(Hi! This is the first in a semi-regular series of posts on my life in Japan. Loads of people are already making blogs/vlogs about Japan, but most of that’s either (a) flashy Japanese travel stuff, or (b) incredibly depressing ‘everyday Japanese life’ GoPro vlogs where the person does nothing but walk around a 7-11 and talk about how much they hate their job.
So I decided to make something of my own – something that’s neither flashy travel stuff, nor depressing (hopefully), but instead an honest, middling-to-moderately funny look at some aspects of living in Japan that don’t usually get much attention.
Also, some background for anyone who doesn’t know me all that well: I live in Japan, working as an interpreter. I have a wife (who’s Japanese), and we’ve been living together for a few years now. Okay, here we go!)
Recently my wife left for Paris on a three month business trip, meaning I’m currently living alone for the first time in years.
Before you roll your eyes – don’t worry, this post isn’t going to be one of those stories like: “man left to own devices by wife, immediately reverts to eating takeout pizza standing over the sink, accidentally burns house down trying to do laundry”.
I can take care of myself, on account of being a big, grown-up boy, and I’m actually the household cook (a fact which absolutely blows the minds of 90% of Japanese people I meet, because (due to a mysterious time anomaly) Japanese gender norms are forever trapped in the 1950s).
So I’m fine living alone for a few months (if you’re wondering: yes, of course I miss my wife (and if you’re my wife reading this: yes, of course I miss her so much all the time I can’t live without her)).
But a few days before she left we went to see her family, and my mother-in-law seemed very worried about me being left all by myself. She even invited me to come round and have dinner with them sometime while my wife is away. I like to think I’ve made a pretty good impression on her (she likes my weird, foreign cooking), but she still seemed worried about me (either she was just being motherly, or she wasn’t 100% convinced that I wasn’t going to turn into some kind of feral, trash-eating dog man the moment my wife was gone).
I have a good relationship with my in-laws, and I was very happy to be invited, but honestly the thought of going there without my wife filled me with a hefty serving of dread: not only would I have to make conversation all afternoon, I’d have to do it in Japanese, and all without my wife to help me out.
Now, I should stop and emphasise this point again: I’m an interpreter. My job involves me standing around all day talking to people in Japanese. Speaking Japanese is literally something I’m good enough that I get paid to do it. So of course I can speak to my in-laws in Japanese.
But there’s this weird thing about anxiety – reality is only relevant when it’s giving you a reason to be anxious.
You’ve been learning Japanese for a little while and now you have to speak to some Japanese people? Better get really anxious about it. It’s years later, and you’ve spoken Japanese countless times in countless different personal and professional contexts? Well, that’s all well and good, but what about a slightly different context? Better get really anxious about it all over again.
My wife was a little embarrassed that her mum invited me round, and said she was probably just being polite – that I didn’t have to go see them. But I kind of wanted to (I obviously didn’t want to, but you know what I mean). I mean, her family is now my family, and I should make the effort to build as good a relationship with them as I can.
So a couple of weeks after my wife left, I went round to see my in-laws for the afternoon. I didn’t commit any terrible faux pas. I didn’t accidentally insult my mother-in-law’s cooking or burn their house down, or recreate that Fawlty Towers episode and repeatedly bring up the Nanjing Massacre.
Instead, I stayed for a few hours, had dinner, chatted for a bit, and then went home. Oh, and I helped out with some farming in my mother-in-law’s vegetable garden. Which I managed just fine, thank you.
It isn’t a particularly fascinating or life-changing story (sorry), it kind of meant a lot to me.
It gave me more confidence speaking and being friendly with my in-laws – people who are going to be part of my life for the rest of my life. And it gave me more confidence in my Japanese abilities (even though I know I’m just going to find something else to get anxious about in the future).
Learning a language (at least for me) generally takes the form of a steady grind where I barely notice any improvement – at one point I’ll think: “Man, I’m struggling to talk about the weather”, and then three years later I’ll think: “Man, I’m struggling to talk about Brexit” And in both cases I’ll feel like an absolute dipshit who can’t speak at all.
But occasionally there’ll be a moment – this afternoon with my in-laws being a great example – where all of a sudden I look back at where I used to be, look at where I am now, and see how far I’ve come. All through hard work and perseverance, and
a lifelong drive to play all those cool Japanese PS2 games I read about as a kid, but that were never brought over to the UK a desire to learn more about high-brow aspects of Japanese culture like haiku and ikebana.
Also, my wife was very happy I made the effort and spent time with her family while she was away. And It’s always nice to get brownie points.
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