I have one tried and true passion in my life. Something that makes me who I am: Japan. When I was very little I saw my first Ghibli movie, “My Neighbor Totoro,” and it captivated me. I loved their home, their land, the way they did laundry, cooked, took baths, and the mythical creatures that wove through the story. It was so foreign to my young self, so entrancing. Where was this lovely place? I must have watched that movie a billion times. A few years later came the era of 90’s anime. Through this I found out where the wonderful world of Totoro came from and was introduced to their language. The late 90’s brought me imported goods full of the Japanese language and the discovery of the beliefs and customs of these people called Nihonjin. I ate it up.
I learned quite a bit on my own, but what I truly wanted was to experience Japan first hand. I didn’t get the chance until I finally went to college in my late 20’s and took a Japanese language course. My sensei was sweet, open, and a bit hard on me I think. I showed promise in the beginning, knowing far more Japanese than my classmates and she wanted to push me. I appreciated her confidence in my skills and it made me want to work harder. I could see this language unfolding before me and loved that I was allowed to take part in this beautiful dance of syllables. I loved the sound of it, I loved the feel of speaking the sweet cadences. I loved the simple words that carry meanings so deep it would take a full English paragraph to explain. Japan had me.
I loved Japanese but there was something else going on with me that I still don’t really understand. My reaction to school was fairly typical, I was nervous at the beginning and it subsided after a couple days, but not with my Japanese class. The nervousness went on for weeks. It happened again with each new class and intermittently throughout the quarter. I’d talk myself through it and let myself focus on what was in front of me and it would pass. This phenomenon has recently been named, “Rhianon meets Japan.” I’m not sure how else to describe it.
When I got the opportunity to apply for an internship in Japan I jumped on it. I was accepted and given the chance to fulfill my life’s dream. At the time, things weren’t going too well at home and my marriage was beginning it’s death throes. I couldn’t pass it up though, this was bigger for me even than my marriage. Yes, you read that right. It was only 18 days and unless someone was going to die, I was going to Japan. I figured that if my marriage couldn’t survive me fulfilling the biggest dream I had, it wouldn’t be worth trying to keep. So, heart in tangles, I focused on the dream in front of me, ignored my relapse of near-debilitating nervousness brought on by another bout of, “Rhianon meets Japan,” and strove forward.
Japan was amazing! Our first day there we went bowling, and I bowled the best game of my life, nevermind the typhoon that had rolled in. We ate wonderful food, I got to work in a flower shop, we practiced using the little Japanese we had learned up to that point, and toured temples. It’s so beautiful there. It’s an artful collaboration of old and new, east and west. The people are so welcoming and we never felt like a burden. It was the experience of a lifetime!
When I got back to the states I had to confront life again. At first it was wonderful, I had missed my family so much! I felt like I had closed a chapter in my life and decided to change my major from Japanese to nursing. It was as if I had finished what I wanted to do with Japan. Part of me felt a bit sad about that. I know why now. What had really happened was that I had gotten scared and I was running. Being on the other side of the world took my already twisted emotions and imploded them. Suddenly, I was grasping for everything familiar that I could, my failing marriage, the medical community that I had wanted so desperately to get away from, anything. I’m happy to say that I came partly to my senses, ended up finishing my transfer degree, and finally got divorced.
I stopped running from Japan, but things were different. All the stress had left me in a position that couldn’t support my love of the language either mentally or time-wise. Being a single parent takes quite a lot out of you. Having enough of me left for myself became my new dream.
A few years and failed attempts to get my trauma-injured brain to work for me again and I’m finally feeling like I can partition some of myself out to nurture my love again. And again, on the eve of my first encounter with Japan again in a long while, I’m having another episode of “Rhianon meets Japan”-style nervousness. I cannot deny that part of my life will always belong to this incredible country and it’s people. It’s very possible that my destiny is intertwined with them, but my subconscious apparently is trying to tell me something. I wish it’d just spell it out already so we could hash out our differences.
I will say that I’ve encountered some resistance from my family and others around me. Here in America it’s not normal to be so engrossed in another culture, especially one so foreign and one that most people directly associate with the wrong side of WWII and anime (Which is often misinterpreted as children’s cartoon shows and therefore childish. Trust me, you don’t want your kids watching certain types of anime.). My family has gradually grown to accept my interest and slightly altered style of living, but it left a mark. I got the point, I’m weird. I should be eating steak and watching football, not studying language, eating mochi, and using chopsticks. My “you’re in trouble” voice with my kids should not come out in Japanese. I’m an odd American.
So, one would think that I would embrace Japan without hesitation. It’s obviously not going to stop being part of my life. Instead, I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’ll get lost somewhere in the middle, America already thinks I’m weird, what if Japan does too? I suppose the urge to belong is also characteristic of the Japanese. Besides, I was embraced before, I shouldn’t fear, I’ll be embraced again. Still, I’m nervous.
I have to confront this, take my stand. I’m making the decision to go boldly forward with my life and my passions. I won’t cower and run again. I’ll fight the fears in my life in order to have the life I want, not the life that I settle for. It’s uncomfortable. I hate the nervous feeling, but I’ll take it as my internal dowsing rod that seeks out my future. If my subconscious is telling me that scary things are ahead, that means new experiences, and new experiences are what I’m seeking in life. So, bring on the scary and never fall for your own deception. Your body wants to protect itself, but being in a padded, adventure-proof life only kills you slower.