Tokyo — no longer a dream

Hello from Narita International Airport! I’m currently writing this blog post from the nicely leather padded seats of Gate 43 as I (somewhat) patiently wait for boarding. Holy shit, it’s over. I’m finally saying goodbye to this kooky, amazing, out-of-this world country I called home for the last few months. It’s sad to put this journey behind me but I’m honestly quite relieved.

You’ve definitely seen me bombarding social media with posts of the hectic Shibuya crossing, the overpriced but beautifully packaged fruit, the stunning skyline with Tokyo Tower in the background, or the countless bowls of ramen I ate. My summer looked pretty awesome, didn’t it? What you didn’t see were the days where I locked myself in my shoebox of a room watching reruns of Gossip Girl until dinner to avoid the heat or desperately calling my best friend in the middle of the night back home, fully knowing that she was asleep. Things weren’t as easy and rose-y as I had imagined it to be.

The first few weeks living in Tokyo were absolutely amazing. I was running around like a Type A tourist wanting to see everything. It was surreal; I couldn’t believe I was actually here. That feeling started to disappear around week 4 and soon, anxiety, loneliness, and frustration started kicking in. It was not how I imagined my ~glamorous~ summer in one of the best cities in the world.

The Sound of My Own Voice

I missed it. There was a week and a half where the only conversations I had were with my boyfriend, on Facetime for 20 minutes a day, while he was getting ready for work. It sounds pretty pathetic but there was no one around. My internship had ended, I was done travelling and everyone I knew had already left Japan. My neighbors spoke Russian and had their own posse. Never had I ever craved human contact this much, even small talk with the seven-11 cashier would suffice.

It was a strange feeling to be so alone in one of the most populated cities in the world. But it did challenge my ability to be independent and forced me to be okay with the silence.

Ugly Crying in the Street

Yeah, it was pretty embarrassing. One afternoon, in the middle of the workweek, I found myself racing through a busy street with tears streaming down my face. Unfortunately, I only discovered magical waterproof mascara from Japan a month later so I looked like a walking disaster. What made it worse was that I was in Japan. People do not show this much emotion in public or raise their voices this loud. I was on the phone with one of the other fellows, explaining a really difficult situation I just got myself out of.

Here’s the backstory. I was interning at a start up that I had found after months of cold-emailing companies in Asia. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most welcoming. For weeks, I had faced micro-aggressions on the daily because I was a woman. But, I just fought through it because it was only a summer internship and the work culture was different than back home. But let’s just say shit got real heated at work one day and I no longer felt comfortable working at an office where almost all the men didn’t believe in gender equality. I quit the next day and had to find another job in Japan. It was hard going through something like this in a foreign country, alone and away from my support system.

It was eye-opening. Even though there are so many problems that we have to deal with back in Canada, we are still having conversations back home that are decades ahead of other parts of the world.

Sweating It Out

I’m not sure if you’ve heard this on the news or not but Japan had one of its record-breaking summers. For weeks, there was not a single day where the temperature dropped below 35C. Imagine walking out of a seven-11 with a Matcha flavoured Kit Kat only to realize it’s now matcha soup within seconds of facing the heat. The heat wave was so brutal that I felt ill staying outside longer than 10 minutes.

Abi, another 2018 fellow, and I got a Japan Rail pass and explored other cities in Japan. We were in Osaka on a day that was 41C (before humidity). I had only eaten a steamed bao for breakfast and I finished my bottle of water. We were heading out of Osaka Castle towards the subway and Abi was walking 15m ahead of me. I had to stop at every intersection because I was starting to see stars. It was the horrible combination of the lack of energy, dehydration, and the blaring 12pm sun over my head that was making me feel the weakest I have felt in a long time. Abi had to drag me to the closest seven-11 that was 900 meters away. That felt like an hour long journey.

Abi and I at Osaka Castle

I became more accustomed to heat the longer I stayed in Japan but boy, that was rough. It affected my mood, my energy level, and my willingness to explore Tokyo.

To leave this on a positive note: It wasn’t easy, but it was a hundred, thousand percent worth it. This summer threw so many curveballs at me. I couldn’t just go home if things got tough. I had to just figure it out. Japan made me tougher. And now, I feel so much more confident in facing similar obstacles in the future.