Embrace the Joy of Being Yourself

Lanterns on the beach

This past weekend, we went to the Lantern Festival for Marine Day at Odaiba.  I tried to find some information about the significance of the lanterns, but I found none.  I think it is a typical Japanese thing—the aesthetic is the meaning of it—lanterns are pretty, fun, and they make great Instagram material, so why not?

We walked along the beach until we were out of range of the festival and sat down to enjoy the sea and the view, which is really the best way to appreciate the ocean.  Marine Day or Sea Day, depending on how you translate it, is about appreciating the bounty that is given to us by the ocean.  I love anything that celebrates nature.  I think that’s why I love nature-based religions.

Sitting there in the breeze and smelling the salt air, for the first time in a long time, I was content.  I’ve been depressed a lot, lately.  It’s mostly about grieving Zophia and worrying about Dylan.  Today’s world doesn’t pause for grief, though.  I think this is the reason we struggle to process loss.  Everyone experiences loss, yet we don’t allow for it.

So, earlier today, I decided to listen to the audiobook version of Lauren Graham’s commencement speech called, “In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It.”  I was looking for a quick and easy to pick me up and that did the trick.

There were only two bits of advice in it that I could appreciate, but they were the two that I needed.

The first was to embrace the joy of being yourself.  It sounds lame in isolation, but in context, it’s about the fear of judgment.  During a long-running play, Graham prioritized other people’s opinions of her acting, and the fear of their judgment paralyzed to her ability to perform well.  I am not an actor, but the fear of judgment is paralyzing to me, too.  She reminded me that I don’t need anyone else’s approval to be happy.  The joy of other people’s approval is a fleeting, anyway.  I can offer myself joy by approving of myself.  I can simply enjoy being myself.  I didn’t interpret “the joy of being myself” as an instruction to embrace authenticity.  I see it as embracing the human experience.  Find the joy of being inside your perspective.  The book doesn’t put it like that, but that’s what I got out of it, anyway.  Maybe it still sounds lame, I don’t know.

The second piece of advice was to respect yourself and your work as if you have already achieved the success that you desire.  I think it’s a great idea.  The problem is that once I started to inhabit that feeling, I got anxious that I was about to lose everything I’d achieved.  Only I could get anxious over the possibility of losing my imaginary success.  Heh.  Oh well.

During meditation today, I had the weirdest premonition that a year from now, I will be feeling freer than I have ever felt before.  I have no idea what circumstances would lead to that feeling.  I’m curious about that.  All good, I hope.

On Friday, Dylan didn’t seem like he was doing well.  His appetite was low, and he was lethargic.  We’ve given him three subcutaneous injections since then.  He bounced back after the first one and every day he seems a little more himself.

 

Anyway, things to do.

The Desire for Approval

I am worried that I don’t have enough time to write, but I also feel like I can’t move forward until after I have written.

This morning, we gave Dylan another subcutaneous injection and because he’s stronger now, he fights harder. He’s always been a cat that hates needles, so it’s not surprising. He wails and screams and struggles like he’s being killed and, as soon as it’s over, trots away like nothing happened.

He ate a lot afterward, which is good, he needs to put on weight. He’s napping now.
I did not fare as well, though. I felt fine this morning, like I could face the day, and then after the treatment, I was shaky and anxious and struggling to move forward.

I have comments to write on social media and I was paralyzed with the fear of not being able to write good responses. I have this way of elevating the stakes on the simplest things.

Last week, I came to the realization that I don’t have anything to offer that is any more special than what anyone else has to offer. That made me really depressed for a day or two.

I figured that it means that I have two choices:

1. I can quit social media
2. I can continue for my own enjoyment, only

I decided that, at least for now, I’m going with option 2. It is my plan to do my best to disregard the responses I get to any of my posts. I say, “do my best” because I know how hard it is to not get caught up in the desire for approval.

Getting caught up in the desire for approval seems harmless when I’m receiving it. However, when I receive it and allow the attention to feel relevant, then I create an expectation for more attention and approval. That always leads me down a dark road. So, no more.

It’s like when I was writing my book. If I thought at all about the book’s future, I became paralyzed with fear that it would not be good enough. So, every time the thought crossed my mind, I’d forgive myself, and then gently remove it. The self-forgiveness is key. As a human being, I will always backslide. Maybe there are other human beings that don’t, but I am one that backslides constantly, so self-forgiveness is a necessity.

Being me is hard enough without beating myself up for being me.

Anyway, my posts will not be special or unique, but they will represent me. Even if who I am doesn’t matter to anyone else, it matters to me.

Speaking of backsliding, I fell down the rabbit-hole that is google analytics. Someone had accessed a page on my website that I didn’t know had existed. I spent a whole bunch of time on my web server, searching and getting frustrating trying to figure out how that page existed. I finally realized it was another page that WordPress automatically generates. Oy.

I need to do some yoga.

The Qigong and Meditation are Working

I slept late this morning even though Dylan attempted to wake me up several times with a lot of kneading and meowing.  I was so tired that I kept falling back asleep.  I think it is the stress of the past couple of weeks catching up to me.  It was just a few days ago that I jumped up whenever I heard him meow to make sure he was ok.

It reminds me of how sleep deprived I used to stay when I was younger.  I was constantly going.  This was how I managed my anxiety: exhaustion.

Anyway, today, I felt less crazy than I’ve been feeling, lately, and I’ve concluded that the qigong, meditation, and yoga yesterday is what made the difference.  So, I did qigong and meditation again today.  I’m too sore from yesterday’s yoga to do it again today.

It’s cooler today and raining.  Earlier in the week, it was hot and humid because a typhoon was pushing hot and humid air north ahead of itself.  It seems to have mostly missed us, but we got some rain and much cooler air.  I have the window open and it’s almost chilly.

I am feeling oddly relaxed.  This morning, while I was doing housework, I listened to some episodes of Gilmore Girls and over-the-top quaint comfortableness of it didn’t feel obscene.  It was actually kind of nice.

I’m looking forward to the weekend.

Being Good Enough

I did some qigong and meditation and I’m feeling a bit better.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve tried to get back to my normal routine.  My normal routine consists of a lot of social media.  Even before Zophia died, I was getting kind of crazy.  My social media use is like being on an amusement park ride that never ends.  It goes around and around, and it’s supposed to be fun.  After a while, I’m nauseous and tired, but there is no stopping it.  I told Adam about that feeling and he said that it sounded like I felt a lack of control in my life.  Perhaps that’s what it is.

This morning, my anxiety had gotten to the point where I was no longer sure what was real, anymore.  Again, this mostly had to do with social media.  The presence of fake accounts makes it harder, I think.  Also, the varying degrees of commitment to social media and our real lives makes the whole internet world feel slippery and confusing.

During my meditation, I realized that my current anxiety stems from my fear of not being good enough.  I will never shake that one, seemingly.  My fear of not being good enough has led to my messed-up relationship with social media.  I never consciously know why I am checking my accounts.  It’s just something that happens.

I look down and there’s my phone in my hand and there I am looking at my notifications.  It’s because buried somewhere in the back of my head, I believe that the answer is there.  Am I good enough?  I want the collective response of the internet to tell me.

The problem is that it keeps giving me an answer I don’t want.  The problem is that even when it does give me the answer I want, my satisfaction only lasts a couple of minutes or even up to a day.  The next day, I need to be told again, but by then, I’m back to getting the answer I don’t want.  If I felt good enough from the beginning, then I wouldn’t get caught up in that cycle.

Anyway, this morning, Dylan is even better.  He was even back to whining for attention and looking at me with this expression on his face like I hold the key to solving all his problems.  He’s a cat with high expectations.

It has been my goal to get more exercise, lately.  On Monday, I did an hour of power yoga, on Tuesday, I did nothing, on Wednesday, I went for a run.  Today, I plan to do yoga again.  I’m tired, but I will do it, anyway.

I joined a small FB group for workout motivation with a couple of friends.  We’re supposed to start checking in on July 16th.  I think it goes for 6 weeks or something like that.

I am often solitary with my workouts.  I don’t like group sports, competition, or commitments (anymore), but now I want some camaraderie.

Feeling Shaky

We gave Dylan another subcutaneous treatment today.  He absorbs 120ml of fluid for each treatment.  He’s getting better at it.  We’re all getting better at it.  I’m still feeling a little shaky, though.

I insert the needle and my hands start trembling.  I pull back on the syringe plunger to make sure there is no blood in the line and then push it down to administer the liquid.  Each syringe only holds 60ml, so it needs to be done twice.  It takes about one minute to empty one syringe.

After detaching him and cleaning up, it still takes me several minutes before I feel like I’m back in normal reality.  It takes Dylan about 5 seconds (that’s not an exaggeration).  As soon as it’s over, Adam gives him some catnip and all is forgotten.

Actually, I haven’t felt like I was back in normal reality for weeks, but especially not for the past day or so.  I couldn’t sleep last night, so I was up until 1 AM wondering about the point of existence.  I do that a lot.  It’s not an intellectual thing.  I’m not philosophizing.  I’m feeling my way through an open space with my eyes closed with my hands outstretched.  I’m trying to touch anything that will orient me.  Once I’ve done that, I’ll know why I’m here.

Because I’m so tired when this happens, there is truly no point to it.  I’m not alert enough to make any significant connections about anything, let alone the nature of the universe.

I had intended that today I would film a youtube video.  I started doing youtube a few weeks back and everything was going as planned until the cat things happened.  I want to continue with youtube, but I don’t feel quite ready, yet.  I can’t imagine continuing making videos without saying a word about what happened. That just seems crazy to me, but talking about it is difficult.

In 1994, I started online.  That was back when everything was text based and the only people online were a handful of college students and some geeks.  It’s weird to think that youtube is an extension of that same idea: people trying to connect online.

Back in 1996, I started my first blog.  That was before there were many (if any) blogging websites existed.  I coded my own website to have a blog, but it wasn’t called a blog back then.  It was a website with regular updates.  It was just a fun thing for me to do, so it really freaked me out when I realized that people were reading it.  That always made me stop.  I moved blogs several times over the years to keep things anonymous as I could.

Once online anonymity went out of fashion, I really struggled.  Being myself in public makes me feel so exposed.  It’s not like I ever wrote anything online wasn’t innocuous, especially back then.  I didn’t even know enough about the world to say something controversial.  I still don’t, really.

But still, there’s always that fear of not being good enough. No matter how many ways I try to convince myself that I am.  I have phone reminders, I have gratitude journals, I have lists of accomplishments, but I will never be completely immune.  I think that is the hallmark of being human. We aren’t here to make ourselves immune to suffering. We’re here to understand it, so we can also understand joy.

The Horror of Impermance

I had three cats.  Now I have two.

It’s been about a week and a half since we had to put Zophia down.

Two days after we put her down, Dylan got sick.  We rushed him to the hospital for a battery of tests.  We found out the next day that he had pancreatitis and that resulted in a five-day hospital stay.  Now that he’s home, he needs to have regular subcutaneous injections.  His health is clearly improving.  He’s not 100%, but he’s active.  He’s eating more and he’s drinking more.

After everything that has happened and with everything that is still happening, I’m starting to feel better.  Dylan is sleeping peacefully on his cat-tree.  Basil has put on some weight, but he seems ok.

Today, I was able to get Dylan to eat and drink a little for lunch, but it took a lot of effort.

I can’t describe the terror I felt when I thought that I was going to lose two cats instead of one.  Zophia would have been 16 in December and her health had been declining for about six months.  We (my husband and I) were both dreading something that felt more and more inevitable as time went on.

Over the past six months, we’d been to multiple vets and had tried multiple treatments.  There is one guy that I don’t think should be practicing medicine.  He was one of those paternal types that pretends that he has everything under control and displays so much confidence that as a desperate pet owner, you can’t help but hope that he’s truly offering a solution.  Zophia took a turn for the worst after him.

Once again, I learned that I must be more questioning and skeptical of doctors, especially the ones who seem too sure of themselves.

Anyway, Dylan is only 12 and had never had any health issues.  Zophia had been sick most of her life, but Dylan was the opposite.  Dylan’s check-ups always came back clear of any concerns, so his sudden illness was a blindside.

With Zophia, even if we had an inkling, we still found her loss devastating.  She’d been part of our family for 15 years.  Because she’d required so much care, she was a constant presence in my mind.  I checked on her a lot, especially in the last few months.  It’s weird how empty life can feel when you’re no longer checking on someone all the time.

I think that it’s very likely that the stress of Zophia’s illness and death is what brought on Dylan’s pancreatitis.  I’d always worried what would happen to him after we lost her.  They were best friends for so long.

Now, he and Basil seem to be much closer.  They have been hanging out together and sleeping near each other since Dylan has been home.

We’re still working on making sure Dylan eats and drinks enough, plus, we give him subcutaneous injections to keep him from getting dehydrated.  I am not sure he needs it.  He seems to be doing well enough with his eating and drinking.  Our current vet is much more cautious, though, and I don’t think she’d recommend the injections if she thought they could be harmful.

So, now, I’m trying to get back to my regular life of reading, writing, and youtubing.  Like most personal tragedies, this has caused me to think about priorities and gratitude.

The things that I had thought were important, suddenly seem less important.  I hope I maintain a shift in my priorities because I spend a lot of time worrying about things that are insignificant when put into the context of my entire life.

With gratitude, it isn’t so easy to cultivate, but the meaning of impermanence has made itself known to me.  I had one day between Zophia’s death and Dylan’s hospitalization.  During that one day, I did not appreciate what I had.  Reflecting upon that, I believe that our only weapon against the awfulness that is the impermanence of life is gratitude for what we have when we have it.

Dylan and Zophia

The Doubt Demon vs The Muse

Vintage typewriter close-up - Memoir, concept of history

The other day, I saw a comment online from a woman who said that she had finally figured out how to make space in her life to write. Now that she’s writing, she has a new demon to face. It’s the voice that keeps asking her, “Why are you writing? Who is going to read this? Who is going to care?” I thought to myself, “Huh, so that guy visits other people, too.” Seriously, how does this doubt demon find the time?

I am now about halfway through a second draft of my book, so I’ve had a lot of experience with the doubt demon. Throughout most of my process, I’d been lucky enough to have other voices, too. They said things like, “You need to write this. Even if no one reads this, the act of writing itself is important and useful.” Instead of silencing the doubt demon, I nurtured that encouraging voice. Maybe that voice is The Muse? I don’t know. I tried to make that voice grow stronger and that worked for me.

That worked for me until I started soliciting feedback on my memoir and someone people asked, “Why am I reading this?” They manifested my most fearful voice into physical reality and that totally sucked. Those comments made the doubt demon’s voice louder than The Muse’s voice for a short time.

Shortly after that, I ran into an interview with the famous memoirist Cheryl Strayed. In it, she says that memoir is most often criticized for being narcissistic. It’s not just the writer who asks, “Why should anyone care?” It’s also the critics. So then, Strayed explains that people recognize their own story in other people’s stories and that makes them care. That’s great. This revelation is especially wonderful for people who are afraid of being too mundane, but it swung me in a different direction.

Several months ago, I listened to a Magic Lessons Podcast (I don’t remember which one, but you should probably just listen to them all, anyway) and the discussion was about how when we first sit down to write our own stories, we always think to ourselves, “My story is too boring.” Then, when we’re done writing, we worry that our story isn’t boring enough.

That’s where I am now. Now, the doubt demon asks, “Why should anyone care about someone who is so weird? How do I become relatable? How can we dull this up a little bit? How can I shrink so people don’t notice how alien I really am?”

My experience with the doubt demon is that it doesn’t exist unless it has something to doubt. It’s the voice of fear and fear only speaks up when it thinks something’s at risk. If something is at risk, then that means we’re trying for something. So, maybe hearing that voice isn’t a reason to go into despair, but it’s an indication that we’re on to something. We’re trying for something.

My Muse voice has shifted, too. Now its saying, “You’re writing this because it needs to be said.” Somehow, when my doubt demon got fiercer, The Muse got bigger, too. A few days later, I saw that dozens of people had responded to that one woman’s comment about her voice of doubt. All of them were encouraging. They manifested her most encouraging voice into physical reality. Maybe that’s what happens when our desire to move forward gets strong enough. It finds a way.

Homesickness

It’s now been a little over a year since I moved to Japan. The year has simultaneously crawled and flown. If someone told me that I’ve only been in Japan for a month, I might believe them. That’s how unfamiliar it still feels to me sometimes.

For the first time in decades, I’m beginning to understand what it means to have a sense of place and a sense of displacement from that place. Back when I was 11 years old, I’d moved from my native state of California to Wisconsin. Displacement had become my way of being. For a long time, I didn’t even know what it felt like to not feel displaced.

I guess that feeling must have dissipated in Philadelphia because now I’m relearning homesickness. I’d lived in Philadelphia for 13 years. I haven’t lived in any other place longer.

A few days ago, I was listening to a podcast interview with Salley Vickers (no relation) about the book Miss Garnet’s Angel. While talking about why she’d set the book in Venice, she’d said something like, “Some days, I have woken up and thought to myself that the only thing that would make me feel better would be to go to Venice.”

Before leaving Philadelphia, I would have had no idea what she’d meant by that.

I miss a lot of specific things in Philadelphia, like West Philly Ethiopian food, all sorts of vegan junk food, hiking the Wissahickon, walking the Schuykhill River trail while watching the various university crew teams practice, certain yoga studios, my dance studio, and on and on. Philadelphia has an endless supply of beautiful places. Obviously, I miss my friends more than anything.

Taken from between the houses on Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia. Elfreth’s Alley is the US’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street. If you look closely at the large version, you can see a cat standing on the corner.

Taken from between two houses on Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia. Elfreth’s Alley is the US’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street. If you look closely at the large version, you can see a cat standing on the corner.

However, my homesickness is less about missing specific things and, luckily, the internet provides me with some contact with my friends. My homesickness is more about having a sense of continuity and familiarity. It’s about feeling like my physical location is contributing to my sense of home. Living in Philadelphia, it had taken me a really long time to feel like it contributed to my sense of home. I wasn’t even sure it did until my physical location changed.

The other day, I taught a yoga class here in Japan. Not only had I not taught yoga for over a year, it had nearly been a year since I’d even done yoga. It’s been a rough year for me and I’ve sacrificed a lot of activities to keep my head above water.

As soon as I went back to yoga, I realized that there is more than one way to keep one’s head above water. Instead of floating with my nose barely above the surface and hoping for no waves, I can swim. Doing yoga, even if it does require more energy, is swimming, not floating.

If a yoga flow could be considered a place, then I’ve been living there for 16 years. Going through my series of familiar poses, I found myself in downward dog, staring at my mat for the thousandth time and something inside of my was triggered.  I know this place.

Over this past year, I’ve done downward dog a bunch of times, not because I was doing yoga, but because it’s an amazing calf stretch.  Out of context, I didn’t recognize it as anything other than a calf stretch.  Within the series, inside of the yoga flow, I went into downdog within a context that means something to me.  What is place, after all, except where your body resides in space?

I’d also not realized that I’d been homesick until recently.  It just hit me all at once. Because I’d grown up hiding the sensation of homesickness from myself, I had automatically hid it from myself, again. Now that I’ve discovered it, I’m grateful. Missing something means that we have had something worth being missed. I couldn’t be happier about that.

By the way, for anyone interested, I have started a another blog that is book reviews only.

Compliance Does Not Equal Safety

A couple of months ago, I came across Dorothea Lange’s censored photographs from the Japanese internment camps and it hit me in a way that I didn’t expect.  The idea of oppression changed for me a little bit.  Had I been alive at the time, I would have personally been in those camps.

I’ve always found racism infuriating, but this added an element of fear to the whole thing.  I imagine that it’s the same kind of fear that most African-Americans live with on a daily basis.  Except for them, it’s turned up to 11, since most of the stuff they fear still happens today.

Of course, I’ve experienced racism in the United States, but being asked, “Where are you from?” over and over again with the absolute clear intention of othering me doesn’t quite have the same impact as unjust imprisonment.

I’m not the only one who is a little more scared these days.  The other day, while walking in a Tokyo city park, an elderly Japanese woman approached me and my husband.

“Can I ask you a question?”  She asked in perfect English.
“Yes,” we said.
“What country are you from?” She asked.
“We’re Americans,” we said.  This seemed to spark something in her.  It could have been anger or excitement, I couldn’t tell.  She pulled out a clipboard and showed it to us.

“Will you sign this?”  It was a petition asking the United States to refrain from using nuclear weapons.  I took a closer look at this woman and realized that she probably knows, first hand, what a nuclear bomb does to a city.

As the woman walked away, my first thought was, “this is a sign of the times.”  I’m sure that she got no joy out of spending her Sunday afternoon searching for Americans so she could get a petition signed, but that’s the kind of fear that people are living with these days.

In 1942, The LA Times wrote, “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched—so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents—grows up to be a Japanese, not an American.”  Since I’ve been alive, the mainstream message to Asians is that we should align ourselves with white people against brown people.  They tell us we’re in favor (for now), and we wouldn’t want those tides to turn, would we?  If minorities are kept separated, then our power can’t be combined.

It’s a tool for disempowerment by convincing us that it’s safer to be compliant.  This is an extension of the argument that causing trouble over “politics” is a shameful, even punishable thing.

Saying the words, “it’s just politics” is a lot easier when you think your life won’t be affected politics.  However, I suspect that it’s not going to be long before it’s no longer “just politics” for anyone, unless you happen to be a white Christian cis straight (or closeted) male millionaire.

Politics is the reason atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.  Politics would have been put me in an internment camp.  Politics caused the Holocaust.  Politics has sent people to war and tortured prisoners.  If you aren’t going to stand up against destructive political policies, then are you going to stand up for anything?

When I see people shame others for “overreacting to politics,” I hear, “It’s more important for me to not be inconvenienced than it is for people to have their health, families, livelihoods, and lives protected.”

It also sounds to me like a whine, “It’s not fair that I’m losing social currency for being a selfish jerk!”  But, that’s the whole point of social currency.  Being a jerk costs you social currency because most people don’t want a society full of selfish jerks.

I really wonder about the people who are so afraid of discomfort that their main goal is to bully other people into silence.  I wonder about their personal relationships and their friendships.  I wonder what they think about the people they love.  Do they refuse to hear them, too?  How does that work out?

I’ve always found that intimacy and understanding is created when we allow ourselves to be uncomfortable with each other.  It happens in that moment when we’re in conflict and we want nothing more than to not hear what the other person has to say, but we hear it, anyway.  Those are the moments when are our relationships become strong, rewarding, and loyal.

I believe that as humans, we are adapted to crave safety.  We feel the most safe when we feel belonging.  We get feelings of belonging from connection.  Connection does not mean ignoring the pain of others.  It doesn’t mean telling people to not feel horror or fear because of serious injustice.  It comes from listening to people’s feelings and understanding why they believe that conflict is necessary.

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My First Christmas in Japan

“It seems to me that Christmas is easier in Japan, but I don’t know why.” I said this to my husband, Adam, while walking through a Japanese mall and taking in the Christmas decorations.

“Do you think it’s the secularism of it?” I asked.

“Yes, I think the secularism makes it WAY easier,” he said. Adam is Jewish.

As for my upbringing, my mom was Japanese and my dad was a devoted Atheist. It’s true that a lot of non-Christian families pull off a perfectly secular and beautiful Christmas, but my family never mastered that trick. As far as I could tell, a secular Christmas was about buying stuff and we never had much money, either.

My first husband was Jewish, too, so I never had to go into a Christmas boot camp in adulthood. I always felt a bit lucky that I didn’t have to fulfill the adult obligations of Christmas, like hours of shopping and credit card debt. Adam never felt that way, though. He always felt left out. He wanted to celebrate Christmas, but didn’t know how.

Nowadays, I know Jews who get a Christmas tree every year, but we’re just not in that league. I’m the kind of person who feels better when things are deeply meaningful and I just didn’t know how to infuse meaning into a secular Christmas.

The lack of inclusion didn’t bother me about Christmas in the US, though. I’d opted out of Christmas because I was uncomfortable with the tense undertone between Christians and secularists that always hums under the surface of an American December.

In Philadelphia, I lived in an especially Catholic neighborhood. Every single yard had a nativity scene, so I couldn’t forget that Christmas was a religious holiday around those parts. Well, every yard, except for ours and the one that always had a Menorah in the window.

In Japan, no one is upset about which stores decorated and which stores didn’t. No one cares if the Christ is in Christmas. No one cares about the pagan influences. To Japanese people, it’s all pagan because it’s all foreign.

Getting KFC on Christmas is a tradition in Japan and I think Japanese people assume that Americans do the same thing. I wonder if most Japanese people even realize that Christmas is celebrated as a religious holiday.

Another thing that’s missing in Japan is the giant ball of stress that I used to see hovering over people’s heads during the holiday season in the US. The one that tells them that they must make this Christmas perfect or else they’ve failed as human beings. Greater society in Japan is completely lacking the frenetic energy over who’s getting Christmas right and who isn’t.

Personally, I find the lack of floating stress balls relaxing. Even though Christmas stress technically didn’t belong to me, I felt like people would leave their stress balls hanging in the air, especially in stores. I couldn’t go shopping anytime between Black Friday and Christmas Eve without walking straight into one.

kimg0473What we do have in Japan are seasonal light displays and mall decorations. The “illumination” (lights) are creative and sublime. At any light display, there are children playing and people taking photographs. No one is desperately trying to get the perfect holiday shot while herding anxious children in matching sweaters. We’re just taking pictures of something pretty.

 

There is Christmas music playing in the stores, but some stores play Christmas music all year ’round in the international food section. Apparently, Western food = Christmas music. Not that it matters because the lyrics are in English.

Maybe I find Christmas easier in Japan because in the US I’m a Christmas outsider, but here, I am not. I can take pictures of the illumination next to everyone else. I’ll skip the KFC, but I’m a vegan so I’ll always skip the KFC, and that’s considered perfectly normal here, too.

Maybe it’s that in America, I don’t see the culmination of the December stress as it unfolds on Christmas Day. I only watch the frantic creation of Christmas, but the unfurling of it happens behind closed doors. Maybe that’s why I never found it easy or worthwhile. On an American Christmas day, Adam and I would take our traditional Jewish meal of Chinese food and watch Christmas movies. This year, we totally forgot about it.