What’s it like returning home after two years in Japan?
For the first week, it’s exhausting. Physically; the jet lag hangs around like a week-long hangover. Mentally; you get a huge shock every time you think you’ve left Japan and are now in your home country for good. Culturally; you see your country through the eyes of the Japanese; beautiful gardens and countryside, cool weather but the streets are filthy and everything seems to be a bit backwards (the Tube, shops close just when you want to go shopping and no vending machines anywhere!)
The term ‘culture shock’ exaggerates the real experience when you return home, but there are certain things that seem so different. For me, I couldn’t believe that people walk in their houses with their shoes on, the lack of recycling facilities and the variable customer service. Very different from Japan where you can guarantee impeccable, but almost robotic service, anywhere you go.
What’s amazing, is how quickly you adjust to your old habits. Two years of Japanese etiquette can be reversed by two weeks at home. Before I knew it I was already walking in the house with my shoes on, not feeling so guilty as to not recycling PET bottles and I was washing in the bath tub. Things I vowed to my host mother in Japan I’d never do.
The third week is when I had a major freakout. I’d been clothes shopping, had a much-needed hair-cut and visited relatives and friends whom I hadn’t seen for the last two years. My to-do list was shortening and I was left looking at my empty calendar, with nothing in it apart from a dentist check-up in July 2015. The feeling of liberation was a mix of endless possibilities and daunting big question marks. What am I going to do with my life?!
Sunday I thought I’d write a book about my time in Japan, it can’t be that hard can it? But that would definitely mean living at home, with my parents, in a tiny village with no social life. Maybe not.
Monday Why not inter-rail around Europe? Well that’s a brilliant way to spend your hard-earned yen from Japan, and you’d be back in a month with the same problem just penniless.
Tuesday I’ll do a yoga instructor course in India and connect with my inner self. Really? The last yoga session I went to was told I had overextending arms and I fell asleep in the relaxation part. That doesn’t bode well for a wanna-be yoga guru.
Wednesday Well I’ll just see if there’s any jobs out there…
To my surprise a job position that I’d seen a few months ago and written the application form for, was still there. The position was a Travel Consultant for a Japan-specialist travel company, perfect for someone whose lived in Japan and has travelled extensively there…like me! I emailed and asked if it really was still open for applications. It was, but I only had two days!
Thursday Completed CV, cover letter and application form.
Friday I had a Skype interview and asked “What have I learnt from two years in Japan?”, “Will you make a good sales person?” and “How’s your mental arithmetic?” I stumbled through the questions and with some stroke of luck was asked for a real interview the following week.
The interview in the company’s office in Bristol, a lively city in the south-west of England famous for hot-air balloons, beer festivals and brightly coloured terraced houses. The hour and a half interview involved a telephone interview with a lady in Japanese. That was terrifying. But somehow I got through it and on the way home on the train I received an email saying I’d got the job! I was so excited I nearly blurted it out to the whole carriage!
So here I am, a month after returning from Japan about to start a new job and moving to a new city. I know I have been so fortunate in getting a job, and especially one that combines my love of Japan and of travelling. I didn’t have a plan when I left Japan, only a few ideas and an open mind, and somehow I knew everything would turn out ok. Well, tomorrow is my first day at my new job. Wish me luck!