Every morning I wake up grateful to be in Japan. I feel inspired and excited by the things around me. Each day brings a whole host of new challenges, some of them big and some of them small. It’s a real thrill tackling them, even though I’m not always successful. Fortunately, failing has been half the fun… for instance, when the soup noodles slip out of my chopsticks before I can get them to my mouth, and I’m just hoping none of my teammates hear the splash or see my hand shake with the threat of chopstick-cramp. Through stifled laughs, Bev and I share these moments with great enthusiasm, as our teammates look around and ask each other if anyone knows why “the Americans” are laughing.
Having arrived in Japan over two months ago, I only recently felt my first moments of relaxation. I didn’t realize how many nerves were firing until they suddenly ceased. Although I’m not positive what caused the change or if the change is even permanent, I wonder if it means I’m getting used to my new life. Some of the big things I’ve begun to adapt to: new food, new utensils, new kitchen appliances; biking everywhere (it’s been fifteen years), alternately with typhoon winds, torrential rainfall and blistering heat; a new language I’m desperate to learn; a new style of soccer, which at times has me baffled and questioning everything I know (the language barrier doesn’t help here); a new position, or rather a new old position, but not one I’ve played as a professional; new friends, particularly challenging because I can hardly talk to them.
BACK STORY: I first fell in love with Japan and Japanese soccer when I spent two months training in Tokyo in 2009. The team I practiced with, Beleza, was number one in the league at the time (now they sit in second behind INAC). The head coach of INAC, Sawa, and three other current teammates were with Beleza then.
When I first joined the team, I was immediately wowed by the quality of play. It took me the full two months to get acquainted with the dramatic technical and tactical differences I faced. Ever since then I wanted to return to Japanese soccer. That experience and the players I shared it with have a special place in my heart, and I am forever grateful for how they welcomed me to their team and culture. It is, without a doubt, their warmth and incredible play that made me so eager to move 7,000 miles from home to play Japanese soccer again.
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