This Morning

This morning I started meditating again. My most recent streak was unfortunately derailed by a rather steadfast cold. It became so attached at the end, like a lost relationship,  I’m still finding relics of it. Box of tissues by my nightstand, an empty bottle of cough syrup that got brushed up under my bed, reaching for keys but pulling out of my pocket 4 cough drops and 7 wrappers of the poor souls who lost their lives in the line of duty. But I am feeling on the up and up now. The practice that I was returning to is one of mindfulness. I’ve been using the guided meditations through the 10% happier app. A brand I became familiar with while I was working in Japan. On the days where I would be left to myself to take care of shredding documents for hours on end I would look to Podcasts to help block out the sound of the shredder. I’ve always been rather quizzical of meditation itself. Having had chocked it up to being something that I was sure could help some people, but most certainly not me. It was nice to hear discussions on why people had a practice, or why people did not. Upon returning Stateside I decided to actually sit down and try it for myself. I had already known I was in for a tough transition back into my life in Montana, but to further it I heard some distressing news about a member of my family’s health. Even though I was home it sure didn’t feel like it. Having a family that lives on the other side of the northern border that now has decreased mobility made it hard to feel close to anyone. So I felt it was time to go all out. I downloaded multiple apps including 10% happier, happify, and headspace. Most days I was meditating 2 times a day. I was not fully sure of what change was happening but I wanted it so desperately that I dove in head first.

More recently it’s been the little challenges that I can add to my day that feel the most rewarding. Later tonight on my way to a concert I plan on going on a “smiling walk”. I won’t change anything about my route, or the speed, but I will change the way I carry myself. While I walk the number one thing one my mind will be whether or not I’m smiling. If at any point I find myself not smiling. I will acknowledge that I am not smiling and the start smiling. This is not just an inward exercise, I won’t just be smiling to myself. I am going to smile at people. The people that I know and the people that I don’t know. The times I have done this in the past I have felt noticeably better. Both because when I smile it makes me feel happy in and of itself, and because it increases my interaction with the outside world. I can share in a brief moment with someone that I may never interact with otherwise.

Scary Thoughts

This week I planned out my schedule for next semester and was initiated into three new groups back home. Which is funny because I often forget that I’m even a student. Academic life feels so far away from where I currently am. It feels so odd planning out my classes for next semester and trying to figure out how I want to spend my time once I return. The thought of returning to my studies feels like a holding pattern in a way. Don’t get me wrong, I love school. You would be very hard put to find someone that with an enthusiasm for higher education than me. There is something so great about being in a setting where people at least on some level want to learn or commit themselves to doing something that will better themselves in the long term. Which is probably one of the reasons I feel so conflicted. I always dreamt of my life in academia, a professor with his own research lab. I knew that I would go to graduate school to finish up all of my degrees, publish, and go on to research things that I have always found somewhat bewildering. Even with all of that in my plan though I felt as though there was a segment missing a period of time after I formally complete my education but before I really settle into any institution for the long term. Now I’m starting to think about all of the ways I can be “helpful” and what sort of impacts I want to have on the people living in the world around me. That is why I was drawn to Psychology wasn’t it? The people around me? If I have the chance to contribute something positive to their life experience shouldn’t I take it?

As most people have probably heard in the news by now this last week we had some pretty terrible earthquakes here in Japan. I’m alive and well, life in Tokyo went on without being drastically affected. I didn’t even realize anything had happened until it was already over. But with the 35 people that lost their lives it’s something that is hard to push from my mind. It is absolutely nothing to dismiss. But something that I find even more terrifying to think about is something that is not talked about at all. Today in japan almost twice that many people died and there wasn’t another disaster. Statistics taken in 2014 showed that on average 70 people commit suicide everyday in Japan. Now that average is a lot lower than it was a few years ago, and it is still decreasing as time goes on. But it doesn’t make it any less heart wrenching. What’s even worse? Japan isn’t even the developed country with the highest rates of suicide. And if you look at it on a global level it doesn’t even make the top ten. That means that this is not only Japan’s problem, that makes it the world’s problem. Suicide affects us all, and we have made it something we can’t talk about. Not talking about it, does not make it go away. It only makes it harder for the people that need help the most to find it.

Stress and Relaxation

Work place chaos can come in many forms as I am quickly realizing. Change being one of the most frequently dealt with issues in my office. Some change has been great, like the arrival of a new Office Admin who has drastically helped alievate the ammount of work that had been deligated to others around the office since the departure of the previous Admin the week before my arival here. Of course ebs and flows are a part of life and shortly after our most recent arival it was announced that our Clinical Director would be parting ways with the organization. Which came as a wave of sadness for me, because the Clinical Director was one of the first people here that really made me feel valued for what I was able to bring to TELL even as an intern. I remember him telling me to think big when I was drafting a plan for a grant proposal and to include something that I could see myself doing if I ever wanted to work full time with the organization. Not only does the announcement hold emotional weight, it brings with it another wave of structural chaos at a time where things seem to be as close to in order as they have been since my arrival. Responsibilities once again have to be delegated to those who are already spread thin while working towards their own tasks.

Multiple people have asked me what my comfort level with going to an onsen is. Typically with the assumption that I will be uncomfortable with the level of nudity. I’ll clarify exactly what an onsen is before I get into my personal feelings. It is a naturally heated bath, imigane a hot spring that is used to heat a public bathing area. And then add a ton of naked men. Sometimes they use hand towels to cover themselves when they walk around between the baths but many will just go without and enjoy the experience as free as a bird. I have had the chance to onsen three different times since my arrival. My first time was with a group of students that all had previously studied abroad at UM themselves. They were all women and had one of my male Japanese friends back home send me a series of messages going through the intricacies of onsen-ing for the first time. It was a large elaborate area in Odiaba that contradicted what I had imagined when picturing this “Japanese tradition”. Food vendors, games, and performers filled the artificial town inside of the complex. We all went and took a foot bath together and enjoyed our time in the sun while they gave me some last minute tips before I made the plunge. Being that all of my companions were women I had to fend for myself once we went our separate ways. It wasn’t as terrifying as I was lead to believe though. Everything felt orderly and in many ways relaxing. My most recent onsen experience came last weekend at the end of a fantastic day trip to Hakone. I had the day off of work so I was able to go in the middle of the week when there weren’t many people out and about. The bathing area itself was open air, surrounded by trees, and was overlooking an edge of the mountain in a way that you could just faintly hear the city life and traffic sounds in the back ground. I was able to sit quietly in the pool for about an hour that evening before I jumped on a “Romance Car” and headed back into Tokyo.

Flower Power

The spring is a beautiful time here in Japan. It’s like Tokyo is waking up in front of my eyes. Green is popping up in the bushes bringing a warmth to the streets. Flower gardens have even started appearing on my daily commute. Most miraculously of all though are the two weeks in which the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and everyone in the country swarms to the parks and rivers just to get a glimpse of the annual beauty. People in japan take to the streets and parks like you would not believe. The most popular way to celebrate is with an event known as Hanami. It’s literally going out to where ever the sakura may be and eating, drinking, and enjoying life with friends while looking at the flowers bloom. Parks larger than most I have ever seen are covered centimeter by centimeter with blue tarps adorned with bottles, picnic baskets, frisbees, guitars, soccer balls, and people with smiling faces all slightly redend by alcohol. As bubbles and kites float through the air you can almost hear the happiness around you at an audible level. Something that even when described to me before hand I couldn’t really grasp. Which honestly made it similar to almost everything else about Japan that I had experienced this far. TELL was having a Hanami fundraiser in where I was able to meet with some of the board members of the NPO. One of whom said that “There was no place better to be in the world than Japan”. Which while looking around at the scene I could clearly see what he meant. I find it interesting to think about that celebration and what brought me there. Raising money for a lifeline. Literally a place some people call when they are dealing with some of the hardest times of their lives and metal health issues. Something that is rarely talked about in Japan. And looking around why would it be talked about? Why would people possibly be sad when there is so much beauty and happiness around them? It’s an easy trick to fall for, imagining the world you live in to be free of unflattering statistics and issues. Living life but being unaware of what may be going on in the head of the person on the tarp next to you. This is certainly not a Japan only problem, and I am interested on how my own perception of the world and the people around me change as I further my knowledge of mental health as a whole.

This last weekend, during our second large group Phone Counselor training, I had the privilege of leading the trainees in a session dedicated to cultural adjustment. Something I feel that most people in the room, including myself, had a good deal of personal experience with. The presentation came out to be a little over an hour and a half. Which is a length that I had never approached before in terms of presenting any form of information. When I was approached about presenting I was given a rather broad set of options to choose from. I took the weekend to figure out exactly which topic I felt the most interested and informed about. While at the same time checking when each was set to be given as I didn’t want to jump into a presentation that I wouldn’t have adequate time to prepare for. Cultural adjustment seemed like a safe bet. Once I told my supervisor she responded with a “Great! It will take a lot of work but it will save me from doing it!” which was my first sign that I had gotten myself into more than I initially thought. She then proceeded to tell me that it had been moved up two weeks from a nine-person small group session to one of our 30-person ones. And that what I assumed would be a 20-30 or so minute protocol was actually triple that. As I was handed stacks of papers used to lead the multiple activities I would have to cover I started planning out the research I would have to do over the next week and a half. The day of I was to be the first presentation after lunch. I only half listened to the morning presentations as I reviewed my notes that I had written “Lovingly Crafted by Christopher Morucci” at the top of, and furiously re-Googled the research articles I had read countless times before. During our break for lunch I ran to a bento shop, scarfed down my food out front of the office building, and then ran up to the bathroom. Where I proceeded to stand in a stall for 5 minutes alternating between the “wonder woman” and “victory v” power poses in an attempt to trick my mind into thinking I was as confident as I wished I was. After my presentation was all said and done, I recollected myself (this time not in the bathroom) and after taking stock the room, my own feelings, and the one person that fell asleep in the back of the room (that I attributed to that post lunch/two in the afternoon crash that is so frequently referenced in 5 hour energy commercials) I felt successful.

Permanence

The future has been on my mind quite a lot as of late. At this point in life it seems to be the bases for most things. I never felt a sense of permanence in my home town. I always knew that sooner or later this dance piece or production would be replaced with another. Going to college, even though quite a commitment, really only stays the same for about 4 months at a time. Then you’re on to new classes, people drop out, new students transfer, and a new weekly schedule gets slated. I feel overly aware of the temporariness of my current life. I can’t quantify if it is due to the fact that city life is constantly changing, the NPO has had constant turn over for staff, or the fact that my time sitting in the park under the sakura with my close friends, going on day trips, eating at my favorite restaurants, and even walking the bright streets at night are all marked with an experation date that goes by the name of a return flight from Tokyo to Portland, and then Portland to Missoula.

It’s caused me to think a lot about what my future looks like and what I want to get out of it. I have twelve or thirteen tabs open on my browser right now with job descriptions at various organizations and their minimum requirements for application. None of which are in the realm of careers I would have pictured myself reading up on even last year. I set search requirements for “Humanitarian” and “Global” and “Mental Health” or “Counseling”. I pictured myself as a “Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Manager” in Nepal, or the coordinator in Syria. Both of which require advanced graduate degrees of social sciences in one field or another. Then I pictured myself in graduate school. Pushing on to get my Masters, publishing research articles, doing both a pre and post doc internship. Finally being awarded my Philosophy Doctorate of Psychology. That person I picture is different from the person I feel like I currently am. It’s not in any obvious way, but still it’s there. I think it has to do with a level of mindfulness that I don’t currently have but hope to reach. He’s no longer the kid who listens to meditation podcasts while filling out excel spreadsheets at work. He’s the person that has dedicated a part of his day solely to his practice. He doesn’t walk around watching beautiful things happen and be afraid to put himself out far enough to make something of his own. He has a sense of understanding for other’s cultures that allows him to not only communicate fully, but understand people to an extent in which positive growth can be made for both parties involved. A person who’s things. But not a person that knows so much he can stop learning.

Accompanied by one of my roommates I went for a hiking trip up Mt. Takao this weekend. The whole experience was very much unlike any hike I have ever done before. The paths were paved. There were vending machines along the route. There was even a lift that you could use a train pass to get on if you didn’t want to take the time to actually walk all the way up. About half way to the top there was an observatory, which is to be expected however, there was also a plethora of shops and restaurants filling the paths that felt like they came out of nowhere. Feeling like it was unnecessary to do your shopping for the day we continued forward. Until we reached a garden, a monkey garden. There was no way I was going to pass up my chance to hang out with these lively fellas. As a trainer gave a presentation I could in no way understand, my roommate and I flocked to the railing in order to obtain the best view possible of or primate brethren. we watched the interactions of the monkey community for far longer than two grown men probably should have. Afterwards we regained our composure and continued on our trek. Once at the top you could see the expansive metropolis that goes by the name of Tokyo in the distance. It was odd to think about how little of this space I have covered despite my constant efforts to get lost inside of it as I could. It also reminded me of being back home in Montana and being able to look out at my surroundings from atop a mountain peak. It was comforting and felt familiar. Maybe minus the vending machine 10 meters away from me.

Heating Up

The exact moment it happened escapes me now, but I do finally feel like I live in Tokyo. I know multiple walks that I can take to work depending on how much traffic there is. I have go to restaurants for when people want to grab a bite. I can do more than just nod my head in order to display what I want. Someone said “Moshi Moshi from the other side” and I laughed harder than I probably should have. And I’m starting to really feel connected to the other expats I meet. The international community here is much larger than I had pictured. In many ways I feel like I fit in with them, all of us far away from our roots but still living our lives. In even more ways though I don’t fit in with them, which is probably the biggest reason I feel so drawn to them. Every member of this community had a different rearing, in a different part of the world, came here for different reasons, has different interests, and has different life goals. It’s cliche to say that the differences we all have are the things that bring us together, so I won’t… I will however heavily imply it.

A lot happened for me in my internship this week. I was able to sit in on my fist session in the Life-line. Another experience in my life that I cannot discuss for confidentiality reasons. I came out of it with a new perception of how people use hotlines as more than just resources but as sort of a being in itself. I feel as though it can provide a sort of relational outlet that often is taken for granted by those in different situations. This line is made up of dozens of volunteers who’s time and effort has been incrementally put together year after year to provide a kind and impactful ear for a community that is bursting from its lips with things to say.

We also started our Tokyo Phone Counselor training this past weekend. I was able to engage with one of the largest classes of volunteers in recent years. Yet another group of individuals that are willing to take steps to better themselves in order to help those around them. Getting to talk with a few of the volunteers only increased my admiration for these people, which certainly isn’t anything to scoff at as it is. Even though many of the people taking the training greatly surpass me in number of advanced degrees and years of experience with helping others, I was lucky enough to be able to lead a session during the 9 hour initial meeting. My partner and I lead them in a game similar to those I have facilitated during orientations as an Advocate back home. It is a simple game in which a statement is read and participants move to a certain part of the room depending on whether or not they agree or disagree with what was said. Dealing with college freshman its main purpose is to open up the shutters and let the students see that others may have drastically different opinions and beliefs than they themselves hold. And that very often these people that think differently can have just as strong of a reason for holding to their guns as you do. For these counselors the goal was more of an introspective one. To make the trainees aware of how they fall on certain issues and where their beliefs lie in order to be able to identify and separate their own feelings from those that are calling the line.

In terms of exploration I also had a quite unique cultural experience this last weekend. The day after the training I jumped on a train. It was only about an hour ride from where I am living to the base of Mt. Takao. I had heard about a “Fire Walking Festival” from a kindly stranger (who I’m now friends with on Facebook), on Meetup, and from a magazine that my NPO advertises in. I felt as if it was the only option I had for spending that Sunday. I met up with a friendly group of fellow Gaijins and we had some fantastic traditional snacks from the vendors as we secured our spot to watch the event. I should clarify what I mean when I say that we secured out spot. In all honesty our spot was saved for us by a kindly woman who had been coming to this festival since before she had kids. I should also clarify that when I say a kindly woman I am talking about a little lady in her 70’s or 80’s with pink hair that knows all the tricks to make the most out of this experience. My group had planted ourselves in a queue of spectators that wanted to have an active part in the festival. It was rather hard to see from our spot so our pink haired neighbor in line urged us to climb up onto the hill alongside where we were standing. As the ritual officially began and the monks started chanting we watched the people who would be first to walk among the flames be presented in front of the mass of onlookers. A nervous excitement began to fill my body as the first strands of smoke started emerging from the structure in the center of the stage that had clearly been intricately crafted. Soon a tower of smoke had filled the air. Even the sun seemed to have hidden its face as to not become burnt by the heat. Quickly the smoke was replaced by flashes of red jutting into the air as the largest fire I have ever witnessed appeared. I can’t imagine the heat that those up close had to experience because even at my distance I had to take off my coat in order to not start sweating. Almost immediately after the ash was visible on the ground the monks began their trek. Making rows through the fire similar to a farmer making rows through corn. Without noticing a clear transition I realized that the line where I was standing was moving. I had expected more time in between for the paths to cool and for the fires to be put out. But no, people just like myself that moments ago were merely witnesses were now strutting through fire. I would have been stupid to not feel nervous, or at least I told myself that to avoid thinking less of myself, but I did as I saw the others around me doing and I took off my shoes as the queue continued to shuffle forward. It was my turn. Standing directly before the row I saw the smoke and flames within inches to my left and right. Only the straight line in which others had walked before me was clear of any animation. It felt as though I was in a tunnel made up solely of heat. The “walls” and “ceiling” of which were so warm I didn’t pay any attention to the floor. 5 breathes latter it was over. I was being ushered out of the way to provide space for those behind me to exit and clean their feat. I looked down at my blackened soles not feeling any different, while also feeling content knowing I had just done something I never thought I would do.

Understanding

 

This week I was able to sit in on an interview of a potential phone counselor for the life-line. It was my first glimpse of what I have spent the past few weeks preparing for. I of course cannot write about what we discussed publicly, but I can write about how it made me feel. Which in itself is one of the key focuses of TELL. I asked myself why people would want to add something this much time commitment into their lives. let alone why these people would want to add something this emotionally tolling. I feel like I was only asking these questions because I want to know why I want to do things like this with my life. It put in perspective how high the stakes are for a career in this line of work. Years of training to do one of the hardest things I can imagine. How badly does one need to feel a calling to their work to deal with that level of stress? Am I committed enough to this idea of myself and my future to find the worth in all of the effort? Will I ever actually know if I’m doing what I’m “supposed to be doing with my life”? Listening to the interview and the reasons people have for wanting to become volunteers of this kind made me think about how it’s not any less admirable to want to help people in this way as opposed to what I view for myself. We shared many of the same goals, and they asked questions about why things are the way they are that I have spent hours thinking about. It doesn’t make what they want to do for others any less beautiful just because it isn’t the center of their world. But who am I to say helping people isn’t at the center of their world. They know more about themselves then I do. 

Outside of work this had been kind of a mellow week. I didn’t go to the dance classes I had in weeks prior. I think it was a combination of being worn out and home sick but I really felt like sleep was probably the best step towards feeling better. On my day off I did laundry, mailed some letters, payed my rent, and then went and saw a movie. The movie theater I went to was in Shinjuku. After about 20 minutes you stop seeing the Japanese subtitles entirely. After I got done with the matinee showing I walked out of the building and pulled out my phone to check the best way to get back to the train station. Not even 45 seconds later a little elderly lady walks up to me asking for help in english. I put away my phone and ask her what she needed. I quickly realized that she spoke practically no english but she kept trying to call someone who could speak more that I could talk to to figure things out. She tries calling a number two or three times to no avail, but then she noticed someone across the street. I at first thought she was waving at a couple of ladies sitting outside of a restaurant, however a younger man standing near them starts walking our way. I felt myself becoming tense as this man approached us, but I told myself I was just being silly. But as this man reached us I said “hello” and the first thing out of his mouth was “You want Sex?”. I was immediately taken aback, struggling trying to get find a way out of this situation. I quickly blurted out “Oh no no!” while I could feel myself turning red in the face. “A massage?” he said as though he may be being to direct with me.   “I’m ok!” I said, while while coming to grasp the fact that I was actually being propositioned with sex at 6:45pm on a Monday. At this point I pulled out my phone, pointed to it and made my best ” would you look at that, I need to get hell out of here” face, turned, and bolted away.

The next day though I ran into my favorite little old lady in all of Tokyo. She is one of the cleaners in my office building, she doesn’t speak a lick of english but she has the largest smile I have ever seen. Even if she is wearing a face mask you can see the happiness in her ears. I see her at least once everyday at work and I can’t help but try to have a conversation with her everyday in which neither of us knows what the other is saying and we just smile a lot. This day though, when I went to fill up my water bottle in the kitchenette she gestured for me to stay where I was and disappeared into her office. As to not disappoint my new “work best friend” I followed her instruction. She reappeared moments later with two bags of gourmet croissants that she had left over and was just giving to me. I took the bags graciously and then gestured for her to not move as I scurried back to my office. Once I swiped in I set the bags on the communal table for everyone else in the office and snatched my backpack, inside it was an emergency gift that two of my dear friends back home had given me to and I quote “give to the cool people I meet”. It was a small bottle of Huckleberry jam. The cleaning lady smiled as I handed her the bottle in return for her kindness. Her eyes lit up and as she read the label. She held it up to me and shouted “Blueberry Jam!” I tried to tell her what huckleberries were and their significance to me but it was clearly lost in translation. No matter, my friend and I had just shared a moment, and that was all I really cared about.

My life has become quite inconsistent. Not because I haven’t fallen into a routine, in many ways I have. It’s inconsistent because of how drastic the differences are in every realm of my life. I live in a basement room in the “pinkest” shared room apartment you have ever seen near the center of Tokyo. It’s filled with people from all over the world. Mostly in their twenties, some are older, some are younger, all with different stories of what we are doing here. Though if I had a nickel for every time I met an English teacher, I would be able to pay my rent every month I plan on spending here with it, but it would still probably be less than how many coins you end up with in your pockets after buying a single item from a convenie. We each do, or don’t do, our own things. The only thing a lot of these people and I have in common is our living space. It’s nice nonetheless and I am ready and willing to call this place home for the time being. Just outside the door is the bustling city. New buildings seem to pop up everyday, that or an old building got a new billboard. I live 25 minutes by train from the building that I work in, it just so happens that it is a 32 minute walk for the same distance but those 7 minutes aren’t enough of a difference for me to skip on a nice walk. There are a few different factors on why I choose to walk to work every morning, but the main reason is that I listen to Japanese lessons on my phone during my commute and didn’t want to be that guy mumbling “2 o’clock in the afternoon” over and over to himself in a crowded train car. So I mutter in it the middle of the street like a normal person. I am lucky to be living in a place that has as much english as it does, however I want to not only be able to communicate more clearly, but better understand what is happening around me. What is that person saying into that megaphone across the street? What are those people in front of me fighting over? Does that lady need help or is she trying to trick me into talking to her so that I get propositioned? All are things I feel clueless about on a daily basis. However when I get to work, that whole world vanishes. I work in a very western style office. A lot of the time other than the dialectical differences I start to forget I’m even in Japan. I work in English and I dream in english. Everything in between is a series of deeply concentrating to people’s faces and body language and flailing my own limbs around trying to communicate my point across to the other party. It’s getting easier in some ways each day. I feel as though I have to use my arms less the more and more my language skills increase.  Not understanding is isolating though, I often can’t have the sorts of in depth conversations that used to be a part of my daily life. And when I get done at work at five it’s one in the morning back home, knowing I can’t just call up a friend makes the feeling of being isolated just that much more real. But I find ways to get around those feelings. I have been writing a lot. Keeping a journal and writing letters are ways that I feel I can feed my need of maintaining some sort of dialogue. Even writing this blog satisfies that need in some ways. 

Yes

I would like to clarify something, mostly for my own benefit. When I say I want to try and help people with my life, I don’t do it because I feel like others need my help. I do it because I like to give myself to things, and what better thing to give myself to than other people.

Things have started to pick up at work already. We are steadily prepping for the new phone counselor trainings that have already started in Kansai, and the ones that are just a few weeks out in Tokyo. It’s very quickly becoming clear how difficult things can be working in an NPO. It feels as if I have just joined a team. Playing offense we have the Outreach Coordinator, Events & Communications Coordinator, and the Lifeline Training Coordinator. These terrific players work to not only bring people into the organization, but to provide people of need with resources they need to bring positive change to the international community they live in. Playing defense we have a large group of dedicated volunteers, the Financial Controller, the Clinical Services Coordinator, and numerous therapists and counselors that tirelessly work to create a sustainable way of helping a diverse population. All of whom are coached by a squad of directors, specifically the Executive Director, the Lifeline Director, and the Clinical Director who are around to make sure this small group can have as large of an impact as possible. Which makes me, one of the always present, and ever integral water-people. One that surprisingly, and quite excitingly gets his own fair share of play time. I have become incorporated into quite a few major realms of the NPO where I feel my voice is actually being heard. I am even currently working with another one of the interns on developing a plan for a program to help with an upcoming grant application. There is also a nice integration of educational outreach programs for the public that TELL staff are allowed to attend which provides chances to develop in the academic realm in addition to organizationally.

I feel like I very clearly wear the face of a tourist when I wander around the streets of Tokyo. Worlds away from feeling as though the person next to me has had even a remotely similar upbringing. My obvious difference does not stop an outpouring of kindness from strangers around me when I ask for help. I have tried to see as much as I can while I’m out getting lost in my daily life. And I don’t mean trying to see as many things as I can, but seeing as much as I can in a few things each day. I have had two separate occasions in which people have told me I have a “good energy”. Both times were initiated by one of my main goals from this experience, which is to say yes as much as I can to the opportunities that present themselves. The most recent happened when I was walking through one of the large parks near where I am living. After visiting the shrine that lives in the center of the park I started making my way towards the exit trail where, surprise surprise, I passed a sign that I could not read. I went and asked the attendant working a booth near the sign and found out that there was a special path leading to an old spring well that would add maybe an hour onto my trip. I decided to just go for it because who was I kidding, I didn’t have anywhere to be. After working my way passed cherry trees that were not yet in bloom and seeing my first few koi fish (or at least they looked like koi fish) I found my way to the well with a small line and a single guard in front of me. rather quickly the line dwindled as people took their photos and moved on to see the next thing along the trail. I stepped onto the rock and stared at the well for a few moments, pulled out my phone and took a single picture, and then proceeded to walk away. That’s when the guard stopped me as I was leaving and said that I had a good energy to me, he had not said anything to the people in front of me so I asked what he meant. He was older and and did not speak much english so his meaning escaped me. But he was very kind and told me of a few of his favorite parts of Japan. Things that I quickly added to my agenda.

The other time someone referenced my “energy” I was also in a park, the presence of shrubbery is only thing the two situations have in common though. This time I was approached by a little old lady right after getting off of the phone with a good friend back home. Who quickly asked me if I wanted to receive god’s blessing. To which as I am sure you have already guessed I said yes to. Clearly very eager to share something special to her with me she whisked me away into a whirlwind of her own excitement and introduced me to her husband and her granddaughter. As we all headed to their church the grandmother asked me questions about my life and translated my answers to her husband while the the little girl held onto my pant leg and even took my water bottle from my bag to play with. We quickly arrived where I was introduced to an evangelical pastor who spoke in a way about god that I had never heard before. She asked me if I would participate in a quick ritual in order to receive gods blessing. To which I responded “yes”. This lead me through a series of events that included but was not limited to chanting, singing, drinking tea, praying, and accidentally getting baptized in a Japanese church… I’m not saying that there was a miscommunication, but I am saying that a few important steps in receiving this blessing got lost in translation when it was being described to me. But I dried myself off and don’t seem to be any worse for wear from before. I was shown nothing but the most sincere kindness the entire process. When I finally parted ways with this woman and her family I asked her why she even came up to me in the first place. All she said was that I had a good energy, then she thanked me for giving them my time and we said our goodbyes.

I have had countless encounters with people in which because of a lack of shared language we were unable to build much of a connection. I would try my best, but things just weren’t clicking. So I tried to find things here that had allowed me to foster friendships back home. The first people that I was able to really feel a connection with once getting to Tokyo were in these little free dance classes I found, even with my lack of understanding words coming from the instructors’ mouths, I knew what they were saying. I could tell how one person’s interpretation of a song was enabling me to share in a moment with these people I barely knew. After the first class I was chatting with one of the girls and she asked me if I was going to get a bite to eat. I had already eaten my fair share of meals for the day but I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to spend time with someone after feeling disconnected with the outside world around me for a week. We chatted and when I was explaining to her what I was doing in Tokyo I had the same experience that I did with the woman in the park, she didn’t know what I meant by Psychology. Even when I tried to describe it in the terms of counseling and mental health there was clearly a lack of understanding. One that was not simply from a language barrier. I chatted with my co-workers about this and they shared similar experiences referencing just how unincorporated mental health is from the heath care system here and how taboo the topic of mental illness is in the culture. Which only solidified my choice to have my out of classroom experience in Japan. I hope to use this experience to gain a better understanding of why there are such large differences in the views of mental health between cultures. Because being culturally competent is a big part of being successful in any field.

 

The First Few Firsts

Before I dive into the beauty and chaos that was my first week in Japan I want to share something that was presented to me this last Friday evening during a guest speaker’s talk covering awareness of cultural differences in perception and communication. The speaker referenced studies that traced eye movement of both Japanese citizens and Americans. It was found when asked to describe a picture the Americans found a focal point in what was presented at the forefront of the image. The Japanese participants took a more holistic view and described the image more generally.

When I arrived in Narita Airport I was running off of 3 hours of sleep over the past 2 days. Even though I had been practicing my Japanese in the weeks leading up to this trip any cognitive energy I had left was not enough to muster a single word that was outside of my native tongue. I stepped off the plane and was quickly ushered through customs and was given my residency card without much trouble at all. I had been prepped upon the best ways to get into the city with the least amount of struggle by my ever knowledgeable friend/guardian angle Hana-sara. Also by some random series of serendipitous events I ran into another UM student, Jordan, who was getting into the airport just minutes before me.

That evening though I had my first of many miscommunications when I was trying to get my first meal in Japan. Through a series of events that were significantly less serendipitous than those I described before, I wound up at a little fish shop. A fish shop in which no one spoke any English and I ended up getting way more than I bargend for, both in amount of food and amount of fish heads that were brought to me.

The next few days I had time to become settled into the area before starting up work at TELL. Between Hana-sara and Jacob I was set up with the best survival and exploring tips I could have asked for. I got lost in the crowds of Harajuku, set out to explore the shopping magnificence that is Skytree, Stumbled into a traditional wedding at one of the local temples, and got caught up by the the lights and sounds emanating from the local arcades.

The following Monday I had a meeting with my contact Sarajean and jumped into the swing of things at work on Tuesday. I was immediately asked about what my goals were, not just with the internship, but with life. Along with my views in the field of psychology and what I thought the best ways of helping people truly are. Vickie, my supervisor and the Life-Line Director at TELL told me that she thought these things were all important so that she would know how to push me to expand my own thinking while I am with them. That thought of expanding upon myself helped me to hang on to my sanity the next few days. I was desperately trying to find reason in what I was doing when I was asked to do objectively trivial tasks, like counting out over 1000 pens just to make sure we had an estimate of how many were left. I fought with myself as to why I had decided to take on an internship as opposed to studying abroad. I kept breaking it down into black and white thinking. “I chose work over/tedium over study/play” and “I chose a desk, computer, and 8 or so co-workers over a campus, teachers, and thousands of peers my own age”. I couldn’t remember for the life of me why it was that I would ever choose this path.

Then I bumped into the Clinical Director of TELL’s counseling program. He invited me to lunch the next day and I of course said yes. We swapped stories about what brought us to where we each were. Him, a Clinician who was born in Germany, studied in Ireland, interned in the US, researched in Singapore, and practiced in Japan. And me, an intern who was born in California, grew up in Montana, and thinks he wants to help people someday. But he made me feel comfortable. He had an easy and relatable feel to him. I found out that besides myself he was the newest member of TELL and had gotten into the country just 1 month prior. He had some sense of faith in my abilities that I didn’t even have myself, and reminded me of something that Vickie had told me during my first day. “We have to be certain not to push what we want on other people, but to help people find out and achieve what they themselves want”.

The work started to become less tedious as the days went on. I’m not sure if it’s because they ran out of things for me to count, god knows they must have, or if they realized that I work better while researching and working with larger scale projects. But things seemed to get easier to grasp the more complex the task I was given. I was beginning to see the meaning behind what I was doing. How even though I am not yet directly working with those in need, the things I am doing will help this NPO have a lasting impact on people in Japans lives.

I feel as though at first I did what came naturally to me, I focused on what was in front of me. Sometimes it was boxes of pens, sometimes it was stacks of volunteer files. I did the same in my everyday life. I was lucky that the timing of the guest speaker happened when it did, because it helped me put into words what I was trying to work out in my head. No one else seemed to be as caught up with the little things as I was. Even though TELL is certainly a western structured organization, the people there are able to effectively take a step back and view the whole picture in a way that I still cannot fully. It has become one of my main goals to become more aware of my own perception of the world around me, and be able to acknowledge, for better or for worse, that there are other ways of looking at the same thing.

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The Day Before Departure

 

 

Preparing and panicking, those are the two things I have dedicated the most of my time towards this year. I feel as though I can slip between the two within a single breath. I have never been this unsure of how I feel about a situation before. I’m excited to get out both the county and my head. I’m also terrified of unwittingly isolating myself in a place that no matter how much I research and read up on remains nothing but a large question mark in my head. While all the while I know the world keeps on spinning and life goes on back here in Missoula without me.

This semester I will be traveling to Tokyo, Japan for an internship to fulfill my Global Leadership Initiative requirements for graduating in the program. The internship is with the Tokyo English Life-Line, which is a multi-lingual counseling organization that focuses on providing support for Tokyo’s international population. My global topic involves the social constructs of happiness and I study Psychology so this internship in particular will hopefully be beneficial on many levels. I first and foremost want to take this opportunity to explore levels of interaction that are totally unknown to me. Which is why a major cultural shift such as this will fit the bill perfectly. I have also been debating my own path within the profession of Psychology. Whether or not I want to focus or research or an active practice mainly. I have previously worked in multiple psych research labs and I wanted to take this opportunity to explore my feelings on working in with people that have a strong person first practice focus on the field.

I wish I could say that the sole reason I am going is to help people live better lives. By no means is that not one of my main goals with this trip and my life in general, but I also want to take the time to gage how I react and am impacted by my experiences. To hopefully find a better grasp of what is the best route I can start to draw for myself on my life map.

This will most certainly not be the last post you see from me. But for now, in an effort to liven up this blog a little bit and to hopefully allow for contrast, here are a few pictures from my life in Missoula, MT from before my trip.