Life in Daisen — Jheanell Ottey

I began my journey to Japan on the night of my 30th birthday, which was July 21, 2017. You can just imagine then, that this move felt like an opportune occasion and the most gratifying birthday gift to commence a new decade. However, to say that this transition was mortifying, is an oversimplification of my truest feelings. Why so dramatic? Well, besides the fact that my middle name is quite literally “Drama Queen,” really, it’s not but I believe wholeheartedly that it should be; I had come to the realization that I was leaving home. Yes, I was departing from my family and friends, all of whom can easily be characterized as my bedrock of strength, support and empowerment.

Now, I knew inherently that I could make this shift but, my uncertainty was hinged on whether or not I could find ‘community.’ I started asking questions like, “Would and could I feel supported?”; “Can I find family there?”; “Will I like the vegetarian option on the flight?”; “I’m hungry, would it be weird if I ate all of this French strawberry birthday cake that mommy made for me?” You know, your typical existential crisis questions.

Armed with questions, concerns and three obnoxiously huge bags, I boarded those flights to this foreign region like a soldier, stoic, purpose-driven and mission focused. It is important to note that Japan is not a meagre 5-hour flight away from Jamaica. In fact, it’s not even 9-hours away, it’s more like 5000-hours away. On that matter, I have to say that I am not anticipating another billion days of travelling to head back home. No sir. Ain’t nobody got time for that! Of course, all of these expressions are hyperbolic but seriously, the journey to Japan felt like I made an uncanny transition from 30 to 100 years old. Good grief! To date, my journey to Japan has been the longest number of hours I’ve spent flying and by far, the longest amount of time I’ve spent away from home. However, in spite of the initial apprehension, little did I know that while I was saddened by the reality of leaving home, in less than a week, I would be arriving 'home.'

Fast forward to one and a half years later, I’ve been an active member of the Daisen city community. When I first arrived, I noticed immediately that my apartment was nestled by an abundance of rice fields. They are particularly fascinating because as the seasons change, they evolve slowly through time from naked to flourishing land. Now, as visually satisfying as rice fields are, this portrayal of natural beauty merely skims the surface of the flora present in the region.

Daisen City is such an extraordinarily stunning location, bewitching even. It features lush mountains, enchanting hot springs, the most delectable food, including the world’s best noodles and rice, and the most stimulating seasonal festivals, which are demonstrative of the acute cultural awareness of the Japanese. This is commendable as it represents a keen sense of interest in the retention of various cultural norms, values and traditions in an era of global consciousness and westernization, which are propagated by ICT development in this digital age. The continued celebration of its rich cultural heritage is one of the main reasons why I was initially captivated by the idea of living in Japan. To be granted the opportunity to witness this, has been incredible and life altering.

Of all the unforgettable experiences that were outlined, the most invaluable of them all has been the human experience. Japan’s language, culture, race and religion differ diametrically from mine, but the innate desire to make human connections is a universal construct, and it is through this commonness that I was able to find a sense of ‘community’ in my hometown, Daisen City. Practical minded, resourceful, hospitable, ‘ageless’ (meaning age is no limitation), helpful, patient, encouraging, generous beyond comprehension and peaceful, is not an exhaustive list of adjectives that I could use to describe the people of my community. Their attributes are unparalleled.

I may be Japanese language inept (which I have to say is utterly sad considering I’ve been here for almost 2 years), but with some kind assistance and patience, I’ve stumbled upon unique means through which to communicate as effectively as possible. Comparatively speaking, this process can be likened unto an unending game night of charades. Can you visualize the struggle and well, let’s be honest, the goofiness and hilarity? I don’t know man, it just works. Once I deciphered how to interact, I found family. Family, who despite differences in belief systems and way of life, are inclusive, supportive, wise and understanding. I navigated my space and immersed myself in the ‘Japanese way’ with their help. From my kindergarteners to my seniors, each group has taught me fundamental lessons about how and what it means to be Japanese. Most importantly, however, they’ve taught me about life and how to readjust my perspective.

I remember sitting among senior men in a beautifully manicured Japanese style garden somewhere far away in the hills after a hiking trip. With folded legs and ease of communication, they appeared to be stately, cultured gentlemen, merely sharing stories, laughing and reminiscing over a pot of coffee. They reveled in the moment and I smiled with contentment. It was such a beautiful thing to experience particularly because the stories were translated to me. In that moment, I was not just an observer, I was a participant. This is community.

It’s remarkable that I’ve bonded with so many people here, but it’s also inevitable isn’t it? The longer you stay in a foreign country, the deeper the connections you establish. I have sat around dinner tables, gone on excursions, learned about traditions and a lot more, through my interactions with families in my community. In fact, I’ve dubbed myself an honorary child and/or grandchild. What I felt like I was missing back home, was actually being experienced here in my new home, but in starkly different ways. I’m sure all of us here can relate in some way, because we have all had the pleasure of experiencing Japan in a more intimate way through our relationships with the people.

I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from the challenges I encountered as I acclimated to this new space. After all, challenges are transient. We face them as they come, take what we need to from them, and then life continues. However, I am most grateful for the new narrative that I created for myself during my time here in Daisen City. I am now Jheanell, the “Jamaipanese.” It’s laughable, sure, but I think it’s dope. How I live and perceive of life going forward will be the direct result of the convergence of two very distinct worlds. This has been profoundly character strengthening and so, I bestow merit to the community of Daisen City for adding value to my life through its daily contributions, whether known or unknown. Finally, since I have gained such a fulfilling and all-round experience within this environment, it is safe to say that Daisen City is the quintessential community.

 Jheanell Ottey