From India to Canada to Japan: Sun and Squalor
Hello! I’m Melissa. I was born in Bombay, India and moved at the tender young age of 14 to the wintery, frostbitten land of Canada where I spent my angst-ridden teenage years trying to overcome culture shock and alienation.
So now that I’m 29, it only made sense to skip town for some time and head over to the Land of the Rising Sun where I now spend my time trying to make the best of myself. I currently reside in Japan.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I never felt truly connected to my adopted country (Canada) and found it more or less stifling to think that, that was where I would perish. Being a true escapist and harbouring delusions of grandeur, I wanted to do more than just go on vacation. I wanted to re-experience having to adapt to another culture without the emotional baggage. I knew â€‹moving to Japan would be a fulfilling experience in the sense that I would learn to appreciate all cultures, including Canada without bias. Honestly, I just wanted to right all the wrongs I did when I first moved to Canada before starting a new chapter in my life.
2. How do you make a living?
My husband is the one who is currently employed as JET in Nara. We both applied together and while I didn’t get in, he did. I came here and then continued to work freelance as an illustrator/designer and began taking tutoring jobs (which are incredibly well paying. If you can set yourself up well, word of mouth advertising works excellently and Japanese people are more than kind to pass on a good word for you!)
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Every week or two, I use Skype and Line to communicate with friends and family back home. In fact, I don't even have a phone number, just LTE. I use Skype’s paid service to call home which is dirt cheap.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Nara?
I love Nara. One of my stipulations was that I did not want to live in a large city. We were very lucky to get stationed in such a beautiful prefecture where the weather is not as extreme, the mountains are grand, the people are lovely and the history is rich. Honestly, there is no one thing I think is my favourite. I’ve said before that the beauty of Japan is the experience in it’s entirety rather than one specific thing or aesthetic.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Nara?
I think the one thing that affects me the most is the inability to communicate over some basic things. In my blog, I wrote a little short story <http://www.sunandsqualor.com/blog/language-barrier> about trying to register my address where the magnitude of being a complete foreigner hit me like a ton of bricks. But I moved across the ocean with the desire to overcome the alienation I felt when I was younger and experience something incredible without prejudice. So it drove me to try and learn the language faster and be a little more shameless when trying to communicate. Most Japanese are super kind however and try to meet you half way with broken English. So between my broken Japanese and their broken English, I generally get by pretty well!
6. What do you miss most?
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I tried several tactics. I registered at Japan-guide.com and conversationexchange.com as a language exchange partner to get talking to locals but it’s tough. It faltered through with most but I’ve made one good friend out of the several that I’d chatted with. Which honestly, is more than enough for me in terms of friendship.
I try and make it a point to speak to people at counters and shops and take on conversations even though I know i’ll be overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed drives me to learn harder and faster. The JET programme also offers most excellent moral and emotional support between all the other JET participants across the country. You’re never too far away from the next JET if you want to meet regularly. And now that I’ve started tutoring privately, I’ve met families and people who are looking to meet new people and learn new things. And lastly, our local town hall offers japanese lessons and our sensei has been a most excellent teacher. He’s a classy old fox who likes to take us out on occasion to get us to experience various aspects of Japan.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
One of things I find absolutely hilarious is how Fried Chicken for Christmas is a thing, and only because of KFC’s advertising campaign in the 70s or 80s, I think. They shed all the other aspects of Christmas, for example, the religious and other cultural bits and bobs and just, enjoy putting up lights, eating fried chicken and Christmas cake. I mean, every other country has done the same with commercializing holidays and beliefs, but witnessing it in such a homogenous country is truly incredible.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
There’s a hundred million myths about Japan. But I will say, I’ve yet to find a used panty vending machine. Where did that even start from?
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Cost of living varies across the country but it’s still significantly cheaper than Toronto, Canada. However, groceries vs prepared food seems to be a bit of a conundrum. Groceries are cheaper here but the amount you get is significantly less. Although I feel the “less is more” sentiment runs through all aspects of Japanese culture. Prepared food is dirt cheap, though. A good meal is easy to find anywhere between 500-800 Yen, no tips are expected and food tax is a lot more bearable. Saving here is super easy and there’s many ways of doing it.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
One thing was that I brought a bunch of make up and toiletries with me thinking I wouldn’t find it in Japan or “they won’t fit”. Well no worries there, Japanese products are probably far superior and just as easy to
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I like to think of it as building history. Conceit aside, I’m a designer and I’ve always had a blog so I thought, hey why not. I mean I’ll be taking swell pictures and wanting to talk about Japan anyway. Thus, I started *Sun and Squalor* in June 2015.
Melissa's blog, Sun and Squalor
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