Day 13 of life in The City.
In a little less than two weeks, I’ve learned that this is a place where you have to make a space for yourself. There are too many people here, too many high-rises, signs in a foreign language, cafes, bikes shops, buses, convenies, cars, trains, izakayas and umbrellas- simply an excess of everything- for me to know it all, and for any of it to know me. If I don’t want to remain as just a number of one in 33 million, I need to find a space for myself.
The first place you start is in the head. You find your purpose for being here. You find your security, the patterns of thinking that bring you comfort. You find the confidence and willingness it takes to live in one of the world’s largest cites. The determination and relentlessness. The energy and patience and love for it all, that it will take to exist here.
And then you create a space in your environment. Open your eyes, and take it all in. Get to know your neighborhood. Explore. Frequent the same cafes and coffee shops, getting to know the people in your community. Explore new places, but be a familiar face at your favorite. Check out live music at local venues, and know the music being made in your city. If you can, meet the musicians. Talk to them after the shows. Show your support for local artists, whatever medium they create in.
And don't just live in your environment, MOVE. Leave your house just to take a walk, take pictures, ride your bike, go running, spend the day in a park.
Each day I am biking to work, eleven miles round trip. And with each new day, I take a different route, cutting down new streets, riding past unseen store fronts. At night I’m running my neighborhood. Weaving and winding through narrow one way streets, down ally ways, around corners, past city style gardens, walls covered in vines, more glowing vending machines than I can count, and little liquor and snack stores owned by old Japanese women and men, backs hunched, wobbly walkers, but always with the hugest smiles of greeting. Original residents of this neighborhood. Here from a time before foreigners were moving in.
The first thing I learned was that this city is too big to ever need to take the same path twice. Every time I get on my bike, go for a run, I can move in a new direction. This is how I’m getting to know my city. My neighborhood. My space.
As important as it is to know your environment, know the people in it. Make friends in the area you live in. Let them share their home with you. Let them show you the special secrets only locals know. Let them open this world to you. Tokyo is too big to understand without the help from others. Meet them on your own, through work, through mutual friends, out dancing, at a gallery, at a concert, in the park, on the train, or just through absolutely random encounters. It doesn't matter. Let new people into your life. Be willing to work through language barriers, because when there is a connection, you will find that communication can come in many forms.
And most of all, to have a space in this city, you have to understand why you're here. It’s simple to say I’m here for work, but is the purpose the work that I’m doing, or what the work is doing for me?
Yes, I am here to teach, but more importantly I’m here to learn. I’m here to learn from working with a staff of young creative teachers who are all talented in individual ways. Some with music, cooking, photography, design, yoga, art, crafts, videography, and writing. All with years of experience working in education and in creative fields. I’m here to learn to work with an international staff, with people from six different countries. To learn to think in different ways, to approach problems from different angles, to communicate in new ways. And I’m here to learn from children. To learn to be more patient, to teach through language barriers, to learn to build their confidence, encourage their creativity, and support their imaginations and goals. To learn to be more loving, more selfless.
The space I’m creating is one that allows me to grow. I am learning to live on my own, to be strong in my independence. To feel comfortable in my own company. I am learning to support myself, entertain myself, and know how to manage my time in a hectic life. It’s a space in which I can adventure, be challenged, be creative, build friendships in and to connect with others, foreign and similar.
But most of all, the space I'm creating around me is one I can just be happy in. As long as I am happy, Tokyo can never seem too big, too chaotic, or too overwhelming. It will simply feel like home.