Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hello, and an update, and then goodbye again...

Hello to any of my readers who are following this blog in a way which informs them of new posts. I closed the door on this blog two and a half years ago as I felt I was finished talking about Japan. I am finished talking about Japan, at least for the most part.

I decided to start blogging about Japanese snacks on a limited basis on my other blog (Japanese Snack Reviews) and that created a sense of nostalgia for this process. I also felt that, were I a reader of a blog like mine, I'd want to know what became of the writer. When I stopped writing, my husband and I were still in a state of transition in the United States. In fact, I was in a very, very bad place when I decided I was finished.

Returning to the U.S. has been far harder than either my husband or I expected in terms of adjustment. Many Americans, having lived within this system and been the proverbial frog in the frying pan when social changes occurred, can't see things from any other perspective. Having been in Japan for so long, we see it as a cold, hard, angry, sad, and often mercenary place relatively speaking. I'm not saying every single person is like that, but the culture on the whole is very different compared to Japan. This is part of the disjoint agency that I once wrote about, and I understand it, but that doesn't make it easy to live with.

For three and a half of the five years we've been back in the U.S., I regretted that we made the choice that we did and longed to go back to Japan - but I always knew leaving was the "right" choice. The hardships we endured sent me into a deep state of depression as we found career changing expensive and difficult. My husband went to graduate school and got a Master's degree in clinical psychology without issue (though with a $56,000 tuition price tag), but that was just one part of a multi-step process to becoming a licensed therapist. As we drained our savings, he worked 2,800 hours for free as an interm before finding a paid internship in a remote rural location. He finished his 3,000 hours to qualify to take the licensure exams and that was step two in the long process.

Prior to returning, I had no idea that there were so many exploitative situations in which people worked for free in order to acquire enough experience to later get a paying job. It's stunningly common and is part of what is gutting economic stability for millenials. While we are first wave Generation X'ers (or the last gasp of Baby Boomers depending on when you draw the line), he had to go through the same process of recent college graduates who are far younger because he was making a complete career change with no contacts or experience in his new field, at least not in the U.S. I will note that he did volunteer for TELL in Japan and put in 100 hours of time taking crisis calls for them. This experience was personally enriching and educational, but meant nothing back home in terms of work or school. No one in America sees experience in Japan as "real" as they can't relate to it or verify its authenticity.

This was the day we moved to our current place. Five packages were already waiting for me before we'd transferred a single item from the U-Haul to our latest "new home."

While my husband worked for free, I have spent a lot of my time since returning writing reviews, but not for blogs. I stumbled into the world of "incentivized reviews" almost by accident and spent about two and a half years being bombarded by parcels and writing reviews for them for Amazon. That stopped in early October of 2016 when Amazon outlawed the practice and started banning anyone who did it from writing reviews ever. To be honest, by the time Amazon did that, I was more than ready to stop and was grateful that they forced me to do so since it was hard to say no to all of those "freebies." I was getting up to 20 packages and products per week and it was actual work and not a fun hobby.

One of the good things about the time I spent doing those reviews was that it helped us rebuild our household after abandoning nearly every practical item that we had in Japan. No small amount of my kitchen is filled with utensils, dishes, pans, and even small appliances that I earned in exchange for reviews I wrote and other practical items I bartered my writing talent to populate my daily life. I also received small electronics and it helped push me to learn new things that I wouldn't have had the spare money to purchase given that neither my husband nor I had paying jobs during much of that time.

I think the process of evaluating and testing those items helped carry me a bit more fully into the present in America by motivating me to figure out and use things like Android TV boxes and security cameras - items I'd never experienced in Japan as they don't fit the life there as much. That being said, though I know how to use a smart phone, I resist owning one to this day. That is something that hasn't changed compared to life in Japan.

Besides that writing, and being depressed - something which takes away time by sucking away your energy and ability to do things - I made a few efforts to take part in volunteer gigs. The first one was an ESL conversation club in the Bay Area that I did for about a month. I found it hard to continue because it was geared more toward allowing the privileged volunteer teachers to amuse themselves than to teach the students. After teaching for so many years and prioritizing the students' needs, it was just too difficult for me to sit with. I also tried volunteering at a library, but that was not the right fit for me. I intend to pursue other options in the future, but find myself too busy at present.

I applied for a few jobs as well, of course, but ran up against the same problems I mentioned before. The job market in the U.S. is so tough that you need experience to get a job, but you can't get experience without a job unless you're willing to put in a lot of hours for free or have connections. I have experience, but it was abroad and didn't "count". I applied for ESL jobs that I was perfect for, and didn't even get an interview. I applied for social service jobs that I would have been great at, but did not get the jobs because the last time I did that type of work was in 1989 and my Bachelor's degree doesn't mean much in the current environment.

One of the things that has happened since I returned was that my former boss passed away somewhat suddenly from lung cancer. I worked with him in the office for 12 years and was friends with him for nearly 20 and it was a devastating loss on two fronts. I miss him as a person, but also I realized that he was the only superior I'd had who was a native English speaker who could provide a testimonial about what sort of worker I was. When he died, I not only lost a friend, but I also lost the only person in Japan who could serve as a credible reference to people in the U.S. I felt like I not only lost him, but a piece of who I was vanished as well. I am now the proverbial tree that fell in the woods with no one around to hear it.

So, these days, I am a housewife who writes, reads science and psychology journal articles, and listens to university lectures on YouTube a lot. I favor Robert Sapolsky's Stanford lectures on neurobiology and psychology, but there are also some great offerings from Berkeley and Yale that I enjoy. I have continually studied psychology since my sophomore year of college and studied everything my husband did when he prepared for his licensure exams. I can't say I'd pass those tests, but I can say I'd have a fair shot at it without doing further study. However, I don't really want to be a therapist and I definitely don't want to do the internship hours required - at least not at this time.

I have availed myself of the plethora of ethnic ingredients that are available here that were hard or expensive to locate in Japan. My cooking game has dramatically improved and I favor complex Indian or Hispanic dishes. I've also tried my hand at Japanese food, though mainly steam cakes (failed at that), cotton cheesecake (enormously successful), and chicken katsu (pretty decent). Given how often restaurants here are mediocre or poor quality, cooking for myself is often the best way to get good quality food. Also, it's often the only way to escape the limited menu options that cater to conservative tastes in many cases. I'm so tired of places that only offer burgers, pizza, steak, chicken, and sandwiches. Even places with a more complex tone will dumb down their cuisine in ways that gives it all the same taste and presentation. I seriously miss the quality of restaurants in Japan, even the lower-level ones.

My husband and I still like to take "sojourns" to new places as we once did in Japan, but find it a lot less fulfilling here. The main reason for this is that America is so sprawling that you need more time to go to unique and interesting places. Also, everything is so geared toward making as much money as possible that most businesses are distilled down to suit the masses rather than to offer novelty. In Japan, everyone liked new things and there were plenty of interesting old things as well. The shopping streets (shotengai) offered a dense concentration of shops per mile as well. Here, you have to work much harder to find a lot less. We still try, but our expectations have undergone a radical adjustment.

There's a wee bit more snow here than in Tokyo... 

I'm happy to say that I'm no longer depressed, though it did take over a year to recover from my worst state about a year and a half ago. My husband and I moved seven times in the five years that we have been back and the last move was out of the Bay Area (which has a culture which I find hard to tolerate) into rural California. The last move ended a lot of environmental issues that were creating my depression by putting us into a different situation and secluding us from some of the harder to tolerate aspects of American culture.

The last move not only brought economic stability, but the peace that was sadly lacking when we were in a more urban setting. One point that has been repeatedly and dramatically brought home is that it's infinitely easier to live in a densely populated city in Japan than the U.S. For the most part, Japanese people go out of their way to get along and not trouble each other. In America, in general, people do whatever they want and don't care about their neighbors' quality of life and how it is impacted by how intrusive they can be. One of the reasons people build walls and fences and live on large plots of land is that they need a buffer from one another. Everyone talks about rights to do what they want. No one talks about responsibilities toward others. This is a harsh situation that you live with when you are in an apartment here that I didn't know about because I had lived in houses when I was in the U.S. before.

Before we left Japan and while we lived in the Bay Area, I had a simple dream. That dream was that my husband and I would live in some nice, very small house with a cat while my husband did the job he wanted to do. That house would be somewhere in which we could take the occasional walk among nice, natural areas. That dream was one that we couldn't have in Japan and seemed utterly out of reach in the insane housing market in Silicon Valley. I am happy to say that my husband passed his tests to become a licensed therapist (so he is now a true professional and holds that status), has a full-time job that pays comfortably (at least as long as we live our simple lifestyle - which we always have), and that we live in a one-bedroom cottage in an area surrounded by natural beauty with an eight-year-old cat that we adopted last September from a shelter.

She's not that sweet, really. I nicknamed her "der Hoggenkatten" because she's a pig and it's funnier if you make it sound like German. Still, we're happy with her. 

It was not a big dream, but I'm not a person who needs fame or fortune. I just need peace and personal growth, and I had that by the time we left Japan. I lost it completely when we left, but now it is back again. It has been an incredibly hard five years, but it has finally settled down and gotten easier. I love a happy ending, especially when it is mine.