One of the reasons I wanted to study abroad this year was that I wanted to figure out who I really was, so that I could use that knowledge to improve myself. Yet coming to Japan has made me aware that I need even more time to think.
In Japan, high school students are expected to know just what kind of future, what job they would like to do, before they start college. This is because each college is meant for different jobs and futures and students cannot easily transfer universities in Japan. Therefore, most of the girls in my class, though they are a year younger than me, have clear pictures of what they dream of being. Since my class is math and science centered, most of the girls either want to become doctors or pharmacists. Yet the underlying reason behind this, it soon became clear to me, is not to save lives but to make as much money as possible. Money, to these girls, is the key to happiness.
When I watch men and women at the train station, fingering their cell phones and listening to their ipods while waiting for the train, all lost in separate worlds, I wonder if they are happy. All, I assume, are relatively rich, especially compared to the rest of the world. Some work unhappy jobs in order to make money to support their families. Yes, they can buy and eat whatever they please, when they please. But does this make them happy?
I had this conversation with one of the girls that I eat with at lunch. Her opinion was that I should not assume that they are unhappy, because it is they that judge how happy they are, not me. In other words, in my mind they might not look like they are enjoying life because I grew up happily surrounded by nature and love, but to the people who know only life of studying, studying, studying and working, working, working for the sake of making money, to them, this might be happiness.
This opened up my world a bit. Perhaps my childhood, in their opinion, is not one that is happy. Maybe this kind of happiness that is sustained by love, not money, is only felt by those who grew up the same way I did…
On the same subject of happiness, lately I have been turning the thought of if I am happy over and over in my brain. Years back, I believed that looking in the mirror and thinking that you are beautiful, both in and out, is selfish. But it has gradually become clear to me that this type of selfishness is necessary. If I do not believe myself to be beautiful and love myself for who I am, I am unable to love others. I also believe that the people who act the most selfish are really the ones who have no confidence. So, lately I have been trying to train myself to be positive about my reflection.
I have also realized that my fear of failing comes from the fact that I believe myself to be dumb. Growing up with two brothers who excel at math and science, I always felt that my brain lacked the skill of seeing things mechanically and logically. Thus, I worked extra hard to get good grades at school and to become someone that anyone could be proud of. When I did not do well on a test or live up to my own expectations, I became terrified and severely insecure. But a couple of months in Japan and a few rounds of tests have taught me that failing is necessary in life. There is no need to lose confidence, since every person has different subjects in which they excel at.
Winter break is coming up in a few weeks and since tests are over, I have plans of going out with my friends from school. I will be experiencing karaoke for the first time, which I am very excited about. But I also need to finish my last essays for college. I only have one required supplement essay and one optional one to go…
I have gone through periods since I arrived in Tokyo when I wanted to escape this stressful society. But when those times come, walking my route home from the train station always revives me back to my happy self. Each step past traditional Japanese shops, past elderly men and women sitting on little benches, enjoying conversation, past little energetic boys and girls holding tight to their mothers’ hands, breathes fresh air back into me…and when I bow to the grand temple and look up to see the blue, blue sky above, I cannot help but to smile.