What are the essentials?

Visiting Japan every year is fun. I get to see my daughter’s summer holiday and also catch-up with my old friends. As such, I think that a positive attitude is the first essential. From there, it’s a matter of looking after my mental health and planning to make the most of my downtime.

Having a positive attitude

When I first started visiting my daughter, I was a broken person. I had been through a messy divorce including domestic violence (which I have documented) and was receiving treatment for acquired mental health conditions. I smiled regularly to hide my challenges, but was not happy. Further, my interactions with my daughter were micro-managed by her step-father, who insistent on sitting between us, moderating discussions and preventing physical contact. So, how can you have a positive attitude when the above is a given?

Personally, I am positive because I know I am doing everything that I can. I know that if my daughter turns 21 and has close friends who ask “what is the story with your Australian father?” she will be able to honestly say that we speak every month, I speak Japanese to her and I have always visited her (even during COVID travel restrictions).

I cannot control what others say about me. However, I can control the person who I am today. I am positive because I know that I’m doing everything within my power to make a positive impact on my daughter’s life. Thus, I never doubt the positive benefits of the (limited) visitation arrangements that I have.

Looking after my mental health

For me, mental health has two facets. Firstly, I have health with diagnosable mental health conditions. Above all, these required help from qualified medical professionals. I still sometimes see these professionals and am a strong believer that if one has a mental health condition, they should seek help. Secondly (and what I’ll talk more about), I think that I need to be exercising by brain and my body.

Regarding my body, I regularly run 1/2 marathons and am currently completing a marathon training program. It may seem superficial, but I like being fit for my daughter. I think that physical appearance is very important in Japan and I send a mod message if I’m trim, well dressed and happy with myself. Also, running supports my mental health because I used it to get rid of a lot of internal noise. For example if I am stressed about work or a visitation, a 20km run through a mountain path will always give me a new perspective. If you can access them (mindful that some people cannot), I think that nature and exercise are extremely important.

As a form of ‘diary’ I use Strava to track my running. When I travel, it is very rewarding to research running trails and record my attempts. My part of Japan is particularly interesting because it’s in small-town Japan (few foreigners have been there), there’s some lovely mountain trails and the intense summer humidity is always a unique challenge.

Part of my exercise is recovery. Japan has some of the best recovery resources around as I can always find an onsen for any muscle pain, quality therapeutic massages and fresh food all over. Some of my most positive reflective experiences have occurred in random onsens (one was hilariously full of rubber duckies). An onsen that I particularly enjoy is high-up with views of mountains, lakes and bright lights. I could sit there forever, reflecting on how my daughter’s country is beautiful and how we will always share a bond with it.

Planning for downtime

My visitations are limited, so I have a lot of downtime. While my main joy is seeing my daughter, I think it’s important to make the most out of my downtime. Other than exercise my hobbies include photography, collecting retro electronics and catching live music. These are important to me because I would probably otherwise pace around, brewing up negative thoughts about my situation. Hobbies give me something else to focus on and a lot of quick wins as there’s always something interesting out there.

Even small-town Japan seems to have a vibrant live music scene. As an example, I stumbled upon a small bar where a visiting band (from Tokyo) was playing various ragtime classics with a modern spin. Drinks flowed, I got chatting with locals and it was an amazing night out. This sort of thing happens every time I go out at night and it reminds me how kind and hospitable most people are in Japan.

As a retro gamer I always set aside enough money for some bulk purchases during my visit. Generally I will fill my suitcase with games, consoles and other gear that I can only purchase in Japan. This helps me to save on shipping costs but also gives me an adventure to distract my mind.

Listen and have an open mind

Finally, because my circumstances are difficult, it is easy for me to forget that my situation is just one of many sets of circumstances. To counter this bias and avoid unnecessary friction with those who are important to me, I try my best to listen to them and ask myself “what lessons can I learn from this?” My mum, my wife, my children and my close friends all have different lessons to teach me about life. I treasure this opportunity and treat each day as an opportunity to do better. In my opinion this helps my to adapt with the time and avoid becoming shipwrecked by the process. Importantly, I’m no use to my daughter if I’m bitter and out of touch with reality.