The Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side…?

Yesterday, I was browsing YouTube for videos to watch whilst eating lunch and ended up watching a Japanese variety TV show hosted by famous comedians Downtown. It’d been ages since I’d watched Japanese variety and it only took a few minutes to make me realise how much I missed it. Japanese comedy is highly idiosyncratic and differs in many ways from British or American comedy; and naturally, because comedy taps in to the cultural zeitgeist, it quickly stirred up (not quite fully reawakened) in me my Japanese personality that had remained dormant ever since I’d returned to the UK last September.

Later on that day, I was still riding that wave of nostalgia when I went to Annie C.’s house so we ended up watching a bit of Whisper of the Heart (耳をすませば), as well as the making of Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し), which further intensified my yearning for Japan.

‘I wonder what my life would be like if I were currently back in Japan instead of here?’ I mused to Annie. ‘It’d be very different,’ she stated obviously wisely.

I felt so mixed.

Honestly, said yearning was more unwelcomed than welcomed. Why? Well, rose-tinted, wishful flirtations don’t really help me be fully in the present; my eyes glance over that fence and see the greener, glossier grass, and then my mind begins a self-interrogation: ‘Why are you here when you could be over there?’

Scene of the everyday in Japan from ‘Whisper of the Heart’ (source: fanpop)
Since 2009—after graduating from high school in Tokyo and leaving the class I’d been with for 11 years to embark on a worldwide journey that’s taken me back and forth between Japan, Singapore and the UK—I’ve struggled with being content with where I am (thank God, less so now). As such, when I returned to Durham last year, I relatively refrained from watching Japanese TV or listening to Japanese music or reading Japanese books/manga—not because those things were innately bad, but because they’d been methods of unhealthy escapism in the past especially during my stint in the army in Singapore.

Two years of National Service, two years of being forced to serve in the military of a country/culture I didn’t feel part of whatsoever. And tragically as a result, two years of adamant refusal to engage with the present, to make meaningful relationships with the people around me; rather, surrounding myself with all things Japanese. Every spare moment I had was spent shunning people/circumstances and watching hours and hours of Japanese variety on my laptop. Japan was my world, that is, the world I wished for it to be, and you bet I was going to do all I damn well could to fabricate it.

What a pity. I’ve certainly learnt my lesson.

Coming back to the present: it helps that I’ve found a community-cum-family here in Durham that has genuinely made this place one of many beloved homes. As such, over the past 9 months I’ve honestly gotten away with not thinking about and pining for Japan much. Not because I don’t miss it—I think about my friends and family there often—but because I’ve got enough going on here in Durham to keep me occupied (i.e. distracted). As proof of full British assimilation, I had a sausage butty for that very lunch AND for dinner yesterday, making me all Northern innit.

Yet yesterday’s incident made me realise just how illusionary this state of affairs can be. Yes, I have been fully present and content with my life here in Durham. But this yearning will never fully dissipate and will pop up every now and then (to what degree will depend on particular seasons of life), even when you’re not consciously repressing. I guess it’s something that must be faced when it appears (sounds like every other issue in life).

Slightly off tangent, but this reminds me of another observation I made a few years back. As a TCK/multicultural, the issue of pining is real. Yes, it can be pining for someone or somewhere, but more often than not, it’s simply (or generally) a pining for a different life(style). Or rather a fanciful, idealised life(style); one that doesn’t exist in reality, but is concocted by your favourite bits of your life experiences thus far.

Here’s a quote from my essay ‘A Masquerading Outsider’ published in Family Matters (yes, I’m quoting myself unabashedly):

As I perpetually come into contact with various cultures and peoples and their lifestyles, I have the natural tendency to extract the best from each culture. I subconsciously want the politeness of the Japanese, the racial integration of Singapore, the friendliness of Americans, the table manners of the British, etc., to be present in one society. In reality, this expected standard is too high for any culture or country to fulfill practically. No society on earth will ever perfectly meet all of my criteria.

(Yes, please laugh, ‘the table manners of the British’ was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.)

There was, however, something positive I gleaned from yesterday’s ruminations: sometimes a nostalgic reminiscence can be beneficial when you’re stuck in a despairing situation and struggle to gain perspective—it can help you lift your eyes and realise there’s so much more to life than the present difficulty. (This ties in to the power of testimony: when we’re struggling to cling on to hope and trust in the Lord, sometimes we just need to remind—preach to!—ourselves of what He’s already done and all the past shit He’s faithfully taken us through.)

One final thought. I further mused to Annie: ‘What if I’d been born and bred and lived entirely just in Japan? Or Singapore? Or the UK?’

I find there’s something beautiful about growing up in the same house in the same neighbourhood with the same people through life, e.g. going to the same school and uni then working at the same company with the same friends.

Or maybe it’s only “beautiful” to me because I romanticise about a (simpler) life I’ve never had and experienced. And ultimately, it’s unhealthy to dwell upon such questions and possible scenarios because it only amounts to speculation that isn’t so far removed from illusion. Very likely these questions spring from a place of frustration and near-resignation towards the complexities of identity that my life entails.

But at the end of the day, I didn’t just grow up in Japan, or Singapore, or the UK. From birth, I was destined to be a global nomad, to embody an innate multiculturalism. This is the life the Lord has given me, and it’s up to me to rejoice and be content in it, trusting that where I am is where I’m meant to be ‘for just such a time as this’. (Esther 4:14)


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