Since I was raised in the United States, much of my ideas and philosophies were informed by what was accessible: American values. Of course, American values is a blanket term that encompasses many people, narratives, and histories from different origins and backgrounds. Living in the United States made me accustomed and expectant of visual, linguistic and cultural diversity. Moving to Japan was extremely disorienting, but it has given me the opportunity to reevaluate my principles that I once believed to be unequivocally true.
My life, up until recently, had been dictated by overwhelmingly individualistic views. I believe that in the States, people are generally encouraged to be themselves, maintain autonomy, and have pride for who they are as an individual. I hold these values close to my heart, but living in Japan has given me fresh perspective on what it means to value myself and others. In evaluating other people’s values beside my own, I’ve found the ability to alter my preconceived notions to fit a mold that encompasses more than just myself.
When I first moved to Tokyo I stuck out like a sore thumb. I’d often get curious questions from Japanese people about where I was from or what I was doing here. I remember feeling offended by these people who questioned my looks, values, and self. Being constantly reminded that I was different from what they were accustomed to made me feel isolated and alone. No amount of conversation seemed to fix it either, since I thought that people I spoke with didn’t actually care about me – they only cared about how I appeared to them. The pain I felt from feeling misunderstood stemmed from the value I put into myself as an individual.
Seeing myself as a person who needed to protect and celebrate her independence blinded me from even attempting to understand what others around me were thinking. If someone questioned me, it automatically registered as an attack on my individuality. I was too self-absorbed to understand that it really wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought. These people just wanted information and it was innocent. Instead of demonizing people for acting in a way that didn’t align with my own values, I decided to appreciate the differences and try to understand them. After all, just because you can’t understand something doesn’t mean it has no value. I can’t do science to save my life but it’d make no sense for me to discredit scientific thought just because I can’t comprehend it.
Upon reflection I came to understand that my anger was rooted in ignorance and intolerance for different ways of thinking. Japan is a significantly different society compared to the one I was raised in and therefore had a propensity to make me uncomfortable. Anybody who moves here will sense dissonance, but becoming perceptive and respectful of cultural differences is key enjoying life abroad. Breaking free of the mental and physical confines of what I used to call home has given me a fresh outlook on not only myself but the relationships I have with others.