At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Strangers in a Strange Land (or "How to Be Alone")

Last year, I made a dance piece in Ishigaki called "How to Be Alone."   (I had been reading Jonathan Franzen's essay First City in his collection "How to Be Alone" in which he discussed privacy in public spaces and how a city provides anonymity more than the American suburbs/suburbia-cities do.)  I started my dance piece at my home, where I often felt most alone and took it out into the streets of Mizaki-cho (the mizu shobai/水商売 district, which is where my apartment was) where the majority of snack/hostess bars are located.  I then took it to my Yaeyama Buyo class and then back out where I sort of wound my way through the city to a street corner where I felt totally invisible.  Of course, I was hardly invisible in Ishigaki (being one of 10 noticeable foreigners on the island).  My performance had more to do with the internal pangs of loneliness I had been experiencing for most of my time in Ishigaki.  The irony of the performance was that I had conceived it before I met my then bf and had performed it after I met him, when I felt least alone.

In Naha, I rarely feel alone or lonely.  I don't know why this is.  I mean I guess part of it had to do with being in a relationship until recently, but I still feel surrounded by others and often in touch with more people than I was in Ishigaki.  Maybe it's the rhythm of the city itself or the fact that I have one or two reliable friends who I can often count on to check in with me or me with them on a regular basis.  Maybe it's because I am no longer suffering from extreme culture shock.  Either way, I've learned how to be alone and how to be okay with it as well.

Learn Ryukyu Buyo and you too can wear this costume!

In my last post, I mentioned how having Japanese friends can offer insight into this wonderful, intriguing, perplexing, baffling and frustrating society for us foreign country people.  It's hard to make friends though It's nearly impossible to make friends at work, though some ALTs are able to have working-friendships where co-workers meet for dinner once a month or so.   You spend the bulk of your time at work as an ALT.  How about the gym?  It's possible. Or maybe you like to go rock-climbing, or you are into para-sailing or cycling?  All of these are great outdoors events and likely to attract others who also like similar hobbies.  If you're into theater or dance?  Take a dance class.  You may or may not meet good friends through it, but you will have fun and it is a good chance for you to learn about Japanese culture through their performing arts.  Try not to limit yourself on the basis of language skills. Volunteering is also a wonderful way to spend your time by helping others.   The more you get out there and interact with your community, the more you are experiencing life in Japan and the Japanese who get to know you are learning about foreigners beyond what they see in movies and on TV.

Explore Okinawa's beaches 

...and outer islands. 

Expore the old, covered markets in Naha

Enjoy solitude during long walks on beautiful days

I know this is going to sound really pep-talky, but if you're alone in Japan, you should try your hardest to experience the time for yourself.  It took me a while to be able to do this.  I felt extremely stressed out last year on that small island (constantly watched, judged, etc) in a way that I hadn't ever felt in most of my adult life.  But some of my most memorable experiences were also on long walks or drives around the island, in moments of solitude that gave me a chance to unwind and feel a sense of freedom.  I had to come to terms with not being in a city, which took me quite some time to do, but I ended up living through it and, while I would not have done a second year there, I am glad I had the chance to live there.  I am also happy I am living in Okinawa, where there are more people and I feel like people aren't scrutinizing me as much (probably because there are 60,000 Americans on this island and we're less of a novelty than we are elsewhere in Japan).

But I think the most important thing is embracing solitude and learning how to be alone in Japan.  It's not an easy feat, by any means.  But once you find a way to do this, that's when you'll start loving your life and when you love your life, others end up attracted to that and you may find the friends you've been searching for.

You're only in Japan for a short time...
Try to enjoy it!

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