I had a pretty good day today, which was badly needed. Culture shock has definitely been taking its toll in weird ways. I didn't really know what to expect but it's been impossible to ignore it in the past 72 hours. (Only 72 hours?!?!) It comes out in different forms. One of the biggest of these is a sense that there's nowhere to go and nothing to do. Considering I'm surrounded almost constantly by opportunities for diversion, this is an odd sensation. Not having many friends–and not yet having a phone to call them with–intensifies it. Restaurants, karaoke, theaters, bars, shopping: they're all around me but it's no fun to go alone, especially when I have to wrestle with Japanese to do it.
The language barrier is also a big thing, and it is a barrier indeed. My Japanese is shockingly bad. I have neglected it terribly in the past two years since graduation, and it shows. Ordering food at restaurants was terrifying at first because I had no idea what the hell they wanted from me sometimes (even if it was things like "for here or to go" or "what will your side dish be?") so I got very awkward. My confidence is slowly coming back, which helps a lot, but I have a long way to go.
I feel like I've wasted so much time. Part of me knows this isn't true. I've learned a lot of different things in the past few years that I wouldn't trade in: drumming and mixing drinks were both skills that I expect to draw on in unexpected ways later. But at the moment they're simply not applicable and so I'm left with... virtually nothing. My peers in the Berlitz training classes are all pretty talented, intelligent people. A few of them speak five languages while I'm struggling with my second. One taught rock climbing. One majored in Chinese politics in college. One lived in Singapore, Thailand, France, Hong Kong and Australia.
I've gone from feeling pretty on top of my game in Minneapolis to being a complete newbie in Tokyo. I can't even feel like I've done something all that special because there are a lot of foreigners in Tokyo--a lot. You see one every thirty seconds or so, it seems. More, in some neighborhoods. Foreigners in Tokyo seem to be pretty harsh judges of each other, which doesn't help. In general it seems like gaijin resent other gaijin for ruining their Japan experience. For ruining their sense of being special? Or maybe that's me projecting. Regardless, as far as gaijin go I rank low and I don't enjoy that feeling. My Japanese is so embarassing right now that I get nervous speaking it around other gaijin. Ech.
But today was pretty good. No real reason why. I think I'm just getting a little more comfortable. I've gotten over the feeling of being stared at, which makes me awkward and thus a bit bumbling. My Japanese isn't getting better yet, but I'm getting more confident in it: I'm remembering that I do, indeed, know the language. And actually know it pretty well, if I can but remember it. I had several successful conversations today, pulling forgotten words from the dusty recesses of my memory. One hard month. There was a little strut in my step today. Of course, it's hard not to feel cool walking around Shibya in a pinstriped suit listening to the Pharcyde, but it's more than that.
All this is also an incentive to study hard. I borrowed a pencil from a cafe today for kanji practice because my ballpoint pen was not really conducive to kanji practice–the strokes were all the same width and the feel just wasn't right. Plus I couldn't erase my many mistakes. The waiter lent me an old-school wooden pencil (sharpening it for me first, of course) and after using it for a while I grew to love it. Normally I hate pencils like this, but there was something about the ritual of sharpening the pencil every page or so that was very soothing, like keeping a knife sharp or a drum head tuned. With good tools, there is something satisfying about the work. I immediately went to a stationary store and bought a little pouch of three wooden pencils with clear plastic caps to protect the tips, a sharpener, and an eraser to inspire my kanji practice. A small but satisfying purchase that makes the studying an almost reverential act.