A story of my triumph over feelings of isolation.
When I first arrived in Japan as a bright-eyed young woman, I was sent to my new shop in the countryside/ suburbs. I grew up on a farm so the rural life didn’t bother me as it did others in my program.
I had a group of foreigners living in my area and we would hang out after work. We would do stuff together — drinks and cooking together. We were never close.
There was one person in my program who I bonded with. We would drive to thirty minutes to meet each other midway and head to our favorite karaoke/ cafe/ bowling alley/ game center in the middle of rural Japan. (It had a smoke-filled pachinko parlor that we steered clear of.)
I look back fondly on the time I got to spend with her.
It’s strange, we were never emotionally close (differing on so many issues), but we lined up perfectly on our interests. She could sing; I can’t sing. We loved to karaoke in the booths anyway.
During that time, I’d travel with her and another to places in Japan. She was my Tokyo quirky places friend. We explored so many unique places together. And when she returned to her home country, it was devastating.
At the same time, my relationship to my boyfriend gradually grew into something more serious.
Although I did get homesick in the first few months, I wasn’t lonely in those first two years in Japan.
I chose to quit at two years and return home for a few months to decide if I wanted to settle down in Japan for good with my fiancé. When I returned, my younger brother came with me for a couple months.
On March 11th, a little after 2 pm, a cataclysmic event struck Japan: The Great Tohoku Earthquake. My brother and I had just finished eating when the ground began to tremble. I tried to reassure him that it was only a tremor until all hell broke loose.
The ground heaved beneath us. A waitress in the kitchen screamed as the dishes tumbled off their shelves. The wall groaned around us and we stumbled, nearly falling over, towards the entrance.
Outside, the roads had split in two, telephone poles slanted, some toppled; and buildings and homes had crumbled and fallen. All around Japanese stared around at the destruction in disbelief, as if they thought this was all a terrible dream.
Maybe another day I’ll tell the story of how my brother and I got home.
For weeks after, he and I escaped to western Japan while they repaired the eastern part. My poor husband had to stay behind and work. There was no running water for two weeks after — no showers for him. The power they restored after two days.
And for the two days without power, there was no news. We didn’t know about the tsunami. The phone companies in Japan opened up the lines and my husband had a friend in Tokyo send my parents an email letting them know we were okay.
When the power finally returned, that was when we learned that over 30,000 Japanese lost their lives. That the Tohoku coast had been wiped out.
After a couple weeks, my brother and I returned to Eastern Japan. We explored there and helped with some of the recovery efforts.
When Sean returned, I was left alone.
A lot of foreigners left Japan after the earthquake and never came back. A couple of my friends did.
I decided to find work. In that area the pickings were slim, so I took a job at an English Cram School (eikaiwa). The managers there were a family team and they had no idea how to run a school.
Under them the school declined. They had huge staff rotations, they pressured full time teachers out of taking leave, and, even though I was part-time, I felt as though I worked full time. I learned a lot about class management, but the stress of this one class of nine year old girls caused me to spiral into a depression.
The management was so incompetent that they did not believe in the existence of “bullying” among children. On time the female manager — who had lived abroad in the US — used quotations as she said that word. She said, “Children don’t bully”.
She was serious.
When it was clear, they were in denial of the bullies running amok in their school I gave my notice. And getting away was a paradise. It took months to get over how badly depressed working there had made me. However, I did learn a lot about becoming a real teacher.
After working there, I never lost control of a class again.
A few months later, in a better job situation, my husband informed me we were being transferred to another part of Japan. I was left in shock.
Somehow that was more uprooting then moving to Japan.
We moved into an old apartment, nowhere near as nice as where we lived before. It got cold and drafty in the winter. There wasn’t enough space for our stuff.
I got really lonely there. Now I was far from the little home I’d carved in Japan. Most of my friends had moved back to their home countries. Then it got worse. We started to realize having a baby may not be easy for us.
I had always feared I might have a problem due to a childhood medical issue. However, my hormones had been fine. It seemed we wouldn’t.
Then we got our diagnoses.
I crashed emotionally and I made a terrible mistake.
I fell into a friendship with someone who I thought was charming, but would turn out to be quite a terrible person. Looking back, I realize she had the signs and symptoms of a covert narcissists (save that from another post). She read evil into my words.
Then one day, when she thought could inflict the most damage, she blocked me on all social media on a day she knew was important to me and send a long list detailing all the things she secretly despised about me. Things such as “You talk about history too much.”. That was on her list. Kid you not.
She even mocked me for my infertility. (She knew I worked part-time because I needed to visit the clinics. And called me “lazy” and “I only like passionate people” she said. Struggling to have a baby was not a passion to her.)
I wish my husband had told me his real opinion of her before all this. Nevertheless, it was a good lesson in people and a wake-up call to be choosier.
After that disaster, I learned to appreciate my husband and real friends more.
I also realized my thinking had been all wrong in Japan.
All I wanted from close friends was to talk to them and share things. Going to places and on hikes was something I could do with acquaintances. I didn’t need to be ‘bear my soul’ to someone just to walk in the woods.
Nowadays, I Skype with my family and close friends. I even have movie nights with my girlfriends in their respective countries — you read right. It’s usually morning for me, but we buy snacks and drinks. We choose in advance the movie we want to watch, then sync it up and watch it at the same time from different places on the planet!
And it feels like we’re in the same room.
I’ve even watched Rifftrax with my former karaoke bud. I call my family lots and we chat. I feel a part of their lives — we bond by talking and always have.
I discovered a social meeting site where I can meet others with a similar interest in trying out new places. These days I don’t go ‘oh I need to make friends with this person ‘ I just enjoy our adventures together. That’s all we wanted. Most of them have been really fun people who had the same idea.
I’m actually less lonely than when I lived in Texas and when I first arrived in Japan. The reason is that I don’t let my time get consumed by people I don’t mesh with.
I used to make that mistake. I had this idea that you had to make lots of friends or you were lonely.
Nowadays, I realize that’s silly. I have maybe three really close friends in other countries. We Skype. I feel as close to them as ever.
When I want to go try something out, I use that social hangout service and assemble a group. We go there.
I prefer shopping alone and I go to coffee shops to study. I’ve always liked it that way.
I work part-time and study Japanese to take the certification test. I keep up my exercise and cook healthier food. We’re still working on our family, but getting closer.
Life is peaceful.
Not lonely anymore.
In fact, I’ve never been more at ease with myself in my life.