Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Saturday, 10 April 2010


I think my head is falling off.

Either that or everything in it is squeezing out of my ears in stringy shapes, as if somebody has filled me with plasticine and then pushed something hard and star shaped into my hairline.

Today, I finally did it. After eight months of surviving in Japan without ever actually really touching it, I finally gave it a headbutt. Or, I should say, it finally got fed up with my namby pansy lazy British ways and gave me one while I kicked and screamed and yawned throughout, because proper cultural immersion – frankly - is bloody exhausting. My first day in a non-English speaking environment with my new colleagues, and I can barely sit up straight: every single sense in my body is frazzled and worn out and sizzling with over-work. And it feels wonderful. It feels like I’m actually experiencing Japan for the first time, instead of being an extra on the set of Lost in Translations.

I think it’s only possible to realise that you’ve hit your comfort zone when you’ve been dragged unwillingly out of it. Eight months in Tokyo of saying doko and pointing at toilet signs, and after a few hours in the countryside of being forced to communicate and ask questions my vocabulary has pretty much tripled. I can now, very slowly, conjegate basic verbs – followed by massive round of applause – I can hold a very, very basic Japanese conversation with a table full of non-English speaking teachers for three hours, and I am no longer scared of saying something wrong: thanks to this incredibly kind and polite culture, everytime I open my mouth everybody gasps as if I’m linguistically gifted. Even more amazingly, an hour ago I stood up in front of 40 tipsy staff after my traditional welcome dinner, and told them - in Japanese, down a microphone - that I hoped they were all well and having a good evening, that I was very happy to meet them, that their school and city was beautiful, ne, and that they were all my new friends. At least, that’s what I was trying to say, and everyone drunkenly laughed and clapped and pointed so I’m guessing at least something was communicated.

Furthermore, during my first traditional Japanese meal - after eight months of eating pasta and anxiously avoiding anything that once had a face - I finally decided that it was time to stop being a pathetic wuss and ate everything they put in front of me. Raw fish, shrimp with their little beady eyes still looking resentfully at me, chicken knuckles, breaded monkfish, bits of bleeding raw beef, wasabi, tofu, fish eggs: the works. I got my chopsticks, I took a deep breath, and I ate it all: every single, carcassy mouthful. Because if I’ve realised one thing about Japan – in a school where 300 students and 40 staff eat identical lunches every single day, and nobody once says ‘oh man, I don’t like sweetcorn’ before picking all of them out – harmony and equality is far more important than the whim of the individual. And the fact that I don’t like raw fish or meat at all doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t just eat them anyway and smile and tell them it’s delicious: because if it’s good enough for them, it’s absolutely good enough for me too. Frankly, it’s probably a little too good. My idea of good food is beans on toast with cheese on top.

It’s strange, really. I’m shattered; I have not stopped in thirteen hours. At stages I’ve wanted to cry and hide under the table; I’ve laughed, I’ve been embarrassed and shy, I’ve felt like a Queen and like a total plonker. But at no stage did the experience feel ordinary, and at no stage did I stop feeling proud of myself. Because, for the first time, I’ve actually moved my self, instead of just moving my body. I’m actually – very slowly - starting to live inside a foreign culture, instead of skirting around the outside and using it as a pretty backdrop: like sticking one of those New York skylines on the inside of a hotel room and convincing yourself that you might as well be there. And - instead of being sad and heartbroken and bored at home in England – I’m spending every bit of energy I have living as hard as I can so that there’s no room for anything else at all. So that all the sadness gets pushed out of me like play-doh and replaced with something better.

Changing your own world takes so much more than just moving yourself somewhere else, and it’s taken me more than eight months to finally realise that. It’s going to be a really hard year, I think, but it’s going to be worth every single headache and scary microphone speech and mouthful of something I don’t want to swallow. Because if I can do this, and I can really experience it, and enjoy it, and be here fully, instead of just physically, then I can do anything.

And that’s what this adventure is all about. It’s about learning how to be where I am, for a change, instead of always somewhere else.