The city of Yokohama, where I will be based for the entirety of my internship, is one of the most international cities in Japan. It is known as a trade and business centre located near Tokyo. CITYNET’s office is in Pacifico, a giant conference centre as well as hall hosting many international conference festivals and programs. There are multiple offices in the building all dealing with partnerships around the world. A short walk from Pacifico connected by a bridge is Queens Square and around three other large malls and a subway station. The interconnectedness of the buildings is one of the first things that captured me about Japan. I was able to walk quite a distance through various buildings to get to the next train station. The arrow in the photo is where I began and you can see how far I walked. Can you imagine having an entire path through buildings and malls? The sites are definitely many, and in a way visually overloading.

It’s a little past my second week in Yokohama and I’m slowly falling into a rhythm. I struggled in the first weeks to find everything I needed to begin my stay. It was a painfully slow process where I would be cooking and halfway through the meal I would realize I’m missing an ingredient or I don’t have enough utensils to make the dish or realizing I need more kitchen towels or a bigger bowel. You sort of forget all these little things when so many more things are pulling your mind in a million directions. But eventually the house is set up with all the supplies and necessities, and slowly it turns into a home. I think the first time I felt this was in the second week, after a stressful day at work I was so glad to come home. I was glad to be able to put on the kettle, jump into bed with leftovers, I love the feeling of having leftovers in the fridge, food ready for eating, can you tell I hate cooking?

After all this, it was time to think about other necessities; a social life and activities to hold my attention. I spent my first two weekends attending yoga classes, walking malls and different leisure spots in town. There is a lot of pressure with this opportunity to “make the most” of the time. And I totally get it, I feel the pressure because it is important. But I had to consciously tell myself to slow down, that I had three months here and I didn’t want to burn myself out. So I started by getting to know my neighbours, choosing my regular grocery stores, coffee shops, routes to work and home etc. I made myself a mental map of my living area, the place I would call home for three months. Some days were harder than others when the world seemed intimidating and too fast to understand. I didn’t want to leave the shelter of my safe space, to a space filled with a foreign language, sites and smells I didn’t understand. But I decided my daily habits and carefully made my schedule to push myself a little everyday, to challenge myself to take a new route to work just to test which way is faster or to pick up some fruit on my way back from work or go to the mall after work to window shop and eat instead of running home. They were small steps always. I travelled to five countries in the prior five months to this internship, and I learned just being in a new country can be the most challenging thing you do. As international interns we face day to day challenges, things we can’t even describe, it’s just a feeling of confusion or something being off. Being aboard and alone is challenging enough for me for now. But I am ready for the third week, moving out of my comfort zone.

Week three

I feel really settled into my life here. I love working at CITYNET. I feel like I learn something new every day and the hours just fly by. Right now I’m doing research on agricultural practices in Nepal, a topic which I could go on about forever. The office publishes a monthly e-news issue, and I got to work on my first one this week, I’ll link it at the bottom. I’m working on improving my graphic designs skills because the next few assignments I’ve been given will really test my creative skills as well as my writing skills. It feels really good to work with an organization that makes such a huge impact on people’s lives, and in each project, I see the ways you can make humanitarianism your career. It’s something new for me because I’ve always been raised in a culture where social work, social sciences or even the humanities subjects have always been regarded as more of a hobby or a side-low paying job. While I don’t know the financial details of choosing a career path in NGO work or the social sector, in general, I do know there is a lot of pride and respect to be gained. I would feel pretty content and happy with my life if I went to work every day knowing the project I was working on would be helping people have more secure homes, and a safe future. Every employee in CITYNET is dedicated to disaster prevention and they are all incredibly knowledgeable in the area. The office has been hosting workshops for young kids this week -educating them on disaster prevention- I met the youth volunteer group of university students working with the office.  Although CITYNET is an international organization and mainly has projects in other Asian country’s, it does so much to help the local community. As my superior Kendra-san once said although CITYNET has projects across Asia their work is also reflected in the city of Yokohama, they can learn from other countries just as other countries learn from Japan.

Japanese baths:

I can’t believe I actually did this. It was the best spa experience of my life and the most relaxed I’ve felt fully naked in my life. I have to say both of those things were not expected. I fully expected to feel awkward and uncomfortable throughout the experience. We started off by showering to cleanse ourselves before entering the pools. You got to sit at a small cubicle facing a mirror, on the right side was a removable showerhead and on the left shampoo, conditioner and body soap. You showered almost like you were putting on makeup, looking in the mirror and chatting to your friends like it was the most normal thing to do. Up until now, I hadn’t really thought of showering as a bonding experience but sitting there chatting to my friends while I washed I felt a little like I had missed out on something growing up. How much more comfortable I could have been with my own body and my friend’s bodies if I had grown up in a culture like this? If we’d taken spa weekends and just hung out at the spa all day. And believe me, you can hang out at a spa all day. This spa had baths, saunas, hot stone beds, cafes, dining area, lounges, library, play area and internet stations (much more if you paid more as well). I would have loved to hydrate and cleanse my body in the company of my friends. It didn’t feel like a spa though, it felt like I was at a water park. We enjoyed yourself so much just jumping from one bath to the next, talking about how our skin feels and what we worry about our skin, what our cleanliness routines are and exchanging tips and ideas. We spent the whole day discussing healthy skin and what we find weird or enjoy about the female body (in a none sexual way). And it was interesting to know we’re all here to relax, feel rejuvenated, and really just cleanse physically and mentally; it felt good to be a part of someone’s process in reaching those goals. I didn’t think being naked would be such a positive thing for me in the end but I realized through the process that I was so used to sexualizing female bodies and nakedness because of media practices it was a little hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of all these women being in this space and not judging each other or being self-conscious about themselves. But in that space, I felt secure, comfortable and welcome. I didn’t feel judged or like I needed to look more attractive. I’m talking about “being naked” a lot right now but in that space, I forgot all about it after the first 30 minutes.

I wonder how body positivity and confidence could improve by having this tradition as a part of your culture. I saw a lot of young girls with their mothers just having a spa day. I even saw some teenagers with their moms, and I wondered how this experience strengthens or adds to their relationship. I don’t know if I could go to this spa with my mother and sister (I will talk to them about it) without feeling very uncomfortable.