A Moment to Breathe

We made it! 

DSC00076The view from our room at Sam’s place!

You heard that right–we made it to Japan exactly one week ago today! This past week has been non-stop with sight-seeing and settling in (mostly settling in). We took the first few days to just have a great time in our new home exploring and seeing all the attractions, doing all the tourist-y stuff one would do if they were in Japan (minus a couple places we still need to see soon). While the sight-seeing was awesome, my feet for one were literally about to fall off after three days of no rest + a 12.5 hour flight here that made them swell to the size of boats. They are STILL swollen, even after a full week! Slowly but surely, however, they have gotten better over the past few days. But still. I had BOATS. Boats for feet. 

Of the myriad of things I could talk about in this post, I am going to focus on culture shock and how to get over it.

DSC00097Prayers that were tied to ropes inside a temple that we visited one of the days we were out sight-seeing.

Three years ago, I went to India for three months for a summer missions trip and unlike my fellow teammates, I experienced no culture shock what-so-ever. Granted, it had been my second time in India, but even the first time I went to India I had no culture shock at all–and let me tell ya, India has quite a different culture than the USA.  Coming here to Japan, however, I had such a rough first few days, so much so that I wondered if I would hate living here for the next few years, or however long we will be here.

When you travel to new places, culture shock is just one of the many things you’ll combat, and for me, it was one of the only things I thought I wouldn’t have to combat.

*cue God laughing from afar at my silly notions* 

If you know Daniel and me, you know that I am the one who loves India and has always dreamed of going there (so, of course, no surprise there that I didn’t really get culture shock because I already loved the people and the culture before I even landed), and Daniel has always loved and dreamed of going to Japan. When the opportunity to go to Japan arose, we prayed about it and waited for God to open the doors in the right direction, and He did, which is why we’re here now.

One thing that I love about my and Daniel’s relationship is that we are opposites in all the best ways. I tend to be the extremely adventurous, leap-of-faith, crazy, and wild girl jumping at every opportunity to explore and adventure, while he tends to be the cautious, easy-going, take-it-one-step-at-a-time type guy who always takes his time with EVERYTHING. While the opposite parts of our personality can be so frustrating at times, we end up being exactly what the other needs at the exact moment the other person needs it. When I am feeling stressed because I feel the pressure to just GO GO GO!, Daniel takes my hand and pulls me to a halting stop just to look at a pretty little daisy growing from the crack in the sidewalk, the little flower I would have stomped right past in order to get to my destination at the precise time I wanted to get there.

DSC00463My handsome man had to shave his beard so he could get a job (they don’t like facial hair here, apparently), but now he’s ready for anything! Cutie pie. 😉

It has been no different here in Japan. When we got in the car back in the States to get to the airport, I was feeling so on-edge because we weren’t leaving six hours in advance of our flight (gotta plan for LA traffic, ya know…and I wanted to be there four hours before our flight, just to be safe…). I was snappy, irritated, and worried, sitting there in traffic, watching the clock count down. I apologized to him and said I promised that once we got to the airport, I would be just fine and I wouldn’t be snappy anymore. I promised that I would relax. 

Well, we got to the airport…and then we had to get through security.

And I was snappy as all get out with the person I had just promised I wouldn’t be snappy to. I apologized again, and said, “Okay, soon as we board the plane, I’ll be perfectly fine. I PROMISE!

*Yeah, pshh, okay, Ryan*

We boarded the plane and guess what? Still snappy. We landed and went through customs. STILL freakin snappy. We met up with his best friend at the airport and got onto the bus to get to his place, where we’d be staying. Yup, you guessed it, still snappy. 

In fact, I was so snappy and so grumpy and so wound up for the first couple days that I  literally thought I would hate living here in Japan because I was wearing poop colored glasses. 

*Oh, yeah, I should explain that a little more, shouldn’t I? Long story short, I got that phrase from my 11th grade AP English teacher, Mr. Ross (best English teacher EVER btw), who said that the opposite of wearing rose-colored glasses and seeing the world as rainbows and kittens all the time, some people wear poop colored glasses and see all the negatives in life. Makes perfect sense now, doesn’t it?

So I was wearing those poop colored glasses for at least three days, basically the whole time we were sight seeing. My feet were swollen and sore beyond belief from all. The. WALKING. My body was already riddled with mosquito bites. The train system scared the living bejesus out of me (never rode public transportation growing up + I have no sense of direction what-so-ever). Even more frustrating, there are so many unspoken rules in this new culture that I had no idea about.

When you eat, you can’t cross your chopsticks at all or else they’ll think you think that the food is disgusting. You can’t refuse someone’s food, even if you’re stuffed to the brim, because it would be disrespectful. If someone bows to you, you have to bow back, and then if they bow again, you have to bow AGAIN, even LOWER than them, because again, respect. Oh, also, no “your mom” jokes, because they will hate you forever if you say anything bad about their moms, even if it was just a joke (okay, that part, I actually saw the beauty in later).

I felt terrible because all of this new information was flooding into my system and I just got more and more irritated to the point where I could tell I was even sucking some of Daniel’s joy out of him. It was awful. Finally, we had a moment alone together after a couple days (Sam, the friend we are staying with, also had two of his cousins visiting, so me and Daniel didn’t even get any alone time to talk or process until they left).

I finally broke down and just told him everything I felt. That I was overwhelmed by this new culture and that I felt like I didn’t love the people enough and I felt terrible for not loving the people we were here to minister to. I cried and cried and he told me everything was okay, and that it was okay to not love them right away. It was okay to have to get used to the culture and become acquainted with a new life-style. It was okay to take a moment to breathe and relax, to just enjoy the time we have to explore our new home and get to know this new culture and new people.

You see, we did our balancing act once again. I had wanted to just jump head-first into this new experience and give everything I’ve got into forcing myself to love this new place just as much as I naturally love India, and the pressure I was putting on myself was staining my view of the Japanese culture, making me resent it rather than fall in love with it. Once again, Daniel took my hand and pulled me to a halting stop, and showed me that I can take this one step at a time. That I don’t have to run at full speed to get to where I want to go, and that it’s okay to take my time so that I can find the daisies that pop out of the cracks in the sidewalk. 

DSC00133Here I am, with an owl. At the Owl Cafe. SO CUTE!

So far, my favorite daisies have been the way the Japanese view relationships. In Japanese culture, you never make a joke at someone else’s expense–you don’t even make a joke at your own expense. No one calls themselves stupid, and no one makes jokes that make fun of another person. Sam told us that when his brother was visiting him a few months ago, some of his Japanese friends noticed how they would make fun of each other and one of them asked Sam, “Why would you discourage those that you love?” 

I love that.

The other thing I love is that they are incredibly inclusive. They don’t really have a concept of what a “best friend” is because to them, everyone is equal. All of their friends are their best friends. 

After Daniel took my hand and slowed me down, he helped me to see those little things that I absolutely love about this new culture. If I were still wearing my poop colored glasses, I would have never paid attention to those daisies in the cracks. 

My advice to you if you are dealing with culture shock in a new place, or if you are about to travel somewhere and have the same experience I had, is to take your time. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to love the culture and the new place. Stop rushing around, trying to make everything on your check-list. We didn’t even do half the sight-seeing we wanted to do because I needed to just take a moment to breathe! And that’s okay. Let go, and just let yourself enjoy the moment. Don’t dwell in the past, and don’t dread the future.

Stay tuned for more posts to come! This is just the first step in our grand adventure here in Japan.

Love to you all!

Daniel & Ryan ❤

DSC00305.jpgOn top of a “Sky Garden,” or a really tall building that overlooks the city. It was beautiful! But don’t be fooled, I was actually fighting off major motion sickness (new thing I’m dealing with, btw, never in my life had motion sickness until like 6 months ago).
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