Living in Japan last year taught me a lot of things. I learnt what an earthquake feels like, how to behave in an onsen to avoid obasans' disapproval and the right way to pitch a squeal of 'kawaiiiiii' so it almost shatters eardrums. I also learnt some slightly more serious stuff like how to survive in a very small apartment without much stuff, how to make a home for yourself somewhere totally unfamiliar and that good friends remain good friends wherever you both live.
However, the biggest life lesson I think I learnt in Japan was an appreciation for the world I live in. This is partly because the Japanese (even those in cities) generally seem to be more in tune with the world around them than most Westerners. The way people celebrate the arrival of cherry blossoms and spring, and the delight they take in the autumn colours are both fantastic. I know the English traditionally love talking about both the weather and their gardens, but there isn't the same appreciation of nature.
However, the main reason I've gained an appreciation for the world around me has nothing to do with the Japanese themselves. Its because of England. It's easy to forget how much people all over the world love England. It's easy to forget how lucky one is to be English. We can travel to almost anywhere in the world and be understood and gain work (and work visas) due to our language. We have historic buildings and an amazing history and beautiful countryside. In spite of people who vote UKIP, those who committed the horrible act in Woolwich this week and the bigoted idiots acting the way they are in response, we are still a country that welcomes people from all cultures, religions and walks of life. We're a diverse and vibrant country, where people can be whoever they want to, and be whatever they want to be. It's easy and cheap to travel to anywhere else in the world, especially all the amazing places in Europe. England is wonderful, both because of its innate Englishness, and because of how well that Englishness is adapting to suit the multicultural world we now live in.
England isn't alone in being like this, and it certainly isn't perfect, but living in Japan reminded me how many people would love to visit, or even live, here. Since coming back, I have tried to keep this view fresh in my mind. I sometimes try and look at England through a Japanese lens. Some things are scary. I miss walking alone at night unafraid, cheap restaurants and mountains. But a lot is great.
I guess this is all a very roundabout way of saying that I'm trying not to take anything for granted any more.
London Bridge by night
Traditional Parish Church near my parents' house.
Swans on the Waveney
My favourite London view, from Millenium Bridge. Globe Theatre and the Shard.