How Do You Know When it’s Time to Go?

Woman Going Home“So, how long do you plan to stay in Japan?”

I get this question all the time. Honestly? I have no idea, and yes that’s a bit scary. My default answer is that I have a three year visa and I’ll leave once it’s up, but the reality is I’ll leave Japan when I feel like it’s time to go.

But…how do you know when it’s time to go?

I have a co-worker, let’s call him Chris (because half the people I work with are named Chris anyway).

Every day Chris seems depressed about “teaching lame students”, or about the inconvenience of a doctor’s visit in Japan, or about…he’s got some kind of negative comment about pretty much anything we talk about. And yet I can still tell that he’s a decent guy, because he’s willing to help me out if I ask a question, and he’s not particularly unfriendly. The negativity seems to be entirely aimed at everyday life in Japan.

Some people become expats for a specific reason, such as work, so their time abroad has an expiry date and they simply leave once they’re done. But then others, like me, set out into the wide world in search of something: adventure, freedom… and we don’t want to leave until we find whatever it is we’re looking for. And during that search, many of us might create bonds and obligations that keep us here such as a family, or a well-paying job we don’t want to give up. And while many expats make the jump to immigrant, others seem unhappy after too much time in a country that just doesn’t mesh with their ideals.

I don’t want to wait until I reach that point, so if I ever start to feel like Japan is getting on my last nerve, I’ll ask myself, and honestly answer these questions:

  • Can I do the same thing somewhere else?
  • Is the quality of my life worth the perceived security?
  • What can I gain by staying?
  • What will I lose by leaving?
  • Am I happy?

I believe the last question is the most important one, because if I’m not happy where I am, why should I stay? Some of the expats I’ve met in Japan who have been here a long time seem disgruntled, disheartened and depressed. Perhaps they feel moving back to their home country, or somewhere else, will be a source of trouble and unhappiness because they’ll lose their jobs and established life here…but they’re unhappy now! In this case, moving on can only be a step in the right direction…right? Or is it not that easy?

What do you think?

 

 

Take these 8 Pills for Homesickness

 

When I first moved to Japan there were so many new things to do and see I had months and months of distraction, and it was like some kind of  illegal super immune system booster.  Even the biggest earthquake in Japan’s written history could barely put a dent in my enthusiasm. But a few months back, the “stuff” stopped working as well as it used to, and I started to feel a little under the weather. And soon, though I tried to fight through it, I couldn’t deny that I’d definitely caught the bug. I was officially homesick. So I had a consultation with my inner doctor, and she prescribed these 8 proverbial pills.

1: Embrace the loneliness — Enjoy being alone. Do the stuff you like to do that would make you spontaneously combust out of pure shame if your friends ever found out. Go ahead and blast that Wham! CD. Sit back and admire your (mint condition) Star Trek figurine collection. Fire up that belly dancing for beginners DVD. There are some things that are meant to be done alone, and only alone.

2: DON’T call home – This only makes it worse, trust me. In fact, my homesickness really peaked when I made the rookie mistake of calling home during my family’s Canada Day party. After seeing them all together on Skype, and watching them eat home cooked food and play Cranium, I felt a little tear slip delicately from my eye…and then I spent the rest of the night ruining my pillowcase with watery eyeliner stains. Wait until you feel better to call home, or you’ll regret it.

3: Go out — If you must have human companionship (you pansy), call some of your peeps and go out. Also don’t turn down invitations to go out for no reason. If you spend too much time at home you’ll get “homesores” (TM), which are like the mental equivalent to bedsores.  Booze is not mandatory, but it’s encouraged.

4: Watch TV/listen to music from your home country It’s like a piece of home, and it’ll make you feel more in touch. I like to stream TV shows and listen to internet radio.

5: Find something (or someone) to love in your new country — This will create a connection to your new country, because we all know “home is where the heart is”. Take up a culturally specific hobby, or you could just marry a local.

6: Personalize your new space and new life — Make your new digs your home away from home. Recreate your old room if you really want. Just make it feel, well, homey. And get some routine going in your life. Find a cafe you really like and go every Tuesday. Go to the Gym. Do things you would do if you were home.

7: Have a good cry get it all out of your system.

8: Celebrate all you’ve learned in your new home — Learning a new language? You’re becoming bilingual and you can now impress people at parties. OK and I suppose it looks good on a resume too. Or maybe you’re learning to cook new exotic food. Or just learning how to be an independent person. Pat yourself on the back for making it as far as you did.

Yup, every time the sickness starts to come on I pop a few of these pills and I feel right as rain again. What does your doctor prescribe for homesickness?

The Easiest Way to Get the Internet in Tokyo

 

URoad 8000 WiMax Router

URoad 8000 WiMax Router

When I first moved into my new apartment, I had the pleasant bonus of free internet from a mysterious, magical and unsecured “CG guest” wifi network. Yeah it wasn’t all that “safe”, but hell it was free! And anything sensitive like banking I did using the data plan on my iPhone.

So anyway I hooked up and began surfing like a champ, downloading music, videos and movies until one day, just as magically as it appeared, the CG guest network disappeared :(   forcing me to face the frightening task of getting my own internet hookup… in Japanese.

I did a lot of research, and mostly all it did was hurt my head. After hearing about Flex Hikari this and ASDL that, methods that would take two to three weeks to set up (and I wanted my internet back NOW!) there was only one clear choice — WiMax.

WiMax is the next generation in mobile internet; that means it’s wireless. No one had to come to my house to install anything. I went to Bic Camera, found someone who spoke English, showed them three pieces of ID that confirmed my address, filled out some forms and I walked out with the modem in the picture above. I pressed “on” and I was back in business that day.

The speed will depend on how close you live to the server, but say you lived right next door, the max is 40 kb/s, which today is pretty fast for a personal hook up. I gave the Bic Camera dudes my address and they did some kind of test to see how good the signal would be in my area, and they said it would be pretty good. However, according to speedtest.net I’m getting something like 5kb/s, but that’s still enough to stream videos at a reasonable rate. I can also take the modem with me anywhere, it’ll get a signal pretty much anywhere in metropolitan Tokyo. It’s just under 4,000 yen a month for unlimited usage.

I think I made the right choice and I’m happy with it so far, but if you’re looking for other internet options I found this site called BBApply. If you fill out a form they’ll give you a breakdown of the internet options available to you and how much they’ll cost They’ll also work with the providers on your behalf to get you set up, and it doesn’t cost you anything extra. Check it out.

 

Why Living in Tokyo is Hard

Now that I’m completely, independently living on my own, rather than in a guest house where four of my roommates were Japanese, I’ve accidentally turned up the heat on this whole living in a foreign country experiment, and the chemicals in the beaker are starting to bubble. I have to do a lot more things in Japanese, and although my Japanese has improved in the last eight months, it’s nowhere near sufficient to make any of this easy.

At the moment I can only pick out the small amount of vocabulary I know when someone is speaking, and only if they’re not speaking super-fast. The place I hate to go the most is the post office because for some reason, even in the heart of Tokyo, no one there ever speaks a lick of English. So I have to do my best to fumble through with one word answers, grunts and body language. Every time I leave I go home and furiously study from my textbooks.

Another thing I hate to do is reschedule a delivery if I miss it. I’ve been ordering things online for my apartment, and I pray every time that the delivery guy will come when I’m at home. But alas, he comes when I’m at work, and when I come home I see the dreaded missed delivery slip sticking out of my mailbox. So then I have to go to the convenience store and buy some light booze, drink it, and then make the phone call to a guy who speaks only enough English to say “sorry, I can’t speak English”. For every short sentence I make, for example asking if he can come back today or tomorrow, I get like four or five long fast ones in Japanese back from him, and I never understand any of it, and I can’t smile and nod because it’s over the phone. Usually the both of us just give up and he ends up coming back the next day and hopefully I’m home.

There’s some stuff I want to buy like a full length mirror and a chest of drawers. My clothes have been piled up on the floor gathering dust, and I’m in constant danger of leaving the house with my shirt on backwards all because I’m dreading trying to set up the delivery in Japanese.

Then lately, maybe because of the crappy typhoon weather, I’ve been feeling somewhat isolated. This was not helped by the guy who recently moved my bed for me. He’s been living in Japan for three-and-a-half years, and gave me a lovely monologue about how the Japanese don’t want us here. “They are so racist, I’ve worked with them and I’ve seen it. They always ask ‘when are you going back?”

Perhaps I’ve just been lucky so far in that the Japanese staff I work with have been amazing, and many of my students too. I hate thinking, “the racism is just around the corner, if I stay here long enough it’ll get me too.” I just want to enjoy my time here, especially while everything is still fun and new, but sometimes I meet people who have been here a long time, maybe five years or more, and they seem…downtrodden, or bitter and I can’t help but think, “damn, that’s what’s in store for me?”

I don’t want to leave, and there is an ambitious/sick part of me that even enjoys facing these new challenges, but I do hope that as my Japanese improves and I “get the hang” of how this mundane, everyday stuff works in Tokyo, I’ll feel a lot more comfortable.

 

Making My Move

It’s decided, I’m moving out. The guest house life has been far less traumatic than I expected, but I do have some gripes: mainly space. Maybe you already know this, but real estate in Tokyo is like a fraction of the size of it’s western big city counterparts. Exhibit A: my rabbit cage.

Rabbit Cage

If I lie down and stretch out I can touch both ends of the room.

I’ve got a pile of clothes that’s falling over because I have no closet or dresser to put them in. And it’s not because I’m too cheap to buy one either. There’s just nowhere to put it! In fact it’s blatantly obvious that the room I live in used to be one room, but the company split it in two to get more rent.

That’s why I live right next to the front door, and I can hear when everyone comes and goes — whether that’s at midnight or six in the morning. There’s also this…scooter guy who comes to our neighbor’s house every morning  at about four. Not only does his stupid noisy scooter wake me up, the security light above the door turns on, flooding my room with an abrasive orange glow. This light also turns on when a cat or a bird or roach or microscopic bacteria pass by it.

Yep, it’s definitely time to move on, and this time next week I should be in my very own apartment.

 

10 Things I Like and Dislike About Tokyo

Tokyo Fashion

Shock and awe: Living in Tokyo has its hits and misses just like any other city in the world…how about that? And I do enjoy my glamorous life here, but there are some things I could do without. So enough of my rambling, let’s get to it.

A thing I like about living in Tokyo:

The convenience – especially where I live. I’m right in the centre of the city so everything I could ever want and more is within walking distance (and before you ask, yes that includes food, shelter, financial security, health, love and acceptance). There are three chain grocery stores nearby plus countless independently run shops, my bank, two post offices, two train stations, karaoke  (in case I have an unstoppable urge to sing badly and drunkenly), clothes stores, shoe stores, convenience stores and drug stores, restaurants, bars and a McDonald’s.

A thing I don’t like about living in Tokyo:

Lately, the earthquakes: Nothing like being shaken awake at 4am, scrambling to find the pajama pants I kicked off in the night because it’s so hellishly hot. And what’s merely inconvenient for me so far is devastating for the people closest to where they hit. As many of you know, the last big earthquake triggered a huge tsunami that wiped out parts of north-eastern Japan, and crippled a nuclear power plant. It will take years to recover. I heard one sad story of a farmer committing suicide because he couldn’t sell anything from his farm, for fear it was contaminated with radiation. The natural beauty of this county is astounding but earthquakes are a heavy price to pay.

A thing I like about living in Tokyo:

The nightlife: I’ve been known to cut a rug in my day, and there are lots of places to go out and party depending on what you want to do. There’s of course Shibuya, where there are lots of bars, clubs and izakaya restaurants. When I go clubbing it’s usually in Shibuya. Places stay open until between 4-5 am, so if I miss the last train all I have to do is stay drunk enough to party until the trains run again. There’s also Roppongi, where many foreigners go to party, and find willing “prey”. The gays live it up in Shinjuku’s nichome district. I’ve been there a couple times and people are always so friendly. Shinjuku’s also got a ton more izakaya and 24 hour restaurants.

A thing I don’t like about living in Tokyo:

Chikan, or perverts. Here there are women-only train cars because molestation on the trains is such a big problem. Luckily, I haven’t had any experiences myself, well except this one time. I noticed a salaryman was awfully and unnecessarily close to me on a train that wasn’t even crowded, to the point where his thigh was rubbing against my butt ever so slightly. I thought it might be an accident so I moved forward, and I soon found myself having to move again, until I was being pushed forward against the train door. I not-so-accidentally, elbowed backward into his crotch, but that only seemed to spur him on! Finally I turned around and looked him in the eye, and that got him to back off.  My roommate also told me that on her way to school every day during the morning rush, it’s so crowded she can’t even move her arms and legs. That’s when the chikan really come out to play. She says there are hands touching her butt, even going up her skirt! And there’s no way for her to tell who it is, or get away. I haven’t had to endure that kind of groping — maybe the chikan are afraid of my foreignness (they’re a bunch of cowards, groping women who can’t do anything about it) or maybe they can’t work out how to wrap their disgusting fingers around the unusual rotundness of my African-American behind. Whatever the reason, I’m glad it hasn’t affected me as badly as it could. Still, it’s an aspect of Tokyo life I really dislike.

A thing I like about living in Tokyo:

The fashion – I love playing dress-up and I get so many ideas just walking the streets of this city.  The shoes are my favourite part. Japanese women take the art of shoe wearing to a reverent level. I am not worthy! The dedication it takes to totter around the city on 5 inch, peep toe heels is staggering (pun intended). I know my feet get tired after 15 minutes, so I don’t know how they do it. But I have to admit, they look hot! I also like the layered look, the miniskirts, the hats, the bracelets, the necklaces and all that vibrant colour.  Looking good, Tokyo!

A thing I don’t like about living in Tokyo:

Not many people speak conversational English. I can hear you now all you Captain Obviouses: “Well duh, it’s Japan!”

Thank you, and I know that. I live here remember? I don’t expect everyone to know how to speak English, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. There are days when I really wish either my Japanese were better or the English of the person I was talking to were better.  Days when I’m tired and hungry and I don’t feel like charading-out my desire for three 90 yen stamps, or that I don’t want a meal set, just the sandwich. I knew coming here that it would be an issue, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

A thing I like about living in Tokyo:

It’s easier to get a job than back home — if you’re willing to teach English that is. There’s a big market for it here that’s increased since the March 11 earthquake, as some of the native English speakers who were working here took that as a sign to move back to their respective countries. For better or worse, all you need is a visa and your English speaking ability and you’re set.

A thing I don’t like about living in Tokyo:

The real estate prices — I’d like to move in to my own apartment next year, because right now I live in a little matchbox of a room, and the mountain of clothes I keep buying is threatening to bury my alive — I don’t even have a closet! However, the rent on my own place plus paying for utilities like heat, gas and internet will cost me an arm, a leg and three of four of the fingers on my remaining hand. It’s the price I’ll have to pay though, because I’ve been spoiled by the convenience and bright lights of big city life, and I don’t want to live out in the bush.

A thing I like about living in Tokyo:

My friends — I’ve meet some fabulous students and staff through English teaching, and met some more friends through blogging and even met a couple people out partying. When living in a foreign country making some friends is essential in fighting off the onset of homesickness, and I’m glad I have people I can talk to and hang out with, or life here would be very lonely. Another benefit is that my Tokyo friends introduce me to new restaurants and places to have fun of go sightseeing. So when my Toronto friends come to visit I’ll know where to take them.

A thing I don’t like about living in Tokyo:

The stares — I’m black, get over it! Ah, here’s Captain Obvious and friends to the “rescue” again: “Of course they stare at you, you look so different! Japan is a homogeneous society blah blah blah regurgitation blah blah blah ignorance. I still don’t like it!  And no I will not “just go home” because I’m making good money and there are many more things I do like keeping me here. But damn if the staring doesn’t get on my last nerve every once in a while. Couple that with the fact that I still can’t understand much Japanese, and I don’t know if people are talking about me or not, and it’s extremely unnerving.

Well there you have it my friends, the 10 things I like and dislike about living in this famous city.  What are some of the things you like and dislike about Tokyo?

 

 

My 7 Links: 7 Posts You Should Read

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year, and slowly but surely I’ve been building a palace of posts. I want to say a big thank you to all of my guests who have walked the halls and toured the rooms, sat and dreamed in the courtyard or listened to me philosophize and theorize from the throne room. But if I may, I’d like to point you in the direction of some of my best accomplishments.

After receiving a nomination from Loco over at Loco in Yokohama, as part of the TripBase blog’s My 7 Links post showcase I’ve taken a close look at everything I’ve tattooed onto the internet in the last year, and come up with 7 of my most noteworthy posts.

My Most Beautiful Post

The Cherry Blossom Post

I was so grateful to be in Tokyo for sakura season this year. It was a close call as I had left the county only a week before. This is one of the rare times I showcased my photography “skills”, but I think the pictures came out beautifully if I do say so myself.

Sakura Arc

I love how pretty and pink these ones are

My Most Popular Post

Whoa…I Wanna Do That! My Top 7

My most popular post just happens to be another Top 7 list. Maybe 7 is my lucky number? Before I had even moved to Tokyo I made a list of the 7 things I just had to try while living in Japan. So far I’ve accomplished number 7, 5, 3, and 1.

Geisha in Kyoto

My Most Controversial Post

I Am One of the Ugliest Women on Earth

I wrote this is response to the infamous article by Satoshi Kanazawa on Psychology today that claimed that African American women were considered the ugliest race of women. His article had a lot of flaws but mostly it was insensitive, unnecessary and racist. This post sparked a lot of discussion, both intelligent comments and racist rude replies I didn’t dignify with approval. I also touched on the different attitudes towards foreigners of different races in Japan. For example, the majority of advertising including foreigners features foreigners of European descent, usually with blond hair.

One of the ugliest women on Earth

One of the ugliest women on Earth

My Most Helpful Post

You Want to Teach English in Japan?

If you’re reading my blog because you want to come to Japan to work as an English teacher like me, here are some things I think you need to seriously consider before taking the job.

Skooled

A Surprisingly Successful Post

Blacks in Japan: Preconceptions

I didn’t realize this post would grab the attention of so many people. It’s my second most popular post. I wrote it before I moved as a way to organize my own thoughts and fears and expectations about being a black woman living in Japan. It seems to have struck a nerve for more than just black expats living in Japan. I’ve been in Tokyo for six months now, so expect a follow-up soon.

Blacks in Japan

A Post That Didn’t Get the Attention it Deserves

Virtual Japan: Meiji Jingu

This post is part of my Virtual Japan series, where I take you all on a tour of Japan. Meiji Jingu is a beautiful shrine near Harajuku. If you’ve ever wanted to visit a Japanese shrine but couldn’t come to Japan here’s your chance! This post, as well as my whole youtube channel could use some love, so get over there!

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu

The Post I’m Most Proud of

Summer R.E.L.I.E.F Tactics

Looking for ways to keep cool during the ridiculous Tokyo summer heat? Join the R.E.L.I.E.F warriors and together we’ll conquer that tyrant, summer. I’m proud of this post because it’s funny, it’s quirky and right now it’s top of the polls over at Loco’s Hot Fun in the Summertime 2 Blog Matsuri. Head over to Loco’s and vote for me!

But it’s not over. Since Loco was so kind as to nominate me, it’s my turn to spread the love. Here are five bloggers who surely have 7 posts everyone needs to read.

The Japan Guy

Bad Communication Podcast

The Sakura Project

Inaka Blues

Camp Roadless

Summer R.E.L.I.E.F Tactics

This post is part of the  Blog Matsuri (festival) “Hot Fun in the Summertime”. Special thanks to Loco of Loco in Yokohama for hosting.

 

 

 

Summer is usually my recommend for best season of the year. A glowing blue sky and sunshine always gets me grinning like a nerd fantasizing about marrying the girls at his favourite maid café. But there’s summer, and then there’s Tokyo summer. I was warned. Oh, how I was warned.

“Japan gets very hot in the summer.” (Very hot? In Summer?? What? How?)

“There is a lot of humidity” (OK, so my hair might experience some chia petification, but what else is new?)

Yeah, you know how everything is more…exaggerated in Japan? Summer is no exception. It’s like someone bedazzled summer with glittering beads made of heat and suffering. Every day I ask myself, why must everything be so moist? The air is moist, two minutes after stepping outside my socks are moist, my clothes are moist, my face is perpetually greasy as if I put on a Vaseline beauty mask every morning, and I am just generally marinating in my own juices at all times like the globe is a giant rotisserie, and we’re about to be the main course. Even now I can barely type because my fingers are so sweaty they keep slipping off the keyshdforwgnh. Dammit!

And before you go off on me with, “Ew, don’t you shower?” Yes I do, and right after I get out I am “dewy” again. And there is barely a breeze to be felt. It’s like the wind passed through Tokyo one day long ago, thought to himself, “Oh, hell no it’s too damn moist! I’m not touching that situation,” and left us all to the mercy of summer’s sweaty, groping palms.

Historically in these times of struggle the people would turn their attention to worshiping the God of coolness and comfort, Aircon. But alas, our saviour has been weakened by the devilish plotting and underhanded manoeuvrings of his nemesis, the evil trickster Tepco.  So we must rise up, and seek our own sources of liberation. The rebellion starts now! Join me as Rebels Entering Liberation In Energetic Fashion, and become a R.E.L.I.E.F warrior™. Using our R.E.L.I.E.F tactics, we will violently yank Tokyo summer’s sticky, wandering fingers from our bodies.

Liberation tactic # 1: Get your CoolBiz on.

Tie Fan

Look at this guy, look how refreshed he looks. This could be you.

Coolbiz is a free pass to wear whatever you want* to work so that you don’t have to die of heatstroke, because that looks really bad for the company. Fellas, I suggest rocking this piece on the right at your next big presentation.

It’s not cheesy; it says you are a smart man who is serious about keeping cool. You’re at the head of the liberation front my friend.

*Dramatization: and I take no responsibility if you show up to work in your mankini and get yourself deported.

Liberation Tactic #2: Be a Platform Rat™

Platform Rat

R.E.L.I.E.F Warrior in Action

I lied when I said there was little breeze in Tokyo. There is one special time when the sweetest of cooling breezes traipses ever so lightly through Tokyo like a butterfly coming to rest on a flower covered in dew…disgusting, smelly dew. That time is when a train pulls into a station. That is one welcome wind but all too soon it’s gone, and what’s left is a train ride packed into a car with about 100 other moistened people as Aircon, in his weakened state, can only wheeze over us. So I say, why get on the train? Why not just hang out on the platform all day as dozens of trains go by, bringing their soothing breezes with them. Bring a blanket, a book and bento and (the three B’s of platform ratting) and camp out. You will notice people starting at you: again they are thinking how smart you are and committed to the cause of keeping cool. You are a true R.E.L.I.E.F warrior.

Liberation Tactic #3: Go bar hopping in Roppongi.

Go ahead, do it. If this place doesn’t send a chill down your spine I don’t know what will. Make sure to watch some charisma men going at it too (shudder). Aaaah, it’s working already.

Liberation Tactic #4: Nomihodai (All You Can Drink)

Hydration is an important part of keeping cool, so it is your duty as a R.E.L.I.E.F warrior to drink, and drink, and drink so more. Yes, Nomihodai usually refers to alcoholic drinks, but what better and cheaper way to keep filling yourself up with liquid? Every day? All summer?  You’d be stupid not to do it.*

*I take no responsibility if daily nomihodai also results in the wearing of the mankini, and subsequent deportation.

OK my warriors, I’ve given you my finest liberation secrets, but I need your help. You’re a crafty bunch, and I know you have R.E.L.I.E.F tactics of your own, so stop holding out on me. What are they? Shoot me a comment and let me know…please?