Much has happened in the two months I’ve been in Japan. I’ve made friends, explored cities, survived two violent typhoons, and carved out a small piece of this country to call my own. It is now past my halfway mark—four short months in a country is barely enough to get to know it. I am filled with an immense sense of wistfulness at all I will not have the chance to see and do, yet gratefulness at the mere glimpse of Japan I have been blessed with.
Rituals, Relationships, Routines, and Restrictions
My routines and rituals have been ripped apart and reconstructed as I adapt and grow in this new place. Many of the rituals I held in Victoria have disappeared in Yokohama: studying in my favourite cafe, brewery hopping downtown, and sitting in Market Square in the summer sunshine. They have instead been replaced by new rituals: seeking out the best matcha bubble tea in Tokyo with Mitchi, admiring everything about the train while I listen to podcasts on my commute to work, scarfing down plate after plate of sushi or ramen with Joe, and deconstructing privileges and positionality in deep discussions with Amy. Slowly yet surely, I have extended myself into this world around me, rooting myself and giving myself up to the place I now call home.
Over the past two months, however, I have become increasingly aware of my restrictions in this new place. I know only enough Japanese to get by ordering myself a drink, or asking if a store has an item, or telling the grocery store cashier I don’t have a “pointo cado” (points card). The newness of this city seems to be wearing off, and I am starting to feel increasingly claustrophobic in my restricted routines and rituals, not able to freely explore or do all the errands I want to.
These rituals and routines intertwine themselves with my relationships, both new in Japan and old in Canada, the Netherlands, and beyond. I always have someone to talk to, whether that be friends in my time zone, or 8 hours behind, or 16 hours behind.
My rituals are shaped by my relationships, and trickle into my routines. On the train each morning, I sit and catch up with friends in Canada, discussing our favourite podcasts or whatever else happened while I was asleep. I chat with the Starbucks baristas before work, whom I have grown to know by name, as we exchange our languages and teach each other day by day. During the day, I look to my friends in my time zone for lunch hour chats or support: Alisha in Brisbane, Selina in Kuala Lumpur, Michelle in Seoul, and of course, the rest of my CAPI cohort. Around 2 PM, my dad texts me goodnight in his signature way, with an “I,” then a heart emoji, then a sheep emoji (I love “yew”). In the evening, my boyfriend wakes up in the Netherlands and I can always count on his message of “Hiiii” on my way home from work. My weekends revolve around connecting in person, not through my phone, often over meals or shared interests (hence, bubble tea).
These routines and rituals encompassed by my relationships are what keep me steady despite my restrictions. They weave together and have shaped my past two months here in Japan, and will continue to evolve and change and reshape the next two.
Sense of Place
These rituals, relationships, and routines I have developed all help shape my experience of Yokohama, my sense of place here. I was first introduced to the concept of “sense of place” years ago in my Introduction to Social and Cultural Geography class. It’s a simple and fairly obvious concept, yet has many layers.
Essentially, sense of place is an individual’s experience in and perception of a geographical place, shaped by their social and physical interactions with the people and the world around them. Sense of place is both imposed upon and determined by the individual. Each person’s sense of place is unique, just as each person is unique.
My sense of place in Yokohama is continuously expanding and shifting. Developing a sense of place is a continuous process, as I move within the space around me. In comparison to Victoria or Vancouver, in Yokohama I understand space and place as a foreigner, as someone new to this place and on what I would consider the ‘social outskirts’ of it.
The physical space, of course, is so far from what Victoria or Vancouver looks like, with different architecture and development patterns and natural environment. I maneuver differently in this new place, both socially and physically. My personal traits have shifted slightly to fit that of those around me; I walk slower, I keep to myself. Often when walking the streets alone, I feel as if I’m in a bubble and watching the world go by from inside it. My place in Yokohama feels less permanent, in both the way that my presence is not permanent, and that this place is not permanent to me.
As my knowledge of this place and my sense of it expands, I am also continuously developing my sense of place for home, for Vancouver. Many people say that when you travel, what you learn most about is your home.
This has been true for me many times. Becoming familiar with a place allows me to contrast and compare between Canada and the place I visit. I have come to see so many faults of Canada, yet I have also come to see and be immensely thankful for all the ways in which it is great.
“When overseas, you learn more about your home country than you do the place you’re visiting.”Clint Borgen
When I lived in the Netherlands nearly three years ago, I was so clearly able to point out the faults of Canadian cities; how large, how unsustainable, and how difficult to move around in they were. Yet at the same time, I grew even more thankful for the multicultural community I grew up in, how from a young age I was surrounded by those of different cultures and religions, whose first languages may be different than mine, whose food has different spices and ingredients and flavours, whose experience of the world was something far from mine—something I felt was missing in my homogeneous community in the Netherlands.
Now in Japan, I feel the same sentiments. I can recognize both the bad and the good of Canada, and the bad and the good of what I have seen of Japan. I think part of becoming a “global citizen” is this; is absorbing all the good and the bad that the world has to offer, and digesting and deconstructing it to determine how to share the best parts of each other with the world.
Living here is not only shaping my sense of place in Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands, but it’s further shaping my sense of place for the world and helping me determine my role and position in it.
Earthquakes, typhoons, the climate, oh my!
This October, one of the most significant events for many people living in Japan was Typhoon Hagibis. The typhoon was the most severe storm to hit Japan in over 60 years, and arrived barely a month after Typhoon Faxai in September, from which some communities were still recuperating.
I had planned to go to Seoul, Korea, to visit my friend Michelle, but my flight was cancelled the day before in anticipation of the 160 km/h winds. Instead, I hunkered down in my apartment with my emergency food and water, and waited out the typhoon.
Much like the last typhoon, I am very thankful all I experienced was a cozy day at home. Over 80 people were killed in the storm, and thousands of people evacuated from their homes as rivers flooded, slopes collapsed, and a tornado even touched down in Chiba Prefecture. In the midst of it all, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake struck, causing shaking across the Kanto region and further loosening the ground and causing more landslides in Chiba Prefecture, the closest to the epicentre.
The following week at work, I discussed the typhoon with my colleagues. One told me that these storms are more frequent nowadays, and increasingly severe. In fact, as I write this blog, just this past Friday there was a typhoon off the east coast of Japan, causing heavy rains and the risk of flooding and landslides in many of the areas still recovering from Typhoon Hagibis.
My colleague said that when she was little, she got excited when a typhoon would come because it meant she got the day off school. Now, however, it makes her and many others nervous, as the severity of these typhoons is increasing—as proven by both Faxai and Hagibis.
What this all boils down to is climate change. A topic heavily studied and discussed in my UVic courses, I’ve known one of the symptoms of climate change is an increased frequency and severity of storms like hurricanes and typhoons. Now, I am experiencing this symptom firsthand in Japan, with another typhoon appearing seemingly each weekend.
It just hammers home how serious the climate emergency is, and reminds me there is much work to be done in regards to the systematic political and corporate approach to climate change and environmental sustainability. Unfortunately, this massive change needs to be top-down and governments are the ones that need to take concrete actions, but the fact that they’re not doing anything about it gives me a pit in my stomach and makes me so angry and frustrated. It’s clear that this can’t be an issue solely addressed by Greta Thunberg and boycotting plastic straws, but the people who can make a concrete difference choose not to.
The immense burden of this can be a lot to digest, and I often find myself pushing away thoughts of climate change to try to live in climate-ignorant bliss, so the recent typhoons have left me reeling and thinking much about this topic. But the way Japan’s new environment minister puts it makes me chuckle and gives me a bit of hope:
“In politics there are so many issues, sometimes boring. On tackling such a big-scale issue like climate change, it’s got to be fun, it’s got to be cool. It’s got to be sexy too.”Shinjiro Koizumi
A final travel blog touch!
To finish on a more playful note, I’d like to show you some of my favourite things from the past couple months here, to let you know just what the heck I’m actually getting up to in Japan!
Mainly, I’ve been eating. Sushi, ramen, bubble tea, you name it. It’s what I love to do, and I truly believe the best way into a culture is through its food! I think my favourite places are conveyor belt sushi places, where you just pick your sushi off the conveyor belt or order off an iPad (perfect for the customer with waiter-anxiety like me).
I’ve also been walking around a lot. I’m on my feet so much these days, walking at least an hour each day during my work commutes, and even more on the weekends when out sightseeing. Two weekends ago, Mitchi, Joe, and I walked for about eight hours straight! And poor Mitchi wore heels.
While on my work commute, I listen to a lot of podcasts. Here is my quick and un-thorough podcast review:
- My Favorite Murder – five stars
- This Podcast Will Kill You – five stars but don’t eat while listening to the syphilis episode
- Unladylike – five stars
- Crime Junkie – four stars
- The Daily by the New York Times – four stars but sometimes gets annoying listening to so much American politics
- Frontburner by CBC Radio – three stars but this was my go-to during election season
Nowadays, I also am spending a lot of time by myself. Like many of my fellow CAPI interns, I find myself spending a lot of time alone. While I fill my weekends with exploring and spending time with people, the rest of my week I mainly go throughout life alone—except for the highlight of my weekday when I get to see my Starbucks barista friends! This concept of being alone is interesting to me, because this is the biggest, most populated city I’ve ever lived in, and I’m never truly alone, but I feel anonymous in a city so massive and with so many faces. I’ve never been surrounded by so many people, yet spending so much time by myself. However, while I may be spending time alone, I’m not lonely.
I’ve always struggled with doing things by myself, but somehow I always seem to make decisions that result in being alone for a while: I went to UVic not knowing anyone else who was going there too, I went on exchange and moved to the Netherlands without anyone else, and did the same for this internship in Japan. I’m starting to realize maybe now I’ve not struggled with this as much as I thought I did—or maybe I just internally pushed myself to overcome it.
And finally, I’ve been hunting for the perfect new film camera, which I found a couple weeks ago at a flea market for only ¥500 ($5)! It’s in great condition, plus it’s the model of camera that Andy Warhol favoured, which is kind of cool—something I found out after extensive Googling about how exactly to use it. Stay tuned for some sweet new film photography, if I ever muster up the courage/figure out how to get my film developed here.
So, thank you for reading my ramblings—it was a long read, I know. Hopefully my thoughts made sense to you, because they barely do to me.