Happy New Year! New Year, New Blog

Happy-New-Year

Happy New Year! At this time so synonymous with new beginnings, I think it’s ironic, but fitting that this will be my last post on Whoa…I’m in Japan? I’ve been living in Japan for a long time now, and it’s gotten much less “Whoa” for me, but don’t get it twisted. I still love my life in Tokyo.

So, like a phoenix, from the ashes of this blog’s demise rises Novel Metropolis, where I’ll still be blogging about Japan, especially Tokyo, but also about my hustle as a young writer trying to make it to the big time.

Check out the new blog at http://novelmetropolis.wordpress.com.

“I’m done with Life Abroad, Now What?”

Since my recent return to Canada for Christmas vacation, I’ve been thinking about my life in Japan, and what I’ll do after I’m done here. Many people, myself included, move abroad simply because they are bored with the status quo, or life in their home country no longer appeals or works for them for one reason or another (for me it was because I couldn’t get a job in my field if jobs were bears and I stripped naked and marinated in honey.) So you move abroad, and eke out a new glamorous life full of excitement adventure and employment. But sooner or later, home calls. Maybe you realize you’ve gone as far as you can go in this new country — I know this is the case for English instructors in Japan. I feel there will come a time when I’m sick of having the same salary year after year, and I have no ambition to open my own English school. When the time comes, I’ll have to move on to greener pastures. So I’ve come up with steps to make things easier for myself (and consequently, you if you happen to be in the same position).

Have a plan

Maybe it seems strange that I’m not even close to experiencing all I want to do here, and I’m already drawing up my exit strategy, but I’m pretty sure that by the time I want to leave, it’ll be too late. I’ll be taking some internet courses at a university back in Canada, so that when I go back I can be eligible for an internship that will likely lead to a job. A better opportunity may come along, but if not I can at least fall back on that.

Realize I don’t Have to Go Back Where I Came From

In fact I’m seriously considering moving to another city in Canada, if not another country all together. The beautiful thing about this move to Japan is that it has completely eradicated any fears I had about “living away from home”. I’m international, baby! Now that I know for a fact that I can make a comfortable life for myself in another country, I have a lot more freedom of choice in where I work, and where I’m willing to relocate.

A penny saved…

Is a penny spent on rent instead of living in my parents’ house. I probably love those two dear souls the most in the world, but I never again want to live with them lol. I like my independence too much.

I know things might not work out exactly as I plan them. After all, in the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “plans are useless, but planning indispensable.” But knowing I have somewhere to go from here makes me feel a lot more secure.

If you live abroad, what are your plans once you’re done where you are?

 

Reflections on My First Year in Japan

The anniversary of when I first set my restless, adventure-seeking feet down on Japanese soil is shimmering on the horizon. Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year! I made this move not knowing exactly what to expect, only sure that it would be big, new, exciting and a tremendous challenge, and has it ever. In this past year in Japan I have:

  • Experienced the worst Earthquake in Japan’s history
  • Learned to be more giving and less selfish, not just materially but with myself
  • Started learning another language
  • Learned to no longer hate seafood
  • Created new bonds, while sadly seeing some old ones weaken
  • Learned a whole lot more about the nature of love
  • Finally made it to Thailand to eat authentic Thai food
  • Got up close and personal with freaking tigers
  • Moved into my first apartment
  • Realized I’m a lot stronger than I’d ever thought I could be.

I moved with the aim of learning something more about the world and about myself. I moved with the aim of finding a new adventure. I moved with the aim of proving to myself that I am strong and independent, by surviving and thriving on my own in a foreign country, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. So despite the trouble and stress that came with all the changes and challenges in 2011, I officially declare this year a smashing success.

And, thanks to all of you who read and commented. I’ve also learned a lot about blogging this year as well, and seen a lot of growth and success on this, my very first blog! Blogging has been an invaluable tool to me in learning how to navigate in Japan. I’ve learned a lot and avoided some pitfalls simply by reading about the experiences of others, and I’ve also been able to share what I’ve learned with others who stumble my way. This blog has led to interviews, new friends and I even met up with one of my readers for a lovely afternoon in Shinjuku.

So I have to say a big, heartfelt DOUMO ARIGATOU GOZAIMASHITA!!!!! to all of my readers and fellow bloggers. It’s been a great year of learning and sharing, and I think this year would not have been as interesting without the input of the j-blogosphere.

Thank you and hears to an even better 2012!

 

I’m Home! But Something’s Wrong…

I’m home again for the holiday season, and it’s been so great to see my friends and family in person — to be able to touch them and hug them and just be in their presence makes me happy yet…something’s wrong.

Since my first step off the plane, into the so obviously Canadian Pearson airport in Toronto, I felt a strange feeling, and it wasn’t the nervous bubbles of excitement I expected. This was a heavy feeling, and I couldn’t understand it or explain it, so I brushed it off.

It’s been a long flight, I’m tired and I just need to see my family in person.

And when I did see them, of course I was thrilled, but like a heartbeat the feeling was still there, and I realized with disbelief that I missed Japan.

Whoa whoa whoa…what the hell? I just got here! And yeah, I like Japan, but I have my problems there too. How can I want to be in Japan more than I want to be in my home country, where I was born and raised and that holds all the people I love most?

How peculiar. I noticed this feeling the first time I went home as well, a few days after the Earthquake in March during the nuclear scare. At the time I thought it was simply stress and depression. I didn’t know if I would lose my job, and I didn’t know if it would be safe to go back. But here I am, home again, among the festivities of the holiday season, and despite all the food and games and hilarious conversation, in quiet moments of contemplation, the feeling expands like the lengthening shadows cast by a setting sun. And it was only recently that I was able to understand and put into words what I felt. It’s the driving force behind my move to Japan in the first place.

I’ve simply outgrown my old life.

If I could use one phrase to describe the feeling it would be, “boxed in”. And this feeling seems to ooze like sap from everything familiar here. Taking the train brings back old memories of going to work at a stressful job every day.  Though my apartment in Tokyo is a minuscule studio, I don’t feel confined the way I do in my old room in my parent’s house. I love them and I’m grateful for the support they’ve given me, but I’m so over hearing, “wear your slippers! The floor is cold.” And, “You should drink more water, it’s good for you.” I wanna live in a world where I can prance around in barefooted glory. There’s something about being back that just feels depressingly mundane at times. The contrast between my codependent life in Canada, and the independence I have in Japan is so huge, it’s further confirmation that I’ve made a good choice.

And yet…

It’s also once again brought to light a problem that stalks most expats: what do I do after Japan? If I don’t want to come back to this old life, then what’s the next new thing? (And there will be an after Japan, because although this country has its charms, I don’t want to stay here forever).

I’m curious to hear about what it’s been like for other expats going home. Did you too feel like you were “over” your home country? Or was your reunion all sunshine and rainbows and joy?

 

What We’ve Learned by Living Abroad

You lucky reader, you are in for something really special. I’ve been doing a lot of reflection and contemplation, and even though I’ve only been in Japan for a little over 10 months, I feel like I’ve aged a few years.

So I thought, if this is how I feel after a few months, imagine what my fellow expats, who have been abroad for years, have to say. I reached out to them and together we’ve come up with a great collection of posts that will really make you think about life abroad, and life in general.

 

 

Loco in Yokohama

SoaplandLoco starts us off with a bang — not just one post, but a whole, ongoing series about the revelations and self truths gained after close to a decade spent in Japan.

…And that’s when I realized that, remarkably, for the first time in my life I had been the victim of outright, Jim Crow-style racial discrimination, not so much because I was black (actually I’ll never know if my color was a factor) but because I wasn’t Japanese (or Asian.)

And, ironically, instead of feeling a victimized rage in the pit of my stomach, and an irrepressible urge to do harm to someone (which up til that point I imagined would be my reaction whenever this dark day came to be) there I was consoling a friend… keep reading

Life of a Foreign Hachikin

Screaming into the AbyssAfter two weeks of serious deliberation Indi reveals her top life lessons from living in rural Japan.

…I can’t say that I’ve changed drastically as a person either. Not that most people change 180 degrees when they have life changing experiences like living abroad, but I do know that I’ve gotten stronger in some regards. I can say with certainty that I’ve become a more confident person. While the simple idea of standing in front of people used to make my heart squeeze in anxiety, I am now ecstatically looking forward to the first live show with my band in January… keep reading

 

Haikugirl’s Japan

Haikugirl writes about a hot topic for expats regarding Japanese culture — western “assertiveness” vs. Japanese “submissiveness”, and how it has affected her.

…The Japanese business style is very different from the way I had worked in the UK before. Assertiveness wasn’t really acceptable, and I learned to keep my mouth shut and get on with things a lot more than I ever had before. I also learned to show respect to my colleagues and seniors a lot more than I had done in the UK. There were formal phrases to use, and certain manners like bowing which I needed to follow… keep reading

 

We Live in a Fantasy World

We Need A Good Slap Every Now and ThenToby gives us an excellent post about resisting the urge to be co-dependent when living abroad, especially when you don’t speak the language,  and also the importance of  giving yourself a wake-up slap every once in a while.

…Then, I started realizing that I had gradually stopped asking for help, and just started doing without these things. I would just decide that it was too difficult to get tickets to some event using the Konbini machines, so I wouldn’t go.

I didn’t realize how terrible this behaviour had become until I met *Yinsan… keep reading

 

 

 

 

 

The Japan Guy

Cherish Those Closest to YouWith the anniversary of his fourth year in Japan on the horizon, the Japan guy brings us a two-part list of the top 7 things he’s learned about life and himself during his time in Japan.

4. Cherish Those Closest to You

It’s heartbreaking to lose those you know, it’s even more heartbreaking to know that you can’t make it home to their funeral because you can’t afford the trip. I’ve been there on a couple of occasions. You want those who are close to you to live forever, but the sad reality is that they don’t.

Living abroad can keep you away from your family for extended periods of time, and things can happen. However, the memories you share with them can last a lifetime. So if you’re living abroad, but making that much needed visit home. Make some great memories with the people you love: take pictures, make DVDs, whatever you can. These memories are timeless… keep reading

Thanks so much to everyone who’s participated, everyone who retweeted and shared, and everyone who’s reading now. For all of us, it’s been a great journey with both highs and lows, but I hope I speak for everyone when I say I wouldn’t do it any different, and I’d never give up what I’ve learned.

How I Faced my Fears and Moved to Tokyo

Skydiving Facing FearsIf you’re wondering if you too can take on life as an expat in the country you’ve been admiring from afar, the answer is yes, you can.

Really!

Here’s the thing: My trip to Japan actually started years before I even set foot on the plane. I’d heard about the Japan Exchange and Teaching program (more commonly known as JET) in my first year of University, and given my love at the time for everything I knew about Japan (which was pretty much Final Fantasy, Dragon Ball Z and neon leg warmers) I was determined to sign on once I had the required degree. But…I was scared. At that point I don’t think I’d even been away from my parent’s house for more than a week. Plus I’d been researching — reading about what life was like for foreigners in Japan on blogs and forums, and it wasn’t always positive. Mixed in with stories about ultimate temple crawling and sushi so delicious it could bring peace to the Middle East were anecdotes about racism in Japan: TV shows that catered to stereotypes, Black Sambo dolls, Mr. James (a caricature of a clueless Caucasian foreigner used in a McDonald’s ad campaign) and silly questions and comments like, “do you play basketball?” (if you’re a black foreigner), or “foreigners can’t learn Japanese”.

Fast forward four years and I’d graduated from University, but I needed internship experience to get my journalism diploma from the college I had also been fast tracking through at the time. And that’s how I found myself in an office, working that 9-5, instead of saying a teary goodbye to my family at the airport.

I finished the internship, but stayed on to pay my student loans. One year at the company turned into two, and then three, and suddenly I found myself stressed out over deadlines wondering “whatever happened to Japan?” I started researching Eikaiwa schools because I knew that if I worked with JET I’d probably get sent out to the bush where no one spoke English, and moving to Japan was already tough enough.  Finally, after spending a fitful night worrying about an issue I would have to fix at work on Monday, I woke up one Sunday morning, turned on my computer and just applied online to the school that seemed the best fit.

It’s just an application. I told myself. Even if I do get an interview I don’t have to go.

Well, a couple of days later I got an email, and sure enough I did get an interview, and I did in fact go. I told myself:

I’m just going to the interview; I might not even get the job. And if I do, I don’t have to accept it.

But strangely enough, after the interview the fear started to give way to excitement, and I found myself really hoping that I got the job. Even though the guy who interviewed me said it would take about two weeks for them to let me know, I couldn’t help checking my email every day until finally I got the answer I’d been both hoping for and dreading: I had got the job, and if I accepted I’d be moving to Japan.

Ah yes, now there was a serious decision to make, but once again I just had to trick my brain into believing it was no big deal: I’ll say yes to the job, I can always back out if I change my mind, and I can always move home if I hate living in Japan.

And armed with the knowledge that nothing is forever I was able to take that leap across the globe, and now no matter what happens, I’ll never have to wonder what it would have been like if I had moved to Japan.

I can’t say life here has been perfect, it’s been challenging as you’ll see in some of my other blog posts, but the fact that this is the challenge I chose makes it easier for me to face it. And I’ve only been here ten months, but I feel I’ve learned so much about myself, and gained a lot of confidence too.  I guess successfully navigating life in a foreign country will do that to you.

So I say if you’re thinking about moving abroad, and there aren’t any tangible obligations holding you back (such as a family) then why not take that first step? After all you don’t have to go through with it…but you probably will.

 

 

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.

 

Countdown to J-Town — Week 2

Countdown to J-Town Week 2

I’ve started saying my good-byes, and started the monumental task of packing. Damn, this thing is really happening. And even though I have a week to go, there’s still so much to do. But I wonder, can you ever really be 100% ready for such a drastic life change? There are so many variables, so many dark spots – imagination can only take me so far, and who knows what’s in store for me in Japan.  I’m sure mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation for me right now.

Last week was spent tying up a lot of loose ends, especially financially. And I’m all about spending time with friends and family right now. My overall mood is one of excitement, but there’s sadness there too. I sometimes wake up in the morning, sit up in bed, look around at the room I’ve lived in for over 10 years, decorated in my own paintings, and think “wow, no more of this.” But this move is about more than seeing Japan, or teaching, it’s about growing. I live in a flower pot, and it’s cushy and safe, but I can only get so big in here, so I’m transplanting myself to life’s garden. Oh sure there will be squirrels and gophers, and the soil is different than I’m used to, and cats might try to piss on me from time to time,  but there’s also pure unfiltered sunlight and most importantly, infinite space, and infinite possibility. I could be a redwood tree, but without room to stretch up I’d never know it.

There are so many things I will miss, but it’s only temporary (I think), and I try to focus on all the new experiences, new friends and new wisdom I’ll gain in Japan. And you know what, I’m proud of myself too. I’m proud because instead of sitting and thinking about it, wondering about it, or fantasizing about it, I took the steps and made this happen. I researched, I weighed the pros and cons, and I made this decision to move with no fear or regrets. To anyone out there who’s thinking about moving to Japan or any other country I say, why not? Really take a long stern look at whatever is holding you back, because sometimes what you think is an iron door is really just its reflection on fragile glass.

Well, I have tons of packing (and re-packing) to do, so bye-bye for now. But look out very soon for my first post in Japan.