「七転びハ起き」(nanakorobi yaoki) “Fall seven times, get up eight.” – Japanese proverb
I’m not sure what to write, but I feel I must write something about the earthquake that hit Japan on Friday at 2:26 pm Japanese time, and the tsunami that followed. I lived in Tokyo for three years, and while I never visited Sendai or Fukushima (which felt the brunt of both the earthquake and the tsunami), I visited many other cities in Japan during that time. I have many Japanese friends still living in Japan, and some non-Japanese friends living there. And while I’ve only heard back from a handful of them via email, I’m sure most of them are safe, as almost all of them live in Tokyo, which felt the earthquake and its aftershocks, but only suffered swaying buildings (which is still pretty freakin’ scary). Still, I worry about the nuclear power plants.
As people who have visited Japan will tell you, Japanese people are extremely helpful, especially to tourists. When my parents visited me in Japan, they got lost in Shinjuku Station, which may be the busiest train station in the world. Four people asked them if they needed help. One man offered them his cell phone so that they could try calling me. Keep in mind that my parents speak no Japanese. Also keep in mind that Tokyo is the New York City of Japan. People tend to be friendlier elsewhere in the country, and yet citizens of this “unfriendly” city are more helpful than the citizens of any city I’ve been to in the U.S.
But I have a fondness for Japan for other reasons. Before I went there, I couldn’t see my future clearly. I worked a part-time job, but needed a full time job. My novel was a piece of shit. And, I was still living at home. With my parents. At age 26.
Japan gave me the space to breathe. For three years, I didn’t have to worry about money or writing (though I wrote enough in my diaries to rival that written in my three months in London). I could explore. I could be by myself and not be lonely. I could be with others and not be tense. By the time I came back to America, I had fixed my novel, saved some money, and had an idea of what kind of career I wanted to pursue. Until my novel made me millions, of course. 😉
It’s unfortunate that I didn’t stick to those plans, but then reality is a world that teaching in Japan does not much concern itself with. Much seems to be done within a dream. I have never been as bold as I was in Japan. I have never learned so much about myself. I have never felt more at peace.
Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that it was all cherry blossom viewings and geisha sightings. I had my share of frustrations, and trips that didn’t go quite according to plan, and a bad situation that arose at work, but I learned from these experiences and moved past them. When I decided to move to Seattle, I knew I could do it, having undertaken a more difficult move four years earlier. In other words, sometime over the course of three years spent away from all that was familiar to me, I became an adult.
So, for welcoming me and taking care of me for three critical years of my life, Japan will always remain a second home to me, and its people my extended family. To them I say, ありがとうございました (thank you very much)! And, in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, 頑張って下さい (do your best)!
You can see some amazing photos of the damage here:
And since Japan has not yet asked any international aid organizations for help, here’s some helpful information on when and where to donate, if you want to make sure your donation reaches the tsunami and earthquake victims.