Nothing promotes nudity quite like Japanese summers.

As I write this, I’m lying in bed under a blanket in my air-conditioned bedroom (set to a modest 27 degrees Celsius) with a sore throat and a slight fever. I’ve actually just awoken from a brief medication-induced nap, & I’m still feeling somewhat woozy, & my throat still hurts but I at least my stomach seems to have stopped clenching and unclenching in spasms now.

I have been in Japan for 12 days, Kobe about 9, and it has been an eventful almost-two-weeks. Many people, as a standard conversation starter, will ask, “Is this your first time in Japan?” to which I’ll answer, “No, this is actually my 6th time” and get responses ranging from mild surprise to omg srsly?!-type of responses. Japan isn’t really a new place to me right now, though I definitely remember the awe and wonderment I had when looking at everything the first time I came in January 2009, possessing absolutely zero knowledge of the language and country. It remains a good memory for me, as I find that I become less in awe of things the older I get, & I’m not sure if that’s because I’m getting more jaded or simply because I’ve seen things or at least read about them before, so they come as much less of a surprise. Part of it is also because in the trips since then, I’ve had more responsibility either in getting myself & others around or being the one who planned the trip and so on, but I knew nothing in the first trip & really just followed people or wandered on my own with no preconceptions.

Tokyo Orientation from the 4th to the 6th (we reached in the evening of the 4th; no programs on this day) was a whirlwind of talks & activities, & I know I fell asleep in more than one talk. Some I felt were highly engaging & useful, informative seminars while others were simply entertaining, & yet others made me feel like my time was being wasted. The sheer number of people & scale of the orientation made me aware of just how big the JET Programme was – it was truly an international gathering of people from various parts of the world in one location as we were inducted slowly into our jobs. The formal talks aside, it was an opportunity to mix and mingle & get to know people. I’ll have to say that lunch on the 2nd day was the most entertaining, interesting & educational part of the Tokyo Orientation for me, which culminated in the formation of a secret Facebook group (anyone up for some ichigo? ;D). From my perspective, the topics being discussed over lunch were never really topics that would have been talked about openly back home, except with close friends, so I was more than surprised when stories started coming forth & so on, but the openness & frankness was a refreshing contrast to the hush-hush attitude I was used to. Personally, having never been involved with anyone before, there were concepts & terms that were being thrown around that I was unfamiliar with but the people at the table were kind enough to explain them to me. So, yeah, lunch was a pretty eye-opening experience and I finally got to meet some people I’d only interacted with briefly online, as well as make new friends.

On the morning of the 7th, we headed to Kobe City via a chartered bus to Haneda Airport and then a short flight to the local airport, followed by another busy ride to the Kobe Education Center (KEC).

Fact 1: It’s summer in Japan, & it’d been established over orientation that Tokyo was warm.
Fact 2: I’m from a tropical country which has summer-like weather all year round.
Fact 3: Kobe was infinitely warmer with higher humidity and a higher UV index. The Sun doesn’t shine here, it blazes in full glory, like an oven lamp roasting our tender flesh.

Misconception: I may be from a country with similar weather all year round, but it definitely did not prepare me for this heat or level of sweating. Undershirts are absolutely essential here, they’re not an option you can just ponder about & consider if you want to look professional and not like a drowning rat with sweat staining your clothes most distinctly.

The schedule here has been packed, with events planned for us everyday. The first few days were mostly to introduce us to our local residential community & let us know what’s in the neighbourhood. This weekend to Wednesday was actually Obon, a festival that honours the spirits of one’s ancestors. As such, school was closed from Monday to Wednesday and I took summer leave for the 2 days I didn’t have programs on, and.. Cleaned the apartment a lot. I’ve been to a few social events & gone out to town to hang out with people, so there’s been a lot of meeting new people and small talk. I’ll just say here that I am pretty terrible at small talk. With some people you can pretty much shoot the bull & have fun, but it’s not with everyone. That said, just about everyone I’ve met have been really awesome and nice and extremely helpful (many thanks to the couple in the block opposite mine for helping me get aircon set up within a week!! It’s been a lifesaver. Also another shout out to the cute couple who’ve known each other since they were kids, for helping me with getting & building a bedframe from IKEA!) so the only problem I’ve had really, is turning down invitations to social events ’cause I want to clean or get settled in or I’m just tired. Which I should stop doing, I guess, because the beginning is a pretty crucial time period for us to figure out who will be in our social circles.

Not only are the people really nice and amazing, I’ve met some who are, beyond that, really charismatic and attractive and just beautiful people! It’s just sad that social interaction doesn’t work as simply as going up to people & declaring your intentions of wanting to be friends with them. Wouldn’t it be so much simpler?

“What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls? When you skateboarded down the street at night you could hear everyone’s heartbeat, and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar.”
– Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I haven’t really been homesick, though I have definitely missed my family & friends. Talking to my siblings frequently over LINE, texting Claire & Jan helped, & talking to my parents & Jan as well. Living alone here isn’t so much of a culture shock as it is a struggle living alone, seeing as I can’t cook, & I’m terrified of insects so I’ve been cleaning & vacuuming really often.

I’m going to get more water & spray the little thing the guy at the pharmacy section in the supermarket gave me into my throat for some relief. Take some paracetamol, & sleep.

P.S. With regards to my post title, before I got aircon installed, I was basically stripping down to undies (if I felt modest) whenever I got home. Which isn’t really a problem since my curtains are drawn all the time. The freedom & liberation of being able to do that because you’re living alone is wonderful!

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All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.

I woke up in a panic this morning, having had the full weight of the realisation of my move to Japan hit me in my sleep, along with the vestiges of my nightmare. In it, one of the people dearest to me had been injured and seemed to be gone; I recall the anxiety and disbelief even as I tried to figure out what I should do, who I should call, how I could turn back time somehow. I awoke with the smell of perfume in the air; disoriented, I didn’t recognise it. I saw the dark figure of my sister standing by the table-side, then walking out into the living room. Cold, near tears, I stumbled out of bed and followed her, barely awake, just to be sure that she was still there, still alive. “Why are you awake?” she asked, as she prepared breakfast – a Nutella and peanut butter sandwich. “Are you going to work?” “Yes..?” Placated, more awake, well aware by now that it was but a terrible nightmare, I stumbled back under the blankets and fell into a dreamless slumber.

I remember a nightmare like this happening once before when I was but a small child, waking up from my sleep crying for my father whom I thought I’d lost. He was on his way out to work, but he comforted me and reassured me that he was there, and put me back to sleep.

“And the danger is that in this move toward new horizons and far directions, that I may lose what I have now, and not find anything except loneliness”
– Sylvia Plath

Before today, my flight on Sunday and the reality of Japan felt like something I was going to do, but it was something far away, something unreal. Yesterday, I received my e-ticket, a one-way trip to Japan that promised nothing of return, said nothing about what would happen, an open door into change. It finally registered in me that I really was leaving, leaving everything and everyone that I’ve known, the years of history I’ve had with the people and places I know. Even when I was packing, it felt like packing for a really long holiday, but now I am clear that this is not a vacation, but a huge leap for me from being a child, a student, somebody who’s always had people around to fall back on and look out for her, to being a responsible, independent adult (hopefully) capable of looking after herself, a pillar of support for others.

Japan isn’t a strange, new place for me. I’ve studied the language for 3 years, been there at least 5 times in the last 4 years, and read so much about the culture, society and people there – though it’d still be too much of a stretch to say that I know anything more than a tiny fraction of what the country and its people have to offer. The last trip in May didn’t feel like travelling to a foreign country, more like re-visiting an old place familiar to me. It’s still a country that I’ve barely discovered, having been mostly to the big cities and touristy attractions, but I know that I can make my way through daily life there without too much difficulty.

Perhaps it’s a lack of maturity and experience on my part, perhaps insecurity as I question the importance of my existence in people’s lives, in society and in the grander scheme of things. I think- I know, that this move is probably something I need to break out of the rut I’ve been so used to occupying for the last 20+ years of my life. The rut was comfortable, it was familiar, it was safe, but what is life without dynamicism and adventure and unpredictability? I don’t want to settle for less than what I know I deserve, whether it’s people or the things I do in life. I have standards set for myself, and though I admit I have let go of myself considerably, I don’t want to continue down that path into what I consider as mediocre (for myself). Even if others don’t judge me, I judge myself, because I know I am capable of more, and I will achieve more.

There’s a cold hand twisting inside my chest and wrenching the muscle pumping life through me, and I will admit I have cried plenty when I’m alone at home, when nobody’s around to see. The last time I cried so hard was on my birthday when I was on exchange in America – my homestay parents had come by to pass me little bits of furniture like a lamp for my room, and a cake we’d baked together, and I don’t know what came over me but tears just started streaming down my face even as I fought to regain control and stop. I hate to cry, and even more so when there are people around to witness it. I try to be a master of my emotions, but I couldn’t then, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to at the airport when my friends and family send me off. I hope I don’t cry.

I’m not afraid of going forward, of what will come, because I know from experience that I am adaptable. What I am afraid of is that the relationships I have with people will change, possibly into something I don’t like or desire. I am afraid that I won’t be able to be there for people I want to be there for, that I won’t be able to pick up bodily cues that say “No, I’m not okay” when they say they are, that they won’t tell me things because I’m far away and may not be able to influence or change anything immediately. I’m afraid of missing events in their lives, both big and small, and that the distance will become permanent. This isn’t something new that I struggle with, but distance will only compound these fears.

Technology has made connecting with family and friends much easier, with Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype, Google Hangouts, and all other assorted forms of communication. The first time I travelled abroad on my own at the age of 15, I had to climb into the loft of a lodge in New Zealand to make staticky phone calls back home on a dinky little Sony Ericsson phone because that was the only place where we could get reasonable cell signal strength. I wasn’t the only one in the lodge either, so all 8-10 of us had to take turns climbing up the ladder in the cold mornings before the camp schedule started, or late at night after it’d ended and we had a little free time before lights out. Technology helps, but it’s still not the same as the richness of seeing someone in real life, how their hair gets played by stray streams of wind in the air, how the light falls on them and turns their eyelashes a golden brown, how you may accidentally step on their toes under the table, how they may spill a little drink on themselves and fret over whether it will leave a stain, how annoyed you get when they leave puddles of water in their wake as they step out of a shower, how they like to cover your phone with a thin layer of powder as they powder themselves, how you can take photos of them in their sleep as they lie sprawled across chairs or on the floor.. So many things.

My bags are almost all packed, but I still have a couple of days to go. I’m not yet gone, and I never will be gone completely (my sister will glare in agreement as she starts to clean up our room after I leave), but I miss everyone already.

The people we keep close

I did plan to make a post on some other technical considerations I had in mind, like internet plans and VoIP, but I haven’t felt quite up to it.

The past week or so I’ve been spending my time quietly at home, talking more to my parents and brother, especially my mom since it’s the school holidays for her so she doesn’t have to go to the kindergarten to teach. Something I wish JETs could do during the summer holidays but.. that’s beyond our control. While each day feels like it’s been passing rather slowly, on the whole it feels like the weeks just sped by. I’m getting quite anxious about revision for my JLPT test since I haven’t been doing the practices regularly and as a consequence am rather behind schedule.

I am lonely, yet not everybody will do. I don’t know why, some people fill the gaps and others emphasize my loneliness.” – Anaïs Nin

There’s been an undertone of anxiety and some conflicting emotions in my social interactions with people, most likely brought about by certain irrational thoughts that run through my head. My social circles are rather small, so I don’t think there are really that many people for me to meet, but for those that I keep close I do want to see more of them, hang out more with them. I’m just grappling with my own personal dilemma of appearing too.. needy (for lack of a better word) that I escape into aloofness, which is completely contrary to what I want – which is to spend so much more time with the people I love before I leave. As a result, I’ve been venting at the Tumblr I share with one of my closest friends, when I guess all I really need to do is say, “Hey, are you free? I’d like to spend more time with you. Let’s hang out.”

素直になれないな。。
Being upfront with my feelings is hardly my strongest suit.

We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness – and call it love – true love.” – Robert Fulghum

This piece on loneliness by This Japanese Life is extremely well-written and worth reading, and I get so many of the points made there. I don’t think loneliness is necessarily something that occurs only when you’re away from the people you know though. It’s like a little voice that speaks out in your head – when you’re in the company of people you know & can connect with, that little voice is easily quieted, but when you don’t feel a sufficient level of mutual understanding and connection with the people around you, that little voice resounds and echoes in the empty caverns of your mental living space, easily drowning out everything else. This is when shadows become demons as they creep out to fill your emptiness, whispering insecurities and uncertainties, eating little holes into yourself, holes which you feel compelled to fill in some way through vice or less destructive activities.

I am fortunate to have friends with whom spending time is truly a gift for my soul, friends in whose company my problems are washed away, friends whose warmth cover you like a warm fleece blanket and soothes the pains in your heart and quiets the demons in your head. These are the people with whom I feel the safest, with whom I think could make me stay even as I feel like I’ll always be drifting around, the people I keep close to my heart. My friends are the reason why I think I can be brave if I need to, even if it’s not necessarily courage but foolhardiness I have; they are my home away from home.

I will miss them terribly, but for now I will try to spend as much time as I can with them.

I don’t know what they are called, the spaces between seconds – but I think of you always in those intervals.” – Salvador Plascensia