As of March 1, 2012 I have been in Japan for six consecutive years. It is my six year Japaniversary. This does not include the one year I lived here from 2005-2006. It doesn’t feel right to not include that year. At the same time, it’s tedious to always explain “I’ve been in Japan for six years plus one year from 2005 to 2006.” So I’ll only look at the last six years in this Japaniversary post.
Six years is a long time, so as you can imagine, a lot has happened in that time. I’ve learned a lot in the last six years, and I’ve compiled everything neatly into one lesson per year. Fair warning, these lessons are not specifically related to Japan. They are more like life lessons in general. I just happen to be in Japan, but I think they can apply to any person wherever they are.
My six year Japaniversary
In 2012 I got off a plane from Korea where I had just finished teaching English for one year. Did I know I would still be in Japan six years later, quietly celebrating my Japaniversary in Nagoya? Probably not, but I’m also not that surprised. Since spending my first year in Japan from 2005-2006, I’d longed to come back and live here longer.
I hadn’t given much thought to my previous “Japaniversary” over the last few years. So I have a bit of catching up to do with this post. I don’t want this to be a post where I can boastfully rattle off the things I’ve done. So instead I’ll boastfully rattle off some things I’ve learned about life to make myself appear enlightened. 😉
2012: International marriage can work
Two weeks after I come to Japan, my husband and I got married. I’m Canadian, and he’s Japanese. We had already been together for five years before that. Our marriage seemed to surprise a lot of people here.
I was constantly asked what it was like being married to a Japanese man. Excuse me? How am I supposed to answer that? I don’t know what it’s like being married to a Japanese man or a man from any other country. I only know what it’s like to be married to my husband.
What people probably mean is, how do you deal with cultural differences or misunderstandings. And to that I’ll say, you both have to be open-minded, and it helps if both partners have a decent understanding of each other’s culture and language. It also helps if each family is open-minded and respectful of their children. Luckily both of our families are great, so there are no fights or weird things. Here is an interesting read on some of the very real negative things that come with marrying someone from a different country/culture.
Speaking of fights, people would also ask us, rather invasively, if we fight? To that I’ll say, rude. Also, no. And again rude. It’s almost like they want us to say, yes we fight. Sorry to disappoint.
Life lesson: I could go on and on about this topic, but to keep things simple for now I’ll say international marriage can work if you are both open-minded, respectful, and love each other. Easy, right?
2013: Find a job that suits your personality
I worked for two years in Japan as an elementary school English teacher. It was my own version of hell. You can be grateful and hate something at the same time, right?
Why did I have such a hard time at this job? Lots of reasons, which again would require a post of its own. But I’ll boil it all down to the fact that the job completely 100,000 percent didn’t suit my personality.
Looking at everything logically, the job itself was fine. It paid well. It was easy to do. The company wasn’t shady. Our supervisors were accessible. Most of my co-teachers were nice enough, helpful people. On the surface, I shouldn’t have had any problems with it.
But everything about the actual workplace was so far out of my comfort zone it was driving me bonkers. The classes were too big. The kids were too loud and didn’t listen. And the teachers let the students continue to be loud and disruptive. I hated having kids call my name in the hallways. I didn’t want to eat lunch with them. Kids are gross. I didn’t want to play with them at lunch time. (Do I sound like a heartless monster?) The teachers room was that “open space” style of room, so there was no privacy or space to think in quiet. I didn’t feel valued, respected, or utilized. My job in Korea was better for me in so many ways, though not something I want to do again. I’m retired from teaching English.
I think a lot of people wouldn’t have a problem with a job like this, but I’m on the extreme end of the introversion scale. Every single day was chipping away at my well-being. This isn’t meant to come across as complaining. I’m thankful for the job, and I learned a lot – mostly about myself.
Life lesson: Find a job that suits your personality. You might have to find out what doesn’t suit your personality first.
2014: A second language is a valuable skill
You already know this. In fact, you might already know two or three or more languages. And that’s awesome. I think having a minimum of two languages is an important asset.
I started learning Japanese when I was in high school, and this is what got me interested in Japan. It was here I learned not just Japanese language, but parts of Japanese culture as well. If I hadn’t taken Japanese in high school I wouldn’t have gone to Japan for a school trip, lived in Japan for one year during university, or met my husband later. I might not even be so interested in travel and the world in general.
Life lesson: A second language can open so many doors and opportunities to experience new things. Of course it can be beneficial in a professional setting, but it can also make your life richer all around.t
2015: Go back to school if you want to
This ties into the point above about finding a job that suits your personality. At least it does in my case. Around my second Japaniversary, I quit my job and went back to school (and spent all my travel money on it). It was full-time Japanese language school. I thought if I wanted to stay in Japan and work I should improve my Japanese so I can find a non-teaching job.
The idea of going back to school can be a sensitive topic for some people. It’s expensive. People can’t afford to quit their job. It’s time consuming. “I’m going to derail my career.” Is it really worth it? I think it all depends on each person and what their priorities are. As for myself, school and education have always been a high priority, and I don’t have a problem putting money into an education.
Life lesson: It’s okay to go back to school and start a path to a new future. I know it’s not easy for a lot of reasons, and I can’t tell you how to do it financially. This isn’t a budgeting blog. If you really want something, you’ll find a way to make it happen, I suppose.
2016: Invest in yourself
This follows the last point. Around my four year Japaniversary, I was finishing Japanese language school and decided to go back to school for a master’s degree. Yes, this was also expensive, and I couldn’t really afford it, but it’s what I wanted to do.
You don’t need to drop everything and go back to university or grad school to “invest in yourself.” This is a broad idea that pretty much means don’t be afraid to invest time and money into something you care about. It could be full time school, part time school, a weekend class, an old hobby, or a new hobby. And it doesn’t have to be something that will help your career, though it could be. It just means invest in learning and improving something important to you. I spent over $500 on a Taekwondo black belt test, and it was a big dig to the wallet, but it’s something I can be extremely proud of myself for accomplishing.
It’s also important to reflect on yourself and your life. Elle of La Beaute beauty and lifestyle blog does a great job of reflecting and finding meaning in life. She also mentioned my blog in this article, so be sure to check it out.
Life lesson: Try new things. Take up new hobbies. Explore new interests. When you find something you really enjoy, don’t be afraid to put in a bit of time/effort/money to help you grow.
2017: Find your passion by experiencing new things
Everyone wants to find what they are passionate about and build a career around that. But it’s hard, and a lot of us don’t even know what our passions are. Here’s an interesting TED Talk on NOT searching for your passion.
That’s okay, and your passions can change. I’ve always liked art, and I’ve always liked travel. Recently I’ve been focusing a lot more on photography as a medium, which you can even do with you iPhone when you travel. You might not even know what you are passionate about yet.
I believe you need to experience things and dedicate time and energy into it for it to become a passion. Try new things and take advantage of new opportunities. You might discover something you love that you had no idea about. It could lead you on a whole new adventure. Here’s an article by Maud from My Passion Project on finding your purpose and passion.
Life is about discovery. I had no interest in anything about Japan until I started learning Japanese in high school. And I only took Japanese class because I didn’t want to learn French. But those Japanese classes have shaped my whole life. I had zero interest in any martial arts until I went to Korea and started taking Taekwondo classes after work. Now I’ve been doing it for seven years, and I’m a deadly weapon.
Life lesson: Be open and receptive to new experiences and opportunities. You never know where your passions might be hiding.
Bonus! 2018: Build your own dream
This is something I’ve only started thinking about in the last year leading up to my six year Japaniversary. It has to do with blogging. Starting a blog has been eye-opening and has made me realize I can build my own career. A wonderful discovery if you can piece together who I am based on the lessons I’ve described above.
Basically, I don’t want to work for anyone. I want to be my own boss. Until starting a blog, I couldn’t figure out how to do this. But blogging has introduced me to numerous ways I can build my own dream. So that’s what I’m going to work on from here on out.
I find myself incredibly fortunate to live in a digital age where every piece of information is available at my fingertips. I can do anything I want. Yes, building your own dream will be exponentially more work than working for a company. But I would rather puts tons of effort into it than doing a mind-numbing job for someone else.
Life lesson: Have you taken heed to the lessons I’ve mentioned above? Because this one follows them. Invest in yourself, obtain new knowledge, discover new passions, then put everything together to build your own dream. Whatever that means for you.
My Japaniversary conclusion and reflections
The last six years have been eventful in the grand scheme of my life. Living six years in a foreign country would have that kind of effect, no? Though I’m sure one would experience grandiose life lessons even in their own country. So I’m probably not as special as I would like to think. Either way, these are a few of the things I’ve learned and I’m sharing on my Japaniversary. Hopefully you can relate to some of them and have experienced similar lessons throughout your life, even if in a different context than mine.
I think it is important to take a step back once in a while and take a look at your life. And some milestone like a Japaniversary seems like as good a time as any for something like that. I’m thankful for all the experiences I’ve had in the last six years, and it’s interesting to see how they all play into each other as time goes on. I hope you can appreciate your own life events as well.
As always, I’m thankful to everyone who reads and comments on my posts. I’m enjoying sharing my experiences with you on my blog, and I hope you are enjoying reading them.
And I have a question for you now: What is an important life lesson you’ve learned while living abroad (or at home) that has had a meaningful impact on your life? Share your experiences in the comment section below!