It was the spring of 2016 and the cherry blossoms have just started blooming as I stepped foot onto Tokyo soil to begin a new life. I was there to study Japanese after graduating from university and it was my first time living apart from my family. At the time, I was debating between getting a place of my own or living in a sharehouse and I’m glad I picked the sharehouse in the end. The place I chose was called World Neighbors Gokokuji, one of the biggest sharehouses in Japan with 180 residents. It is a 9 story building where the inhabitants each get their own room but the other facilities such as bathrooms, living areas, kitchen, etc are shared. The sharehouse is part of a chain of social apartments owned by a company called Global Agents, a company that promotes social living and interaction between its residents.
I still remember the first day I moved in. Eyes wide with trepidation, I stepped into the living lounge at night to check out the area and was greeted by the stares of over 30 different people. Oh boy, I thought to myself. What have I gotten myself into? Turns out, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. How so, you ask?
I Learned How To Be More Sociable
For an introvert like me, talking to strangers is my biggest fear. I didn’t really enjoy my teenage years as I barely had any friends during high school and university because it was very difficult for me to interact with others. However, when I moved to the sharehouse, I told myself that it was an opportunity for me to change myself. Over time, I was able to talk to other people and even approached a few of them myself first. This led to the start of beautiful friendships with many interesting people from various countries. We had cherry blossom drinking parties during spring, barbeques on the rooftop in the summer, camps in autumn, and trips to the hot springs in winter. All of these would not have been possible if I had just stayed in my room and refused to come out. Thus, I am really glad that I tried my best to come out of my shell. I am also really thankful to the people who spoke to me first despite my cold outward appearance.
I Learned How To Be More Tolerant Of Others
Living with 180 different people from various walks of life, it is inevitable that you would come across some characters that you wouldn’t get along with. This is especially evident when it came to organizing house activities where people would disagree with one another over the tiniest things. For instance, during the recent coronavirus outbreak in Tokyo, some of my housemates were of the opinion that everyone should start social distancing and stop using the shared areas while others dismissed the virus as a trivial matter and continued hanging out, leading to a rift between the two factions. Personally, I also have issues with some of the people in my house, but instead of outrightly ignoring them as I would in the past I’ve learned that it is important to be tolerant of others in order to maintain a harmonious living situation.
I Became More Openminded
While I was living at the sharehouse, I had the opportunity to meet many people from various countries, some of which I had never even heard of until then (like Macedonia). These people all had different cultural values and ways of thinking that were vastly different from mine. I was able to learn a lot by interacting with them and they taught me how to view life from another perspective. Growing up in an Asian household, my family taught me that it was important to study hard, secure a high paying job, get married early, and give birth to many children. However, to some of my friends from Western cultures, money is not as important as being able to pursue their passions and interests. Being able to gain new opinions on noteworthy topics has made me more openminded and I realized that I do not need to live being constrained to my own preconceived views on life either.
I Was Able To Improve My Japanese Rapidly
There are many stories of how foreigners who moved to Japan were still unable to speak basic conversational Japanese even after many years of living there because they only interacted with people from similar backgrounds. Thankfully, in the sharehouse I lived in the residents were predominantly Japanese and I was able to practice speaking in Japanese with them on a daily basis. There were many people who wanted to learn English as well and so we had language exchange events where the Japanese could practice speaking in English and the foreigners, Japanese. If I had chosen to live by myself, I would not have had the chance to speak to so many Japanese people and it would have taken me longer to improve my Japanese. After 4 years of living in Tokyo, I can now understand at least 70% of the Japanese spoken by my friends and am able to hold conversations entirely in Japanese.
Sadly, after 4 years I made the decision to move back to my home country in search of new opportunities. However, the memories of my time in Tokyo will continue to live inside me forever. Until next time, Japan.
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