Tomorrow a new year begins

And this is no April fool’s joke. The school year and the fiscal year both begin on the first of April in Japan. And I find it highly inspiring and uplifting.
Why should we begin school in September, when the sun is just starting to cool and the days starting to shorten? Is school the graveyard of the good times?
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I appreciate the wisdom of starting the year with spring even more now than ever because I find myself in a crossroads where my options are at the same time scarce and endless: I just finished the studies I initially came to Japan for, and after fifteen long months of tenacious job hunting I am still on the side bench with no serious perspective of employment. It is a bit of a downer when I look back at my studies and work experience and most importantly my aspirations and motivation.
But seen under another light, it might just be the best thing ever that happened to me. I am finally forced to do something with my life. At last, I have enough time and resources to do whatever it is I always wanted to do. And this is a scary perspective: knowing that you no longer have the excuse of the job, the report to submit, kids or this infinity of little things we burry ourselves in just avoiding to answer the question: what is it that we really want to do?
So instead of dwelling on my miserable luck in finding a job in Japan, I will embrace the spring spirit and start this new year with a blossoming heart and a fresh look on life.
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The ring: the true story

The Japanese phenomenal scary movie is known for its spine chilling story depicting a pure evil Japanese lady who comes back to haunt people through a video tape; or something along this line.
But what you don’t know is that behind the legend, the spiritual world and the ghostly atmosphere of the movie, there is a real life drama that lives on in modern day Japan.
Let me tell you the real story of the ring.
Once upon a time, there was a young Japanese girl who worked so diligently in school that she surpassed all her classmates and earned a scholarship to one of Japan’s best universities. Far from taking it easy as her girlfriends did, she worked even harder and ended up among the top ten of her class. At the same time, she met the love of her life. She was the envy of all the girls around her. Her long silky black hair swaying as she moved, she would run after class from the library, holding her books to her chest, and head to the nearby park to meet him. The blossoming cherry trees would rain pink petals on their dreams of a happy life together.
They got married by the end of her fourth year, and while he secured a nice job at one of Japan’s biggest companies, she went on to complete her master’s degree. Her friends would tease her about wasting her time in school while she would better be having kids and caring for her household. But she was determined to break the circle that shaped the lives of women around her; she wanted to prove to her mother that she could have it all, family and career, to her friends that her dreams weren’t to die.
The job hunting season started. Clad in black and white and facing freezing winter and hot humid summer, she went to companies’ events, filled entry sheets and submitted resumes. And interview after interview, she expressed her motivation, presented her credentials and defended her skills. But although on paper everything about her profile seemed right, all the recruiters seemed to see was the Ring. The wedding band around her finger seemed to gather the light in the room and draw a circle around her. And then she became invisible.
The ring that was her happiness for a long time began to eat at her little by little, shrinking the space around her and reducing her to a walking wife and kids’ bearer.
At first she thought there was a misunderstanding somewhere, she refused to give up and persisted approaching even more companies than she did before. She reviewed her ambitions, and the financial analyst positions that she coveted gave place to sales staff openings in garment shops. But it all went to no end. The ring was all any potential recruiter would ever see. They would be interested at first and examine different possibilities until their eyes fell on the ring and they asked the fatal question. She learned to dread the moment she had to state her marital status. She hated the shift in their faces from eager interest in her profile to disappointment and even despise in the look they shot her ring.
It went on for a year after she graduated, the heels of her black shoes were bent from walking from a company to the other, and the hate she had for her ring was only second to the suffocating sense of guilt that never left her. She was feeling guilty for disappointing her teachers that foresaw a bright future for her; guilty for not proving her friends wrong when they told her she shouldn’t try so hard and should just enjoy being a housewife; guilty for resenting her husband at times when all he did was support her endeavors; and guilty for feeling guilty all the time.
She was forced to give up at the end. She had to learn to live inside a house and an empty schedule, had to find activities that take her mind off the rage that boiled inside her.
Her house chores would be done by eleven in the morning, and then she would have nine more hours to get through by her self until her husband came home from his work.
She would sit long hours frozen at her window, looking at the sky.
From here on things only got darker and gloomier; so long story made short, she ends up finding an abandoned well in the backyard of her grandmothers house and while everyone is busy with the funeral of the deceased old lady, she jumps in.
Her restless spirits kept roaming around, angry at times and wailing its misery at others.
To make the story more bearable to viewers, they made it into a scary movie instead of the black tragedy it really is. And thus we got to watch the ring and hate the mean spirit.
I am telling this story because I am living almost the same story. But while I would never ever throw myself in a well, nor into anything higher than a 30 cm jump, I feel at times (more often than I wish to admit actually) like smacking those macho recruiters -who aren’t exclusively men- on the face and scream at them that even in Morocco, a Muslim country with an economy incomparable to the Japanese one and with a strongly patriarchal mindset, all the women I know work and keep on working through marriage, child birth, cold, back ache, family loss…and they actually get to occupy key positions in all fields.
So, what the hell Japan!!! How can such an advanced country put half its population on the bench and reduce them to a passive role of supporting THE husband and wasting years of education in shopping malls and behind the kitchen counter.
I have to admit that there are still outstanding examples of over-achieving ladies in all areas, but they are an exception to an overall male dominated society.
At first I found the enthusiasm of young Japanese girls suspicious when I said I was married, but then as my job search went on I understood their view of the institution as a life boat, an only option in a society where women are generally treated as second grade citizen.
The idea that Arab and Muslim countries are the only ones to oppress their women just proves itself wrong in Japan. While women here have all the freedom to dress as they like and do as they please when it comes to their bodies, they are still submitted to strong archetypes and social unspoken rules that push them to chose to care for their family above anything else.
And while it seems as a free choice, I believe that in many cases it is more of an only issue from a dead end situation. School hours and child care infrastructure just make it impossible for a working mom to conciliate career and family obligations, let alone advancing along the hierarchy ladder. Besides, the mostly macho mentality makes it almost a fantasy to count on the partner’s help at home.
Having stated this, and being the obstinate optimistic that I am, I just believe that I will find a path where I can have it all. Somewhere I can put my knowledge and experience to good use, all while taking good care of my husband and home. Maybe this is just the way the universe is pushing me to examine new horizons.
But that would be a whole different story.

Between the paddy field and the river

paddy field

One thing I love about Japan is being able to enjoy nature everyday. I live between a river and a paddy field, far from the crowded streets and skyscrapers of the city center. So on weekends I can take long stroll on the river banks, watch the kids practice baseball and trains pass through every couple of minutes in the distance.
I love this peacefulness, being able to drink my tea on the grassy hills by the river, side by side with my better half. This is exactly the Japan I came looking for.
River-sideSilver river


Parmi les choses que j’aime le plus au Japon, c’est d’être au contact de la nature tous les jours. Je vis entre une rizière et une rivière, bien loin des rues encombrées et les gratte-ciel du centre ville. Cela fait que je peux passer mes week-ends au bord de la rivière à faire de longues balades, regarder les gosses courir après leurs balles de base-ball et les trains passer toutes les dix minutes au loin.
J’aime cet atmosphère paisible, pouvoir juste boire mon thé en regqrdqnt le coucher du soleil avec mon chéri. C’est exactement celà le Japon de mes rêves.

Playing by the river

Milestones

Keep Calm
As I mentioned last time, I don’t really do new year resolutions. The main reason is that my personal working schedule doesn’t always fit the calendar. This year for example, I spent most of the holidays working in front of my computer.So all the new year feeling just hit me today.
I finally submitted a work that took almost four months of my life, all with sleepless nights, full working week ends and liters of black tea.
I handed my twenty seven pages of painfully squeezed combination of theory and data analysis, edited and re-edited, and then re-edited again until there was only the essence neatly presented; and then I was empty.
You know that lightweight you suddenly feel after a long term stress, a mixture of relief, a good deal of tiredness, a feeling of loss and a bit of anxiety (I was running through my mails and agenda looking for some appointment I might have forgotten about).
I had this big hole in my heart, so I got a lot of junk food to fill it.
Six hours later, here I am in front of my computer again, still trying to digest all the oil (no more Mc Donald’s for two months) and my brain is burning its neurons off building castles and launching projects in all directions.
So two deep breath, slow down, pour a nice cup of tea and let’s take a look at the last three years.
The good:
– My student life is over…yeay??
– Went from zero to a business level (theoretically) in the language I always wanted to learn: Japanese.
– I nailed the lemon tart
-…and made turkish manti, from scratch (winner dance)
– Got back to learning piano…14 years later.
The bad:
– I have no perspectives for the future whatsoever, except a guaranteed position of super-qualified housewife.
– My Japanese is good enough to graduate, but still way far from what it takes to get a decent job in Japan.
– I am no longer 20!!
– My physical activity is down to a two kilometers walk a day…on good days.
What’s to come:
– I could start a franchise of the real housewives of Japan, it might be dull though seen how Japanese tend to avoid drama.
– The job hunt is still on.
– Study more Japanese.
– Blog??
But for now I will just take time to smile upon that milestone and tomorrow is a new day.

What it takes to come to Japan

When I decided to come to Japan, some of my friends said I was crazy: at 27, I had a decent job, finally a car that doesn’t threaten of breaking down every 5km, and great friends that were more family than friends.
Most of my friends said I had guts.
Some people told me I needed to learn as much as I could about the culture before going in order to blend in, learn some Japanese as well…
In my luggage I took Moroccan tea, dried mint and some spices. I mean, you wouldn’t expect me to survive without Moroccan mint tea and Ras el Hanout*!!
But I was so wrong. It doesn’t take guts to come to Japan, after all Japan is one of the safest places on earth: in 3 years here, not once did I even hear two people arguing in the street (a nostalgic sigh for the lively streets of Casablanca). It doesn’t take Moroccan tea, you get so quickly used to drinking green tea after all. Spices don’t matter all that much neither, because after a while you learn where to find them and you even start to appreciate and cook Japanese.
So what do you need to come to Japan?
1- Nice hair: If you have frizzy, unruly hair, just get ready to suffer. In summer it is so humid it is just comical. After spending hours with the hair dryer, as soon as my locks smell a whiff of the outside air, it goes into a crazy dance. Can you blame Moroccan hair for dancing?? Really!!
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2- A lean figure: otherwise, good luck with the shopping. I mean it is almost a must to be slim here that I am surprised they don’t put it as a requirement for getting a visa. Whether you are in university or in a company, you have to go through a yearly health check where they won’t hesitate to point out any extra around your waist line. On a more practical level, whether it is a kimono or a small tutu skirt you want to get, you’d better be small (both in width as in height). My shopping since I came here is all jeans from Uniqlo, an I am not all that tall!!!

3- A good tolerance to cuteness: because wherever you turn your head it is sickeningly cute. Even the garbage truck rolls around with a cute melody and small and stuffed animals. even make up cases are all sparkly and shiny. It is just all so nice, glossy and sparkly that sometimes you wonder if it is not all a big joke.

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4- A short memory: because you will get used to cuteness, and eventually will love it. So all the illuminations around Christmas time will start feeling romantic, and you will fall in love with the small sparkly phone case. So you’d better forget all the prejudices you had about cuteness 🙂

But most of all, you’ll need an open mind and a good sense of humour. Because as much as it fascinating and enjoyable to be in Japan, you quickly understand that it can get very lonely as well. So better take it all with a smile and just enjoy the ride…while it lasts 🙂

*Ras el Hanout: a Moroccan mixture of spices including (but not restricted to) cumin, nutmeg…