It’s been a year and a half since I indefinitely moved to Tokyo, and this week I had a realization.
I am home.
For the longest time, I was just going with the work-life-tiredness-socializingcuzIhaveto routine. I am exaggerating, of course. I like my life here but I also enjoyed talking about “getting used to life here.” I wouldn’t say I complained. It’s more in the sense that this place still felt relatively too new and temporary to me. Back in Belgium I had my tight group of friends and family. Everything was familiar and easy. Starting a life from scratch in a country who’s language you speak but not master fully… is tough. And so, I got caught in the routine and living day to day based on this routine. Trying to find this holy balance, because that was the only thing that would make me truly happy.
Recently my role at the company I work shifted in a positive way, and it motivated me more than ever to work hard and live the life I wanted. I’m young and Tokyo is my oyster. This new role also enables me to meet new and interesting people. I get a lot of satisfaction from talking to people I just met and getting to know their story. I especially love talking about why expats make the brave decision to move to Japan. Every single person has a different story, with different emotions attached to it.
In light of my job pushing me to be more sociable, as well as my genuine interest in getting to know a person, I have made a bigger effort to get out and talk to people, to not be afraid to approach strangers. This attitude brought me to a wine bar.
I met up with someone I had met recently at an work-event, at a different bar in Shibuya. I was surprised to find us talking for hours straight. We had so much to tell and experiences to share. I asked her if she often came to the bar we were at, and she said yes. She had found it important to have a go-to place, to build a relationship with the owner, and that by going often enough you might even start a conversation with an interesting stranger. This is how she had made a lot of friends since living here.
After our drinks, and our ways parted, I realized I was very close to this one wine bar I absolutely loved going to when I was a student. I had not been back since moving to Japan. I had suggested it many times to friends and colleagues, but we never ended up going. So, for my own nostalgia’s sake, I went alone. I had never been to a bar alone. I was afraid I might get approached by weird, drunk strangers, who would mumble in Japanese to me and I would feel bad, not because a stranger was talking to me, but because I would not understand their mumbling, which my head bluntly reverts to the conclusion that I suck at Japanese and don’t belong here. But I went anyway.
The bar had not changed in the slightest. Just a few tacky Christmas decorations here and there. The lighting was the same. The smell was still the one of freshly cut cheese and wine. The owner recognized me and said it had been a long time. I sat at the bar, ordered the cheapest glass on the menu (which is still better than most wines at other places). I stared tensely at my phone while I sipped my glass, but then I relaxed a little, put my phone down and took in the moment. The man who sat beside me, well dressed and slightly tipsy, started talking to me. I would usually feel uncomfortable and go back to my phone, however, that early December evening, I felt confident. I started a conversation with him. I spoke Japanese and he deemed it good enough to keep speaking with me without reverting to English. Now, please note that in Japan, that’s a real confidence boost right there.
We talked about all kinds of topics. I found out that he used to do a part-time job at this very wine bar, that this bar was originally located somewhere else and the current location hadn’t changed in over 10 years. The owner asked me why it took me so long to come back to the bar. The three of us, the man at the counter and the owner, talked about our jobs, movies, hobbies, travel and laughed about Belgian clichés. It felt like the most normal thing in the world.
That night I had made a new friend, realized I really love my current job, rediscovered an old favorite place and had long conversations in Japanese without feeling stressed. I sat on the train afterwards filled with this overwhelming sensation of happiness. I felt accepted by this Belgium-sized metropole.
I am home.