It was 2pm. Not the Kpop boy band but my delivery arriving right on time. Hurriedly grabbing my mask, to greet the bearer of my much-awaited package, and exchange ‘Arigato gozaimasu’s, I was not unlike an impatient child on Christmas morning. There they were! Seven kilos worth of South American green plantains! Take that Covid! If I couldn’t go home, then a little piece of home would come to me.
As a comfort food, plantains bring me back to the many meals and celebrations during holidays spent with my big Dominican family in Queens, New York. Being able to visit my family every year and maintain those close connections has allowed me to live abroad for over ten years. However, with the global pandemic dragging on for almost a year, foreign borders still on lockdown and most international travel prohibited, I, like many other foreigners in Japan, have been feeling the effects of this unintended prolonged distance; namely homesickness.
Tamar Chansky, a psychologist and author of Freeing Yourself From Anxiety, points out that homesickness is a very normal part of the human experience. “Homesickness is part of a process, and there are things we can do to move through that adjustment curve and feel more in control. If we keep doing things to explore that transition, we find our roots anew and get connected and committed to those things and feel at home,” she said. “We are successful as humans by adjusting to our circumstances and making connections to people. That’s the bread and butter of our emotional well-being.”
Adjusting to changing circumstances is not an easy feat but there are many things that can help make the transition easier and smoother. For starters, just knowing that I am not the only one who struggles with homesickness is comforting. I reached out to other foreigners in Japan who are in this similar predicament to learn how they are getting through and coping with homesickness.
Indulge in Comfort Foods
Tiara Washington, originally from Alabama and residing in Nishinomiya, Hyogo, goes to American restaurants and cooks familiar foods to feel less homesick. “I usually go to McDs, KFC, Taco Bell, or any American chain restaurant,” she said. “Recently, I’ve gotten into recreating foods from home like peach cobbler, chicken and dumplings, country fried steak and gravy, and smothered pork chops.”
“I find things that remind me of home,” said Torontonian Misty Fujii. “There’s one restaurant here in Osaka, Slices, that sells poutine, a Canadian delicacy.” Like me, Seattleite Amadera Oguara, has her comfort foods delivered to her home in Kyoto. “My family mails me snacks from back home that I can’t find here. For example, a local exclusive brand of potato chips called Tim’s,” she said. “You don’t realize how much you miss simple treats!”
Explore New Things
Although, finding familiar things can be comforting, exploring and learning new skills, places, and media can be healthy distractions and help to replace feelings of homesickness with excitement and wonder. During the summer, I intentionally got ‘lost’ in my neighborhood in Kobe and was surprised to discover a waterfall which soon became a lovely place to connect with nature.
“Homesickness was really bad for me at one point but I had to give myself a fighting chance,” said Wilson.
“Find things to love about where you are. Get out. Meet people if you can,” said Catherine Wilson from North Carolina. She enjoys exploring the market down the street of her town in Yokosuka with her son. “It can be lonely but I’ve joined Facebook groups, stepped out of my comfort zone, traveled by train, and gotten my driver’s license,” she added. Jamaican Collette Grant, currently in Miyazaki, taught herself how to sew and knit and started doing sewing projects. Sometimes, she enrolls in free two-week online courses.
Checking out new podcasts and often reading different books keeps Zambian Koko Nyirongo’s mind occupied. She just finished “We’re Going To Need More Wine” by Gabrielle Union and is currently reading “After The Rain” by Alex Elle. Some of her favorite podcasts are “The Receipts podcast”, “To My Sisters” “The Layover’ and “Even The Rich”.
As a person who suffers from winter blues, not being able to visit my family was much more difficult to deal with as the colder months gradually set in. In addition, the colder weather made it difficult to maintain my exercise routine of jogging outdoors which was also a way to keep healthy physically and mentally. Luckily, at the beginning of the year, Grant put out a call on the Black Fit Women in Japan Facebook group for accountability partners for daily workouts via Zoom. The encouragement and motivation to help each other reach mutual fitness goals has been a great way to start the day with a positive outlook.
Similarly, Grant, hikes, cycles, goes on camping and road trips, and plays a lot of community sports like volleyball, badminton, and tennis. “I am literally home just in time to sleep. I do all these activities because they fill my time and they leave me less time for my homesickness to creep in.” A lover of dance, Michelle Ross McGregor also from Jamaica and residing in Hokkaido, goes out to Zumba as well as on hikes and walks. “They help clear my head and create endorphins,” she said.
Keeping pets can also be a great way to stay active. AJ Sora Floyd’s five dogs, three of which came with her from California, keep her busy in North Osaka. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” she said. “I get to spend less time being sad and more time enjoying my days until I visit my family again.”
Social distancing and less human interaction in general during the pandemic has exasperated the effects of homesickness. Holidays away from family are especially difficult but sharing similar traditions with American friends living in Japan who were also missing home, made me feel understood and comforted.
Although, it cannot replace physically being with family, juggling time zones and having a set time to talk with my loved ones via FaceTime, Zoom, Line, FaceBook, etc. is incredibly helpful and important. Oguara, for example, makes time every weekend to video chat with friends and family back home, and keeps in touch through messaging throughout the week.
“Homesickness was really bad for me at one point but I had to give myself a fighting chance,” said Wilson. She tries to make girls’ days with friends and playdates with other moms whenever possible. Additionally, she considers connecting with her body and spirit as essential as connecting with others. Her self-care routines include personal spa days, meditating and praying. “I thank God for every breath and opportunity life gives me even if the process is uncomfortable,” she said.
Clinical psychologist and professor Josh Klapow says homesickness is about our “instinctive need for love, protection, and security—feelings and qualities usually associated with home.” I love my life in Japan! However, I have come to accept and expect feeling homesick every now and then. Although, living through a pandemic has intensified these feelings, the love, protection, and security that I’m longing for in those moments can be had by indulging in comfort foods, exploring new things, staying active, and connecting with others and myself.