I've been wanting to write this post for a while. It's no secret that I really like Japan. I think the language itself is beautiful, and I like Japanese related things like J-pop (which is one of the things that got me started on studying Japanese), dorama, and Japanese fashion. There are just so many aspects of Japanese culture that attract me, and I've always enjoyed travelling in Japan. To some people, it might seem like I'm looking at it through a rose-tinted glass, but believe me, I'm actually aware of the darker and not-so-great sides of Japan as well.
This post really isn't about fangirling over Japan, but rather, I just want to explain how Japan has changed me in a positive way, and for those reasons, I truly love Japan. Hear me out.
I'm a naturally introverted, shy, and at times, socially awkward kind of person. I've had trouble talking to strangers and meeting new friends all my life. Making friends had always been very difficult for me (but I do have a bunch of very close friends). Also, I have always been dependent, whether on my family or friends.
After I've started learning Japanese about four years ago, things started to change. Since I really don't come in contact with Japanese people on a daily basis, I started actively searching for Japanese penpals online so I can practice my Japanese. I've discovered that talking to people online is a lot easier than talking to a stranger face-to-face. It is easier for me to open up and carry on a conversation when I don't have to worry about being judged based on my appearance, and I have time to sort through my thoughts before I reply (I'm kind of slow too = ="). Sometimes, I feel that I can express my thoughts and let my personality show even better when I'm behind a computer screen. It might seem dangerous to talk to a stranger online, but you just need to be cautious about what kind of information you are telling the other person.
This whole penpalling became an important part of my life. I've met many great people and made friends this way; some stopped corresponding after a while, some stuck around, and some I even got to meet in person. It's a really good feeling when you have been talking to someone for a while, and you finally get to meet them in person. They are in between a stranger and a friend - sort of strange, and yet familiar. It's a lot easier for me to face someone that I already know a little bit about, rather than a complete stranger. The feeling is kind of exciting, and I've had a lot of fun each and every time.
I've also learned that people come and go in life. There were times when some of my penpals stopped responding all of a sudden, and there was nothing I can do about it. In the beginning it was really hard for me to cope with. It took me a long time to recover each time, but as I talked to more and more people, I realized, c'est la vie. There are many reasons why people stop responding, and often it's nothing personal. Sometimes, the best way is just to let it go. This is a major self-esteem lesson for me, not to take things so personally, and not to be so emotionally dependent on other people.
This online activity also led me to become more successful in dealing with strangers in everyday life. It got easier for me to take the initiative to talk to people in school, and when it's time to find a group for assignments, it has become much easier for me to do so. This is a very unexpected, but positive result, coming out of my eagerness to learn Japanese.
Another thing is, I've also become a much more independent person. I used to never be able to go anywhere without a friend or family member. However, because of my love of Japan, about three years ago, I started travelling to Japan alone. At that time I had a friend in Kansai, that sorta worked as a safety net for me. She wasn't able to meet up with me everyday, but at least I knew I have someone to call if I got into any kind of trouble. It was a huge step for me, but as it turned out, I had the best time of my life! I went alone again this past summer, and it was another awesome episode of my life. Travelling in Japan was just so liberating for me, and it will always be fun to explore the place at my own pace.
I might still be quiet and awkward at times (especially during social gatherings where games are involved - I really don't like group games...except for pictionary), but I've come a long way, and loving Japan has made some pretty awesome change in me. It's precisely because of these positive changes that make me love Japan even more.