Taking stock of the past three years I ask myself if Tokyo is a source of fear or wonder?
The unlikely or even unimaginable events and developments in Japan, the United States and around the world that have run in parallel with move to Japan have caused anxiety, upset my plans and altered expectations of life in Japan.
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic and forced isolation has complicated my transition. It’s continued presence in Japan has restricted activities and resulted in a struggling economy.
The events and news from the United States has saddened and worried me. I was deeply troubled by the attack on Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. I had never imagined that I would find America in such a sad state of affairs. Socially fragmented and politically adrift, it seems to me that the America that I believed it to be is no longer the America that exists.
Finally, I cannot escape the unsettling state of world affairs, from the war in Ukraine to the extreme weather resulting from climate change, with the potential implications for living in Japan.
In response, I have adopted an academic non-emotional approach to world events that has kept me engaged with the world while enhancing my intellect and limiting feelings of depression.
All in, the new “normal” is far from what I had anticipated when I arrived in Tokyo three years ago.
Today, I am a stranger in Japan, invisible in an unknown world that surrounds me, at times feeling uneasy and apprehensive.
After three years, I am getting my bearings and feeling more at home. I find things interesting and am beginning to appreciate and understand the subtle rules governing life in Japan.
However, my deficient language skill is clearly a major handicap. I confess to having an intellectual disability that prevents me from improving my use of Japanese. The deficiency makes many social interactions a stomach-churning, anxiety-filled experience. Fortunately, I am generally unaffected by the distracting rush of Tokyo life and most of the Japanese I encounter avoid me without making it too obvious.
My life is a well-ordered peaceful routine and, except for some petty frustrations, little happens to disrupt it. Keiko is my life-line and Toma remains my most loyal and comforting companion. I have very few English-speaking foreign or Japanese friends.
I struggle to forge an identity for myself given the somewhat precarious nature of my life in Japan.
The imposed isolation of the COVID pandemic made it easy for me to create my own self-contained world where it is possible for me to wander around somewhat indifferent to the real world that surrounds me.
I had pictured a new and challenging life adventure on my arrival in Japan. Given the good, the bad, and the ugly of the past three years …. reality has far exceeded my expectations!
Through it all I remain safe, healthy, happy and focused on the future.
I enjoy strolling quietly through Tokyo, observing all around me. As I get older, and more aware that my time on earth is finite, I now appreciate ordinary experiences and the amount of joy and contentment they produce. I’ve come to see the wisdom in not just seeking but finding joy in the mundane, in the unremarkable, even in the frankly boring. I have learned to appreciate the moment.
I remain active. A sports club membership, tennis lessons and play with a group of tennis friends, golf practice facilities and a senior friendly (affordable) golf course, cycling, and a disciplined fitness walk routine help keep me physically fit. Along with excellent medical care, a weekly Japanese massage appointment and regular hot spring bathing help keep me in good health.
Once in a while, I will sip some sake and slip gently into a contended state; far from drunk, but not totally clear headed either. I become agreeably mellow, achieving a more relaxed manner that enables me to enjoy the evening with a degree of pleasure.
I am finally comfortable with the notion of “retirement” – though I still reject use of the term. When I now look at myself in a mirror, I no longer see a face and eyes reflecting feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, jealousy, regret, anger, sadness and bitterness.
It is amazing what a difference it makes to wake up in the morning feeling-engaged with life and the world, rather than slowly retreating from both.