Do I hate Japan?

Do I hate Japan

Any foreigner who lives in Japan knows them. They’re sitting in the corner of the foreigner bar, complaining about their job, their Japanese wife, the way people stand on the train and why there is “no common sense in this god-forsaken country.” The Hateimus Japanicus. Approach with caution.

I take the term from Sora News’ hilarious article Five types of foreigner you’ll meet in Japan. They define the Hateimus Japanicus as, “A character so riddled with anger and distaste for all things Japan that you’d be forgiven for wondering why he doesn’t just go home.”

My question is, after 3 years in this country, have I become one of them? Am I that bitter gaijin moaning in the corner of Shinjuku Hub? Do I hate Japan?

I’ve noticed a change in myself in recent months. Things that used to charm me about this country now produce a shrug or actively irritate me. There is a point where “working in Japan” just becomes “working.” I mean, day to day, my life isn’t that different than it would be if I were in London. I get up, get on a commuter train, work in an office, go home to my boyfriend and my flat and then sleep. Yeah, I’m a freelancer some of the time and being able to perform is a privilege but to be honest it’s been a while since I did a quirky Japan event that made me think, “Wow.” A couple of months back my agency put me through to an audition for a reporter gig for a big deal network. It was a fantastic opportunity but when I was sitting with the other girls auditioning (and of course, they were all beautiful girls) I was just so disheartened by the questions and their answers. “What do you like about Japan?” “What Japanese food can you not eat?” “What Japanese customs do you not understand?”

It was just so boring. I just felt like I was repeating myself. Needless to say, I couldn’t muster the required genki and I didn’t get the gig. Or maybe my tits weren’t big enough. Who knows.

It’s undeniable that after three years, much of the excitement is gone. I’m in an awkward mid-stage where the initial thrill has worn off but life isn’t as easy or natural as it would be in the UK. I’ve lived in my current flat longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, and I have now spent the majority of my post university life in Japan. So it’s not exactly like I’m instagramming the vending machines because everything is oh-so-new-and-exciting anymore. At the same time though, I’m still an outsider. It never bothered me to feel like an outsider when I was 9 months into my Japan stint and didn’t know anything. I was an outsider then, so I didn’t bat an eyelid when people asked me if I could use chopsticks. I could even shake off the blatant stares and inappropriate comments from Japanese men. But now, after three years, being stared at is starting to get old.

I’m tired. I’m tired of the dumb questions. I’m tired of not being able to do certain things myself because of the language barrier, though I know that not being better at Japanese is partially my own fault (I have JLPT N3 so I’m fine for most things but need help with complex forms etc.). I’m tired of being expected to play a certain role. I’m tired of my packed commute each day. I’m tired of the, quite frankly, disgusting harassment I sometimes experience as a foreign woman. The other day a guy took a picture up my skirt on an escalator when I was walking to the station after a long day at work and when I rebuffed him, (in Japanese) he pretended not to understand me. I could see the f**king picture on his phone screen but he didn’t acknowledge me and I felt so choked up and angry and powerless and vulnerable that I just got away as quick as I could. At that moment I just wanted to head straight to the airport and never come back.

And yet, there are those times when I am so in love with this country. The view of the sunset over Tokyo from my office today. A rice paddy from a speeding train. Steaming outdoor onsen in the rain. Even a stupid but hilarious shounen anime episode that I can now understand. The knowledge that there is still so, so much to discover.

I remember going for a walk in the fields and having a cup of tea when I had got my IB results and it looked like I wasn’t going to university aged 18 and thinking, “Despite everything, life is good.” It’s the little things, those sensual experiences that have always sustained me when the going gets tough.

Looking at it that way, the question shouldn’t be, “Do I hate Japan?” but “Do I hate my life?” And while I still get pleasure out of small things the answer is No, mostly. But things are complicated, especially when you live abroad. So I reserve the right to complain to my gaijin buddies in the corner of Shinjuku Hub, on occasion.

The view from my office today:

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Everything u luv will burn 🔥🤟💀 🖤💔

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Yoga Pants: pain, recovery, limitations and gratefulness

Yoga Pants Shimoda

CW: Suicide ideation

I’ve considered myself in remission from Interstitial Cystitis for over a year but there are still a few things I can’t do. One of them, it seems, is wear yoga pants.

I usually wear baggy granny shorts to my pre-work HIIT class but I’m flying to the UK tomorrow so they are packed. I dig out an item of clothing that hasn’t been work in 2 years, that’s associated with a girl I don’t quite recognise: purple, skin tight yoga pants.

Excuse the brag, but I look great in yoga pants. Yoga pants were made for people with bodies like mine – skinny with just enough curves to turn heads when things are tight. They fit my personality too – slightly tomboyish, comfortable, not trying, but also flirty.

When most people give up on yoga pants it’s probably because they are short on body confidence, which is a perfectly valid reason. In my case however, it’s because my pelvic pain was bad enough that I was googling how to get a hold of a gun in Tokyo and whether shooting myself in the bladder would kill me.

18 months ago yoga pants would have been laughable but then again, so would working a full time job and I’ve pulled enough 100 hour weeks in the last 6 months to know that that’s more than possible for me. Going into remission is tiny steps of tentatively trying things again and seeing if they still hurt you. A korma curry. A cup of coffee. An 8 hour coach ride. You inch towards these things like a wounded animal approaches food when it’s already been caught in the trap once. Can I? Is this safe? Will this hurt me later?

And so, as my granny shorts were already packed and because I’ve made a recovery complete enough that I hardly think about that-time-I-was-in-pain-for-a-year anymore, I wear the yoga pants to gym. The class goes well – I’m still one of the weakest of course, but I’ve gone to yoga twice this week (in granny shorts) and it’s limbered me up and improved my form. I catch a glimpse of myself lifting a weight that’s heavier than normal in the mirror and I look sexy and strong, so much more than in the granny shorts. Thanks yoga pants.

I shower and head to work. It’s my last full day before I fly home to the UK for 9 days tomorrow so I have a lot to get through. Still, I’m excited for my trip and cheerful until I head to the toilet half an hour into the working day.

The pain is excruciating. At first I think I might just be dehydrated (Tokyo summer is dangerous folks) and it will pass but I down 2 litres of water and mugicha and it’s still burning. I’m sweating, shivering and going to pee every 30 mins but of course I don’t tell my colleagues because a) they’re all men b) if I say out loud I’m in pain that means I can’t pretend it’s all happening and c) I really do have a tonne to do before I can get on that plane so I couldn’t go home even if I got permission.

I think that I’ve had a significant flare 3 or 4 times since ‘recovering.’ This is more pain than I’ve been in in half a year and, unlike when I was really sick, I’m totally unprepared. I don’t have any medication with me and I have no idea how I’ll make it through to 6.30. At 1pm I stagger to the nearest pharmacy and buy Bufferin, the standard over-the-counter painkiller here. I go over to a dark restaurant with a nearby toilet and down the maximum dose with a sandwich and a tonne of water. I put my head on the table and allow myself to panic a little – the timing is really bad. I’m supposed to get on a plane tomorrow and anyone who’s had a UTI or diarrhoea on a flight will have a taste of what it’s like to have an IC flare on a plane.

The Bufferin actually does something, which is a sign of how much better I am – 18 months ago I could have downed the whole pack and it would have destroyed my liver before reducing the pain. I have painkillers that target IC pain but, again, they’re at home. I go back to work and the pain is significantly reduced which is great but it brings with it sleepiness which isn’t exactly conducive to productivity. Still, I slog on as best I can. I hide my pain and resulting anxiety by being even louder and cracking more stupid jokes than usual. I’m technically not in the ‘headline meeting’ for the next issue but as it’s next to my chair I share my dumb puns for an article on animal cafes; ethical snake and cat cafes in Tokyo in particular. “Scares and hairs” “Animal cafes: the good, the bad, and the fluffy.” They’re both awful but both get picked because no one has anything better. Sometimes, for me, pain causes me to feel like I’m stuck to the ceiling, screaming, watching the back of my head calmly carry out day to day activities. It feels incredible how seldom people notice that I’ve split in two.

At 6.30 my work’s not finished but I’m done. The pain has gone down but I can’t be here anymore. I grab fast food on the way home and breathe a sigh of relief as I walk into my cool(er) flat. Now is time for medication, supplements and flare care routines. It’s been a while and I’m out of practice.

I start feeling significantly better at around 9pm. I still have to be careful but it looks like the flight won’t be a disaster. At 22:30 I finish the content calendar and the emails I need to write and log off my work email for the next 9 days.

I worry about a lot of things. The fact I’m 25 and I haven’t started saving properly yet. Wrinkles. Brexit. Closing doors. Whether I deserve my job. My Japanese/harp/vocal ability.

18 months ago, all I was worried about was whether I would be in that kind of pain all the time for the rest of my life. I think of flares like this as lighting a candle to the spectre of the girl in the parallel universe where I didn’t get better. I don’t know what happened to her, but she’s certainly not where I am now. The flare is like her haunting me. An effigy. A reminder.

Gratefulness is the antidote to so many of the sicknesses of modern life. Anxiety, envy, depression, they can all be eased by gratefulness. The sick know clear as pain that good health is something to be grateful for. Those of us who recover have the privilege of forgetting.

I can catch a train without anxiety. I can drink alcohol and coffee. I can work full time. I can have a normal relationship. I can wake up on a sunny morning with no pain and climb a mountain, swim in the sea, dance, twist, fuck, bend and use my body to its glorious potential.

I can lift weights and do burpees in my HIT class on Tuesday and Thursday morning. But, unfortunately, I can’t do it in yoga pants.

It’s a loss to the world, really. I look great in yoga pants.

Photo taken by me, of a statue in Shimoda Koen, Shizuoka

 

Happy 2018!

明けましておめでとう!Happy New Year!

“One of the greatest moments in your life is realising that, a year ago, you couldn’t do what you can do now.”
Mo Seetubim, founder of the Happiness Planner

26510442_10157017740918327_205654138_oI can’t remember a time when I wasn’t out doing something on New Year’s Eve. Even last year when I was really quite sick, I went to a house party (though I did fall asleep on the sofa at 1am…). This year my boyfriend and I cleaned our flat, wrote down our goals and New Year’s resolutions and drunk whiskey at home to welcome in 2018. I can tend towards over indulgence and hedonism so stepping back and not going out was… kind of liberating. I try to live life to the fullest, which most of the time is a good quality. However it can be a flaw when it leads me to feel that I have to be doing something because that’s what young, hip and alive people do on New Year’s Eve. It’s nice to go out when I want to go out, stay in when I want to stay in, regardless of an arbitrary day in the calendar. If I don’t party this one day I will not turn middle aged overnight and lament wasting my golden 20s. It’s all good.

26237858_10157017763463327_591999289_oThis morning we walked half an hour in beautiful sunshine to do 初詣 (hatsumōde, the first shrine visit of the year) at the same shrine as New Year’s two years ago. It’s nice to build our own traditions, even when we’re far from home. My fortune this year was really favourable and, though I don’t take these things too seriously, I do think good things are around the corner for me. I’m hoping that the seeds I sowed in 2017 will bear fruit.

 

 

2017 has been a year of excitement, doubt, self-discovery, some of the biggest challenges and most satisfying successes I have ever experienced. I wouldn’t say I have 100% got where I hoped I would be, but perhaps for the first time since childhood, I feel in touch with my authentic self and I am moving forward in the direction I want. There are many, many things I couldn’t have done at the start of 2017 that I can do now. And that is something.
Oh and I am now on my second Happiness Planner, something you might not expect given my entire personality. I recommend it so much to disorganised workaholics like myself who need to to write shit down and be reminded to chill out.

Thank you

In June 2016, I became more unwell than I had ever been in my life.

My story of chronic illness in Japan  has been told elsewhere but essentially after 8 months of pain, doubt and sickness I quit Japan and moved back in with my parents in Essex. For 2 months I temped in a call center and blew my savings visiting a swanky Harley Street doctor in the hope that he could fix me.

These two months could have been really shit but during this period I had the chance to reconnected with wonderful UK friends. Thanks to these people, I feel I recovered spiritually as well as physically.

One of them was Oliver Wood, a wonderfully talented musician and producer that I know from my time in the Essex Youth Orchestra. During my exile to the home counties, we recorded my EP In Distance, Everything is Poetry together. It was the kind of recording experience I’ve always craved, relaxed but bursting with creativity. Olly drew my best playing out of me and we had a lot of fun getting the tracks done. His string arrangements and post production are stunning and I feel he’s really brought my songs to life.

In May 2017 I made the decision to return to Japan, this time not with the protection of a steady job, but as a freelancer. Perhaps a crazy choice given I was recently ‘recovered’ (what I have doesn’t usually go away completely but I’m 90%) and broke thanks to the swanky doctor. But illness sometimes brings into perspective what is really important to you. When I was faced with the prospect of possibly never being able to work full time again I realised that I had spent my entire life doing things I was never really that into.

I don’t mean I’ve lived an unhappy life, far from it. Most of the things I’ve done with it – uni, music PR, teaching – have been worthwhile, good things that I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from them. I mean that, to be honest, I was never super passionate about any of them them, even if I told myself I was. Illness taught me that life can take time and opportunities away when you least expect it. I had spent my first 23 years hitting targets and doing the things I was supposed to do. Now it was time to chase what I actually wanted.

The last 6 months have been the most exciting of my life but also some of the most challenging. For the first time I feel like I’m spending most of my time pursuing things I actually, really care about. It is tough as hell but also hugely fulfilling.

On Friday I released the EP and yesterday I held a release party at the Cheshmeh in Sasazuka, Tokyo. The venue was packed; I felt bad because a lot of people had to stand or sit on the floor, but we opened up half of the stage for extra seating space. Two wonderful female artist friends opened for me. I enjoyed this performance more than I have in ages and I will always remember looking out into the crowd, unable to believe that I had this – a release party in a beautiful venue packed with people of a variety of ages and nationalities but united in their warmth and love of art.

There are so many people in my life I have to be grateful for. The musicians I perform with and the venue owners who book me. My wonderful producer Oliver Wood and Isabel Galwey who made the beautiful album art. Everyone who bought a CD, came to a gig or shared my work. I have found Tokyo to be a wonderful place where so many people are enthusiastic about music and supportive of musicians. It’s the kind of artistic community I’ve been looking for all of my life to be honest.

What I have to be grateful for goes beyond my art. Every friend who listened to me when I was sick, my parents who let their daughter in her mid 20s move back in and eat their food, my long suffering boyfriend who has supported me through thick and thin. Everyone, thank you so much.

I’m collapsed in a bit of a pile right now. Over the last couple of months I have performed my original material more intensively than ever before. Putting on shows is a lot of fun but it is exhausting, physically, emotionally and socially. Actually the social one is a biggie – I think one of the main reasons I didn’t get seriously into performing original material before graduating is because I hadn’t got enough experience points to level up to the required social level back then. You need to make friends with musicians, make friends with venue owners, invite everyone to your events, hustle on social media, and talk to everyone competently after the performance. Yesterday, people asked me to sign CDs. I mean, me. Signing CDs. I can’t get over it.

So yeah, I’m on my sofa in a pile eating takeaway sushi, catching up on Netflix. I usually work out twice or three times a week but I have been so busy I haven’t in almost three weeks. Maybe I’ll catch up on that too.

The world won’t stop for me. I actually have a huge writing deadline tomorrow. My next solo show is on Friday, then another on Sunday then I need to get to work on learning a tonne of material for a corporate event in December.

But for the next couple of hours, rest, relaxation and gratitude. Thank you, everyone. Thank you so much.

My wonderful support acts ❤ 

Marie Dangerfield and her beautiful Amy Winehouse style voice
Marie Dangerfield

The trilingual electropop stylings of Juliette Jemm
Juliette Jemm

Resolving the Unresolvable

I dream of a place where I can meet the people I have messy, unresolved issues with and come to understand each other. Some kind of purgatory where no one can pretend they didn’t see the other person it’s somehow safe and OK to talk it out.

I have spent hours fantasizing about how I will meet certain people from my past in an airport terminal. Some kind of neutral ground where we can sit down together and discuss what the hell happened with us.
“Why? Why did you do what you did? How were you actually feeling? Why did you run and deny me the closure I needed? Have you stayed up late wondering what happened to me, too?”

I love literature because of the patterns. I’m good at spotting and unpicking the the threads of the tapestry, explaining what everything means and why things are the way they are. Whereas music is something I have had to work very hard at I am a ‘natural’ at words and stories. I’m the friend who always knows the meaning to the song and can usually guess who the killer is. Tropes are rich and beautiful but ultimately they make literature predictable. I find comfort in that.

Because more than anything else, books have endings. Sometimes violent, sometimes unsatisfying, but the prose has been deliberately crafted to come to a head. Circles complete, Chekhov’s gun is usually fired and something or other will happen with the UST between those two will lead to something or other.

Of course in real life, things stay unresolved and it kills me. Give me an ending even if it’s painful. Let me understand, even if I don’t like what I hear. Say and do the horrible things you will, just don’t ignore me or leave me at a loss, wondering…

Of course this is extremely hypocritical of me because there was that one time when a toxic friendship became to much for me and I did cut off contact without explanation, even physically distancing myself hundreds of miles from the person concerned, receiving judgement from my friends for doing so. But although someone kind might say I was protecting myself the truth is I saw it act of violence: for me, no explanation and no resolution was the worst thing that could have happened to me and I wanted to hurt the person who had wronged me. Of course, probably this decision was the best thing for both of our well-being, and time proved this to be so. I even received apologies from the friends who had judged me for cutting the toxic person off. I was just ‘practicing self-care’ after all.

Who knows, maybe I was acting on self-preservation rather than hatred.
Sometimes I like to think I’m better than I think I am, rather than worse.

I realized I had grown up a lot recently when talking to a friend about a messy, unresolved break up made me re-examine my own life. She was asking me what she was supposed to do with all these feelings and how her ex could expect her to go on without the necessary closure.

“Sometimes, we have to accept that we will never get the closure we want.”
The words fell out of my mouth without thinking but as soon as I spoke them I knew 1) that they were true and 2) that somewhere along the line I had, somehow, accepted this for the messy, unresolved situations in my own life. Maybe I am learning after all.

People who only know me online and are on the receiving end of my feelings vomit five times a day may not suspect that in person I am actually very logical and practical most of the time. I am a thinker, not a feeler and my inner world is one of analysis and intellect. This is an advantage a lot of the time but can sometimes bite me in the ass.

It’s taken me a while to realise that I am actually very bad at knowing what I am feeling and allowing myself to feel it most of the time. I self-flagellate to an astonishing degree fervently deny to others and myself when I am feeling something I deem ‘inappropriate.’ Whereas if I would just admit that I’m a little bit upset about failing that audition or missing out on that party, or missing that person maybe these things wouldn’t get repressed and stay under my skin for years.

Sometimes, you need to sit alone with some sake on a Tuesday night and let yourself cry about what happened. Allow yourself to feel all the messed up crazy feelings you have for once.

Type their name into google and force yourself to look at them. Even if it was almost three years ago now and ‘never a big deal in the first place,’ sometimes the things that matter to you the most aren’t logical and that’s ok.

You will never see this person again. You will never get the resolution you want. It is over.

And in accepting that I will never have the closure I desire, I have found some peace.

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