i really don`t want to write a blog about a foreign country. the reason is pretty simple, when i first came to japan in 2006 everything i observed was different. different than i imagined, different than the country i left behind, and from there on in, increasingly different than i had first interpreted. it took me a while to realize that coming to japan was much like the three blind men feeling up the elephant. to me, the soft spot at the back part of the knee i landed on was the big picture, the paradigm, the objectively observed truth writ large that was this new country i`d stumbled into. after eight years and living in four different cities and three different prefectures here and having travelled extensively around, i know now without reservation, that i don`t have a clue about what japan is like. i`m no expert at all! the first time i went to tokyo (besides transiting through the airports) was eight years after i first became a resident of the country tokyo is the capital of. i felt as if i had gone to a different and slightly terrifying country. i`d felt more at home and ease on three and four day vacations in bangkok and bali without a peep in either language and a pocket full of strange coins than i felt walking to my hotel in shinjuku.
photos : tokyo
i also don`t know anything about my home country. the reason for this is also simple. i`ve been gone so long i forget what it is like. despite having had returned for two years, i still couldn`t figure it back out, it had changed too much. and i had changed too much. we had a new prime minister who`d been in office since shortly after i left the first time and he seemed to have altered the place beyond recognition. but the prime minister and his public policy was not only that variable that had changed the place; a country is like a river full of rocks. the river constantly runs over and around the rocks, and slowly rearranges them, until you can`t recognize the river by its markings anymore. every winter ice swells up over the banks and moves everything around more dramatically, and with every spring there is a new riverbed, new banks, a new look. every news event experienced in a particular place impacts & shapes a culture. changing weather patterns, new clothing trends, new media styles, newly discovered social issues, vernacular, all of these change the way people live. i find i can`t tell anyone here what being canadian is like, because i just don`t know anymore. i missed out on war, and bieber. all i know is the sepia toned memory of a little patch on the back of another elephant that i used to pat soothingly in the dark.
photos : nara
after much reflection i realize what i do know well enough, is being an expat. i know all about it. i`ve done it twice. i`ve gone through all the stages of culture shock, a few times over. and reverse culture shock, and double reverse. but then i`ll probably know even better in ten years, or twenty. it`s a weird life, and although i was warned after i became one, i wish i had been warned before i became one, that expats lose something, which is a sense of a homeland. as i walked away from the country i knew, and the idea of it shrank until it was a mere mirage on the horizon, at some point it actually disappeared behind me - and i don`t think i can ever truly find my way back to the homeland i knew.
it`s not all as dramatic as it sounds, i`m not a stateless person, and i do have a home here in japan, and as i`m still canadian by nationality, i can technically go back anytime i want. it actually sounds great when i say it like that. but deeper, on the feeling level, somewhere latent perhaps, in the spirit it lingers. the feeling that your anchor no longer holds where you left it, and that you are adrift. despite the lack of bearing, at moments it can actually be liberating, or even exhilarating to be a homeland-less expat. since it`s all a matter of perspective, its difficult to judge though. particularly when the grass on the other side of the river always looks greener from farther away.
what do you think, are you an expat? have you ever tried to go "home"?