I have to admit, even only two months in, this adventure to Japan has been a life-changing experience. Before I left, my living environment was fairly comfortable. A decent salary kept me fed, warm, and supplied enough for luxuries that I enjoyed. Casting that aside, I’ve come back to academia, but in an entirely different environment from one I could ever find in my own country. Take away that security net and it’s amazing the kinds of decisions you make when faced with the reality and gravity of your new existence.
Probably the largest shift in my mental attitude since arrival has been one of frugality. My limited stipend from the Japanese government, while generous in its own right, does not permit me to live the life I once enjoyed while working full-time. Everything I brought with me and everything I acquire while living here is looked upon differently. “I need to make these things last,” is the only thought that comes to mind. I cannot simply discard what I don’t want or like anymore. A perfect example is with food. In the past I would discard bananas that had been unsightly bruised into mush. Now, they are viewed upon as equally healthy sources of nutrition as their pristine brethren; I paid good money for that banana and I’ll be damned if I don’t eat it. Additionally, the tools of my education and livelihood must go that extra mile and be useful to the end. It is for this reason that I am beginning to really appreciate quality rather than inexpensiveness. Too often people walk the path of consumerism and only pay attention to the price tag. I am now willing to pay more now for the items I own in order to ensure that they will last and remain useful far longer than the inexpensive variety. Similarly, the things I have already must be good enough for the long-haul.
Part of this has been a change in environment (as aforementioned above). Another external stimulus to change my way of thinking has been seeing Patagonia’s advertisement in the New York Times on “Black Friday.” I am a big fan of that company’s products and truly believe in their corporate message. However, I use to get sucked into buying way too much *new* clothing every season when bedazzled by their new designs and styles. No longer can I do this. No longer can I afford to be so hungry for products.
While this mental shift is extremely applicable and useful now, I am very excited for the future. When I finish my education here, I know that I will return to a world of comfort with a steady paycheck. However, I am sincerely excited to see this improvement in my worldview be applied to my daily life when it is a consequence of choice and not necessity.