Tuesday 12 February 2013

I think I'm turning Japanese*

I’ve just come back from Japan’s deep south – the Okinawa islands, to be precise – and, after less than a week there, I’m now “homesick” for all things Japanese.

Tropical Japan - that is, Okinawa
Many blue moons ago, I lived in Miyazaki, in southern Kyushu, for a year and a half, teaching English (what else?) and surfing, and felt so at ease there I often wondered if I was Japanese inside. 

I certainly wasn't Japanese on the outside - I'd be reminded of that whenever my Japanese friends took a photo of us together. Who was that blonde-haired-blue-eyed gaijin (foreigner) amid the dark hair and dark eyes? So that's why all the neighbourhood kids stared at me every time I rode my bike to the supermarket.

Even so, it happened again on this visit – I felt so at home there. Maybe I am Japanese on the inside. Here’s why. I love...

  • Taking off my shoes to go indoors, and padding about in socks or bare feet on tatami mats. And I love those shoji paper screens in old houses.
  • Kewpie mayonnaise (when I was little I longed for a Kewpie doll, don’t ask me why. Now I can look at one every day on the cute squeeze-me Kewpie mayo bottle).
  • In fact all Japanese food. Rice, soba, sashimi, okinomiyaki (Osaka pancake), teriyaki whatever, you name it.
  • Sitting on the floor, at low tables (after living in Japan, I actually made a desk for myself out of a wooden door, which I sanded and varnished and stacked on four milk crates, so I could kneel at my laptop; it was more comfortable than sitting in a chair – until my knees started hurting. I still use the same door/desk, with an ergonomic chair).
  • Being quiet and appreciating simple things like the changing colours of autumn leaves or a pair of chopsticks resting on a bowl. Japanese attention to detail is second to none.
  • People seem so considerate of each other, which makes daily life so easy. That attitude of humility extends into service too: last week, in Okinawa, I bought a chocolate bar in a convenience store; the lady behind the counter bowed deeply and said a solemn "arigato gozaimashita" (thank you very much). That's Japan.
  • Simple beauty
  • How safe it is there – when I lived in Miyazaki, the postman used to put our letters on the step inside our front door (!), and my flatmate and I didn’t even have a key to the house.

A small disclaimer – most of my experiences of Japan have been outside the megacities of Tokyo and Osaka, in Miyazaki, Hokkaido and now Okinawa. So maybe I'm a country Japanese person on the inside.

Of course there are things I don’t like about Japan. But let's not confuse the actions of a few (politicians, whale-hunters) with the daily lives of many. And nowhere is perfect. Even in Okinawa this time, I kept wondering how much energy could be saved if they didn’t have heated toilet seats or use disposable wooden chopsticks.

Not the Hawkesbury River, NSW -
a lake in northern Okinawa
But there's a strong love and respect for nature too - not surprising when you consider that Japan is one of the most volatile countries on earth, with its volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons.

In Okinawa I saw beautiful beaches and untouched forests, met a young couple running a "slow farm" and spent a morning in a conservation area that takes up pretty much the top quarter of Okinawa's main island. Stay tuned for a proper Okinawa post soon.

Mata ne! (See you later, in Japanese)

*Inspired by SheGoes blogger, Emma Gardiner, and her “I want to be Italian” post. Thanks, Em!


  1. Oh Lou-la, I think that you heart is Japanese because what you describe/love is so you! Humility, respect for nature, love of quiet and consideration of other people... I can't wait to visit Japan because I am sure it will remind me of you!

  2. Dear Em-la, thanks so much for the kind words, and enjoy your trip over there (want to stow me away?) You'll love the cherry blossoms, the onsen, Kyoto, the cobbled streets, and its kookiness (hello, Hello Kitty!).