It’s said that sometimes we can only appreciate what we have from a distance. Some will agree and others will disagree with this sentence, but in my case it’s true: there are quite a few things I didn’t appreciate when I lived in Israel.
About a month ago I got back from a month-long stay in Israel. It was my first visit after nearly two years of not being in the country, not seeing family, not hugging friends, not ordering coffee from my local coffee shop, and not smelling challah about to come out of the oven on Shabbat. No, Japan has none of these things.
And I’ve missed them.
I’ve missed everything that’s there but not here, everything I grew up with, the smells, shapes, tastes, the sounds of laughter, my friends scream my name, the hugs – I didn’t realize how much I missed them until I landed in Israel.
Without a doubt, over the past five and a half years that I’ve lived in Japan, I’ve amassed amazing experiences, a ton of knowledge, and learned many lessons about myself that I might never have learned if I hadn’t made the conscious choice to live in Japan (by the way, it’s a choice that I worked very hard for, as I’ve described in this post). I can never fail to appreciate the value of this experience of living as far away as possible, physically and mentally.
But there are also things that, with the passage of time, the distance and, most of all, in their absence, I’ve learned to appreciate and notice their place in my life anew.
1. Relocation to Japan - Language
I really like Japanese. A lot. But it isn’t my native language. As a person of words, I love utilizing all the layers of the language, and it’s important to me to express myself as clearly as words allow. For this reason, the best language for me is Hebrew, my mother tongue.
In Hebrew I understand all the idioms, expressions, nuances, the gestures that accompany each word and what they represent, and it would be truly difficult to stump me with a word or expression I don’t know. What’s more, so many words come from the everyday life and the Israeli experience I grew up with – a significant part of my world – which gives the words something extra that touches me personally.
Don’t get me wrong: I love engaging in lots of conversations, whether academic discourse, philosophical discussions or even heartfelt conversations in English and Japanese too. But Hebrew strikes a chord in me that no other language can. Hebrew books, poetry and films always touch a part of me that’s reserved for only one language. In all the world, there’s only one place where it’s the common tongue.
2. Relocation to Japan - Food
I think any Israeli who’s lived abroad will identify with me in this area. It doesn’t matter how culinarily successful the place I live is, there are things that just can’t be replaced. Home-cooked food, spices, an abundance of fruit, breads, or even just junk food from a nutritional perspective such as my usual cereals or soup mandels – they all have the taste of Israel.
What’s more, Israel has inspiring culinary diversity: you can easily find foods from every corner of the globe that are decently made.
True, Japan has sushi, ramen, various kinds of miso, yuzu, ponzu, umeboshi and a whole host of ingredients that are hard to find in Israel, such as fresh tofu and tempeh, but sometimes all I feel like is a braided roll from the nearby bakery. They don’t have that here.
For some time now I’ve understood that food is far more than merely nutrition. Food is a source of excitement, enjoyment and comfort, and there’s a reason that 20 out of the 30 kg I was allowed to take on the plane back to Japan was allocated to food products. But just to set the record straight: some of this food is for friends who asked for ingredients that aren’t available in Japan. Well, people who are desperate for food from home, just like me 😉
3. Relocation to Japan - Friday vibe
Japan has no day of rest for religious reasons. On Saturdays and Sundays most stores and supermarkets are open, malls are bustling, temples, museums, various tourist sites, restaurants and cafes are all operational. At commercial companies, the post office, banks and academic institutions the offices are closed, but even the university library has shorter “weekend hours” and is open.
In other words: weekend in Japan is completely different from Israel’s weekend.
There’s something about Israel’s Friday that I really like. I don’t like the morning, which is normally busy, but the afternoon hours, when all of the stores are closing but Shabbat hasn’t begun yet. These “pre-kiddush” hours have a magical vibe of sorts. A kind of tranquility. A time to say goodbye to the past week and to greet the weekend.
To be honest, when I lived in Israel and waitressed while I was a student, I always preferred to work weekends. I loved the fact that my day off was a weekday. But even when I had the evening shift on a Friday, there was a festive mood around sunset. I recall so fondly that sharp divide which makes everyone shift down a gear. So when there’s no slowing down before the weekend, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s Saturday or Sunday, something’s missing.
4. Relocation to Japan - Humor
I’m sure that a Japanese person living in Israel would also say that they miss the Japanese humor. Fair enough.
During my years of relocation to Japan I came to realize there are many kinds of Japanese humor. I really like the humor based on wordplay or double meanings. It has a wittiness that I really appreciate. But the humor I connect with the best will always be Israeli humor.
Humor is actually an expression of personality, culture and the entire spectrum of human emotions. And all of us love to laugh. There’s a reason we tend to like comedians (those who make us laugh) and entertainers, whether they’re our friends or celebrities.
There’s nothing I like doing better than sitting with family or friends, anywhere and at any time, and just chatting and laughing, even if the jokes are at my expense (to a certain extent!). Needless to say, this humor isn’t always acceptable here in Japan, and the culture of making fun of each other could end badly. Very badly. Japanese culture attaches great significance to a person’s age and status, even if they’re considered a good friend, and so it’s always advisable to be doubly cautious.
I miss the humor in Israel – the humor of my home. It’s a part of me, and I’m a part of it.
5. Relocation to Japan - Family and friends
While I don’t think I need to elaborate too much on family, because it’s obvious why I miss people who’ve been with me since I was born (or since they were born), give me a moment to elaborate on friends:
I have friends in Japan who I love dearly. I feel like I’ve known some of them my whole life. And yet, I really miss my friends from home, who’ve been with me for years, who’ve been through it all with me and who know all the versions my software has been through. They’re the friends who, even if I go years without talking to them, the moment we meet up again it’s as if not a day has gone by. Life is far more beautiful when they’re around.
But it’s clear to me that if I live somewhere else, I’ll miss my friends from Japan a lot. I already miss some of my girlfriends who’ve moved to another country or city.
The truth is, that’s how it is with almost everything: friends, food, and the way things work – I’ll always compare Japan and Israel, because now I’m very familiar with what it’s like both here and there. There will always be things that bother me in Israel or in Japan, and things I’ll miss when I’m far away.
I feel like every person who experienced a different country will always be torn between their home-land and their new home.
From now on, my aim will always be to try and focus on the good things about the place where I am.