I got a job in Japan. I’m leaving in less than two months. I’ll be there for a year.
Let’s blow right past the fact that I speak almost zero Japanese, which is really scary. Let’s ignore the reality that I’ve only been officially teaching for a month here in the U.S., and therefore feel pretty underqualified to teach in general. Let’s try not to think about how I’ll lose the vast majority of my Shinkendo skills while abroad, which kinda kills me.
Instead, let’s focus on the really devastating stuff: I’m moving away from the people I know and love (and love me back) so quickly that my memory of them makes a whistling noise as it whips past my ears. The way my father smells when he hugs me, how my mother wrings her hands when she’s been cooking with olive oil, my sister’s careless slouch, the sandpaper squeal of sinching himo, a friend’s gasping laughter, my bare feet’s gentle slap on the wooden stairs in the dark, the feel of his fingers sliding between mine, the familiar, easy everything. I’ve traveled the world, but lived in Los Angeles my whole life. A year is a long time.
When I voice my concerns, everyone says the same thing: “You’re going to have a great time.” They actually think what they’re feeling is envy, that they would relish having their lives torn up by the roots. They’re not doing me any favors by running away from the inevitable pain of leaving a good life behind for no reason other than to have an adventure, and do something that scares me simply because it scares me. They’re afraid to hear the hesitation in my voice, they look away as the anxiety creeps from one eyebrow to the next until they almost meet in the middle, and seals my mouth into a gently curved horizon of doubt.
And that’s the beauty of it: I don’t have any good reason to do this. I’m abandoning a loving boyfriend of six years, my family (who live within 20 minutes of me), my friends who are like a second family to me, my fellow Shinkendo-ka (my dojo family), a job I find rewarding and fun, and for what?
It’s odd that I should continue to learn about who I am by watching my actions rather than acting because of who I am. It’s like walking into a bedroom, then suddenly deciding you’re tired.
And yet I can say with confidence that I am ready.
Is this because I have to be? I wonder why I went after this at all. Naturally, Japan is a beautiful country that I’ve wanted to visit since I was a child listening to my father tell stories of his visits with his father, who helped with the rebuilding efforts after WWII. I’ve been reading manga, watching anime, enjoying little pieces of Japanese culture for years. And who doesn’t want to visit Japan? They’ve permeated American pop culture so thoroughly, I can’t think of anyone who would dare claim to dislike Japanese aesthetics. Japanese everything is chic.
But my country’s sudden obsession, my affinity for big-eyed cartoons and noodle soup, even my father’s stories cannot function as my motivation. Not long-term. They will not usher me through the quiet moments in my too-small apartment in Morioka while the snow falls impartially outside, and hundreds of nights just like this one stretch out before me in a seemingly endless line of solitude and the unfamiliar creaking settlings of a building I’m supposed to call home. “I chose this,” I’ll think to myself between tears. “You did this. You have no one to blame but yourself.” Where will I find comfort then? What mental nook will I tuck myself into like I did as a child on still Saturday mornings, dreading my waking hours, hiding in the cracks of the ceiling over my bed, slipping down the wall toward edible mountains and break-away tides?
And yet. I am ready.