I was home, in Tokyo, for ten days last month.

Technically, since I’ve been living in DC for the past three years, I should call DC my “home” as well.  But I still think of Tokyo my home, a city with so many memories, family and friends, and a place I can navigate without getting nervous.

In the three years, I’ve been fortunate to go home at least once a year.  Every time I return, the city makes me regret of my decision to leave in the first place.  A fantastic public transportation system (are you seriously apologizing for a two-minute delay?), consistently great customer service (thank you for not yelling at me bus driver – oh wait, that’s normal), convenience stores open 24 hours conveniently located at every street corner, food (obviously), not having to feel nervous walking at midnight by myself- and everything is written in a language that I fully understand.  How wonderful is that?

At the same time, “home” makes me feel like a misfit.  My life decisions – quitting a pretty big company early in my career, “serving” at a nonprofit, going to gradschool and then proceeds on marrying a non-Japanese – all of those decisions are not what an average Japanese woman would choose.  Sometimes, even my friends look at me in a baffled way, confused of why I didn’t take the “normal” route.

I think the idea of becoming “normal” is such a strong motivator in the Japanese society.  Study hard to get in a good university so that you can work at a famous company, marry someone by the latest in your 30s, and then work tirelessly for the next couple of decades so that you can have your home and your family so that your sons and daughters can get into good school – those are what I consider the “normal” ideals of a Japanese.  I also believe that these ideals stress people out, intimidate people taking a different route, or stop and rest to enjoy the moment.

One of the reasons why I left Tokyo was because I couldn’t bear to change myself to be”normal”.  Even that meant leaving home for a while.

But now, I’m seeing things in a different light. During my stay in Japan, I met people that redifines “normal”.  For example, my former colleague quit her job to volunteer in the Philippines for 2 years.  My college classmate is a young mother who is trying to start up a company while cradling her infant at her home.  There is a man who goes around Tohoku just to provide play equipments for kids who live in temporary housing, and that is his full time job.  And there are us, who are serving at nonprofits in the States because we think it’s the most awesome idea.  Now I am realizing that I was the one who was defining “normal”, and I was just limiting myself.  I could blame it on the education or the media on making me view the world this way, but ultimately, it was all about me and my perception.

When I go home, when that day comes, I will be defining my own “normal”.  I’m ready.

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