Being in Japan undeniably taught me a lot of things. I’m sure anyone who’s travelled at any point in their lives, no matter where or for how long, can testify that you can stand to learn a lot from being away from home and outside of your comfort zone. You learn how to speak new words, how to appreciate new foods, and how to practice new skills.
The most valuable thing being in Japan taught me was how to be alone.
I’ll admit, I’ve always been more on the introverted side anyway – I’m shy by nature, and generally recharge my physical and mental batteries by doing one-person activities like reading books, writing stories, and watching movies. Heck, even my physical activities of choice have always been individual rather than team-based things – swimming, yoga, pilates. At the same time, I realised when I first moved to Japan that I had no idea how to really be alone and at the same time be happy/at peace with that. For the first 4 years of my Japan experience, I lived in a town at the bottom of Shikoku which was separated into several smaller towns and villages, mine consisting of no more than a couple of hundred people. This meant the feeling of being alone was intensified, not only by the fact that I didn’t know the neighborhood or speak the language, but by the fact that there simply weren’t a lot of people around to begin with.
Japan therefore presented a major learning curve for me, and not just in the ways I necessarily expected. The loneliness was real, as was the fear that I wouldn’t make it, that I’d be miserable forever, and that I would let everyone, myself included, horribly down. So the above picture represents a lot more than just me indulging in probably my all-time favourite hobby, and is more than just a happy memory of the days where, after work, I’d use the school pool just steps away from the ocean and have the entire place blissfully to myself.
It serves as a reminder that even outside all the regular fun stuff I eventually found to do in Japan, either alone or with others, I also experienced what it was like to feel truly alone for the first time in my life. And despite all the initial anxiety and stress that caused me, I learned how to love it.
Question of the post: Is there a particular event and/or physical move in your life that taught you any major life lessons?
9 thoughts on “Life in Japan in Photos: How to Be Alone”
The move into the college dorm. Oh man that was tough.
Ah, the move to college. Has that ever gone smoothly in the history of mankind?
We moved a lot when I was growing up… Many folks are turned into introverts by such an experience. I went to the other end of the bell curve… It experience left me with a taste for new horizons and a “strangers are just old friends you haven’t met yet” approach to life.
That’s a good point. Personally I still count myself as an introvert, but moving so often definitely lent me a lot more confidence, and a further ability to at least fake it during the times that I don’t have it.
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I believe that the move to Japan made me more aware of my fear of rejection. I count myself firmly in the extroverted category. I would much rather be among a large group of people and I need social interaction with at least one other person in order to “recharge”. But, I hadn’t noticed that a fear of rejection had been fueling an arrogance or attack to defend mentality. When I moved to Japan, I had all of my social safety nets and privileges removed. This exposed me to that fear in an unfiltered manner that I had never before experienced. I was forced to learn alternative ways of coping; arrogance worked to some degree when you have social networks and privileges borne from being raised in one place your whole life. In Japan, this arrogance only pushed people away and left me even more isolated. I guess Japan also taught me how to be with others.
I’m exactly the opposite, in that being social tends to drain my energy – the bigger and/or less familiar the group, the more exhausting it is. That said, I think moving overseas, or otherwise having those safety nets and general privileges that we so often take for granted suddenly removed, is still an extremely humbling experience. Probably also one that bettered me as a person. 🙂
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They say being in a city can be paradoxically lonely, I’ve found some truth in that here in Rome. Even after meeting people, it just feels like I should be somewhere else. That feeling of instability then makes me more conscious of when I am alone.
I do think that’s true. It’s one of the reasons why I asked and was glad to be placed in rural areas each time I moved overseas to teach – I think that forced me to be social, just because the community around me was so small. In most cities, at least for me, it feels like everyone is rushing to be somewhere else, and the temptation to shut myself up in my apartment more and let the world pass me by is a lot stronger.