Japan has been my home for 7 months now, allowing my hectic mind to reflect on why I left sunny England and what I have encountered thus far. This is the country that doesn’t stop giving and yet somehow it takes a part of you with it. Life long opinions are disregarded in an instant and unknown emotions present themselves at unexpected occasions.
Nothing is what you think it is and yet many things are surprisingly better. The things you miss are replaced by new found loves, and rage inducing nuisances become trivial anecdotes. New obsessions have taken hold of old ones and obliterated them in blurs of mochi, gatachpon and azuki beans.
I came to Japan to live in the land that doesn’t judge; where crime rates and bins don’t exist, and though the majority of what I first thought proved true, I was in for a plethora of wake up calls as gradually the utopia I now called my home cracked at the seams and revealed itself for what it truly was. Is this a bad thing? In hindsight I now know it to be a typical case of the dreaded “Culture Shock”; something I was ignorant enough to believe I knew enough about to avoid completely.
A previous boss and mentor of mine gifted me with a writing journal before I left the UK and I decided to dub it my ‘Journal of Firsts’. First encounters, first experiences, first pilgrimages, first thoughts on important or horrific moments. I always kept travel journals solely because my memory is shocking but keeping this new journal of firsts allowed me to document and reflect on things I deemed vital in that moment.
I welcome mistakes and errors because they encourage growth and wisdom but sometimes mistaken thoughts and expectations can cause irrefutable side effects.
One misjudgement opened a whole pandoras box of drama a few weeks after arrival when I was shopping at my local supermarket. All these new flavours of tea, calpis and fanta began to wear thin so I decided the best solution was to find some good old trusty squash (fruit cordial drink) to calm my thirst. As I strolled up and down the isles excited for a little home comfort, it occurred to me that I’d never actually seen squash in any shape or form during my entire stay in Japan. Frantic, I immediately turned to Google to search for ‘squash drink in Tokyo’ and to my astonishment, no such thing exists.
Suddenly nothing else in life mattered and the whole day, nay, my entire time in Japan was ruined. Perspective and reasoning was unfathomable and I found myself standing in a busy supermarket surrounded by looping jingles, choruses or IRASSHAIMASE and streams of undiscovered sea creatures staring up at me through glazed eyes. My heart began to race exponentially and at once it dawned on me that possibly my reactions were somewhat irrational. Did it really matter that Japan doesn’t hold supplies of squash? Well actually yes. But were my reactions overzealous? Again, yes.
So how could this problem be solved you may ask? Well I turned to a Japanese friend for the answer and after explaining my plight, was rewarded with a single word. One word that summed up all the worries and stressors in my life. One magical expression that at once seemed to irradiate any anxiety or ill feelings. What was this word? …… SHOUGANAI.
If somebody had told me “it can’t be helped” or “there’s nothing you can do about it” in English, it would have enraged me, but for some reason this dulcet sounding word had enough charm and expression attached to it that somehow it actually worked.
I mean yes I still ranted to my friends back home and yes they sent me over a delightful parcel of squash to qualm my woes but for that day at least, my new favourite mantra to life saved me form one miserable afternoon and gave me a more thrilling tale for my journal of firsts.