During my two weeks in Osaka I was starting to accept Japan as my new home. This was a new rush euphoria. You see, I was training in Japan’s second largest city. I was slowly able to use the trains without asking for confirmation every single time, and navigating my way around the different platforms. I knew which restaurant was the most affordable and which restaurants served the best sushi. I was starting to find my way through the streets as if it was my neighborhood. The hotel staffs even knew which room I stayed in and handed me my room key every time I walked through the sliding doors – ”mostly because I locked myself out six times during my short stay there. During my two weeks in Osaka I was starting to accept Japan as my new home. This was a new rush euphoria. You see, I was training in Japan’s second largest city. I was slowly able to use the trains without asking for confirmation every single time, and navigating my way around the different platforms. I knew which restaurant was the most affordable and which restaurants served the best sushi. I was starting to find my way through the streets as if it was my neighborhood. The hotel staffs even knew which room I stayed in and handed me my room key every time I walked through the sliding doors – ”mostly because I locked myself out six times during my short stay there.
But then I quickly realized that this “Japan” was merely a facade. After moments of arriving into my placement location, I knew that my notion of Japan was about to get revamped. The instant I stepped out of the JR I noticed how much smaller everything was. The JR only has three tracks and one level. The streets are narrower. The central park is about half a block. The second largest mall of the island belongs to my city – ”and it isn’t very grand. The only thing spectacular is the supermarkets. But when I think about how I paid over a dollar for an apple, it makes me want to avoid all spectacular supermarkets.
Well, my new home is in Niihama City. Never heard of Niihama? Well, that’s strange since it is the third largest city in the Ehime prefecture. Never heard of Ehime? Well, that’s strange considering how it is one of the four prefectures on Shikoku Island. Never heard of Shikoku? Well, I don’t blame you. It is the least populated island in Japan of the four main islands. And this is my home. My humble Shikoku home.
Having been born and raised in a big city, I was definitely not adjusting immediately to my placement location. However, after a few bicycle rides around the city I did not need any further convincing to know that I am fortunate to live – ”and be humbled – ”in such a beautiful place.
while I was at Ritsurin Park I was followed and approached by a middle-aged man. He kept on gesturing for me to follow him and look at the kois in the pond. When I refused and told him “sayonara,” he chuckled and still persisted.
There are many majestic, traditional looking homes around my neighborhood. At the same time, there are several modern looking homes that look like they belong to an affluent neighborhood in Los Angeles. The loveliest thing of all is that these different styles of home neighbor one another and are able to complement and contrast simultaneously. These homes are surrounded by many, many rice fields. And in the background there are the mountains that are lush green and seemingly untouched. In the hot heat of the summer, these mountains are covered by a layer of haze that gives the illusion of a world-class painting. Within a distance there are small, traditional Japanese villages where people live off of what they produce and do not fall victim to consumerism. This may not be a lifestyle for all, but it is certainly admirable.
I am also very close to nature. Every night I hear the frogs croaking. And if I knew what kinds of sounds a cricket makes, I swear I’ve heard those too. I see cranes standing in the rice fields trying to catch a meal and when I’d try to take a picture they’d fly away. I’ve even seen hawks when I took the ferry to the next neighboring island. And when I want to escape from rural Japan, I head to the mall which is only a fifteen minute bicycle ride away. All in all, my city has a lot to offer once I give it a chance.
At first I was extremely disappointed that I wasn’t placed in a larger city. I live among the sticks! The conspiracy! But on some days when I don’t have work and I’m not being lazy, I travel to a larger city and sight-see. Just recently I went to Takamatsu’s Ritsurin Park. It was absolutely gorgeous and really peaceful.
But since Takamatsu was a larger city, I have finally encountered something I have been warned about from all my friends: perverted Japanese men. I don’t know why Japanese men are stereotyped to be perverts, aren’t all men perverts? I’ve also been told from my friends and other Japanese foreigners-alike that they shamelessly grope women on the trains, and they tend to stalk foreigners because they’re different. Well, I didn’t think I would have a problem with the train situation because it isn’t very crowded down here on Shikoku. And since I am Asian and everyone thinks I’m Japanese already, I didn’t think I’d have to worry as well. But while I was at Ritsurin Park I was followed and approached by a middle-aged man. He kept on gesturing for me to follow him and look at the kois in the pond. When I refused and told him “sayonara,” he chuckled and still persisted. I walked away, and luckily he didn’t follow me. Afterwards, by dusk I was enjoying the tranquility of Takamatsu’s central park when I noticed an elderly man standing within a distance watching me. I looked back. But he just kept on staring. After five minutes, he was still watching me. I’m thankful I don’t encounter any situations like this one in Niiahama. I am not discouraged to travel because now I know to bring a friend whenever I do go. This is a must.
Speaking of friendships, I can count all my new friends with all the fingers in one hand. I made friends while I was in training but now we’ve all been scattered throughout the Japanese map. I’m not an unfriendly person; I am always seeking new friendships. But it is so incredibly hard when you don’t share a common language and it is also harder because I live in Niihama. The population mostly consists of elderly farmers, people of my parents’ generation, and young children. Where are all the people around my age?! Well, they are off in big cities where they can attend a prestigious university, or they are off in a big city where they can find a better career.
I am fortunate, however, to have made friends with someone closer to my age. She is my bank teller, in fact. I had to open my bank account and I thought the process would be very excruciating since communicating would definitely be an obstacle, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found out my bank teller could speak English. After two nanoseconds of contemplation, I gave her my email and asked her to be my friend. A little bit desperate, but I’m not going to lie, I was quite desperate. Now Yuka and I spend time whenever possible but it is difficult since our work schedules conflict with one another.
Susan is another good friend. She works as an English teacher for the same company and she was there to help me move into my new apartment. And she introduced me to a local Japanese friend, Junko, who can speak English quite well; the three of us hang out from time to time. Sometimes I don’t even notice the age difference. You see, they’re both a little more than twice my age. But I learn that these superficial characteristics are only things you fill out in paperwork.
So in a nutshell, this is how life is treating me. There are many downsides to living among the sticks. I mean, there is practically no night-life and there isn’t much to do. I feel like I am in the retirement-stage of my life – ”minus the ever having a career. But this is a good change, and Niihama has certainly given me many reasons that make this a positive one.
Having started her education early with two years of Preschool, Angela has finally decided to take a break from the mundane lecture hall routines and do what most people her age do nowadays: go to Japan and teach English. She is enrolled with the university’s Co-op program which allows her to embark into this experience without sacrificing her student status. She is a third-year student at the University of British Columbia with an English and Sociology major. Now, she is currently one of the youngest- – if not the youngest – ”employee of company.
Her passions include writing, and writing about herself. She also likes to knit, take many photos and post them on Facebook, exchange snail mail, and eat avocadoes. Currently she lives in Niihama, Ehime and enjoys travelling within the city by her red bicycle.