All things considered, living abroad has been the best experience of my life. It has broadened my horizons, pushed me out of my comfort zone, and given me the opportunity to grow as a person. I had no pre-existing image of what to expect from living in Japan, so my love for this country has grown naturally over the past six years. There have certainly been more ups than downs during this period of time.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the single “best” thing about living abroad. The good points tend to be interconnected, and some of them can’t even be identified. I suspect that if you asked most expatriates living in this country, “What do you like about Japan?”, the answers you would get would revolve around culture, people and food. In my own case, however, there is no reason I can identify as to why I like Japan. It’s not merely that there is a reason that can’t be defined clearly. Rather, it’s that there is genuinely no reason at all.
What I can definitively say, though, is that I have wholeheartedly thrown myself into the experience of living in this country. Few people can lay claim to having participated in the Naked Man Festival in Okayama, the Basara Dance Festival in Nara and the portable-shrine-carrying festival in Hasedera. What’s more, I participated in each of these events two years in a row. Living abroad gives you the opportunity to do things that you would never have even dreamed of doing at home for the simple reason that such activities don’t exist in one’s home country.
During my time here, I have been to twenty-seven prefectures, ranging from the winter wilderness of Hokkaido to the tropical forests of Yakushima island. Part of the motivation for traveling far and wide is to avoid simply doing what one could have done by staying at home, for example, activities such as browsing the internet or watching movies or TV shows at home. I certainly do spend my share of time doing these activities, but I always try to balance them by getting out and about at least once a week.
What about the negative points of living abroad? For me, the single biggest negative point has been the language barrier. During the three years that I lived in Nara, I took one-to-one Japanese lessons once a week. Unfortunately, by the end of those three years, I felt that I’d still barely scratched the surface of the Japanese language.
Part of this comes down to one’s mentality towards learning a second language. In my experience, people who aren’t afraid to try to use the language in public situations are the ones who improve the fastest. In contrast, I was a classic deer in the headlights when it came to speaking Japanese in public. In other words, I was far too nervous about making mistakes and sounding silly to try to use the language to any great extent.
In this sense, one can sympathize with English learners who are worried about producing output out of a fear of making mistakes. In both cases, though, this mentality isn’t the ideal.
comfort zone (n) – a situation that you feel comfortable in
scratch the surface (idiom) – to deal with only the superficial parts of something
mentality (n) – a particular attitude or way of thinking
deer in the headlights (idiom) – to be so afraid that you can’t move or think