Today’s post is an immensely personal one. If you’re looking for laughs, disregard this post, but if you’re interested in a part of my life I haven’t shared until now, keep on reading.
Now I’ve spent some time away from Japan, I feel more comfortable writing the realities of what happened to my personal growth instead of focusing on all the fluffy, “Yay Japan” stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time and wonderful experiences like when I was selected as a Tokyo Orientation Assistant for newbie JETs, when I traveled with my family, and when I met a Korean-Russian in Tokyo who told me his life story. Living in Japan was an eye-opener because I realized America is not the center of the universe. Being an expat changed me. Living in Okinawa and swimming in the sapphire ocean made me feel liberated and free. I just graduated college and I was at the tail end of an awful breakup and looking to find me again. Okinawa gave all that and more as I discovered myself and what I really wanted in life.
Japan was a never a country I was destined to call home or feel at home. That doesn’t mean I didn’t meet amazing and inspiring people or have fantastic co-workers. In fact, my school back in Japan was flippin awesome. My kids were super sweet and my co-workers were the shizz. I just didn’t like living in Japan.
I guess what inspired this post was an old friend and former OkiJET commented how Korea has been doing wonders for me.When I thought about my friend’s comment and asked my mom about it, she concurred. She said there’s a huge difference in my pictures in Japan versus my pictures now in Korea.
Related: How Being an Expat Changed Me
Why Did I Gain Weight in Japan?
Part of my unhappiness stemmed from gaining so much weight. I was doing Cross Fit and putting on muscle, but I wasn’t eating well to aid my muscle gains. You know those people who have incredible strength, but the jelly of Santa in the belly area? Yup, that was me. I drove everywhere because Okinawa doesn’t have good public transport. We have a monorail and buses that run on Okinawa time. Take your pick. Owning a car is a must.
Since I don’t like Japanese (minus sushi) or Okinawan food, I ate anything and everything that wasn’t. I devoured a lot of mango curry with a huge garlic and cheese nan on the side, Japanese-Mexican food, large amounts of sushi, too much yakiniku (barbecue), and entire pizzas. I hardly ate pizza in the homeland, but I was guzzling it like a fat kid on his last night before going to fat camp. Unfortunately, as a result of trying to eat food that tasted good and not cooking at home because of limited foods I liked at the grocery store, it was showing.
Why? Why would I do that to myself? In short, I was eating my feelings. The more delicious the food tasted, the more amazing I felt in the moment, but once I was done scarfing down an enormous plate of food, I felt guilty. I knew I shouldn’t be eating that much, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was the moment I felt good because my final few months in Japan were miserable. Humans are predictable. They like what feels good.
Effective communication attributed to another puzzle piece of my unhappiness. I couldn’t ask many questions and if I did something wrong, I would have to start an entire process all over again. In addition, sometimes it was a lecturing game. They knew I could understand them, but I couldn’t say much back…. And I HATED that.It was frustrating and I knew I couldn’t change Japan, but at the same time, sometimes I couldn’t control the anger I had inside from being unhappy all the time.
The Japanese have done things they way they have for thousands of years and they’re still around. Even though (I believed) my way would have inevitably been faster, there is still a very “by the book” way of doing things in Japan. If you don’t do it the aforementioned way, the Japanese are unforgiving and incapable of giving other solutions. I used to think of them as mini computers saying, “does not compute” to cheer myself up when things went awfully wrong. There is only but one way in Japan and if you don’t do it right… Well, fuck you, do it again.
What I didn’t realize while I was there was things are difficult for Japanese as well. They accept this as the norm because most don’t know another way of life. I could write an entire blog post on Japanese who do feel frustrated and do know better, but I digress. While being in Japan, it was super difficult for me to form true meaningful relationships with Japanese outside my workplace. Sometimes the whole “keeping me at arm’s distance” was too much and I just gave up.
I Felt Fugly
Japanese are very little people. Behind Filipino and Myanmar people, I think they are very small Asians. They are genetically smaller and that’s okay. Humans weren’t built to be the same. All I knew is I didn’t fit the standards of beauty for a foreigner in Japan and I felt it through snide comments, dating, and through media (which is a big reason I didn’t own a TV and I avoided popular Japanese magazines).
A lot of Japanese men wanted the “foreigner experience” with a blonde-haired, blued-eyed, well-dressed girl. They were looking for the stereotypes their media and society pushed on them. I was a huge outlier of what was considered the “pretty foreigner.” Tall, with tan skin, curly hair and dark eyes, the simple answer in Japan was… Da fuq is this? Dating for expat women in Japan is difficult. And I know I’m not the only girl who has felt this way.
I also dated military on Okinawa, but some of the guys dumped me for Japanese girls because they had “yellow fever” and wanted to try something “exotic.” Ouch. Talk about a hit to the ego. I shouldn’t have taken it personally, but I did. I stopped dating military after that fiasco.
My self-esteem was plummeting. Being the minority, it was difficult to find my type of beauty. In America, I was used to seeing all different kinds of beauty and choosing what I liked best for myself. In Japan, there was only one type of beauty: white skin, very youthful appearance, skinny-frail, and jacked up teeth. Yes, the snaggle tooth was actually a thing while I was in Japan. I don’t know if it still is. (Snaggle teeth means youthful because students often have teeth like this. Students=young=youthful appearance. You get the message, right?)
I have always liked my tan skin. Asian women don’t and have made snide comments about how I should cover up so I don’t get tan. I like to wear fitted clothes because baggy clothes make me look like a tub of lard. Asian women don’t like tight fitting tops. I don’t wear short skirts or shorts because I simply don’t have the legs for them. Asian women do. The bottom line is my anatomy is different and there is nothing I can do but embrace it, wear clothes that look good on me, and tell myself every day I like me just the way I am as I look in the mirror. (And let me tell ya, there were days I sat in front of the mirror ugly crying and trying to convince myself I was fine just the way I was.)
Make Up and Clothes
Most products are geared toward skin whitening, looking whiter, being whiter, etc. I like to wear make-up but I don’t need to wear it. Okinawa was always too hot to even bother because it would melt off your face due to humidity and sweat. The fact I couldn’t wear it if I wanted to added to my self-esteem spiraling further down the rabbit hole. The only “make-up” I did have were eyelash extensions because mascara wouldn’t stay on in the humid summer months.
Like I mentioned, Japanese are smaller and I couldn’t get pants that fit, especially off base. Clothes in Japan aren’t made for western bodies with longer torsos, big boobs, muscular arms, or big butts. Everyone on Okinawa dressed like a bum and they owned it. I love to dress in nice clothes, but that wasn’t an option. Dress nice and be stared at by creepy old men or dress like a bum and fly under the radar. Which do you think I chose? Can anyone understand the constant struggle against pit stains and nice clothing?
Related: I’m Beautiful in Korea
My last year was a bit rough because my best friend left. Could you imagine spending every weekend (and many weekdays) with someone, considering them a sister, and then they leave? It was painful to watch her go, but I knew she was going off to be with the love of her life and start a new chapter in America.
I was sick for a long bout and what I thought was bronchitis actually turned out to be asthma after I was examined by a specialist. I felt like I wasn’t getting good medical care, took to Facebook to share my experience about crummy doctors, and ask people for recommendations for good doctors or advice. I was desperate and probably came across as condescending even though that wasn’t my intention. There were some people who had nasty things to say to me via messenger, one in particular told me to go fuck myself and stop talking shit about her country. I found out who my real friends were, but needless to say, the experience left me isolated and lonely. After that ordeal, I learned to love myself and enjoy my own company. Through hardships and trials. I believe God always has lessons to teach us.
Don’t get me wrong. I had wonderful people around me who I actually considered friends, but one thing I’ve always been searching for is a best friend who will never leave me. I cried a lot. And it wasn’t the pretty crying you see on all the K-dramas. It was the ugly crying where I would sit in front of my mirror with snot running down my face and shake from all the feels. In the past, I’ve struggled with bouts of depression and being in a place I didn’t want to be made me feel trapped and claustrophobic. I didn’t want to bother anyone and I suffered alone for awhile, but then I was blessed with my amazing roommate Tiffu, spent weekends with Hugo watching Kpop and Sailor Moon at his house, laughed with Kho on the balcony of the Blue Seal, did yoga with Taylor, and I didn’t feel lonely after. I also sought help from an amazing psychologist and learned how to deal with my second round of culture shock and depression.
Related: Making Friends in Korea versus Japan
How Did I Lose Weight in Korea?
There’s really no magic secret or diet I’ve gone on to lose weight. The majority of my weight loss has to do with diet change. I no longer eat my feelings. Since I actually enjoy Korean food, I don’t mind eating it every day and it shows. Korean food has a lot of vegetables, flavor and spice. Vegetables contain good fiber to fill me up. I know my body can’t handle white rice so I eat it sparingly. I also decided to become vegetarian in 2016 and that has helped maintain my weight. I don’t own a car so I have to walk everywhere and use public transport, inevitably getting more exercise. I go to Cross Fit and when the weather is good and the air isn’t polluted, I run or walk outside just because.
Why Do I Feel Happier in Korea?
I eat better and I have so many things to feel grateful for. Whenever I hear native English teachers in Korea complain about how “supreme” Japan is over Korea, I can’t help but laugh. While I agree the Japanese are super polite and Japan is a gorgeous, clean, and beautiful country, living there is a different story. Would I recommend traveling there? Oh hell yeah! It’s one of the safest countries in the world for female solo travelers and I never feel like I need to look over my shoulder at all times.
With my contract in Korea, I get my entrance and exit flight paid for, bonus pay, half my health insurance paid for, severance pay, and my fully furnished housing paid for. Yeah, our lives are so terrible here, right? What is there not to feel grateful about? I have everything I need and more. Since the cost of living is cheaper, I have more wiggle room to travel, save, and pay off my student loans. I can easily do things alone and it doesn’t require a specific process, ordeal or headache to complete. I can get by knowing a bit of Korean.
Since I learned self-reliance in Japan, I realized I don’t need people to feel complete, but I do like to be around people who genuinely love and care for me as a person (believe me, I am the most loyal friend you will ever meet). I enjoy my own company and my hobbies. I look for fulfilling and meaningful relationships and friendships. If people I encounter cannot give me what I want, I simply move on and not dwell on it. There’s so many cool people here in Korea from all walks of life and I don’t feel like I have to be a part of some “Hawaiian clique” to fit in. Seriously, my last year in Okinawa was an episode of Mean Girls and I’m glad to be removed from that drama.
I also really enjoy Korean, because for those of you who don’t know me outside my blog or YouTube, I have a potty mouth. One of my absolute favorite words in the English dictionary is fuck and I use it daily. If you didn’t guess already, Korean has my favorite swear… I also think it’s incredibly sexy when hot guys speak Korean. Don’t ask me why. I just like the way Korean sounds. I get the warm fuzzies and I’m like, “The way you talk… I like that shit.”
Let me clarify I didn’t feel miserable the entire time I was in Japan. My first two years in Japan were actually super fun and enjoyable. Since this post was such a debbie downer, I’m definitely going to dedicate a post on why I liked Japan. I had a lot of personal growth, I felt pretty, and I was doing my own thing. My third year was the tough year while I had this internal struggle of… What am I doing with my life? Why am I here? Why am I not growing, learning, and loving anymore?
The truth is, when you’re unhappy on the inside, it shows on the outside. No matter how hard you try to hide it in your posts on social media, it will resonate in your eyes and on your face because your soul can’t hide how you truly feel. Whenever I see people posting pictures of the “paradise” called Okinawa, I can’t help but remember how I lied to myself, thinking a beach paradise is what everyone wants and I had the “perfect” life. Just remember, there’s always trouble in paradise, no matter how beautiful it looks on the outside. Right now, Korea may be my paradise, but a year from now, it could be my hell. I don’t know. What I do know is I’m happy on the inside and it shows on the outside. I have everything I’ve ever wanted for my expat experience and more. The minute my inner happiness goes away is the time I will re-evaluate my life and assess if the direction I’m going is detrimental to my happiness. Take it from someone who has been there. What do you think?