Reverse Culture Shock: Needs vs. Wants

Observations on materialism, and life back in Victoria.

                After coming back from Japan, sure enough Ben and I are both feeling the reverse culture shock(post).  Personally I feel a bit like a soldier who has come back from war, and doesn’t fit into normal society anymore.  We feel that our way of looking at life now is so different now from the average North American, and it’s a bit alienating. 

                There are many areas of life in which my way of thinking has changed, but for one thing, looking at the typical lifestyle and mindset of North Americans, it’s shocking to observe the amount of materialism which people consider to be normal.  We experienced a lifestyle of minimalism over there which I think has forever changed our way of thinking.  What are the things that one needs in order to live comfortably and be happy?  That depends on the things you consider to be needs vs. wants.    

                Ben and I have always had the philosophy of never spending money on anything we don’t absolutely need, and I think we’ve always been satisfied with much less.  This is not because we are poor, although by some people’s standards, we are.  As a general policy, we just don’t spend money, and we’ve just never felt the desire to have a million things.  At our wedding, we asked that instead of wedding gifts, we’d prefer that people donate money towards our “Japan Travel Account” where we knew it would be well used.  Without those donations, we couldn’t have gotten to Japan, so we are so thankful for the generosity we received. When we left Canada, we let go of the lease in our apartment in Victoria, and the major possessions we left behind were a 1990 Honda Accord, and my cello. 

                As Ben and I discovered with our year of living in Japan, we are quite satisfied living with almost nothing, by North American standards.  We surprised even ourselves with what very little we needed for daily life.  When we moved there on March 28th of 2013, we brought only the clothing in our suitcases, and 2 laptops.  We rented an apartment for the equivalent of about $500/month, which had an air-conditioner and a heater, and was basically a single room with a sink and stovetop, and a bathroom, all totalling an area of about 10ft x 10ft.  The only other things we bought to put in there were what we considered to be absolutely necessary for living.  We bought 2 of the cheapest used bikes we could find (absolutely necessary for getting around a pedestrian city).  We bought a futon to sleep on, a quilt, a rice cooker, a single pot, and a kettle.  Everything else we bought from the dollar store at a dollar a piece for each item.  We bought a spatula (necessary for frying eggs), 2 bowls, 2 chopsticks, 2 mugs, a plastic bucket for hand-washing our laundry, a dish sponge, soap, and shampoo and toilet paper.  That was it.  We decided we didn’t need a fridge, table or chairs.  We were quite happy making our eggs and rice for breakfast, and any other food we needed for a balanced diet (vegetables, meat, or dairy products for example) we bought from the small grocery store and local produce stand (both just across the street) and ate within the same day.  We never ate out at restaurants.

Ben went to school at Doshisha University (within biking distance) where he was taking his Japanese language classes, and I biked to a piano shop 10 min away where I paid for hourly practice time in private piano rooms.  Without music I feel lost as a human being, and since a free piano to practice on in Japan is about as rare as a needle in a haystack, we paid for practice time.  It was just about the only thing we spent money on, but we deemed it to be a necessity for me.  After that, we both studied Japanese in the apartment and at Ben’s university lounge area frequently, and we went on outings to explore the city.  We never went shopping except to buy daily food.  Without the stresses of a million errands and obligations we had so much time for conversation and building relationships with people in the community.  It was shocking to come to the realization of the value of free time.  That was our lifestyle in Japan for a year, and I’d say that it’s probably something which many people in Canada have never experienced. 

                Over the course of the year, of course our apartment did become filled with a few more things.  Japanese people are big on gift giving as a way to show thoughtfulness and appreciation, so we gratefully received the things people gave us.  When my parents came to visit us 6 months into our time there, they did end up buying us a used fridge.  As we built friendships and connections with the music community, and when I started my part-time job teaching piano lessons at Doshisha Women’s College, our schedules became filled with few more responsibilities and things to do.  I did spend money on the odd music concert and Ben and I did go out to dinner with friends on occasion, but really, we discovered that we don’t really need much more than that.  It was a life of simplicity, and it felt great.

                After 1 week in Canada now, I’ve come to realizations about what I value and what I need in life.  I value free time.  As far as human needs, I need connection with family, a community of musicians where I can thrive and be challenged.  I need a good piano to practice on that is in a warm comfortable room.  Ben’s needs are simpler than mine.  He needs his laptop and internet because it connects him to the world and allows him to research, dream, and plan for the future.  He needs a quiet place where he can study and have alone time, but that’s about it for him.

                Coming back to Canada now, we are thinking about what the future looks like for us.  We don’t ever really want to own a house or anything expensive.  We want to continue renting simple apartments, mainly so we can keep mobile, and not having a mortgage seems nice.  This will keep the option open for us of living abroad again if we want to, either in Japan, or elsewhere.  We were living modestly before we went to Japan, but now we prefer to live even more as minimalists and we’ve decided to try our hardest to accumulate as few material things as possible.

                We’ve also got another idea in the making.  We’d like to try and save the money to buy an upright piano to put in my parents’ house in Langley, and another one to put in Ben’s parent’s house in Port Mcneill.  In Victoria, I can practice on free pianos at the Victoria Conservatory and at UVic, but right now neither of our parents’ houses has a piano even close to suitable for me to practice on.  Ben and I value family time, but for me, not being able to practice piano when I visit our families has always been a concern.  I always feel anxious to get back to my music no matter where I am.  With a piano at each of our parents’ houses, I think this would help us to enjoy more time with family in Langley and in Port Mcneill.  For me, this is something I feel that I really need, and Ben is totally on board with it. 

                On a practical scale, the idea of reducing on materialism and saving to buy 2 upright pianos is something that we wanted all of our friends and family in Canada to know about.  Even though we appreciate the meaning and the thoughtfulness that comes with gift-giving, we were thinking of even asking our family to orient their gift giving to help us in our goal to buy pianos.  We’re really excited to see if we can make this new idea a reality and we’re eager to see where the future in travelling will take us.  We are so grateful to all our family and friends for your support.  We love you all, and thank you so much.


Ben and Kailey lived in Japan not too long ago and also visit Kyoto every year.

Ben is developing a Japanese Practice site. It's current main functions are:
1. a Flash Card system that features a leveling system where you must answer correctly and "level up"to gain new cards, receive money and buy new decks - anime decks included!
2. Fill in the Blank system where you can choose to focus on particle practice or verb practice etc.
The Japanese Practice Blog is here. Check out the Japanese Practice site here

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post a Comment