Breaking point

I’ve been pretty tired all day, physically and emotionally–I hit burnout about a week ago and haven’t had a chance to properly work it off. I dragged myself through my morning shougakkou and just had no energy the rest of the day and barely said a word to anyone at my junior high. Both my classes were canceled today, which meant that I just…sat there, feeling tired and down. I had the idea of asking the art teacher if I could go sit in on one of her afternoon classes, but she must have gone straight from lunch into class because I didn’t see her until the day was over.

After work, I changed and walked quickly to make it to the travel agency before it closed, to pick up my ferry tickets to and from Kyushu for next week. I endured many stares on the way and I avoided glancing at my reflection in the windows I passed because I’m really not happy with how much weight I’ve gained, and when you’re down, everything about yourself that you perceive as negative becomes greatly magnified. After finishing up there, I went to the grocery store–many more stares. This, combined with the “off” day I’d been having, just made what poise I had left start crumbling. In the grocery store, the massive amounts of fish and meat, and the sight of a pair of people bowing and bowing and bowing to each other like yo-yos, upwards of five or six times each (well past the Japanese cultural norm), made me cringe.

I passed a henro (religious pilgrim) outside the entrance to Daily Mart–and to be honest, as a side effect of growing up in a big city with a high crime rate like Atlanta, I’ve developed a kneejerk reaction of just looking straight ahead when I see people asking for money; additionally, I’ve developed a mistrust of people soliciting funds for various causes on the street because of how many crooks only pretending to represent just causes there are out there. I feel pretty guilty about that, now that I’m putting it in writing, and about passing the henro by.

An old woman came up to me just after I’d crossed the street and started chattering away in Awa-ben. All I could understand was that she was repeating the word, “Henro,” but I couldn’t get anything past that–she looked slightly agitated, though, and probably was telling me that I should have given him some money. I just kept telling her in Japanese that I couldn’t understand, but she kept persistently trying to get her message across, to no avail because her accent was so, so thick. My bag of milk, orange juice, bananas, and apples was getting mighty heavy, and the communication barrier and her persistence were really making me feel worse, so I excused myself as quickly as I could and continued down the street.

It felt like the longest 10-minute walk ever. Kids and adults alike kept staring; of all the days to notice the gaijin, they had to do it today. This one guy eyed me from head to toe and then muttered something under his breath. It was then that I realized that if anyone else stared or did anything like that, I just knew I was going to snap and start screaming at him/her–I really was that worn down. Luckily, though, nobody else did.

I don’t mean to say that this phenomenon of staring is new–not at all. I know all too well that people will stare, and that, despite having lived here for nearly 2 years, plenty of people have never seen me before or are still startled at the sight of a foreigner–but that doesn’t justify it. That doesn’t make it okay. When we as foreigners living in Japan have downward moodswings like this, the last thing we want is to feel even more ostracized and isolated than we already do, because that staring can feel downright hostile so many times, and there are only so many times I can take the initiative to smile and bow in the hopes that the staring people will smile back, because even my being pleasant is no guarantee. Even with two other ALTs in my building, it’s very easy to feel all alone out here.

Anyway, I’m doing better now. I chatted a bit with Ashley earlier and am treating myself to (healthy) comfort foods to lift my spirits tonight, and I may be hanging out with Genna tomorrow. I just remember Julia saying last year that she thought it was refreshing that I wrote about the bad days I had as well as the good, and if this is supposed to be an accurate reflection of my time in Japan, I couldn’t in good conscience paint it as some perfect, worry-free experience. It can be as stressful as it can be inspiring, and that’s something important to remember, as is the fact that tomorrow is another day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *