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Going Through the Levels

Hello friends, and welcome to my blog. This is the first blog post I have ever written.

I’m very happy to be able to talk to you, and to express my gratitude to everyone who has helped me along the way – my family, my Japanese neighbors, my social media friends. I’d like to thank everyone, in fact, I have ever come in contact with. I have learned valuable lessons from each of you. Some of them are still percolating inside my brain! I hope to meet and learn from others via this blog, and I hope I give you some things to think about too.  

I intend to touch on many subjects in this blog. Aside from observations of Japan and my place in it, I’m interested in many things. You already know, if you have checked out this website, that I am a published author. I am also a spiritual seeker, and have been involved in several different disciplines. In addition, I’m an artist, and I love doing things with my hands (all kinds of handwork, but most recently stained glass). I hope to share my creations with you, and my feelings about creativity, which is a subject dear to my heart, in the course of writing this blog. I also keep a garden, which will also probably turn up in these writings as it provides a lot of my daily headaches and joys! Other interests are the natural world and the environment, literature, movies and music.

My life situation is this: I live in a rural community about an hour southeast of the large lake in the middle of Japan. The area is mainly agricultural with a strong historical background. My house is 350 years old (the original structure) and one-story, spread out, and includes both formal gardens and a vegetable field. I’m retired from teaching English at a local university, married with two grown and married sons, and three grandchildren.

In this first blog, I’m going to talk about my situation as a long-term resident of Japan. This is a country where there is a big gap between people who consider themselves “Japanese” and everyone else. As a person born outside Japan, with no Japanese blood, I definitely belong to the second group. Living here has required me to make changes in my behavior and thinking to fit in with the locals.

Like many people who live in foreign countries, my involvement has gone through several levels. The first I would call the “Communication” level: learning how to talk to people around me and, even more important, how to understand what they are saying (or not saying). I arrived in this community at a time of great transition from the postwar to the modern mentality. My “upbringing” to make me into a bona fide social member was quite strict and traditional, due to my mother-in-law, who treated me more like an adopted daughter than like her son’s wife – understandably, as I really had to be taught everything from the ground up. Because of this, I missed the chance to connect with people my own age. I was trying to be traditional while they were trying to be modern. I did speak Japanese when I came here, but this was a mixed blessing – naturally enough, people around me heard my Japanese and assumed I understood a lot of nuances underlying the words, and were surprised when I didn’t. So the communication level took years to graduate from, and I’m not anywhere near perfect even after almost 40 years.

The second level I would call the “Assimilation” level. For years I tried to transfer the things I learned from communicating with my in-laws and neighbors into my psyche, in order to blend in and do what was required. This is what assimilation is, a kind of altering or tweaking of the psyche in order to adapt to the surroundings. I assimilated the mores and requirements of Japanese rural culture into myself at the same time as they were, as best they could, assimilating me into their culture. I was the only non-Japanese person for miles around when I first came here. I’m sure my neighbors were curious about me, but unfortunately, my energies weren’t so much geared toward showing them what a foreigner could be as toward showing them how “Japanese” I could be. I thought of this as a matter of acceptance and survival – it certainly was in my house and family. Later I found out my neighbors had been “throwing me up” to their own daughters-in-law – “Why can’t you be more like Rebecca-san?” This didn’t result in my becoming hugely popular, as you can imagine. For years my best friends among the neighbors were people of my mother-in-law’s generation. Under her thumb, I didn’t feel I could show my real self to the people around me, and I was praised for my efforts to assimilate, rather than being asked questions about my otherly nature. I kept that firmly under wraps for the first fifteen years or so I lived here.

The third level is the “Recovery” level, where I am today. I’m recovering the self I put on hold while I was doing the work of communicating and assimilating. I have been the custodian of my house, and its social representative, since my mother-in-law passed away 20 years ago. During that time, I have gradually mustered the courage to be, in public, not a would-be Japanese, but the person I actually am. I’m sure I could have done this a long time ago, but I am a shy person, and I needed courage and also validation from others to take this step. I’m still in the process, but this website and blog are two important proofs that I am feeling more empowered to show my real self these days.

How have I managed to go about recovering my original self? With a lot of help. My husband has always supported my efforts to grow and try new things. Many people encouraged me to write and draw and paint, and I got wonderful connections and help every step of the way. Of course, I am not going back to the person I was when I first came to Japan on April 10, 1978. During the three stages, I have been growing and learning about life through the lens of living in another country. Assimilating into Japan has made me wise in some ways, and the recovery process has made me wise in others. It’s all good.

So, welcome to this blog and to my website. I intend to write at least every two weeks and I hope you will follow me on my journey. And please, contact me or make comments. Looking forward to knowing you.    

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