Thursday, June 11, 2009

Final Thoughts on our 3 Year Excellent Adventure in Japan

The time has come to say Good Bye to Japan after 3 wonderful and crazy years living here. Even tough I knew our time in Japan was limited, I have to admit that leaving has been quite bittersweet. Like I told one of my friends who went back to the US last month, Japan has been the best and worst time of my life all rolled into one. It has been the worst because you can’t read, write or fully communicate with the people around you, so off course there where very stressful and frustrating times. On the other hand, it has been the best time because I had a chance to explore a new country and travel all around the world. In 3 years we went all over Japan, explored Europe, relaxed in the island of Bali, hanged out in Thailand and saw how 20 million people live in very close quarters in Shanghai, China. I think me dad expressed it best when he told me that I have seen more of the world in my 30 years that he has seen in his whole life!!! Since I am a glass half full kind of girl, I will concentrate on the good aspects of our experience in Japan.

I can summarize the various stages that I went through while living in Japan using the Japanese suffixes which I have grown accustomed to, these are:

Iddya-san -> San is an honorific ending for names that indicates acquaintance. The Japanese equivalent of Mr. or Mrs.. This suffix definitely expresses my first year or so in Japan. When I first arrived in Japan everything was new and I would spend my days exploring Hiroshima and coercing my friends into taking day trips to nearby towns. Every weekend we would get together with our friends, who where like us young married couples with no kids and hang out all over town. These where really good times, it was like being in College again but this time you could afford to buy a round of beers for everyone. This all changed once I began working as an Engineer in an all Japanese male office. On top of being the only female engineer there, everyone was 65 years + and spoke absolutely no English. The up side to this situation was that I learned allot of Japanese really fast!!! Out of total and complete necessity!!! Everyone there called me Iddya-san, mostly out of respect but also because I was an acquaintance, someone who they did not truly know. At the beginning this bothered me, but with time and as my language skills got better, they began to accept and trust me. Recently I meet one of my old friends who worked in the same division as me but in a different office and she asked me point blank “How in the world did you survive working in that office a year and a half?”. My answer was very simple “Sheer and utter will”. In retrospect this was an excellent experience for me because I learned how to navigate the Japanese business world and truly had the complete Salary man (Japanese white collar worker) experience.

Iddya-chan -> Chan is an honorific ending for names that mostly indicates someone who is extremely close or someone who is much younger. It is mostly a female ending, and rarely used for males. I used to be called Iddya-chan in my second job in Japan which was working for a German based automotive supplier. The best part of my second job was that it was only 5 blocks from my house, so I walked to and from work everyday. At my new office everyone was around the same age as me, half the office was composed of hard working women and everyone was required to speak English in order to work there. Needless to say, I found everything to be so easy that I had trouble adjusting in the beginning. You mean we can have an actual conversation out of the blue? I don’t have to plan ahead my 3 Japanese sentences and try to figure out what the response was or call a translator? Am I in Japan anymore? I fit in really well here since I was able to combine what I already knew about the automotive business worked with the correct way to act in the Japanese business world. I made really good friends at this job. The girls in the office really went the extra mile for me throughout my pregnancy by translating my tests results and even helping make appointments at the doctor. I was happy to be accepted and called Iddya-chan by me peers. Here we are the last that I worked:
Diego-kun – Kun is an honorific ending for names that mostly indicates friendship or someone younger. It is usually used for boys or male colleagues. The good thing about using -kun is that when people ask what is the baby’s name I always answer Diego-kun so they automatically know I have a boy. As you have already heard from everyone who recently had a child, having a kid changes everything. Since Diego was born in January, there was not much to do since it was cold out and the majority of the families completing an international assignment when home in December of 2008. To give you an idea, there where about 60 families at the beginning of 2008 and now there are only 11 left. This did not really bother me in the begging because you can’t really do much with a newborn anyway. I did not interact much with the outside world the first 3 months or so of Diego’s existence, which is pretty normal in any country. Once Diego was sturdier I did start going out and doing stuff with the friends that I had left. I quickly learned that it’s not the quantity that counts it’s the quality, since these gals where there for me every time I needed help with the baby or just needed a piece of mom-to-mom advice.
It’s kind of ironic that recently I have been meeting a lot of really nice people from other walks of life (besides the automotive business). I’ve met some young Japanese moms whose husbands are American and some nice Japanese ladies who wanted to learn Spanish, among others. It’s a pity that I just met them and I have to leave, but that’s life. I actually think it has been somewhat easier to take care of Diego in Japan because I just put him in the stroller and walk around downtown, no need to fiddle with a car seat or drive everywhere. The thing that has been the hardest is that our families are too far away and they have not met Diego yet, so in that aspect I’m glad we are going back to the US and both our families can be in Michigan within a day’s travel.

I really think I had a very FULL life experience in Japan. I went thru periods where I was at home, I worked and I had a baby – what else could I have possibly done? I learned how to navigate the immigration, health and work systems in Japan in a short period of time. The funny thing is I meet so many people in the process that I can barely keep track (Facebook is helping out with this) and some of those people have became life long friends.

Japan will always hold a special place in my heart, not only because my son was born here, but because it opened up my eyes to a whole new world (yes like the song). I sincerely encourage everyone to go out and see the world; it is smaller than it appears. Here is the latest picture of us in the Tokasan (summer kimono) Festival:
I do have one message that I would like to point out: If you or a family member ever have the chance to live abroad via an international assignment or a student exchange or simply by traveling, I would encourage you to go and see what happens. As you can see from this blog you WILL SURVIVE and grow as a person in the process. If someone where to ask me if I would do it all over again my answer is simple: ABSOLUTELY.

Reporting from Japan for the last time,

PS. I’m happy to report that some people have contacted me after finding my blog online about life in Hiroshima as a foreigner. I have been more than happy to answer all their questions and help them out, after all that was part of the reasons for writing this blog. If you are one of these people just leave a comment

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