This blog post is long overdue.
Loving Japan has become the theme of my life. I started journaling this mysterious affection I have, exploring all the possible reasons behind it since over 10 years ago, and you may find all the curious musings here in this page.
Sometimes I do wonder if it is just a facade for me, a way I brand myself so I can set myself apart from a sea of same-looking IG photos on the explore page. Do I really love Japan as much as I claim I do, as seen in the way I express myself on social media?
Today I attempt to do some deep searching on that topic — my love for Japan — decades into it. It is fair that it’s time I re-examine this crazy emotion, and whether I still feel the same as I did 10 years ago.
It did not accidentally just happen. I have loved Japan almost all my life, although initially subtle, because it was a dream so far and unreachable I did not even dare wishing for.
The first time I actually screamed my love for Japan out loud, was right after the 2011 disaster happened. I wrote on this very blog that I wished I had arms so long I could hug the entire island, and for those who questioned why I worship the ground that the Japanese walk on, I said no, I don’t only worship the ground they walk on, I wish I WAS the asphalt that fills up the cracks of their shattered ground.
My post got picked up on Japanese national TV with hundreds of messages in Japanese flooding my Twitter inbox telling me how touched they were, and that when I realized that it is not wrong to be so vocal about loving a country which is not the one written on my passport.
Those messages fanned the little sparks in my heart into furious flames of amour that engulfed my entire being. From then on, those sacred flames were lit eternally like an Olympic torch that goes from one place to another, without ever even trying to take a break. It has been 10 years now, and I think even if I tried to, I can’t fake something for 10 years. It’s gotta be true love. 心を燃やせ。
Or… is it really?
Now I often get asked, how can I love Japan so wholeheartedly, given that Japan is not perfect, too, just like any other country in the world? Am I just too ignorant to realize that, or do I just choose to turn a blind eye to those negative sides?
Short answer: What negative sides? Next question.
In search for a long answer, it lead me to writing this blog post.
I do think that I love Japan with all my heart, and I often wonder, why is my experience so vastly different from so many people who gave it a try to move here because they loved Japan, but after living for about 3 months or so, their bubble of perfect images of Japan burst and eventually left Japan disappointed and disillusioned?
Those are all valid feelings. Feeling jaded, exhausted, lost, stressed out, helpless, lonely… especially if you are struggling alone in a strange country, no matter how much you thought you loved it. They are all real feelings. Many people who have experienced these feelings have asked me why am I not having the same experience, or do I just choose not to talk about it… or worse, am I actually hiding something? I even had followers sent me messages saying how disappointed they are in me because I only choose to glorify the good sides and never talked about the “bad sides”…
Me: What bad sides?
No, serious. For all the people who cannot understand my inability to develop ill feelings towards Japan, I am equally baffled at how it is possible to not want to try to love and protect this place with all of one’s heart. I just realized how condescending this sounds… but the truth is I fail to relate. I then took some time to ponder and tried understand what caused such a drastic difference in emotions… why is it different for me, or whether my love is truly genuine, or that I have simply lost my mind… (I would totally be fine with that, if being crazy means so much happiness. As they say, “blessed are the idiots”. )
I have talked to a few like-minded people who are crazies like me whose love for Japan has no boundary, and I think I finally found a few possible reasons causing this divided path of positive and negative experiences.
Let me share a Japanese proverb today.
初心忘るべからず (Shoshin wasurubekarazu).
If you understand Chinese, the closest equivalent is “莫忘初衷”.
In English, it literally translates to “don’t forget your initial heart” or more accurately, “never lose your beginner’s spirit”. It is often used in encouraging people who feel stuck in a career, or giving something up because they are bored or have lost the initial excitement when trying to pick up something new. I often see Japanese athletes use this proverb in their interviews, when talking about moments they felt like giving up because the training had turned into suffering instead of joy. They remember how unskillful they once were, with all humility, and take that with them all the way.
For me, I think it translate to me as, “Always remember why you are here in the first place”. We are here because we wanted something, loved something, wanted to know more, and to get more intimate with something, to want to be better, and to fulfill the needs in us, and to chase those dreams.
When it comes to Japan, every time I encounter something that lowers my spirit, I always try to remember why I am here in the first place, literally.
I am here because I love Japan and wanted to visit Japan at least once in my life. That one visit turned into 10, and 50, and then infinity because I decided the happiest thing I could ever do is to just move here and stay forever. It was my life long dream, and I am never going to let anything spoil that dream. Remembering my shoshin has been always humbling, looking at how much this dream has materialized.
I have said this before — My biggest fear of moving to Japan was that I will start to take things for granted — that everything will just turn meh over time, that when all the initial excitements wane and when the sakura-tint on the glasses starts to fade, that’s the end of my dream.
Every time I go overzealous about praising Japan, there will be someone who drops in a friendly reminder that Japan is not all glittery rainbows and unicorns. I give my thanks for the mini alarm to keep my expectation in check, and then proceed to celebrate the matte rainbows and hornless ponies.
Take that combini egg & tuna sandwich for example.
2011: OMFG THIS IS THE BEST THING I’VE EVER TASTED IN LIFE.
2021: Meh. Combini food, again?
The combini egg & tuna sandwich never changed. Throughout the 10 years. Our reaction to it has.
Before I moved to Japan, every tiny Japan-related thing was like a tiny piece of precious stone for me. The sight of Tokyo Tower, limited-edition flavored Pocky, the sound of Yamanote train, the scent of osmanthus in autumn, boxed Meiji milk, a fallen sakura petal, an origami left by the hotel room, life-changing cling wraps, even the bottle of Mt Fuji mineral water I got on JAL on my flight back home… I cherished it like a my elixir to eternal bliss. I kept the bottle of water for as long as I can and took sips of it when I missed Japan… And I collected all these super precious stones, hugging them tight to my chest.
And fast forward… I live in Tokyo now.
Like… Okay so… I have finally come to my dream land, ate a lifetime quota of egg sandwiches. What now?
That was my biggest fear. But that fear did not manifest, because I realize that in the end, it is not about Japan at all.
It is me, being afraid of myself not being brave enough to embrace failure, that I have no confidence that I can make a positive experience out of what I chose for myself, that I don’t trust myself to have gratitude for a dream come true, and that I don’t love myself enough to honor a promise. It’s me. It’s not Japan.
I am afraid of me. Not Japan. Most of the time we externalize the issues, so that we don’t have to face our own shortcomings, because it hurts. We are all on the hedonic treadmill. It is easy to get so comfortable once the initial excitements numbs away and you forget about all your shoshin. It’s an attribution error, but most of us don’t see it as such. I think it’s time we summon the courage and own up to some of our very own insecurities.
Once that got out of the way, everything was crystal clear to me.
Now, what feels like living in Japan to me is this: I have access to all the above precious stones and more… it is literally like you just walked into a treasure trove. MADE OF DIAMONDS AND GOLD NUGGETS. AND THEY ARE ALL YOURS TO ENJOY.
I mean can you even imagine how this feels to the 2011 me? I think my heart would have exploded…
Japan is as awesome as the treasure trove. No… wait. I take that back. Actually, Japan is BETTER than the treasure trove because guess what? What’s the use of all those precious stones if you can’t use them to exchange for sight of Tokyo Tower, Mt Fuji water and Japanese level omotenashi?
This bliss, this happiness, the peace, is right here, right now. I just have to come back to realize that right this very presence, I am in Japan. And everything will be just fine. This may sound a little too spiritual for your liking or what your Youtube Yoga Guru will say, but that’s what it is. That happiness is available for access any time, anywhere. We all need a safe haven to fall back on. For little children it is their parents, for many spiritual people it is religion. I chose to create my own cult.
However, if I really take the courage to admit it to myself, none of these, after all, is about Japan. It is a state where you are finally at peace with yourself from within, and it should happen no matter where you are. Anyone should be capable of feeling this way, being in Japan, or not.
You know what I realized just a few days ago? You may know I had been trying to get into meditation for a while now without much success. But I noticed, then, whenever I am in need for a mental SOS, I recall my shoshin, remembering every single fluttering feelings in my heart about all the things I loved about Japan, and then realize, this fascinating place, is so real and surreal at the same time, almost as if I am watching a real-time movie, with me in it, too. I am just here, observing all the strange, curious, crazy, lonely, magical things, without much judgement, just like how you will watch a movie, and then just… be.
And guess what? I think I have discovered the best kind of meditation. For me, I found this magic dokodemo door where I can just open at will and instantly walk into this place called joy and bliss, where all flowers blossom infinitely wherever you look…
And this dokodemo door is called Japan. Have you found your dokodemo door?
PS: If you enjoy this article or find it helpful, it would mean the world if you could help me support Japan by buying a daikon!