For me, living in Japan has been a mix of continual ups and downs. The highs are often contingent on successes, fun with friends, and being able to experience the things I’ve wanted to do even before coming to Japan. The lows often consist of times of frustration due to the language barrier, when I’ve been unable to do what I want or need to do. Because these ups and downs are often linked to certain circumstances, they come and go sporadically, and are not as predictable as one might think.
The “Everything is new, interesting, and exciting” stage occurs every so often when I find something in Japan that would be unavailable in America. The first instance of this might have been my discovery of the Yodobashi camera stores. They’re one of, if not the biggest chain of department stores in Japan, and they trump every electronics store in America without a sweat. The tech and electronics geek that I am, I’ve spent a great deal of time in these stores. They contain everything from print stations, cell phones, phone accessories, mobile wifi, conputers, drawing tablets, and computers on the first floor to a Tower Records, stationery store, book store, and clothing store on the 6th. In between, they have entire floors devoted to cameras, games, toys and models, home electronics, TVs and entertainment systems, build it yourself computer part, printers, electronic dictionaries, etc. I have never experiences a store like this in the U.S., so I was duly excited. Another instance of this would be a visit to the Studio Ghibli Museum that my friends and I made. It was an exciting experience. Beforehand, me and a friend had some time, so we ate a snack at a cafe near the museum, where the kind owners and workers spoke to us, and we helped a visitor from Hong Kong that couldn’t speak Japanese. Moments like these are pivotal, in my case, for a feeling of acceptance and happiness while abroad.
The “Homesick, depressed, and helpless” stage has occurred more than I would like to admit. This was mostly due to the language barrier, as well as my unfamiliarity with some Japanese practices (like where you need to go to pick up items you might have left on the bus). Just yesterday I had a particularly hard time in one of Tokyo’s biggest cities, Shinjuku, where I got lost trying to find a building I’d been to before, as well as another department store. I tried a different, closer exit from the Shinjuku station, and due to the oddity of Japanese maps (which don’t seem to follow any sort of guide, as the maps don’t follow the top = North or even the top = direction you’re facing standard) and I failed miserably. I lost about a half an hour lost among skyscrapers. Luckily, the second time I was lost, a Japanese 20-something asked if he could help me find the Kinokuniya (which I would never have found on my own) and I eventually made it. These types of events often foster a frustrated and helpless feeling that is hard to dispell, especially when you’re surrounded by a foreign language all day long. I love learning languages, and I have been rather ambitious when trying to learn Japanese, but one can only do so much in a given time. Living in Japan is like living surrounded by the same puzzle that you’re attempting to sort, and you can never escape it. My lack of knowledge is completely my doing, however, so it often causes me to feel rather pathetic.
I wish I could say that I have developed ways in order to cope with all of the difficulties I have personally faced, but for me, traveling and discovering new things with friends is just about the only way to make the experience better. If I’d had a friend with me in Shinjuku, I doubt that we would have gotten lost—or, in the least, not for as long. Two heads are better than one, especially under stressful circumstances. Though friends cannot help you in all situations, this is the best way that I’ve found to cope with misfortunes and cultural oddities.