Life in Japan | Day Trip to Tokyo & Mental Programming

Pedestrian Crossing, Shibuya, Tokyo

Somewhere, Tokyo. For some time now, I’ve been decoding and rewriting my mental programming script. It’s been a slow and challenging process, but an exciting and rewarding experience. Today represented the rewriting of another line of code: I went to Tokyo.

Since arriving in Japan, I have travelled little outside of my prefecture. However, the few times that I have ventured out have been marked by emotionally and mentally difficult experiences. Tokyo (or the thought of spending time there), in particular, has been a trigger for unwelcomed memories, anxiety and thoughts and feelings about self. So, I decided it was time to tackle that. I made a plan with a dear friend to meet in Shibuya for lunch and shopping.

109 Mall, Tokyo

The morning started early for me (I left home at 5:00 to catch the train), and I could feel my anxiety level rise with every step I took to the train station. Luckily, I brought my knitting and crochet to help manage those feelings. By the time I arrived in Tokyo, I felt ready to see the city with an open mind and without the weight of the past.

I met my friend as planned, walked around the city, visited shops, had a great lunch, and laughed a lot. It was fantastic! I felt…happy. More importantly, I felt strong, confident about myself and my place in the world. I am truly grateful to my friend, who has been a like a ray of sunshine for me on emotionally cloudy days. Thanks!

I am proud of myself today in many ways.

Life in Japan | A Strange Welcome to November… A Late Night Fire

From My Balcony

Hitachinaka. Let’s begin with the title of this post. The above image is from late last night. I woke up to alarm chimes and sirens, the intensity of which caused me to get up and take a look.

What I saw caused my heart to sink…My neighbour’s home was on fire. I said a prayer for my neighbour and watched as the emergency services frantically worked to manage the situation. Other neighbours gathered and looked on with horror while a news photographer ran swiftly to capture the unfolding event.

As of this morning, a lone fire engine remained; the firefighters seemed to be investigating the little left of what was once there.

It is a sad reminder that this is also life: managing catastrophes and surveying the damage to make sense of and learn from what has happened.

A New Friend

In contrast to last night’s sad event, I have been spending time considering the concept of home. For most of my life, I have never been able to define it, with little success until now.

I’ll be honest, the thought of defining home has been terrifying. Home, up until recently, brought forth nothing positive in my mind. Like Deirdre of the Sorrows, home represented conflict, isolation, and unhappiness.

Home was a structure filled with the intentions and will of others, a place in which I acted a part that fit the psychological and physical needs of others.

Natural Bamboo Speaker

In my previous post, I wrote about my issues with codependency. So, let’s be clear: I chose, whether consciously or unconsciously, to live in this manner. As an adult, I have always had a choice in how I live my life and with whom.

For over two decades, I chose to avoid creating my home, internally and externally. The past, luckily, remains the past.

What matters now is now.

My life in Japan has taught me that I can create home, a home that is peaceful and filled with harmony and love. More importantly, home lies within me. I can take it wherever I go, recreate as I choose because it is mine.

Perhaps one day I will decide to create a home with someone else, one that can hold the love and happiness as well as the challenges of a family. Even then, my home would still remain.

My Shrine Book (御朱印帳)

Home is a sacred internal space that one manifests externally.

As my neighbour’s home burned, I thought about my physical home and felt calm. My home is within and so can be recreated. Thus, I live free from the suffering of worry of losing home.

To my neighbour, I continue to offer my prayer and hope for the safety of all. Let the sorrow of this moment pass as all emotions, with time, do. Homes can be rebuilt. Let the next one be filled again with love and happiness.

Life in Japan | Learning to be real and letting go of codependency

Kasama, Ibaraki. It’s another grey day, the kind of day I find ideal for self-reflection. I have travelled to another city to see the local chrysanthemum festival. It’s not a long journey, about an hour and a half from start to finish…a little less if you count the mad dash I made to catch the bus to the train station.

After four and half years of living Japan, I have begun truly exploring my world. Sure, I visited Tokyo and Kyoto, got close to Mt. Fuji and visited some famous shrines. However, I was never really invested in visiting those places.

I was simply following along with the desires of others. This has been one of my biggest challenges in life: unlearning my codependency.

I was raised to be self-sacrificing, trained to be self-effacing, and taught that I was unworthy of unconditional love. With poor attachment and thus even poorer boundaries, I tried to navigate life through pleasing others in a bid to find acceptance, a place of belonging.

Some young version of self had been desperate for someplace to call home and for someone to call family. Some of you may be familiar with this feeling.

My navigation has led to a thoroughly interesting life that has provided (and continues to provide) me with opportunities for self-development. If living in Italy taught me about the importance of connecting with others, then living in Japan is teaching me about the importance of putting forth my authentic self.

In a culture that values the public face (建前), I have decided I no longer need my masks…because I am who I am. There is a beauty to being exactly who I am at all times. I laugh, cry, feel frustration and anxiety…sometimes all at the same time!

Expressing my true self, my “true sound” (本音), is my daily flow now. I am listening carefully to myself for the first time. I am giving myself the attention that I gave so freely to others in the past.

I feel zero shame or guilt for having been codependent. Codependency was my tool for surviving life. Certainly, I am glad that moving forward I don’t have a use for it.

I am a highly sensitive and empathic person who has spent enough years trying to conform to expectations of others, regardless of those expectations. It isn’t and wasn’t healthy.

Understanding how and why codependency serves a purpose in your life is key to making the changes necessary to shift your life from one of merely surviving to one of meaningful thriving.

Letting go of codependency doesn’t mean that you stop caring about others. It means that you have started:

  • caring about yourself
  • listening to your needs
  • honouring your feelings
  • clearing internal and external sources of toxicity (psychological and physical)
  • learning about yourself
  • focusing on fully crafting your own life, and
  • putting yourself first.

This list could be longer. However, I think you get the point. Overcoming codependency means acknowledging yourself as a being worthy of good things/experiences…and that you can give yourself those things/experiences.

Umbrellas, Kasama Inari Shrine

Codependents are like chameleons, changing their outer expression of self to adapt to their environment, hoping that they will not become prey for predators. If I change, blend in just enough, then all will be well. It won’t. You will only lose yourself in the process.

Did you know that chameleons in their natural states are lovely shades of brown or green?

Letting go may not be easy. However, it is worthwhile. Seeing yourself for who you are, understanding what drives you, and loving yourself for all that you are and are not is the reward for choosing the process.

Be you, whoever that may be. Let others be themselves. Create strong boundaries and never lose sight of yourself.

Many thanks to those who have helped me to arrive at this point in my development. It’s been quite the journey to loving myself as I am. I will continue to create my path and share my process.

Now, it’s time to return home.

Happy New Year!

Image from Unsplash

Good morning! In Japan, it’s already a new year. I am challenging myself this year to use language more: writing, speaking, reading, and actively listening.

2020 was quite the rollercoaster for everyone, and I think 2021 will present us with even more opportunities for growth. I will continue working on self-improvement, especially in building overall stability. I hope you will also continue your journeys.

I have chosen two kanji for this year: 言語 (language) and 自由 (freedom). They aptly represent my overall goal for this year. How about you? What words or kanji have you chosen for this year?

Take care and be well.

Life in Japan: In Visible Silence

Self-portrait, 2020

December 1999, Berlin. It’s too cold, dark, and lonely. The high rise buildings of Potsdamer Platz have trapped me in their wind tunnel. My eyes tear up from the bitterness and spite of an early winter. My body isn’t built for this, I think, shoving my hands deeper into the pockets of a winter coat that wasn’t designed for this type of winter. I’m too far away from everything and everyone, yet not far away enough…perhaps never far away enough. Do you know this feeling? A life lived at arm’s length?

Berlin felt monochrome, then, as a I stood alone, the only dark face amidst a swirl of the curious, the fearful, the indifferent, and the obvious skinheads. My darkness, penchant for wearing men’s clothing, dreadlocks, all marked me for what I was and am: a foreigner in a sometimes unwelcoming space. Let’s go back.

December 1994, Florida. I’m sixteen and in the 11th grade. It’s a curious time, to say the least. I listen to Metallica and play guitar with my friend, Danny. I dress in all black, wear combat boots, and have a girlfriend, who’s a grade behind me. I’m nicknamed “Oreo,” by some Black students for not complying with unspoken racial expectations. You see, to them, I don’t sound or act Jamaican enough. I’m not sitting with the other Black kids in the cafeteria. I’m outside playing guitar, singing, figuring out my sexuality, and trying to wrap my mind around receiving phone calls threatening me that I’ll be raped. I’m busy trying to find a way out, to go somewhere, where there are people like me.

Back then, whatever I was, it threatened others: a foreigner in a sometimes unwelcoming space. Of course, to me, I was just living or trying to. Let’s fast-forward.

December 2020, northeastern Japan. It’s nighttime. The frost on my window reminds me that I won’t want to leave the warmth of my bed in the early morning to exercise. I’m listening to 30 Seconds to Mars’ “The Kill (Bury Me),” although I’m more of a metalcore fan these days. Also, I am alone. It’s my first Christmas Eve alone in many years. However, I don’t feel lonely, just reflective and a little tired.

The one rule I’ve learned living as a perpetual foreigner is: conform or depart.

Being all of who I am, the queerness, the not-enough-Blackness, the tattoo- and rock-loving, social activist, etc., can create a challenge in remaining in any space that demands homogeneity. Inevitably, whatever image others have created of me for me will be shattered as I fail to adequately fit their mold.

The sameness of life in Japan seems to be a part of the air. Everyone appears to breathe in the same experiences, thoughts, and feelings. There is an expectation to simply understand and not question the circumstances of life. You are expected to know and respond to the unstated feelings and needs of others. This is “場の空気を読む” (ba no kuuki wo yomu). This is high-context living. Additionally, for those who bear the title sensei/teacher, there is the expectation to be role-models 24/7.

As one of the most visible types of foreigners (read: Black female) in Japan, I have learned the importance of becoming less visible through adaptation of certain cultural norms, removing my headscarf, hiding my tattoos and sexuality, silencing my voice, and eventually my thoughts. Even writing this post feels problematic because it isn’t seemingly extolling the positive aspects of living in Japan.

Certainly, I wouldn’t trade this experience. Still, conform or depart can be a hard rule to live by, especially when seeking stability. Living invisibly and silently won’t do either, especially when seeking holistic self-acceptance and self-healing. Thus, another path must be found to move forward, fostering the dialectic of being exactly who I am and respecting where I am.

I am learning to bend without breaking.

Image from Creative Resilience

Until…

Almost 4 Years…

View from Dragon Bridge, Ibaraki

My journey to Japan began with an article about a spiritual journey in Buddhist monastery and a simple thought, “I would like to go there one day.” That moment was more than a decade ago.

I imagined undertaking a spiritual journey, one filled with lots of meditation and healing. You know the kind of thing: walking barefooted, kneeling, praying, and contemplating nature–all to a soundtrack of singing bowls, bird calls,

wand chanting. That sort of idealized version of a contemplative and peaceful existence.

Suffice to say that that hasn’t been quite the experience.

Tori in Kashima Shrine, Ibaraki Prefecture

Certainly, I am a regular visitor to local shrines. I wander the wooded areas near me, sometimes I hike mountains. I contemplate the beauty of nature and the tranquility it gives me. Still, I have yet to sequester myself in a monastery, although I yearn to do so.

How I got here and what I am doing to remain here doesn’t really matter. The why of being here is something that is evolving. The point is… I am here.

Cafe Zenzen, a favourite space, Ibaraki

I am here in a place where difference is suspect, being exactly who I am can lead to repercussions, and I am learning that I desire, above all else, that I yearn for stability.

However, living in Japan has influenced me to become more pragmatic.

My idealized version of living in a monastery in the mountains of Japan morphed into one of learning about the people, culture, language, and the importance of practical and sustainable living.

First Ohara School ikebana certificate, 2020

So, it’s been almost four years… I have no idea what will come next. However, I am open to who I will become.

This year, I finally realized (perhaps owned) that the journey that matters the most to me is learning to be a better human being. Specific place or profession matters only to inform my larger goal: understanding that I, too, can be good and do good in the world around me.

How about you? Where has your journey taken you? Where do you want to go next?

Until…

Growing moment by moment

1523937809058It’s been ages…well, almost a year. During that time, I’ve been working on my clearing through the clutter of my mind, redefining my path, discovering love in multiple forms, finding community, and learning to cherish each moment.

I’ve laughed a great deal, cried a heck of a lot, and worked hard to nurture my child-self.  I suppose that will always be a part of what it means for me to be living.

Speaking of living: I’m still living in Japan, finishing up my second year. I’m still teaching English, and I truly love my work. I love being around children, and I especially love sharing knowledge.

I’m learning Japanese (it’s a process), and I wish I had the chance to speak Italian and German more regularly–now, I’m just reading books and doing some personal writing in those two languages. I’m learning how challenging it is to keep language skills when you aren’t able to use them. So, I’m sorting through how I’d like to resolve this particular issue.

Well, this has been quite the ramble. Still, I wanted to write something, and so I have.

Until Next Time,

D

Reflection | From up high…

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View from Keisoku Mountain, Japan, March 2018

Many things seem so small, especially problems.

Every couple of months, I find myself standing on top of a mountain somewhere in Japan. Each step upwards feels like torture…and an accomplishment.  I look toward my fellow climbers in awe, at their speed and the seeming ease with which they climb. Of course, I don’t know what their experiences are–they could be suffering as much as I am. The climbing could be a testimony for each one of us that we are alive and still trying.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the past decade of my life. At this moment in 2008, I was planning a wedding and preparing for a future that certainly isn’t the one I’m living now. By this time in 2009, I was dreaming of living in the house that I would eventually call home before the year’s end. In 2010, I had lost 80 pounds, was trying to save my dying marriage, and by Thanksgiving, was mourning the death of my beloved pet.

The end of March 2011 found me preparing for my third visit to Rome, trying to figure out how to live life as a single and mostly jobless person. I was still dreaming–this time, of living in Rome. By 2012, I was a full-time undergraduate, living, studying and working in Rome. The following 4 years were marked by a series of avoidable and unavoidable events, all of which left me pretty broken but with a good deal of insight.

By the end of March 2016, I had been living in the U.S. full-time for 6 months. I had gained back half the weight that I’d lost, was in the throes of a serious depression, and living in a highly psychologically toxic environment. Something had to give–I had fallen to my lowest point.

When you’re at the bottom, seeing or even imagining the top can be difficult.

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Keisoku Mountain, Japan, March 2018

 

 

I couldn’t see up or even imagine what life could be like beyond what I was experiencing at that time. However, I knew that there had to be some other kind of life for me.

Where I was, how I was, who I was, and what I was doing…was not my final destination.

I didn’t know if I could ever be happy. I didn’t know where I could go or even what I would be capable of doing. I just knew that I no longer wanted to be a participant in prolonging my circumstances.

I had to take a step forward and upward, even the smallest one. And so I did.

On Friday, March 17, 2017, I began a new journey. I boarded a flight to Japan, a country I’d never been to before. I didn’t speak the language and knew very little about the culture. Still, I knew that I had to take the chance, to give myself the opportunity to change, to begin climbing out of the deepest hole that I’d ever stumbled into.

When you’re climbing a mountain, you have to use both your hands and feet. 

Now, it’s Friday, March 30, 2018, and I’m sitting in a Starbucks somewhere north of Tokyo. My partner is working on her laptop, and I’m listening to The War on Drug’s “Pain.”  I haven’t reached the top of my mountain. Still, I am no longer at the very bottom. It’s a start, and that’s always the hardest part when you’re climbing–at least, for me. There are times when it feels like I can’t catch my breath, like my feet won’t take another step, like my hands won’t support me as I reach upwards. Still, I try.

That’s what I’ve learned over the past decade. All you can do is try and never give up. Every problem is a mountain. Tackling each one means getting to the top. Getting there, however, means looking ahead, taking each step carefully, being prepared to use whatever means necessary to secure yourself…and definitely having those who care about you by your side.

Until Next Time,

D.

 

Just a Note: Missiles…

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Image found via GIS

I’ve started this at least 4 times. I’m struggling to capture the experience of being back at work this week. In between the news of one disaster compounded by another disaster, whether natural or man-made, I found comfort in the smiling faces of the children I teach. We sing songs, laugh about strange English words, and do our best to communicate.

With laughing and smiling faces, the children shared with me one of the new English words they learned over the summer: missile. They played games that depicted missiles be launched and then landing…and my heart broke.

They are processing, I am processing, this summer of man-made mayhem.

Until Next Time,

D.

 

 

 

 

Reconnecting

own-sunshine

Another grey summer day in Japan and life continues on. I wake up to a wall of clouds outside my window, the sounds of money being earned with each passing car, and the hazy whispers of my partner. It’s barely 6 AM.

I consider 24 hours earlier: I was standing in her apartment, face unwashed, clothes disheveled, emergency backpack straddling one shoulder, and wondering if this was our last moment together–North Korea had launched a missile towards the north of Japan.

A few months earlier, I arrived in Japan with a baseline plan of refocusing myself, laying the groundwork for accomplishing future goals, surviving earthquakes, and embracing the unknown.

This morning I am content with waking to a winter-like sky, watching my partner eat leftovers for breakfast while taking pleasurable sips of a Starbucks’ soy green tea (matcha) latte, smelling burning sandalwood incense, listening to passing cars and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on YouTube, and wondering and planning what else the future holds.

I am moving forward with writing, with loving, with being loved, with enjoying the simplest aspects of life while appreciating how complex life can be. For now, I’ll return to daily blogging, sharing my thoughts about life in Japan, how I’m managing my fibromyalgia, and whatever else that comes my way.

Until Next Time,

D.