Okay, 2019 is over, you can come out from behind the sofa now
That's it, a whole decade over, and I've been writing annual recaps for half of it.
As a year to end the 10s, 2019 put in the effort to make itself memorable. Just not in the nostalgic, rose-tinted glasses way. No. This year was a rough one from start to finish. It had good points, but it's making me work hard to remember them.
Blasts from the past:
On the first day of 2019, I learned a very important lesson: don't try and go out for lunch over the new year in Japan. Nothing's bloody open. I ended up with a small rainbow cheese toastie, and I was lucky to have that.
My food choices for the rest of the month more than made up for it, with a nabe (hotpot) party, super thick tonkotsu ramen, and some early Valentine's chocolates I bought for myself. They were Moomin chocs in snazzy packaging, no shame here.
Besides, I was comfort eating like you wouldn't believe. I've got 'work stress, so so much work stress' as a memo for January. I can't remember any of what caused that now, but I guess I'd taken on too much. Not how I wanted to kick off the new year.
For the past few years, 'new year' has also meant 'new visa application'. Plus I've started a tradition of taking myself out for lunch after I've handed in the paperwork. It's a great way to unwind after spending my whole morning at immigration.
After all that stress, I turned down some freelance work offers. It felt super weird.
One of the best things to happen to me in Feb 2019 was... a kotatsu. Y'know, one of those tables with a heater built in underneath. It's now my favourite thing I own.
My postcard from immigration came back nice and quickly - and I got a 3-year visa! That's one of the best things that happened to me all year.
Looking back on it, March was otherwise a quiet month. Heaven knows I needed one.
April Fool's Day in Japan is always confusing, as it's the start of the new financial year - a day that many changes and announcements are made for real. And 2019 had a big one, when the era name switched from Heisei to Reiwa.
My notes say April was 'busy busy busy, and cold'. It was sakura season, so I spent a decent amount of time outside cooing at petals and pretending I wasn't cold.
Oh yeah, and I went to the Niku Fest meat festival... and hardly ate anything. So unlike me, right? They'd hiked all the food prices since last year. The best thing about it was getting to see J-idol dance cover groups performing. What that's got to do with meat, I still have no idea.
I traded working over the Golden Week holidays for time off to visit the UK the week after, when flight prices were way lower. Came back to Japan with a suitcase full of Pot Noodles and London-themed souvenirs.
Mid-May '19 was my 3rd Japaniversary! It seemed like some people celebrated that milestone even more than I did. I was gifted a box of Japan-themed anniversary cupcakes. Almost couldn't bring myself to eat them... almost...
Near the end of the month, Twitter was ablaze with the 'do you need to learn Japanese if you want to live in Japan?' argument.
And before May was done with, I had to go say farewell to the Burger King store in the Amemura area of Osaka. Went there on the final day to scoff a 'sayonara' Whopper and fries.
June kicked off with the BitSummit gaming convention in Kyoto, and at least 1 night of cheese and wine. I went to an Okinawa festival at a department store (so much Blue Seal ice cream), and a restaurant that does nothing but gyoza.
It was all going so well.
And then, I got sick.
I had acute bronchitis, and that gave me insomnia, and that got me thinking I was having a heart attack. I had a hospital visit, and an ECG - and ultimately, I had a mental breakdown.
That's not something I ever wanted to admit on a client-facing blog, but it's what happened. As you can hopefully see from this recap, it hasn't affected my writing. Hell, it's given me new material for whenever I next try standup comedy.
My Mum came to Japan to take care of me for a month. At the time, I felt embarrassed about it. A grown woman dragging her retired Mum halfway around the world to look after her?
Looking back on it, I'm glad she was there. We did some wandering around the shops, we went out for dinner, we made some Tanabata (star festival) wishes together, and we visited some summer festivals and events. It all helped me feel like I was getting better.
I felt well enough to blog about certain bits of Japan's healthcare system, including what happens if you feel sick on a weekend, or if you need to call an ambulance. I hope it helps other people when they're unwell.
Damn, it was hot. I say that every August, but by all accounts 2019 set new records for summer temperatures and humidity. Managed to avoid heatstroke, at least.
I went to a 'stress clinic', where they ignored all my mental issues and insisted my diet was to blame. It wasn't the best month to say that to me - I'd eaten a lot of ice cream, and gone out for dinner at least once a week.
The highlight of my month was an 80-minute massage. The most relaxing, calming hour and 20 minutes I've ever had. It was an August special at a small place in Nara, while I was in town for the Tokae lantern festival. If I ever go back there, I'll review it properly.
Where June was like a breaking point for me, September became more of a turning point.
I'd spent most of the summer trapped in a cycle: can't sleep, take pills, sleep okay, come off the pills, get rebound insomnia, start from the top. Not that I knew it was rebound insomnia at the time... In any case, it was emotionally exhausting.
At the end of the month, I finally went to a mental clinic. I'd written down everything I wanted to say, but I couldn't read it all out without crying.
The doctor read the rest, and signed me off work with depression on the spot. It should've been a relief, a weight off my shoulders, but it didn't feel that way at the time. It was almost like admitting defeat. Thankfully, I'm doing better already.
This month was a blur of clinic and hospital visits. I tried therapy, and after 2 sessions it was clear I hadn't picked the right place. Don't be afraid to back out if it's not working for you, folks.
Based on how things were going so far, I started making plans to take a short break from Japan. Getting the ball rolling on that kicked off 3 months of trying to see and do as much as I could.
I visited the observation deck of Abeno Harukas - I'd been in Osaka for over 3 years and still not gone up there. No time like the present. It was during a Space Invaders special event, so there were retro arcade cabinets all over the place.
October ended with Halloween: the quiet, sober, and going to bed early edition. I know, right? I've stopped drinking completely since the bronchitis first hit. My mental and physical health are probably better for it, but I haven't managed to stay out past bedtime for anything since.
I did go out on Halloween night itself this year, to the Dotonbori (to see how crazy the crowds were). It was a weeknight, and it was heaving. I spent half the time I was out trying to elbow my way back to Namba station.
One fine day in November, I went out and walked 8km because I couldn't fit into a pair of jeans any more. I stomped the Midosuji illuminations route, 4km to the top and 4km back.
I also became a princess: Princess Peach, from the Mario universe. I was at a videogames vs. religion crossover art exhibition - The Gospel According To Nintendo - held at a chapel. That's maybe the only time you'll see me willingly set foot inside a religious building. The atheist in me was loving the theme, though.
Just when I thought the antidepressants were stopping me from crying at the drop of a hat, I went to the cinema and shed some tears during the Sumikkogurashi movie. No spoilers, but the ending is quite moving. If it gets released in the UK, give it a watch.
The final month of 2019 came around fast. I did something new and different every single day.
I took on a challenge, in the form of an Osaka Metro-themed puzzle hunt. Spent an afternoon running around the city solving riddles in Japanese - finished it in 6 hours. It's given my sense of my own language ability a hell of a boost. This game's running until the end of March 2020, so if you're in Osaka (and can read kanji) try it out.
I had my first ever honey toast (google it, you won't regret it) at karaoke. I went to a Christmas pizza party. I conjured up some deep black bathwater, cursed by the devil. I ate natto yakisoba and natto okonomiyaki.
In mid-December, I made it back to my hometown to rest up. I ended up with a whole row to myself on the plane! That's never happened before.
Being here gives me mixed feelings. I miss my life in Osaka already, but it's good to see family - hadn't spent Christmas with them for 3 years. I'm trying to enjoy having the space to relax and recuperate, without constantly pining for that city centre convenience.
2020 - let's see exactly how much difference a year makes
It feels like I'm ending this post on a a cliffhanger. Will I make it back to Osaka this year? Well, that's the plan as things stand. Japan is still where I want to be for the forseeable future, and in time I'll start working on the finer details of going back.
I'm slowly getting back to the kind of person I was - I can't say 'back to normal' there 'cause I wasn't normal in the first place. My mood's already improved a lot since my lowest points over the summer, and I'm sleeping a LOT these days. I'm not making any solid predictions for the year, but I'll let myself be cautiously optimistic.