Hey gang. As I begin writing, it’s the 20th of August, which means I’ve been in Japan for 23 days, and I’ve officially been a citizen of Omura-shi for 20 days. I’m no stranger to relocating so the process of moving hasn’t really been traumatic for me since a very young age. I barely remember the first time my family moved across provinces as I was only 3 going on 4 years old, but I do remember that having to move (from a place I had come to love – I miss you Witbank!) just 3 short years after arriving, shaped me into the person I am today: One that’s not too phased about leaving everything behind to start afresh.
We moved 2 more times as a family after that and I probably moved 4 times on my own during my student and early employment years. During all of those times, I developed some habits that helped me get settled better. So today, as a self-confessed introvert, I thought I’d share these because they have really helped me push out of my comfort zone and make significant connections with my area.
1) Take a walk
Perhaps my favourite of all my coping mechanisms when I move to a new area! I love just walking around and getting my body familiarised with the new space that it has to fill. So I pop on my walking shoes, pick a general direction on Google maps before I leave, and then set out. Usually, I cap the distance I walk heading away from my house to 30 minutes so as not to get overwhelmed or too lost on my way back. That 1 hour of walking does wonders for teaching you about your area, your neighbours, the way people drive, the general rules of walking on the sidewalks, the general rules of cycling on the sidewalk, the general mood of your area, the quickest routes to places, and so much more.
2) Go shopping
Disclaimer: I hate shopping. So that’s why I usually make this one of my first and most frequent trips in any new area. Reverse psychology. Japan has proven to be a tricky place to shop because of the language barrier and the downright bizarre till point traditions (we’ll chat about this one day). In South Africa, the most anxiety-inducing thing about shopping for me was the prospect of having the person behind me in line feel the need to stand so close to me that I could hear the sound of our unborn children running around in our non-existent garden.
In Japan, it’s a whole different ball game. You won’t have strangers standing uncomfortably close but all the labels are in Kana and Kanji, meaning almost nothing makes sense to the average English speaker. Taking frequent trips to the store is really helping me to learn to identify food by sight and helping me to improve my reading abilities (this is more subconscious than anything else). The downside to this type of adjustment method is that it literally costs you money (Unless you are a shameless human who relishes the prospect of stomping through someones shop teasingly but walking out with nothing in hand).
3) Go somewhere far away
The best way to make your new home feel homelier is to go on an excursion to somewhere far away. Preferably this should be somewhere where you are unlikely to visit too often. A few of my fellow ALTs and I decided to go to the next town on our own on our first weekend together and it was great. Getting ourselves to Nagasaki City via the bus system was a bit of a challenge and using Maps to explore the city made us really feel like visitors. Later that day when we finally got dropped off back in Omura City, it was comforting to be able to walk home without needing any assistance from Maps. There’s nothing like going to an unfamiliar space to make your new home actually feel like home
4) Talk to strangers
During all the above, especially here in Japan, you are very likely to bump into a stranger who is interested in talking to a foreigner. Do try to fight the urge to run 100km in the opposite direction. If like me, having to deal with humans sparks a queazy pit in your belly, I encourage you to ignore that feeling, put on your best smile and go along with it. I remember in Tokyo, after a night of exploring, a friend and I came across a couple who were lost. They were engaged in an attempt to get help from one of the locals who didn’t seem to understand any of what they were trying to say. My friend and I overheard them mention our hotel, and we decided to help them get back. The exchange that followed was enlightening. I love talking to strangers, they always carry a slice of life with them that is great to hear about. Collecting these snippets and stories is becoming somewhat of a hobby now. They give me a grander view of the world.
Locally, I usually run into friendly older people all the time who are keen to find out where I’m from and how long I’ll be around. The most memorable and recent is a man I met who was training for the upcoming marathon. After hearing his story, I sort of became jealous of this man’s ability to run up hills without breaking his stride, but in a way, he also inspired me to keep pushing till I reach his level of fitness.
5) Be a tourist
Finally, I’ve found the best way to acclimate to a new environment is to become a tourist. Google all your towns top tourist spots and visit them. There’s nothing like getting a history lesson about your town to give you a better perspective of why your town is the way that it is today. On my third day in Omura, I visited Omura park, and even though I could barely understand any of the Japanese signage, I enjoyed taking in the sights of the old castle grounds and ending off my day with a breathtaking view of the sunset.
I hope these tips might encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and get to know your area too. It’s easier to call a place home when you actively make it your home. Chat later guys.