Looking back 振り返ってみた (Part 6, my life in Japan 日本での生活)

When we arrived in Japan in March of 2008, the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom, signaling new beginnings. Plans for the first Tokyo Youtube Hanami (2008 2009 2010) were also underway. We still had some important things to do before we could party, however. We needed to find a place to live and jobs, and I had to get my visa to live and work legally in Japan for the next year, and beyond.

Yasushi and I stayed with his grandparents in Ibaraki while going to Tokyo looking for a room. We visited several realtors but ran into some hurdles. Because Yasushi's father had passed away, we didn't have a guarantor. Also, in most parts of Japan, it is still not illegal for landlords to openly discriminate when renting. It was common to see "No foreigners" written alongside "No pets", as if we belonged in the same category. It was discouraging, but we finally found our dream place near Ekoda station. The building was old, brick red, and sturdy-looking. The inside halls were dark and caked with dust and dirt, but when we got to the room, the inside was big and had lots of sunlight streaming in from windows on 3 sides of the room. We met the landlord, a lovely old man who said he had no problems with us and trusted that we would do just fine. We went back to the realtor, a nasty older man who talked down to us as if we were preschoolers, and also talked the landlord out of lowering the rent for us so his commission would be bigger. We moved into our room and bought a bunch of used furniture and appliances from Yahoo! Auction and Craigslist, and looked for jobs. 

Yasushi found a job that was close to home and paid well. We went to an immigration lawyer and applied for my visa. The paperwork went through surprisingly fast, and I had a 3 year visa in just one week. However, it was already April, and all the good full-time teaching jobs were taken.
I sent my resume out to companies that were still looking for part-time teachers, and got a few replies...mostly from daycares, preschools, and kids' classes. Because I had almost no experience with smaller children, professional or personal, I felt some trepidation when I took a job teaching 2-3 year olds at a school in Saitama. But actually, this kind of job suited me more than I could have imagined! I wore a bright red apron and spent the days playing with toys, singing, dancing, and most importantly, I had students who were eager to learn and grew before my eyes. Of course, there were tantrums, accidents, and challenges, but I still looked forward to teaching every day. However, this was still not ideal for me, I had 3 or 4 part time jobs and spent hours commuting from one to the other each day, including trips out to various kindergardens arranged by the company in Saitama to do super-energetic English demonstrations. Come next spring, I was looking for a stable full-time job teaching the same kids in the same place every day. I asked the company in Saitama for a position at their kindergarten program, and was assured that I had the job. However, their story changed a few times and I applied at similar schools in the area instead. There was a school in Akabane that seemed great, but when I called, the position had been filled. But, a couple days later, I got a call early in the morning as I was rolling out my bed. It was the boss from that kindergarten...there was an issue with the new teacher's visa, and she wanted me to meet her that morning for an interview before work. I got dressed and was on the train. I met the heavyset British woman and her Japanese business partner at a cafe. It was a great match and I got the job. I fell truly blessed to have found that school. The staff are like family, we really connect with the children, and every day we did 20 minutes of singing with my boss on guitar. I wanted to play music with the kids too, but can't play guitar, so this is when I bought my little red accordion and taught myself to play and sing. 

My job at the kindergarten was comfortable, full-time with a fixed salary, but still lots of free time to take other jobs. I taught English by telephone, did private lessons in cafes and homes with lovely students and families, and worked at a juku where the owner's wife had a baby every year! I also pursued my interest in music, both at karaoke and outside with my little red accordion. I went to small karaoke cafes where older customers would buy me drinks and song tickets after I sang some enka, and huge karaoke events where entire floors of karaoke boxes were rented out for 100+ people. I sang on TV, got to the final round of a karaoke contest that was judged by Fujimoto Miki and Horiuchi Takao, and even did some recordings in a studio. I performed at a few parties. I also discovered jam sessions in the park, a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I remember how my mother used to say that I have "no singing talent" and that all of my interests in performing and theatre would be "over" after high school, and I'm glad that I decided not to believe her. In my last year in Japan I even did pronunciation coaching for a production of RENT put on by Japanese people in English. They did wonderfully and I had a great time with them.

Yasushi and I were always busy with our jobs and hobbies. Yasushi took up tropical fish, building computers, and riding his motorcycle, a Royalstar 1300 he had had for some time and decided to start riding again. We made accounts on mixi, a Japanese social networking site, and were able to make many friends who shared our interests. And eventually we started to lead the events rather than merely participating. He planned out trips and routes to go with his friends, and I led karaoke marathons for fans of Hello! Project or people who liked to sing in English. We also had a few house parties in our modest apartment, with great food and lots of fun. 

My parents came to Japan once, for our first wedding anniversary. It was a week of awkward culture shock and fun. We took professional Japanese wedding pictures, went to Nikko, and I did my best to show my parents the best spots in Tokyo. The summers after that Yasushi took a short holiday and we went to Jeju Island in Korea one summer, and Hong Kong after that. And with all of the trips we took by motorcycle, I continued to see a lot of Japan. 

There were lots of good times, but there were bad times too. My panic attacks weren't getting better. I became anxious and depressed from them, it was a vicious cycle of having a panic attack, feeling ashamed, getting depressed, and becoming anxious about having another one until it inevitably happened. I would be so happy when able to forget about them that I would often to too far at parties, drinking too much, staying out too late, just hoping the happy feelings would stay a little longer before I fell back into the cycle. I would get so deeply depressed that I would cut myself, the pain on the outside distracting me from my despair inside. It was so hard for Yasushi. He didn't know what to do. He would get frustrated and angry. He took me to a doctor and I was prescribed Paxil and anti-anxiety meds that if taken at the first sign of a panic attack, would turn me into a mellow, sleepy zombie. I hated being sick, I hated being on medication, and I hated myself and the burden I was forcing on Yasushi. It finally got to be too much. After another party and a fight, I took about 20 doses of Paxil and called Yasushi to say goodbye. He called an ambulance and I was in the hospital for 2 days. Yasushi begged me to get help and overcome my problems. I doubted anyone could help me or make me better. After all, I was a "nut" and a "mental patient", I was never normal and it was always my fault. I was on another prescription of Paxil and Yasushi and I tried therapy, but it would usually center around marital tensions or the stress of living in another country as the main reason for my problems. I had told Yasushi a little bit about things my mother had done and said to me growing up, and he wondered if I was having trauma issues, but I didn't pursue it. Whatever happened is in the past now, and I'm an adult and independent, I thought. But I still hated taking Paxil although it did stabilize my mood, so I tried to go off it cold turkey, and got dizzy spells, so had to taper my doses until I could stop. I started on non-hormonal birth control from India, and St. John's Wort. I watched my alcohol intake (although I still slipped sometimes, and now cigarettes were starting to enter the mix) I tried yoga, long walks, and music to lift my mood. I started to be able to "hold in" a panic attack or relax myself with breathing techniques. Sometimes these things worked, sometimes they didn't. I wondered if I would ever be able to have a normal life, or even a family someday. 

It had always been my dream to eventually move back to Hawaii and raise children there, in a place where they wouldn't be "different", and play with many other children who were bilingual and mixed-race. Yasushi said it would be better for him to move sooner than later, because he needed to adjust to living in a different country just as I had, so around the end of 2010 we decided to leave in fall of 2011. 

As we entered 2011, my last year of living in Japan, my illness still loomed over me like a dark cloud. My work and the little souls I taught always brought me joy and helped me forget about the bad things. I woke up every morning hoping today would be a "good" day for me. Then, something happened on March 11, 2011 that changed my whole outlook on life. At 2:51 pm, my coworker said "Earthquake" and the 5 of us sprung into action, leading the children under the table in the classroom as the slight shaking started to escalate. This was it. The "big one". We were scared, but keeping the kids safe was our first priority, and after each child was returned to their shaken and relieved parents, we all wished each other a safe return home. My apartment had a few things toppled over, and I knew I had been lucky. However, nothing could have prepared me for the images I saw when I turned on the TV. For one week, all we knew about was the devastation up North, how entire towns had literally been washed away, and about how there was now a possibility that radioactive contamination in the air, food, and water had reached us in Tokyo. Foreigners were boarding planes back to their countries, my parents also begged me to join them, but I felt I couldn't leave this country I loved at a time like this, when so many people were in need. My parents could not understand this concept. It seems typical that my mother would only think of her own family, and not the millions devastated. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed the lives of all those people in Louisiana, she said it was "preventable" and they could have evacuated if they had trains like Philadelphia or NY. I stayed in Japan and took my accordion to charity benefits and raised money for those left with no food, water, shelter, or clothing up North. Yasushi and I cut back on our hobbies and sent that money to the Red Cross. I couldn't donate blood so I volunteered for the blood bank. As everyone was in such distress and sorrow, the cherry blossoms bloomed again. Some people thought having a hanami in light of the situation would be insensitive to the victims, but for me those flowers held more meaning than ever this year. 

Cherry blossoms symbolize rebirth but also brevity of life. This year it was more important than ever to stop and ponder how powerful, beautiful and precious nature-and life- is. Whatever problems I was having felt insignificant, and I felt guilty for having them. 

Summer came and went, this year more comfortable for me because people were using their air conditioners less. Up North they had build temporary housing, but people still had no supplies or possessions. When Fall came, Yasushi and I were starting to give away and get rid of anything  that wouldn't fit in our suitcases. We sent all of our usable winter clothes, non-perishable extra food and toiletries, toys for children, and things like our electric blankets and carpets. The gov't was not helping them, so everything I did was by myself, but I didn't mind making arrangements or paying the shipping, as long as I could help someone. In November of 2011, everything was gone from that apartment in Ekoda where we had spent 3 1/2 years. We had 4 suitcases and 4 carryons. After a lot of goodbyes, we boarded a plane to JFK on November 20th. 

2008年3月に日本に着いた頃、新しい始まりを表現する桜の花が咲こうとしていました。第一回のユーチューブ花見集会の計画も立てられてました。(2008 2009 2010)しかしパーティーの前はやらなきゃいけないことがいっぱいありました。住むところや仕事を探して、そして私のビザの手続きもしかきゃいけなかったんです。

茨城に行って、靖の祖父母の所に少し泊まって、部屋探しなどはじめました。しかしハードルがいくつかありました。靖のお父さんがなくなったため私達の保証人がいなかったんです。そして、日本はアメリカと違って、大家が部屋を貸す時に差別することは禁止されてないところはまだ殆どです。不動産で部屋を見れば、まるで一緒と思われてるかのように「ペット不可」と「外国人不可」よく見ました。少し思わしくないことだったが、探し続ければやっと江古田駅の近くにいい部屋にたどり着きました。ビルが古くて、がっちりしてて、レンガ色してました。中に入ると廊下が暗くて、何年分のほこりが溜まってて汚かったんです。しかし、部屋に入ると広くて、日当たりもよくて素敵な部屋がありました。そして下に住んでた大家さんの優しいおじいさんに直接話しをしてみれば、親切に私達を信用していると言ってくれました。不動産屋さんに戻って部屋を借りる手続きをしましたが、不動産のおじさんが感じ悪くて、何度も私達をバカにするようないいかたしたり、大家さんに家賃を下げないように説得したり(自分のもらうお金が減るから)本当にムカついてたが、何とか契約して 部屋に引っ越しました。 。中古の家具や電化製品などをオークションなどで買って、仕事探しもしました。


幼稚園での仕事は月給のある安定した仕事でしたが、それでも空いてる時間もあったので他のアルバイトもしてみました。電話で英語教えたり、カフェやお宅などでマンツーマンで教えたり、そして毎年赤ちゃんが産まれてきた夫婦の塾で教えました。そして趣味で音楽もやってました。 カラオケ喫茶 で演歌歌って、たまには他のお客さんに飲み物や歌を奢ってもらいました。そして新宿などで若者ばかりの100人以上の 大カラオケオフ会 なども楽しんでいました。そして テレビ に出たり、藤本美貴と堀内孝雄の カラオケ大会の決戦まで行ったり、友達のスタジオで歌のレコーディングすることもありました。そしてアコーディオン弾けるようになったらパーティー  演奏したり、 フリーセッション などにもはまりました。よく母に歌の才能がないとか、高校卒業したら舞台などに興味なくなるとか言ってたけど、信じなくてよかったと思ってます。去年日本人の英語劇グループのRENTの舞台の発音指導させてもらえて、凄くいい思い出になりました。


両親は一回結婚一周年の時に日本に来ました。日本の結婚記念写真 取ったり、日光行ったり、色んなことをしました。両親は文化ショックが激しくて面白かったです。それから夏にやすしが連休を取れたら、 チェジュ 、  などの海外旅行も味わえました。そしていつもバイク色んなところ行けました 。




桜の花は復活という意味と、命の短さを持ってます。今年は少し毎日の生活から離れ、自然の力、 美しさ 、と大切さを考えるべきだと思いました。自分の中の問題はもうそれほどのものじゃない、と今までこんなことで悩むのが悪いと思いました。


1 件のコメント:

  1. Hey Sammi,

    I just wanted to say thank you so much for sharing this post! Before moving to Japan I also suffered from depression and anxiety. I wasn't happy with how things were progressing in my life, and when I looked at the other people around me it seemed like they were much more lucky and happier than I was. It's like they say: the grass is always greener on the other side.

    I thought that moving to Japan would be my solution to everything. It would give me a new start at life, a new career, and hopefully a new stable and healthy relationship. When I look back over my first year in Japan I have accomplished all of those things, yet I still always feel like I'm somehow coming up short from where I should be. Despite my wishes, the depression followed me.

    I began watching a lot of "jvloggers" for motivation and to help get myself out of the rut. Your videos in particular always helped to brighten my day! I know my own problems are not the same as yours, but I was really able to relate to this post. I don't know how things are for you now, but I hope you have found the inner strength to overcome the anxiety and anything else that has been holding you back.

    Hang in there Sammi! You have a lot to live for even more now than ever.