There has been a long lapse in my writing, and can only honestly say it is down to laziness. I never wanted my blog to be a chore, and so like all creative hobbies, I only write when I’m motivated to. Yet to those of you who have missed my blog posts, I apologize to you! When I arrived in Japan last year, I enthusiastically wanted to share all my experiences of living in Japan with my family, friends and other blog readers. This year, it is not that these experiences are not as exciting or my life not as eventful, it is more that I have realized that my time in Japan is a short one, and so I am living it more than reflecting on it.
It was at an Obon Dancing festival in Takefu, that I realised my time in Japan is limited. Because I organised it for ALTs to join, I decided I wasn’t going to dress up in a yukata (a traditional summer kimono), but when a friend said, “But Sophie, this will be your last year”. It suddenly hit me. If I keep to my plan, this would be my last chance to take part in this festival. So I quickly got changed into a yukata and danced traditional routines around my local town. Even though we had to dance the same four dance routines for two long hours, I didn’t regret this decision. Since then, I have felt the pressure of time constantly counting down the months until my life in Japan will be over. If I stick to my two-year plan, I only have nine months left!
It makes me wonder what it must be like to have a time-limit put on your life. I always find it interesting what terminal-ill patients choose to do. Some people choose to do clichéd ‘once in a lifetime experiences’ like swim with dolphins, see the Aorerea Borealis or go skydiving, a little like cancer-patient Helen Fawkes ‘List for living’. Whilst the majority of people just want to spend time with their loved ones. Anyway, thinking about death can be a bit morbid, but it can also keep things in perspective. I was inspired by Roz Savage a 30-something consultant in London, who one day sat down and wrote the obituary she would most like to have written about her if she died. She realised if she continued on the life path she was on, making a lot of money but on the rat-run of working in London, she would not be the person she wanted to be. So, she quit her job, took up rowing as a serious hobby and rowed single-handedly across not just one ocean, but three. I have no plans to row across any oceans, but I do think about what my priorities are in life, and making money in an office job is not near the top.
If you were told you were going to die soon, what would you do? Walter White’s lasts words to Skyler were, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really . . . I was alive.” Making meth and becoming a super drug-dealer king, probably isn’t on most people’s lists, but Walter’s words, taken out of context, can be thought of as words of wisdom. At least he found something where he felt ‘alive’. Ok, I can’t promote Walter White as a moral person to follow, as Breaking Bad followers know, his morals became distorted to the point of no return. But it was the trigger of being told he only had a few years left that prompted him to do something with his life.
Witnessing others go through life-changing events can really make you think about your own life. Two of my father’s close friends ended up in hospital last year, one from finding out he had a serious form of cancer, the other had a heart problem. It was this realisation that people his age were getting ill which prompted my dad to take early retirement. So for the last three months he has enjoyed going cycling, sailing or walking with his friends, or looking after his elderly parents and his friends who are still sick. And he has every right to enjoy his hard-earned freedom after 33 years as a secondary school teacher. Like the kids write at school, “I’m proud of my father”, because he is living life now, as who knows what might happen in the future.
Being interested in becoming a speech therapist has led me to some interesting books about people recovering from strokes, and regaining their speech, movement and importantly their sense of self. The book “My Year Off” is by British publisher called Robert Crum, and is his account of the year after he had a stroke, he speaks of how it affected him,
‘It is, perhaps, not possible to overestimate the significance of a serious stroke in the life of an average person. It is an event that goes to the core of who and what you are, the You-ness of you. First of all, the event happens in your brain which is, without becoming unduly philosophical the command centre of the self. Your brain is you: your moods, your skills, your character, your intelligence, your emotions, your self-expression, your self. When all that fails, you are left with the question: what was the cause?’
But doctors can’t answer that for sure. Crum came to the conclusion that it had taken place because of ‘a profound internal dissastification with my way of life, my goals and ambition, my achievements such as they were’. This was the only conclusion that Crum accepted as ‘why’ the stroke happened, but he believed it was destined to happen. Blaming catastrophic physical breakdown on our lifestyle choices, is a dangerous opinion to have, and not one I withhold to. Yet I am interested in what happens when a person’s sense of identity is stripped away from them, what do they cling on to?
And bringing this all back to me in Japan, I feel the clock ticking for the time I can spend in this awesome country. This change in me came when the last cohort of Fukui JETs left and their resounding advice to me was to “Enjoy your time here to the full”. It is a truism that “You only appreciate what you have when it is taken away from you.” Friends and memories are probably the best things I’ll go home with from Japan, so I’m investing in making those.
As I accompanied friends to the train station for the last time, and watched them weep with sadness for leaving this beautiful country and their friends here, I made up my mind to spend the next year in Japan experiencing as much as I can and using my time in ways I won’t regret. I could stay a third, fourth or even fifth year on the JET programme, and it is very tempting to do so. This will be the decision I will make in the next couple of months. I’ll keep you posted!