Three months down—one to go. It feels like time has flown by, yet it also feels as though I haven’t been here for long at all. I’m already plotting my return to Japan in the future, as I’ve barely gotten to know this country in three short months.
Does it Bring you Joy?
When I sat down to write this blog, I really didn’t know what to write about. So I asked myself, channeling Ms. Marie Kondo, the Japanese home organizing specialist herself, “what brings me joy?”
So, what brings me joy?
First and foremost, this month it’s got to be my recent trip to Seoul. I finally made it, having had to reschedule after my flight got cancelled in Typhoon Hagibis. I’m so grateful for this trip, as I finally got to visit one of my best friends from high school after she moved back to Seoul when we were 19. We went years without seeing each other and speaking much, never being in Vancouver at the same time, but finally reconnected there this summer and now again in Seoul. Without CAPI and living in Japan, I may have never got to visit one of my best friends and get to see and know her life in Seoul. And, as a bonus, I instantly fell in love with Seoul and we had such a good time laughing, eating, taking photos, and touring the city together. Such a special weekend with such a special person, and I’m so happy and grateful for it.
Another thing that has brought me deep, deep joy this month is my film camera! I mentioned it in my last blog, how I found a film camera for ¥500 at a flea market and was excited to test it out. Well, folks—it works! And I conquered my fear of getting my film developed, and seeing all the pictures from my trip so far has made me so incredibly happy and excited.
There is something so special to me about shooting film that I think is lost in shooting digital. I can’t snap 100 photos of the same thing on film like I could with my phone, so each picture is thought out and has so much more value in it to me. Each time I get a roll developed, it’s like I’m giving myself a little gift, full of 36 surprises. I sift through these photos over and over again, each time choosing my new favourite and being reminded of my mind in that moment. I rarely go back and look through my digital photos; each time I look for photos to upload for each blog post I find pictures I don’t even remember taking of things I don’t even see value in anymore. But with my film photos, I return to them again and again, pausing on and admiring each one.
I also get joy from getting home, relaxing, and cuddling up either in bed or next to my window to look out at the view. I’ll often put on a face mask I got hooked on from my trip to Seoul, seeing all the extensive Korean skincare products around, and listen to a podcast or watch a show. I’ve been stressed out lately, so taking this time to myself is really nice.
Another favourite thing of mine to do is search through flea markets on weekends. I bought a ¥200 coat, almost exactly the kind I had been searching for, this weekend, and had so much fun wandering through and sifting through antiques and random items with my friend Mitchi. Somehow, I always seem to find the perfect item that I have been looking for, no matter how weird or specific it might be. I’m convinced flea markets are magic.
An Ode to my iPhone
My phone is truly the MVP of my time here. Without my cellphone, I couldn’t do half the things I do. I couldn’t translate items, I couldn’t find my way to an unfamiliar train station, I couldn’t look up a place to get matcha on the fly, I couldn’t get swift emergency information during the typhoons, I couldn’t stay connected with loved ones around the globe.
As weird as it is to say it, my phone is one of my best friends in Japan, because it keeps me entertained, safe, and in contact with all my loved ones. We have a healthy relationship, meaning I can put it down whenever I want, like at work or when I want to do other things with my time, but I find it so comforting to have it with me. I’ve never had to use it for emergencies, but I always have it there just in case, which calms my anxiety over things like walking around alone, attempting to speak to people, and the like.
When I went to get my film developed the other day, I truly couldn’t have done it without my phone. I had to translate a sheet, circle which type of film I had and what size of prints I wanted, and having my phone there equipped with Google Translate, an English keyboard, and a Japanese keyboard helped both me and the very flustered Japanese teenager at Bic Camera get to a point where we sort of understood each other and could get the job done.
These four months have got me thinking more and more about the power of technology. It’s so easy for me to up and move across the globe for four months, knowing my support system is just one instant message away. Having this technology with me 24/7 has made this entire experience so much easier and so much less stressful than it would have been if I had done it even ten years ago.
In the 1980s, my mother moved to Brazil all by herself on a two-year teaching contract. Of course, she didn’t have a cell phone, the internet, or Google Translate to keep her connected to home, give her instant directions, and able to communicate in Portuguese. Instead, she flipped through a Portuguese-English dictionary with strangers and stumbled around cities without GPS.
Fast-forward to almost forty years later, and my life abroad has been made so much easier by a little black square I keep in my pocket. It’s quite fantastic, and the privilege of this technology does not escape me. If I had to do it without my trusty little steed Mr. iPhone, my life would be exponentially more difficult, and it would have taken me much longer to feel grounded in this new place.
When Meghan leaves Asia
The other day, I strolled down to the konbini to pick up an onigiri for lunch, as I always do. This time, I decided to buy a cup of plump green grapes that sat on the shelf and just looked so good, and I haven’t really been eating any fruits or vegetables lately so I probably should give it a try. I got to the cashier and she scanned my onigiri, then my grapes, and I screamed internally – the little cup of maybe 8 grapes cost 450 yen, or roughly $5.50. I then remembered why I don’t eat fruits and vegetables in Japan.
While I won’t miss the ridiculous price of fruits and veggies in convenience stores and supermarkets, there are so many things I’ll miss about Japan and my life here. The following is just a teeny tiny snippet of the things here in Japan that bring me joy, and that I’ll miss when I get home.
This is one of the best parts about my life here. CYO really scored a deal with the housing for us CAPI interns in Yokohama. I live on the top floor of an international student dorm, right near a river and within walking distance of the waterfront of Tokyo Bay. The view from my balcony is breathtaking; I can see the Yokohama Bay Bridge extending high over the glistening ocean, and on a clear day I can see all the way to Chiba Prefecture. If I walk down the hall to the library, I can even catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji, way in the distance. At night, it’s even better, as the city is lit up below me and for as far as the eye can see. And if I look to my right, I can see all the way to downtown Yokohama—Minatomirai—and can see my office building, the Landmark Tower, and the Cosmo Clock ferris wheel lit up in all its flashing, colourful lights.
Inside my apartment is pretty great, too. It’s spacious—much more spacious than I was expecting it to be—with lots of storage and spots for homey decorations, which is perfect, because if you can’t hide your big suitcase away in a cupboard, you never really feel at home.
My favourite thing about my apartment, however, is the morning light I get. Each morning I wake up to the sun shining through my white curtains, casting sunlight across my room. It’s the most beautiful thing, and I love seeing the glow of the sun reach through the curtains and into my room. Even on rainy days I love waking up to the soft, dim glow of a clouded sky, and always peer down at people shuffling about under umbrellas to get where they need to go.
The public transportation
The highlight of each day for me is taking the train. I LOVE trains. I wish Victoria had a light rail system, and that I could take Vancouver’s SkyTrain anywhere I needed to go. In Seoul, I was so excited to take the metro system, and their public transportation made it so easy for me to move around the city with no wifi or data (and the transit card was too cute!).
I could write an entire thesis or novel on BC’s terrible public transportation systems, so I’m going to miss the efficiency of the public transportation system in Tokyo/Yokohama.
My bus reliably comes every 5 minutes and cuts down a 20 minute walk to the train station into an 5 minute drive. The train comes frequently and I genuinely love standing on the platform and watching all the other trains speed by on the tracks as I wait for mine. I wonder where they go and who’s on them, if the people are going to work or school or on a getaway. I love the sound of the machines as I tap my card in and out of the metro system, and the swift, dedicated, almost comical motions of the train staff in their uniforms as they usher people on and off the trains and signal to the conductor it’s safe to go. I chuckle to myself at the disappointed faces of those who miss the train at the last minute, then laugh at myself when the doors close in my face as it happens to me too.
I’m going to miss Tokyo’s public transportation so terribly, and I’m really not looking forward to living in a city where it takes double, triple, or even quadruple the time to get somewhere using public transportation than it does in your car. I have truly been spoiled while living here.
And, of course, I will miss the people with which I have built relationships with over these four months; my friends, colleagues, the dorm staff, even the baristas at my local Starbucks. The problem with going to a new place is always leaving the people you’ve met and formed relationships with behind.
When I finish my internship here in less than one month, I will be released into the world as a fresh graduate, searching for my next step. These three months at CYO have already changed and shaped my plans going forward, in both my personal and professional life.
The past couple of years, I’ve realized I want to work in the non-profit sector, or work in government relations and development. Something that has an impact on people’s lives for the better.
In my first two weeks at CYO, I realized this was what I want to do as my career: international development. I was finally able to put a name to the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and map out what further steps I needed to take to get there.
But what waits for me in Vancouver is not this immediate career. It’s the first, still unknown, step on my journey there. It’s very stressful not knowing, and even more stressful knowing this next big step is coming, but you can’t quite make a move yet because the timing between now and being back home for job interviews isn’t quite right.
For the time being, I’m going to channel my energy into what’s left of my time here; eating my favourite foods, spending time with my favourite people, and putting my all into my work in the coming weeks. Before I know it, I’ll blink and be on my flight home, so I’ve got to squeeze as much into these next three weeks as I can.
I’m going to keep asking myself: does this bring me joy? And focus on doing things to which that answer is “yes!” There aren’t many things here that don’t bring me joy, but I’m still excited to fill my last few weeks with all the different types of joy I’ve experienced here thus far, because Japan truly does bring me joy.
This Month in Pictures
And finally, I’ll leave you with a little gallery of my favourite photos from November, so you can see for yourself these little bits and pieces of my life.