Reflection: A Year in the Life of an American Shufu主婦 (Housewife)

A week early one year Japan anniversary blog post, brought to you by our upcoming travels! Enjoy! 

Happy one year Japaniversary to us!! How has it already been a year?  At times it’s felt like an eternity while on the other hand there are days where I blink and a month goes by.  I’ve been anxious about the year mark because not only does it signify a huge victory for John and I-surviving in this strange land for a year-it also means that we are on a speeding downward spiral to the end of our time in Japan.  Granted we still have almost a year left, but looking back on the past 12 months I know that time is going fly by, which is a good and a bad thing.

When I reflect on the past year I pretty much experience every emotion under the sun, anything from happiness to a mix of fear and anxiety.   Right after we hit 8 months in Japan we finally started to feel like some what normal again, at least what I view as our new normal.  The fear started to disappear and we came out of the fog.  I’ll be honest though that fear sometimes comes back and when it does it always takes me by surprise.  There are still days where I feel confused, anxious, and spoiler alert-I still can’t speak Japanese so the language barrier continues to be a struggle.

In the beginning I would spend hours inside our apartment, spending quality time with our cats and sling box because the outside world was too much to handle.  It truly was like living in a fish bowl.  The world was continuing to move around me, yet all I could do was look out in a sheer state of confusion and loneliness.  But slowly it started to disappear and then the friends came, and with friends a life came, and with a life the fear and loneliness started to evaporate and it was replaced with bravery.  With bravery came acceptance.

It would have been so easy to fall into the resentful “trailing” spouse mindset and hate the experience, but what good would that have done?  Sometimes you can’t control the things that happen in life, and that includes making a hard decision and giving up your career to support your spouse on an opportunity to advance his.  I would have expected nothing less from him if the roles were reversed.  So why should I be any different?  I couldn’t control what was happening with his career, but I could control how I dealt with it.

This past year John and I have learned to lean on each other in a way that I don’t think we could have if we didn’t move to Japan.  We’ve had to rely on each other as our safety nets, because with friends and family thousands of miles way the one person you chose to be “your person” in life, actually has to be it for you this time.  It hasn’t come without its share of tears, fights, and feelings of complete helplessness, but it has in the end brought us closer together.

This experience has challenged us on a level I never thought possible.  We have not only been challenged in our marriage, but also with ourselves.  I’ve seen John grow as a husband and as a career man.  He’s taken the brunt of this move, with work and in an environment that will probably be the most challenging he will ever experience.  Yet he’s doing it and he’s still coming out the other side.

Before our move to Japan we were complacent.  We had just bought a house, we were both comfortable in our careers, and it seemed like we were headed down the road to the start of our middle class life.  I want to preface that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that, we are extremely fortunate to be started down that road and were happy!  However, expat life has taught us that sometimes complacency doesn’t always provide fulfillment.  The global mindset that we have embraced has taught us to look at the world through a different lens.  It has taught us to not settle, to challenge ourselves, and provided an environment for us to grow.  Expat life completely rocked our world in ways that we didn’t know were possible.  No amount of prep really prepared us for it, but are definitely stronger because of it.

I’ve blogged a few times about the difficult aspects of expat life and I’ll never minimize that because truly the struggle is real (sorry for the pun), but the more time goes on the easier it becomes.  Looking back on those early days in Japan and the absolute panic I would feel when someone would say something to me and all I could do was stare blankly back, the hours I would spend in the grocery store just trying to figure out what I could use, or wandering the streets trying to build up enough courage to go into a restaurant to order lunch, has made me realize how far I’ve actually come.  Do I still struggle in Japan? Absolutely! Do I still get homesick? You bet! I think the difference now is that I have the strength and courage to work through it.

With all that being said (and it’s a lot) this experience has offered me another gift and that is putting all those cultural competency courses from social work school to work.  An understanding of people and things that are different than me, maintaining an open mind, and probably the most important of all, allowing me to be the outlier-the minority for once in my life.

Do I feel different?  Am I a different person?  These are questions I often ask myself and honestly I believe the answer is yes.  I’m grateful for this experience because it has opened my mind to view the world differently.  It’s offered me a place to explore my ever-growing wanderlust (and the ever-growing list of places I want to visit) as well as an opportunity for growth in an enviroment that I never could have dreamed of.  A chance that not many are offered or explore.

As we venture into year two, we plan to take what we’ve learned in year one and run with it.  I know that the struggles will still be there and we will never quite fit in.  The language barrier will always be a challenge and the constant changes that come with expat life will never go away.  We can at least continue with the groove we’ve got going, along with the adventure, the learning, the growing, and taking the good with the bad. I’ve always been a big fan of this Mark Twain quote, but now more than ever does it resonate with me.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain 

Honestly, guys it’s so true!  Take risks, take a chance, follow that dream!  Whatever it is I guerentee that in the end it will be totally worth it!  For me this experience has truly been a gift that has opened my mind and challenged me on a level that has only made me stronger.

I’ll end with a few (more like a photo dump) of my favorite memories of our first year in Japan.  It’s been one helluva journey so far, but cheers to the start of year two!

Oh and before I go, a throwback to the start of the this adventure, the day we moved to Japan-scared and excited about what adventures were in store for us!

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Until next time! Ja Mata じゃまた

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