Photos by Carlos Quiapo
When I got my one way ticket to Japan back in 2015, I couldn’t contain myself; it was my dream. Everybody wanted to visit Japan and I was going to live that life. I may not have the strong anime or manga connection with the country but I knew I had to say yes. It was my kismet moment. I needed to be somewhere else.
Three years later, on my fifth trip back home, I’m not quite sure anymore.
You see, visiting Japan and living in Japan are polar opposites experiences. The first month was one of the best. It was my first winter, my first real bowl of ramen — I was living the life. But coming from a lifestyle where I had everything served on a silver platter, moving to a country that didn’t speak any of the languages I spoke was anything but glorious. Mind you, it wasn’t all language related — escalators went up on the left, blowing your nose was rude, “just a moment” meant no.
After my honeymoon period with Japan, I just wanted to come home. This was after my first Christmas (and birthday) in Tokyo where I had to go to work like I would on a regular Monday. I was emotionally unstable with all the sudden life changes and language frustrations. I was half-crying, half-laughing about all the impulsive decisions I made in my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I was and am still enjoying my life in Japan. I consider my big move to be one of my best decisions in life. At the same time, every time I fly back to Manila for the holidays, I still feel I belong one way or another. The problem is that I don’t get to feel like I’m 100 percent part of something anymore. Moving to a foreign land meant giving away any sense of home and identity. It meant that I would probably never recognize how it feels to be home again.
In Tokyo, I am always that foreigner, regardless of whether I speak the language or not, whether I know the right protocols of bowing and slurping ramen bowls or not. I’m stuck being the visitor — no more, no less. I’m that foreigner at work who has the highest probability of making a mistake. I’m that foreigner in my building who’s probably going to break the house rules.
In Manila, I am always the balikbayan, regardless of whether I still know how to use “charot!” or if I still know who the local artists on TV are. I’m that balikbayan who’s not quite Filipino anymore just because I’ve been out of the country for so long. I’m that balikbayan struggling with my own languages because I involuntarily switch to Japanese when convenient. Or worse, I’m that balikbayan standing on the left side of the escalator.
In Tokyo, I am always that foreigner, regardless of whether I speak the language or not, whether I know the right protocols of bowing and slurping ramen bowls or not […] In Manila, I am always the balikbayan, regardless of whether I still know how to use “charot!” or if I still know who the local artists on TV are.
They never tell you anything about losing yourself when moving abroad. Behind those sweet images of adventure in a brand new land lies the truth that it’s just not as glamorous as everyone thinks it will be. You end up being thrown in an arena. You end up being on your own most of the time, trying to figure out Japanese characters on your washing machine.
But that’s the best part of it. Losing myself in the process of moving to Japan, I discovered myself even more. I would have never imagined being able to take care of myself had I stayed. I would have carelessly continued living in my parents’ house without worrying about breakfast or dinner. Moving to Japan made me strong enough to have mental breakdowns while multi-tasking my responsibilities at the same time. I met the best version of myself once I fully understood the value of acceptance in being stuck here.