave, but now for me, deliciousness comes in many forms.
On the negative side, I have a deeper understanding of discrimination. What I experienced as a white, native English-speaking, married-to-a-Japanese, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Australian (if you’re going to be a gaijin, that’s what you want to be) was nothing compared to what other people experience, but it was still a disturbing feeling to be treated as a foreigner all day, every day. I had minimal exposure to foreign people growing up in a small country town where everyone I went to school with was white, born in Australia, Christian or Catholic and spoke only English. I basically went from that environment to being the odd one out in every which way so it was a humbling experience. I dealt with it by trying to be more Japanese than the Japanese were, and that effort has sort of helped me gain a sensibility for all things Japanese, but it was still a tough and lonely experience overall.
Fortunately, I never really adopted Japanese work ethics. While I am probably more meticulous and customer-centred than most Australians are, I don’t believe in spending endless hours in the office looking busy, making meaningless graphs, having yet another pointless meeting or prioritising work over life and family. I do my job to the best of my ability and then I get the hell out of there.
I think overall, Japan made me a better person and I’m glad I had the chance to experience it when I did.