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Known for cherry blossoms and bright city lights, being able to live in a country like Japan is truly magical. Everything you read is true — the hustling bustling Shibuya crossing street, the efficient train system and delectable washoku, which means Japanese food. All that charm is not without its drawbacks. But when you love something strong enough, even the biggest of snag is easy to cover an eye to.
I’ve always dreamed of living in Japan, especially in Tokyo. I’ve visited the country as a Muslim tourist countless times with my family and friends on separate occasions. And each time I came back, I fell in love with it more and more.
When the day came to part ways with my beloved family and friends at the airport, the mix of emotions I felt was indescribable. It was the excitement of finally being able to live in my dream country, mixed with the anguish of separating with the people I love dearly. But I reminded myself that this is an adventure I took on. It’s normal to feel afraid as it’s part and parcel of going out of my comfort zone and evolving as a person.
I wasn’t prepared to face what I did the first few months into travelling alone, living alone and all-in-all, being by myself. It was mentally challenging to say the least, even in a country like Japan. Especially in a country like Japan.
The country advertises itself as an expressive community with crazy unique fashion and lifestyle. But what they don’t expose is how lonely and isolated you’ll feel in a city packed with people.
The locals, though polite, can come across as rather cold and discriminating. To think about it, it is expected from people of a country that’s generally conservative and mostly homogenous. Their curiosity and lack of exposure to different cultures, religions and races may come off as hostility.
It took a lot of time to adjust. I had to have pep talks with myself to build up the courage to leave the house and actually experience the city properly. At times I wasn’t ready to, I had to instil confidence in myself. When I eventually managed to, I came to realise that it’s not as scary as it seems. I had the help of my housemates who reassured me that what I was feeling was normal and it gets easier with time. And it did.
I eventually met people from all sorts of backgrounds that are currently living in Tokyo, like myself, who shared their experiences from their first few months here. I met people of all races, Muslims and non-Muslims, and the most magical part of all is that all of us are living in Japan.
We all faced similar problems and struggles, but eventually, we got out of it as stronger and more independent people than we were before. This country has changed us for the better. It allowed us to be more adaptive and understanding of other cultures and upbringings.
Now, we view the world in a different light. Some of these friends I met in Tokyo became really important people in my life. How could they not, as they were the friends that rushed to my aid during my times in need?
The Japanese friends that I have were all very friendly. Even though they weren’t as exposed to other cultures, they were very much interested in hearing and learning about my religion and culture. Despite what the news has to say about Islam in general, it surprised me that the Japanese are not swayed by them, and for them to have very neutral views about Islam as they do about any other religion is so refreshing.
Just by living abroad, I’ve learned so much more than I could’ve ever imagined, now having a fresh set of eyes to view the world from a different perspective. Living in Japan specifically has opened doors for my personal growth, socially and spiritually, as well as gave me a stronger appreciation for diversity and uniqueness of people.
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