I hope you all had an enjoyable and safe New Year!
As per usual for this time of year, I had a lot of conversations with friends and acquaintances regarding resolutions and goals. The resolutions I heard ranged from “eat healthier” and “get swole” to “find a new job” and “travel more.” I didn’t have an idea of anything I wanted to work toward, but I do know of something I want to avoid.
My Japan-specific goal is to not become a bitter, jaded ex-pat that feels like his time in Japan has been all for naught.
Recently, I feel like I’ve plateaued with my Japanese language ability and have just been relying on being “good enough to get around.” It’s a dangerous level of competency where I’ve coasted on the same grammar patterns for so long that learning new ones is a painful process. But sometimes the way forward is full of grammatically incorrect sentences. This year I need to put in more effort if I’m actually going to be a long-term fixture in Tokyo.
We rarely think about having to improve our language skills in our native tongue. Probably only writers and editors actively seek to improve regarding native language ability, but the end goal isn’t to better integrate and communicate with others as it is when you’re a foreign resident learning a new language.
As a foreigner in Japan your social circles will highly depend on your Japanese fluency. However, this doesn’t mean that you need Japanese literacy to enjoy living in Japan. It is entirely possible to live in Japan with minimal Japanese speaking/reading ability – everybody has his/her own “comfort” range.
I’ve definitely become too comfortable within my language ability, which has resulted in a sense of stagnation and regret. While I don’t expect myself to constantly be pushing myself to the limit all the time, this year I want to actually set goals and due-dates for my self-study. I’ve come to the realization that this feeling of stagnation is closely followed by burn-out, since it feels like the wheels are spinning but you’re not moving anywhere.
I use a quote by the great Anthony Bourdain to keep myself in check regarding this concept. “I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.” (Speaking of the path full of grammatically incorrect sentences – the inner editor in me has to grit his teeth reading lay/lie mistakes.)
I’ve seen people fall into the same “trap” of being very excited with the new-ness of living in Japan, but once the honeymoon period ends there is a chance for people to become bitter and resentful. This seems to be especially prevalent in a big city like Tokyo where it seems like you’re constantly surrounded by people, but also isolated and alone.
My suggestion to you if you’ve been feeling a bit burnt-out in your Japan life is to try to set small, achievable goals. And your goals don’t have to parallel my language goals, they can be about fitness, health, finding a creative outlet – maybe this is the year to get into gardening!
If you are feeling overwhelmed with adjusting to life in Japan, please contact mental health professionals such as TELL. Your mental well-being is an important (and often overlooked) aspect of being a foreigner in Japan! Take care of yourself and be well!
Slightly related to goals and the upcoming year, I’m looking forward to getting the ball rolling on video content for REJ! I want to get more involved with those looking for more information about different areas in Tokyo, how to adjust to living in a new country, and where to find the best craft beer!
Let me know what your goals for 2020 are in the comments!
Lead photo: iStock stock photography