Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Looking For the Balance

Nine months since leaving a Japanese city of twenty-four million and coming to this Florida town of twenty-three thousand. Thirty-six weeks without the Inokashira train, the Ginza subway and the Keio bus, each replaced by car and license, and two hundred seventy-six days without a jostled walk along crowded sidewalks threading my way to browse the fountain pens at Kingdom Note pen shop, or to slurp a bowl of noodles at Futaba. Today I look out windows at a thousand miles of blue Atlantic; last April the windows were to a garden of white magnolia, blooming cherry and brilliant azalea, at moss covered stepping stones and golden carp. I walked three miles along a riverside, the sound of horns and traffic-stuck cars punching through a wall of green. This morning it was three miles of beach, nothing in sight but blue and white, no sound but rolling surf and screeching gulls.

There used to be days of lingering conversation with a next door neighbor, Mrs Hattori. Helpful in a dozen ways, she could talk about gardening, physical fitness, tropical fish or local events with equal ease. I miss talking to her, miss her old mother-in-law, ninety-three and climbing the stairs for dinner. I miss her smile. But here I have Betty June for a neighbor and she has her own brand of friendship that I’ve come to value, and her funny stories of multiple marriages with strange men in Ohio.

One of the small bothers about life in Japan was the difficulty of reading supermarket labels. I like to know what I’m eating, what the ingredients are. Most of the time the Japanese labels defeated me. Potassium sorbate, guar gum, high fructose corn syrup and carrageenan are not easy words to make out in Japanese. Got better at it over the years but usually missed some of the meaning. Shopping in Publix now I savor the ease of label reading but shudder at the understanding of what I might eat. Despite a fair proficiency with Japanese there were occasions when I understood a conversation or written sentence basically, but missed some of the details and nuances. These blank spots were more common in the movies or on television. But the feeling here with my native language is that maybe I understand more than I want, that a part of what I read or hear would be best left in a linguistic blur.

In the end, is one place better than the other? Is a beach better than a garden? A train better than a car? Hardly. Finding the balance in present circumstances is more profitable than wistful comparisons and whether I’ve found the balance is the more important question now. Nostalgic recollections can be a soothing balm for feet unsteady in a ‘new’ place and I tend to slather it on with late night reading of my Japanese books. Perhaps I need to focus more on the here and now and on finding the steady ground and comforts of small town life.


  1. We all look for balance in our lives. I hope you soon find yours - in the comfort of your surroundings, wherever they may be - and in the friends you surround yourself with.

  2. Excellent comparison between the two environs. Strikes the right wistful and practical tones throughout. (Could easily be # 11 in the ongoing project.) As far as labels on cans or on people, most want an easily understood one. Experiencing the unknown always raises the ordinary body preparedness and most times this is a good thing.

  3. With such a drastic change, remember to be kind to yourself first.

  4. I agree with JoniB. You could not possibly move all of your possessions and begin life in another part of the world, even if it is in your native country, without some of the feelings you have expressed. Balance will come with time and during that time enjoy your new experiences and treasure the memories which might grown dim but which can never be taken away from you.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America