Saturday, October 22, 2011

Redefining normal, redefining strange

Though a lot of time has passed since then, I still remember vividly my first few weeks in Japan, and just how overwhelming it was to be in a new place. I remember the first time I tried to walk to school on my own: I hadn't quite mastered the art of picking out landmarks to help me remember directions and so I took a few wrong turns and wound up wandering aimlessly for an hour before finally reaching the river, which I followed to Maruetsu, which gave me the bearings to find school.

In these earliest days, the fact that I was in Japan was constantly on my mind: everything seemed so.... foreign. I was keenly aware of how I stood out in a crowd, the language was totally unfamiliar, traffic signs and shop-fronts made no sense to me... the sights, the smells and the sounds were so different from what I was used to. It was exciting, but it was also intimidating. Buying something from the combini was an adventure of epic proportions. Going to a coffee shop or restaurant by myself? Totally out of the question. Going to the doctor's office for a staff physical? Terrifying.

It's funny how all of these little things that stressed me out and intimidated me at first have become second nature--the process was so gradual that I didn't even notice it happening. This morning, I biked to the eki to buy lunch and this afternoon I will take the train downtown to Ginza for church. None of this is overwhelming--it's just part of the routine.

Every once in a while, I'll have a "Wow, I'm in Japan" moment that stops me in my tracks as I realize that I'm living (and apparently thriving) in a culture totally different from the one that I grew up in. Even those moments are decreasing in frequency as the feeling of thriving solidifies.

I remember how I used to carry a camera with me everywhere because I wanted to take pictures of everything that seemed strange to me: strange signs, strange stores, people doing things that struck me as strange, basically every shrine or temple that I passed... I took hundreds of pictures in those first few weeks (the quintessential obnoxious gaijin tourist). I think I've taken one picture (besides Wilderness Camp) in the last few months and that was of the crowd at Thrift Shop yesterday.

What I'm trying to say is everything that I used to find so strange, so bizarre, so foreign... all of it now seems normal to me. My very definitions and perceptions about normal and strange have been forever changed, turned on their heads in almost 3 years of living here. Will Japan ever truly be home to me? 3 years ago, the question would have made me laugh. Today? Well... it doesn't seem so crazy.

No comments:

Post a Comment