The first month in Okayama, Japan

So I’ve been in Okayama, Japan for 1 month!
It’s been a whirlwind few weeks of paperwork, rules, important letters which I cannot read, and frustratingly inefficient procedures which you might not expect from Japan. Yet: I have emerged from the tunnel of tests – medical and Japanese – and I can’t tell you how happy I feel about that.



Helping at a festival in the countryside

Amongst all of that I’ve been slowly writing it all down and though it’s taken me a little while to get it into some kind of coherent order, here’s what it’s been like living Half a Planet from Home for the last month.

Before moving to Japan, I spent a month travelling Nepal – it worked out cheaper to have a month layover in Nepal and fly onto Malaysia and finally Japan than it did to book a direct ticket. So I thought why not! Transitioning from travel to study has obviously been challenging though. I’m slowly reminding myself my travels are over and that I’m here to study: it’s been difficult to not want to explore all the time. I’ve found it strange not having beautiful things and places to photograph every day like I did in Nepal but I’ve been too busy registering for classes, sorting bills, accommodation and bank accounts, with little time to do much else. The weather has been unpredictable and my days are still a little jumbled, but slowly slowly I’m trying to establish some routine to my life here. In the midst of all the frustrations I’ve felt, I’m learning to love this new place I’m living in and embrace all that there is about Okayama.

As the dust starts to settle, I’ve been able to explore the city a little more. While there isn’t nearly as much to do as in Tokyo, I’m loving the healthier countryside environment and even though my cycling skills are somewhat non existent, they have vastly improved in just a short time. When the sun is out, exploring by bike has been the perfect way to explore my new home.

I’m very lucky to be living in a place with so much open space and natural beauty. The much quieter way of life is still going to take some getting used to though. I have days where I miss Edinburgh, my friends and my busy life there. I’m madly missing the gym and my trampoline club but I’m trying not to think about what I’m missing and focus on what I’m doing here instead. That way, integration – and happiness – is going to come much quicker when I don’t think about what I might be missing back home. While it is incredibly different here, I knew it would be this way so I still feel very optimistic about Okayama. Without a firm routine established I have quite a bit of spare time with nothing planned to fill it. So, to conquer any loneliness, or feelings of boredom, my lovely new friend Eloise and I have been planning weekend trips to look forward to. Hiroshima, Miyajima, Osaka and Tokyo are all upcoming and I’m excited to leave this little University campus bubble and explore further afield.

I’m adding to this post huddled up in my shoe-box bedroom as a typhoon hurtles through town; in the sunshine this a beautiful area of Japan but it’s not so exciting when it’s wet. 5 days of incessant rain have well and truly put a dampener on things here, but having these trips to look forward to makes these grey days considerably more bearable. It may seem funny for a Brit to complain about the rain – I live in Edinburgh after all – but typhoons are a whole different ball game.

But, when the weather is good, this is the reward.

While I really have had some tough days here, where I have felt like I picked the wrong place, felt lost and incomplete, or just very out of myself, there have been 10 more which have been wonderful. I’ve come to realise the weather has a huge influence on my mood. As a result, writing this post over a few weeks has been very difficult – I have gone back and deleted so much that I wrote on a lonely rainy day and replaced it with sunny day writings that are so much more positive. Good thing I’ve chosen to live in the sunniest place in Japan! While down days are inevitable, my lovely friend and I have made ourselves ‘The Lonely Lists’ – a full page of things to do, what we want to achieve, try or see, so that there is always a way to fill the time. I said going into this that my goal was to spend as much time living the language as possible rather than being stuck in a stuffy classroom and so far, that is working out well for the both of us. Eloise – an architect major – is using her time to research and meet Japanese architects, and I am spending some time organising meetings with professors in the mental health field of study in preparation for my dissertation next year amongst other things.
So, when we lose our purpose and motivations for being here, we can both look over our lists of things we are planning to do, or goals we have set to accomplish, to lift our mood. Had Eloise not been here, I know I would have had a considerably harder time. But together, we are working out our new little world; jumbling through in Japanese, laughing at our mistakes, spending hours in the supermarket checking for vegetarian products, and finding our feet slowly but surely.

And what better way to sum up all that I’ve just said than with these 10 points, which we caught sight of in the distance one evening as we were cycling home. Why someone wrote it in English, or why it is there at all I really have no idea, but all I know is I’m glad it is. I may not be able to read any of the post I receive, I may not be able to express my emotions as effectively as I would like and I may not be loving every single day, but hand on my heart I can say I’m working on it.

I’ll get there – I know it. It’s going to take some more time and hard work but so far, so good.

There’s so much more to come, and I can’t wait.

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