“So, how did you end up in Japan?”…
Imagine with me that it’s the tail end of winter 2015 in New York City. I am living in a small apartment with my boyfriend, my adorable elderly dog and a roommate. I spend my nights slinging cheap drinks at a dark and moody bar in the west village, and my days making props (for free) for an experimental off-broadway play. I’m meeting interesting people and making good money. Sometimes people even buy the pyrography (woodburned art) that I make. Life is pretty good. Not a typical 30 something existence but who needs normal?
Now, flash forward three years later to winter 2018 in Tokyo, Japan….
How did I get here?
The seed was planted when I travelled out of the US a few years prior. It was my first time leaving the country. Seriously, I had never left the country until I was 30. Not only my first time travelling internationally but also my first solo vacation. I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I had spent years waiting for someone else to find the time to travel with me and it had never happened. It was time for me to suck it up and go it alone. I bought that ticket, packed my bags and I went to Europe for two weeks. It was empowering and enlightening and it opened my eyes to possibilities. The world had always seemed so big and impossible to fully comprehend, but after this trip it got a little bit smaller. Don’t get me wrong, the world is huge and there are so many beautiful cultures and countries to explore but after this trip it all seemed so much more accessible to me.
After my solo European vacation I knew I wanted to live outside the US at some point in my life. While living in NYC I felt myself getting too comfortable with a life that was, for me, not exciting. I was content but I wasn’t fulfilled. I was stagnant, my life had stalled. I was only making lateral movements at that point. I knew I needed a new experience. I needed to learn more. I needed to see the world from a different perspective. I needed to live abroad. So I set to planning. I signed up for a TEFL certificate course because teaching English seemed the easiest route to find work abroad. Then I started plotting, planning and doing research.
So why Japan?
Good question. I did so much research on so many countries. I talked to people who had lived abroad and were currently living abroad. Ultimately, it was my own heart and desire that brought me to Japan. I wanted to live somewhere that was wildly different from anything I had ever experienced. I wanted to live somewhere that had an amazing and beautiful history for me to explore. I wanted to live somewhere that I would experience being a minority. I didn’t want to take the easy route, my plan was to stay one year only. I needed this one year to be the biggest bang for my buck. As a tattooed, redhead from Appalachia, I think Asia was the obvious choice fulfilling all these requirements. I eventually settled on Japan for it’s beautiful culture, landscape and safety. Japan has some of the most beautiful beaches and mountains and it is surprisingly safe.
I won’t bore you with the details of my job hunt, long story short, I decided on Japan and then I found a website and applied to ALL of the jobs. I received a few offers and settled on a job in Shizuoka. Within 3 months I was saying goodbye to my boyfriend, my dog, New York and everything I had ever known to move to a country I had never been to and knew entirely too little about. I had no Japanese language skill and I had no idea what I was getting into. To be honest, I am surprised I made it through those first few months. I was so isolated and lonely. I think it was sheer stubbornness that kept me from packing my bags, tucking tail and moving home. But let me say this, Shizuoka is beautiful. If I knew any Japanese I would have had an amazing time there. I was living on a beautiful little beach in Makinohara called Sagara Beach, it was stunning. However, I have tattoos and there is a definite stigma against tattoos so I spent the entire summer in long sleeves in blistering, humid heat.
After 3 months I decided I could not survive Shizuoka with no Japanese ability but I was not willing to give up on Japan. So I again packed my bags and I headed out on the shinkansen to Tokyo. I figured Tokyo would be an easier place for a foreigner with no Japanese to get by. I was partially correct. Tokyo does have more people who speak English but Tokyoites are less likely to talk to strangers. Tokyo is a city not unlikely New York City, the personification of these two cities has a similar personality and attitude. I love it, I love the life, the energy, the beauty, the culture, and the visual.
One of my favorite things about Tokyo is the easy access to countryside communities, beaches, and mountains. If I am feeling suffocated by the magnitude of Tokyo all I have to do is get on a train and head out of town or even hop on a bike and find one of the many beautiful parks. My absolute favorite thing about Tokyo are all of the hidden gems sprinkled throughout the city. This city is a mix of modern architecture and historical structures. I love to wander the city and imagine what life was like hundreds of years ago. I list many things in my “hidden gems” category, one of which being the multitude of record shops. When I say multitude I mean MULTITUDE. You have so many choices from the new/chain shops in Shibuya and Shinjuku where you can find all the modern music and beyond to the more eclectic variety of Koenji and Shimokitizawa. My neighbourhood is Nakano and we have a few nice shops here as well. I absolutely love spending hours digging through records and getting lost in the memories that music brings. There are little shops to be discovered in almost every neighbourhood it seems. The best thing about collecting records in Japan is the amount of care most Japanese people put into their belongings. Most records are so well maintained and cared for that you can find a jazz record from the 50’s that is in perfect condition.
It took me more than a year to finally commit to beginning a record collection here. It seemed like really planting roots to begin collecting in Japan. I have a modest collection in the states but I am not sure how long I will stay in Japan, what am I supposed to do with these records when I leave? In Japan there is no “junk day” or NYC sidewalks and “free, no bedbugs” signs to get rid of the furniture you no longer want. However, I work at a small international preschool and my co-worker uses old vinyl records to play music to the kids sometimes and it made me crazy with desire for a new record player and some fresh vinyl to listen to with my morning coffee. About 8 months ago I finally decided to bite the bullet and start digging and it’s been the best decision I have made since moving to Japan.
It seems obvious at this point but my passions in Tokyo would be exploration and digging for vinyl records. My other passion, which exists in any city, is art. I love to create art, see works of art, and support other artists. Tokyo is a fantastic city for art. Though I have not shown my art here in Tokyo I do my best to get out and support other artists who are showing their work. To find inspiration through their expression. There are many museums and galleries in Japan with constantly rotating exhibitions as well as permanent exhibitions. Tokyo is not the easiest place to make new friends despite the massive population. It’s also a notoriously boozy city, everyone loves a good drink after work. As a non-drinker it can be even more difficult to meet new people. Getting out into the city visiting galleries, museums and going vinyl shopping has been a great way to meet people with similar interests. It took me a while to find my footing in Japan. Reviving old passions and hobbies that have become a huge part of what makes me happy and entertains me here is great. I am sure my experience is different from some just as I’m sure it’s very similar to others.
My suggestion for anyone who moves to Japan is this, keep an open mind and explore the possibilities. You may find a hobby and a passion that you didn’t expect. In my experience having passions and hobbies is what keeps us sane and occupied in a place that is so easy to isolate and separate yourself from others. Make the most of your experience and your time, explore this beautiful culture and soak it all up. I came here for the cultural difference and to be a minority. While being a minority is obviously not the most fun experience, enjoying the things that make us feel passion and meeting others with the similar interests can be.