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Nihon de: The adventures of Maggie » Host Family
 
2

Togetherness?

Posted by maggie on May 21, 2012 in In Japan

I understand that family and togetherness is very important. It’s important in my family back home. But every once in a while, for me, it’s nice to go off and do my own thing without a) always having to tell someone, and b) coming across as rude.

I’m not trying to be rude, honestly; that’s the last thing I want. But I’m used to being in college, in charge of my own time. Sometime I like just chilling by myself for a little while, I’m more of an introvert really. I need some time everyday to be by myself, or else I get overloaded and that makes me not fun to be around.

Every once in a while, I like making myself breakfast, and enjoy eating it in silence. It gives me some time to think about the day and just relax into my routine.

That doesn’t work here.

I know, because Sueko-san constantly talks to me at breakfast, and sometimes I don’t catch much because I’m only half inclined to listen. I’m grateful that she’s making me breakfast, so grateful that I spam “thank you’s” as much as I can. But every now and then, I’d like to just sit and enjoy breakfast and not have to talk around a full mouth. And I’s also love to be able to say, “I will let you know if I want something.” She literally does this every morning: empties out her refrigerator and offers me everything she can find. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s very hard to adjust to.

My friends would tell you that one of my biggest pet peeves is people constantly asking if I’m okay. They know, of course, because they do it all the time. You guys know who you are :) My philosophy is, I’ll tell you if I’m not okay. Just assume for the most part that I’m okay. Just because I go silent for a little while does not mean I’m angry or upset necessarily. Sometimes even I can shut my big mouth and just think about stuff :)

Here, in Sueko-san’s house, I am constantly being asked if I’m okay, if I need things, and all the while she’s trying to stuff me with as much food as she can. Even though I asked if she could let up, I said it nicely by saying I want to go on a diet because I feel too big, she insists on shoving more and more food at me. It’s off-putting after a while.

I also don’t like having to plan out my day from start to finish all the time. Sometimes I like to relax, or be spontaneous. Unless I’m going to school, which is fairly easy to explain, and the only added details may be that I’ll be back around 6 or so, Sueko-san asks what I’m going to do every day. And I’m not sure how to say “I have no plans,” as of yet.

Seriously, I love this woman to death. She’s so kind and helpful, and I want to make her happy and give her things too, but it wears on my nerves a little bit. I don’t retreat to the bath or my room to get away from the language barrier anymore, I can deal with that. Sometimes I retreat because I’m just not in the mood to be so talkative. As much as it would shock my parents, I actually like silence every now and again :) I like chilling when I don’t feel like talking. Sometimes when I truly have nothing to say, I don’t try to fill the void. I actually do shut up. :)

The social nuances in Japan are sometimes full of mental gymnastics. I want to be able to express that I don’t mean to be rude, it’s just the way I am and sometimes I need that peaceful time. Or I wish I could find a nice, polite way to say, “Is it alright if we just eat in silence?”

If I came here in middle school, like I had originally wanted to back then, I would have come here with a sugar-coated, anime-induced vision of what Japan should be like. Maybe I could have gotten used to the constant togetherness of family; I wasn’t yet living a few hours away in college, after all. But now, as I stay here, I’m finding that I love Japan for so much. I just wouldn’t live here.

As much as I love this country and its many wonderful sights, sounds, tastes, etc, I find more and more reason not to live here. It doesn’t mean I’ll never come back. I’d love to, for work or a vacation or something. But as of right now, I know that I could never live here for an over-extended period of time. Or not with a host family maybe.

It’s a wonderful experience and I’m thankful for it. I never would have found this out if I hadn’t tried. But I discover more and more that I enjoy being my own person, and I like some of the ways Americans do things. They aren’t perfect, of course, but now I’m growing to like things about America as well as Japan, more than just because those things are familiar in a strange land.

I’m discovering more about myself this way, mostly through small encounters like the one I mentioned having breakfast with Sueko-san. Most mornings I can chill and go with it, but this morning I just wanted to be in college again, hanging in my room with a box of cereal. But oh well. Life goes on.

Today we were going to go to Kamakura, but it’s pouring outside and apparently the trip won’t be so fun if it’s raining. So we’re just kind of chilling today. Maybe later I’ll go out for a walk or take the train somewhere, if I’m bored. There’s plenty to see. But for right now, I’m chilling, and quite happy doing so. I need some time to be by myself, and then I can spend the whole evening with Sueko-san and Hideki-san, watching goofy t.v. shows together. Actually, that walk sounds pretty good, if the rain lets up. Wouldn’t want to get any bigger, right? :)

I’m not trying to write chapters that are downers or anything, sometimes I just need to express my thoughts. Sometimes negative things stick out more in the mind, but the nice thing about being in a strange foreign country is that the positive things stick out a bit more because their bizarre and note-worthy. :) That’s another thing, though. Did you ever notice how American t.v. and news focus a lot on negative things? Like murders and celebrity break-ups and what not?

Here, the t.v. shows and news seem much lighter, at least as far as I’ve seen. Heck, people jumping in front of trains at the stations is a daily occurrence; I think I heard someone mention 80 something people jump every day, and yet it’s not really focused on at all. Is this the collectivist society at work? Is group cohesion more important than the straight up facts that might depress people? Or, knowing that so many people are unhappy, do they purposely try to make light-hearted television so that people will cheer up?

I don’t know. At first, I thought it was cold that “human incidents” are common and no body I’ve met seems to pay much mind to them, but really, what would American’s do? If people suddenly started jumping in front of cars and trains by the boatload, how would we handle it? Beef up security? Put in more railings?

Maybe the Japanese have an unstated agreement about the whole thing, and I just don’t know it. This is just a lot of speculation on a rainy Tuesday morning, slightly agitated from a not so relaxed breakfast. But I wonder…

Maybe it sounds dumb. I don’t know, personally. I have an overactive imagination. But why do Americans care so much about failures, break-ups, and unpleasant things? What does it say about our society that such things are everywhere, constantly being focused on? If media reflects society in any way, what does our media say about us? What does Japan’s say about Japan?

More food for thought. Anyways, thanks for listening. I’m off to find out how to spend the rest of my morning/afternoon. Jane (bye). :)

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4

Ups and Downs

Posted by maggie on May 15, 2012 in In Japan

Today on the Yamanote line, Katie pointed out an ad on the wall. It was for skin whitening cream, I think. Or some sort of process like that. I thought that was interesting because in the US, girls usually want the opposite. To get bright orange tans, like giant oompa-loompas.

If you think about it, it’s a culturally relative thing. In the US, it used to be only laborers would get tan, because they worked. It was like a status symbol to be pale for a while; indeed, you can see evidence in England, with that poisonous powder stuff they would put on their faces to look white. Laborers got tans, and wore jeans. Something like that. And then (sorry for the vague details here, I heard this in SCOM 242 before but forgot some of it) someone famous accidentally got a tan by, of course, being in the sun too long. Suddenly, people decided she looked good, and slowly began to seek tans themselves. Now, especially in the burg, there are a multitude of tanning salons, and on a warm enough day, the quad is covered in towels and bikinis, which I’m fairly certain pleases most of the guys.

Through a much more complicated process than I’m making it out to be, the tan became what we as a society chose to have as one of our ideals of desirability. Now, ironically, if you have time to spend lounging on a beach long enough to get a tan, or spend enough time and money at a tanning salon, I guess, you’ve got yourself a high status symbol. You are, at least partially, beautiful and wealthy, says America.

But if you think about it, being pale is probably healthier. The more you spend time in the sun, the more you risk things like skin cancer. True, some sun can be good for your skin, but the amount the average college girl gets is probably going to have serious repercussions later in life. But who cares, right? We’re young and pretty now, right? Who cares, because it’s so far off before we see those problems.

Then again, as we grow older, we might find ourselves feeling bitter and angry, as the world we live in focuses more on the younger, prettier people. Once you pass age 40, your age group appears less frequently in ads and T.V. all of the sudden. What will we do then, when we’re spoiled and raised ego-centric for now?

Food for thought. Feel free to start up a conversation in the comments if you want. I love to ponder things like this.

Anyway, sort of a down day. It was cool and rainy, which is usually fine with me. I think it’s the combined stress of constantly trying to speak/read/understand another language + jet lag + I didn’t sleep very well last night (your day) + the weather a little bit. A lot of stuff contributes to mood. It felt a little long today (no offense meant, Morgan XD). I hate my short attention span I have at times. I got on the train today and I was stressing about something I’d said earlier, and all of the sudden I felt myself tearing up. I felt like an idiot, and I didn’t want to feel like more of one by crying on the train.

This is where I talk about that overanalyzing curse again. I’m very self-critical. I worry about what others think, when they probably have forgotten about it already. I stress about looking or sounding like an idiot to someone else, waaaaaayyyy long after they’ve stopped caring. Not as long as I used to. I’ve gotten better about it in recent years, but it’s a habit rooted so deeply in my personality that it’s hard to break completely, or cleanly. I haven’t been stressing as much about saying or writing things wrong, which is good, and I find kind of surprising. But ┬áhonestly, I feel more stressed about hanging with my fellow Americans, and making a dummy of myself in front of them. I think it’s because I’ve accepted that I will screw up in Japanese; it’s not my natural language, and I’m willing to be more forgiving to myself, especially if my Japanese friends are. On a base level, to get all technical here, it’s all about a sense of control. I’ve accepted that those language screw-ups are sort of out of my control. They will happen regardless of anything I try to do to prevent them. At least for now. I just can’t accept when other’s perceptions of me aren’t within my control. I feel like I should be able to control it, by being nice and amiable, but life doesn’t work that way.

I need to relax more and learn to laugh and let go. It’s easier said than done, but I want to work for it. I know it will make me happier. It’ll annoy my friends less, worry them and my family less. It’ll give me more confidence. I know everyone’s got there issues. No body is perfect. But I think recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and working to improve the latter while playing to the former can separate the people who flop from those who go far in life.

So yeah. A bit of a bummer, but hey. It reminded me of the person I don’t want to be, and I had some time to reflect on it with a good, hot bath. Can you tell I like those? XD

Sueko-san’s son-in-law came from New York. Hideki’s English is very good, which was nice because at dinner tonight I got a bit of a break and could communicate things more naturally. I still used some Japanese, of course, for my own and Sueko-san’s benefit, but it was mostly speaking English. He helped me communicate some things to Sueko-san that I couldn’t before, and helped me when I didn’t understand her very much. But I don’t feel less motivated. I’m actually happy to have another partner to practice Japanese with, although he speaks faster and is closer to my age. I’m sensing a theme here. I’m most shy and awkward around people of my age group or close to it. I’ve never quite understood why. Part of mastering Japanese is overcoming the fear to speak it and potentially get laughed at. Or smiled at, as the case often is. Tis the polite thing to do. XD

It’s nice having the option of a sort of translator sometimes, but I can’t have that be an excuse. I have to put myself out there and try (and fail) until I get better. That’s why I’m here, and in particular why Morgan put me here.

Other than that, haven’t gotten too many stares so far. I think there might be an unspoken rule of no eating on the trains. I never see other people doing it. Katie and I did it once. We were careful not to spill, but I still think we weren’t supposed to. The Japanese are very forgiving of “gaijin,” but I try to follow the rules as best I can, so as to not be ignorant and obnoxious. That is where my self-analyzing and awareness come in handy, but I can’t remember everything not to do all the time. Oh well. I try. I still think it was funny; I think it was Josh who got onto one of the “pervert-free” all women trains and no one said anything. I think they should enforce that rule even with foreigners; they can be perverts too, you know. XD

XD is the silly sideways smiley face. I’m fond of that when typing for some reason. It’s like laughing and smiling wide at the same time. Ha. Coming from a low context culture, where everything needs to be laid out and specified, it sort of makes sense that I’m constantly clarifying my moods. It’s harder to tell with text, because some 97-ish% of communication, as a whole, is nonverbal. Body language, appearance, haptics, kinesics, etc. It gives context and emphasis, so without it, for all anyone knows, I could be typing this all intending to be completely sarcastic. I do that because I used to chat with a friend on gmail and practically every time we chatted, I thought at one point or another that she was mad at me. No, I don’t stress that much. Plus, it was just the way she was.

This morning on the train was a human soup. On the Seibu-Shinjuku, I didn’t even need to hold on to anything. The other passengers were my seatbelt. I’ve stopped listening to all the stops on the Yamanote, the second train I have to take, though I like to look at the map occasionally when it pops up. I memorize that my stop going to school is “Tamachi,” and listen for “Shinagawa” because it’s the stop right before mine. On the way home I listen for “Shin-Ookubo,” I think it is. My stop is the one after that, “Takadanobaba.” Say that five times fast.

I’m rambling now. I literally just write what’s on my mind, but I find it’s good for blogs. It’s like a diary, but everyone can read it. Gasp! I ate codfish eggs tonight, knowing full well what they were before hand. Surprisingly, they tasted okay, and I don’t feel weirded out like that time my uncle gave me a friend chicken heart. I swear I kept thinking about that thing beating in my stomach the whole rest of the night.

TANGENT ALERT. Lol.

I’m still refusing to go near the squat pots, a.k.a hole-in-the-ground toilets. I’ve seen plenty of them, but I’m sorry. No. I don’t need to try EVERYTHING in Japan. XD

Was that TMI at all? I can never tell. I have a bad gauge for stuff I should keep to myself sometimes, but only really when it comes to my info. Again, just letting the brain flow out right now. It’s cathartic. Also, I just want to say thanks to Katie for making me feel better earlier.

Nothing much else to say. I miss home a little bit, but that’s natural. I miss driving around with my dad and brother, when we go hoping we’ll see some deer. I miss American T.V. and commercials, although Japanese ones are very entertaining. I miss just chilling with my mom watching T.V., or my boyfriend repeatedly thrashing me at Call of Duty. Simple things like that that just remind you of home and familiar things. Being in another country, especially one so far away, really does make you appreciate your life, and maybe understand it a little better. There are plenty of things I don’t like about America, or as my friends sometimes jokingly dub it “Amuurika,” (note: that’s note Japanese-ish, it’s more of an dumb, ignorant American slur, if you have any idea what I’m talking about) but I remember a lot of reasons why I love living there, even with all of the crap I might have to put up with. Japan or America. Neither one is better than the other, just different. They have different ways of seeing life and people and culture and go about it in their own ways. But I’d be less inclined to live here because I’m a woman, and culture dictates certain things women can and can’t do. I think they try to make up for the inequality with all the cutesy stuff, anime and all that. How else would you make sense of a highly masculine, collectivist culture with so much girly, cutesy stuff? XD

But yeah. A lot to think about. I think I’ll stop for now before I jump around anymore. Sleep time is now. Got to be up bright and early for the Tsukiji fish market tomorrow. Jane! (bye for now!)

 

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5

Stumble to the Starting Line

Posted by maggie on May 12, 2012 in In Japan

I’ve decided that 13 hour flights stink. Pretty much anytime you have to fly for longer than maybe 2 hours stinks. The novelty of flying wears off quickly, and it’s hard for someone like me, who is so used to multitasking and getting stuff done (listen to music + play a game or read with a movie on or some combo like that) to only do things one at a time. For 13 hours. I could have killed 3/4 of the flight by watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy but I got bored after the first hour or so and had to switch to something else. The only thing I could watch all the way through were T.V. shows. The nice thing, though, is there was a wide selection of things to choose from. I never had to break out my laptop and rarely my iPod. The seat I was in was very nice and had lots of leg room, and the man next to me was very pleasant. He wasn’t Japanese like a good number of the other passengers, but he was social and informative when we were both good for it, but it didn’t feel awkward to turn away and start reading or something at some point. It was a nice balance for me, and he told me about how he lived in Japan and worked for the government, which was cool. To summarize, the flight itself was a drain on my energy and patience, but it wasn’t all bad. It was the price I paid for this trip, and it was well worth it. Thanks to my mom for procuring the nice seat :)

Now I’m here. The hotel had no Wifi, so I couldn’t update earlier to talk about the flight. I thought I’d get that out of the way right now. A good portion of the day was spent riding around on trains, getting a feel for them as well as getting where we needed to go. I’d been told that there would be no English, but there was some. Plenty of romaji, which is the romanization of Japanese words, which is easily readable for any English speaker who can read.

We had a nice big partially Japanese breakfast at the hotel, then went from Narita airport to Shinagawa, which I think is part of the Roppongi district, if the subway map I’m using is right. We broke into groups and went looking around the station for an hour or so before dinner with our host families. There was a lot of shopping and food places there. Katie, Cindy, and I had chocolate croquettes I think? Whatever they were, they were delicious; really melty on the inside and flaky on the outside. We also wandered in and out of convenience stores. I found Orangina, which made me very happy. :)

Around 3 I met Sueko Oyaizu, my host mom. She speaks little to no English, and I speak basic sentences of Japanese. I thought at first this was a disaster waiting to happen, but we communicate alright. It’s stilted and slow and very simplistic, at least on my end, but she’s very patient and pleasant and has gone out of her way to make me feel welcome. She gave me stationary, an envelope, and stamps and let me write a letter home tonight; she helped me address it while we were watching T.V. This communication reminds me of my brother somehow. I often wonder how he views the world, as an autistic kid. He can speak very basically, expressing simple wants, and becomes easily frustrated when not understood. That is just observing from the outside, but it offers me a weird sense of understanding and appreciation. In his own way, his thoughts must be coherent and understandable to him. I feel stupid in the presence of others who speak so much better than I do, and when I can speak basically and communicate correctly I feel like a child in elementary school again. It feels weird, sure, but it’s not all bad. I understand how my roommate must have felt my freshmen year, coming to the U.S. with some English but not as proficient. It’s very humbling to be on the other end.

Sueko-san gives me motivation. I like her. I want to be able to speak to her and understand her. I want her to be proud of me like she is of Haley, her last homestay student. I want to give her something back that isn’t necessarily tangible, like the gift of Virginia peanuts I brought. :) I want to improve my Japanese much more before I leave, and I have a feeling she can help me do it. I’m feeling a little of that culture shock, but it’s no where near as bad as I thought it would be.

A little extra detail: I like the big bath tub with no overflow drain. :) It’s funny that the toilet is in a different room, but I guess I understand why it’s considered dirty to put them together. I figured out the toilet just fine; I just ignore the buttons unless I have to. I may have some trouble figuring out the shower, but that will come with time I think. I hope :). I like that the northeast part of Tokyo that I’m staying in seems smaller and a little less crowded, at least still you get to the train station.

It’s quiet here. Maybe a little because it is night, but I get the sense this is a calm neighborhood. The nearest convenience store is literally a block and a half up the road. My room is small but homey and comfortable. I hope it all goes well.

Tomorrow we practice getting to the University and meeting people there. I tell you more as it comes up. :)

 

BTW, these weren’t pictures I took. I’m slow to do that just yet because A) I feel like a stupid tourist, and B) I’m just getting settled. I’ll pull out the camera more when I have more energy. See you soon

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