Wednesday, July 10, 2013

So I got Shimane

 Not long ago, precisely  April 3rd, 2013 at  10:00 am, I sat on the  bed and waited in immense heat for the power to come back on. I was in Lahore, Pakistan, and the Punjab province is notorious for load shedding, which means that most homes only have power for 12 hours a day. With no power that means no Internet, no AC, no electricity.

As soon as I heard the electric click of lights, that meant the wifi was back on. I pulled out my phone and opened my email, and at that exact moment I learned that I was shortlisted into the JET program, which meant that I would be living and teaching in Japan for one year.

That was a good moment for me, even in 100-degree heat I was happy to read that email. And almost two month later my placement was decided.

That was, well, less of a high moment.

I was back in Portland at work that morning, and the email came in from the Consulate:

Shimane-ken (prefecture)
Kawamoto- cho (town)

My first thought was, "Shimane-ken. Great!" I had been to Izumo-shi in Shimane, and loved it. I also knew it was close to Hiroshima, which was my top choice for placement. Basically, I decided that I would be happy anywhere on Honshu, and preferably south of Tokyo.
Well, I got my wish, but then I began Googling Kawamoto-cho, and I became as disappointed as could be.

Well, let's start with the basics:
 - Kawamoto has a population of less than 4,000. The most inaka (rural) place I had ever been was Izumo, and that city had a population of 82,000. There are high schools in Texas that have more than 4,000 students.
- Because of its size and location, Kawamoto has limited public transportation (train only comes 5 times a day), and a few buses, which meant I was going to have to drive.
- There is only one conbini, two restaurants, and one grocery store in the city. To me, this makes for one hell of a boring week.

I began to panic. I didn't exactly put all my hopes on being placed within walking distance of a Starbucks (though that would be heavenly), but I did request urban placement (and I'm sure so did 5,000 other applicants) and I did note on my application that I would not drive.
Having placed me in the most rural town possible,  it at first seemed to me that the program completely ignored my placement request.

I thought I loved Japan and would love living in Japan, but then I realized that the things I love about Japan are really things I love about urban Japan:

1. Efficient public transportation
2. Access to a variety of restaurants and cafes, at all hours
3. Shopping paradise
4. The randomness at which I meet strangers on the streets
5. the queer scene
6. Non-Japanese food in Japan (i.e. McDonalds, Italian, Freshness Burger)
7. People in amazing fashion

None of these are  found in my new town at all. At all.
With that in mind, I realized that a mental adjustment was in order. I was not going to have the kind of lifestyle I imagined myself having. What I was getting into would be entirely different.
I could have rejected the offer, or I could stop being a sissy and start preparing for my new life.

I started researching things about my new town, and most importantly, I got in touch with a few of the current Americans living there. After hearing from them, I had a very real picture of my life during the next year.

Before I quit my job on May 31st, my coworker asked me what I was looking forward to about my new life in Japan.
The first things that came to mind were pretty superficial: deep bathtubs,  candy, TV, and beauty products. Then I thought more specifically that I really just love life in a Japanese home, the tatami, the tiny refrigerators, the toilets separated from the sinks separated from the bathtubs. Then I thought more about me, in a Japanese home, and I came to understand what I am really looking forward to:

Living alone.
I have always wanted to know what kind of person I would be if I truly lived alone. My whole life I have always shared a residence. First with my parents, then roommates, boyfriends, girlfriends. I have never actually had my own place, to be decorated in my own fashion. More importantly, I have never lived without being conscience of another presence. I want to know if I am messy or clean. I want to know if I can live sparsely, or if I must be surrounded by things. I want to know how I spend my free hours. Will I be disciplined and write my novel and study Japanese as I hope, or will I spend my evening hours mindlessly surfing the Internet and watching TV? Will I love it or hate it? Will I learn to conquer my fears of noises and the dark?  These are things I wish to know.  I have wanted to experience this before I get married, before I never know what kind of person I would truly be living alone.
On that note, conquering my fears has to be another thing I am looking forward to. I am outrageously afraid of bugs, being alone in a dark house, unexplained noises, and driving on the opposite side of the road. Life in Japan is going to give me a big dose of all of those, and I am going to have to find a way to deal with it.

Also, if I am going to become the adventurous, jet-setting woman I have always wanted to be, I need to work on  getting over my issues. I don't mean life issues. I mean stupid-ass petty things. Like how I can't sleep without my childhood pillow, which I have had since ten years old. And how I have always hated E-readers. If I am going to travel around the world, I can't be lugging a pillow and twenty books with me. On that note, I have always had an annoying addiction to Starbucks. Since I will be moving to a place where the nearest Starbucks in two hours away, I will need to rid myself of this addiction.

Lastly, I am looking forward to reinventing my lifestyle. Since I will be living in the rural mountains, I will have some splendid opportunities to exercise every day, and eat healthy organic vegetables and fish. 

Needless to say, I am now viewing my placement as a blessing, not a curse.  There, I will have the opportunity to learn about an entirely different way of life, something I can't experience living in the city. Because of my future career goals, it is likely that I will be living in cities all my life, so I should look at this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live life in the countryside, and experience the heart of Japan.

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