I was nineteen and all I cared about was escaping. As a result, I didn’t really give much thought as to where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I had to leave Sydney. I craved adventure. I wasn’t big on the specifics.
So, when I was given the opportunity to live in Japan for two years, I jumped at the chance. My partner back then was studying for his PhD, which gave me free reign to immerse myself in a completely foreign culture.
I was in my element. I didn’t miss Australia. I was too busy exploring Kanazawa – my new home. Everything intrigued me. I had no money, but would spend hours in the supermarkets gazing at the packaging. I walked around the temples and visited the sites. People stared and asked to take my photo (at 6ft tall with waist length blonde hair and blue eyes, I was quite the small town anomaly). I tried all the food – even the funky stuff that still moved on my plate.
My love of words, translated into a life-long passion for foreign languages. I studied Japanese and within six months could read children’s’ books (it’s hard, you know) and hold a decent conversation. I started to work. I taught English to pervy salarymen and bored housewives. I sold helium balloons featuring Disney characters at festivals. I modelled for magazines and walked down catwalks.
The experience was both life affirming and life changing. And for this, I can only thank the people of Japan. For the most part, they were warm, welcoming and kind. Their generosity and nobleness still astounds me. So, it breaks my heart to see what they are going through now.
I was in Kobe twelve hours before the earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people in 1995. While I was living on a small island called Kikai-jima, I was warned about tsunamis. Everyone in Japan knows the risks, but nothing can prepare you for the devastation.
I’ve been sending well wishes and good thoughts to my Japanese friends, but it’s not enough. I thought about getting on a plane and going out there to help, but I can’t afford it. So instead, I’m pledging all the money I earn from any commissions I get this week to the British Red Cross Tsunami Appeal. Please, tell your friends – particularly if they’re in publishing.
Image of cherry blossoms courtesy of Pattern Sourcebook: Japanese Style