“When are you moving back home?” Answering the Question of Do I want to live in Japan for my entire life?

“When are moving back home?”

That phrase is something I get commonly asked when I make my way back to the US, especially at social functions. It’s almost like there is this default setting on everybody that one day you will just press “home culture” and return back.  Everyone is fascinated by the fact that I live overseas, like I am that “weird Aunt” that lives in some exotic place and is always talking about her adventures that no one can relate to, but somewhat enjoys hearing about.  Ultimately it comes down to “well, are you even planning to come home?”. Now, this question is a very valid question to ask, whether out of pure curiosity or simply they assume that you wont stay “away” your entire life but when I was younger, I dreaded this question. Mostly because I thought it was rude, but also because I didn’t know how to explain in words how I felt about the subject.

For one thing, I never felt comfortable living in the US anyway. I was a small person (4’11 or 147cm) in a place with so much space and excess, as well as I never felt like I was listened to because I wasn’t as loud and extroverted as others around me.  My formative adult years were all in Japan and I blossomed when I moved here, rather than in High School or University, because Japan gave me the opportunities to, rather than the suppression I felt in the US. On the other hand, I learned quite quickly that Japan will never accept me like a real Japanese person, no matter how much I try to culturally integrate into their society.  I never want to become Japanese, but being accepted as knowledgeable and culturally aware is something that I am passionate about, but because I am as foreign looking as you can get, I get a lot of default English and awkward questions about things from abroad.

This question is hard to answer because I feel this pressure to press that default “home culture” button eventually because if I don’t, I will be in this kind of purgatory of cultures because I wont be in my home culture, but I also will never fully be accepted into Japanese society.  At the same time, I feel the Japanese culture suits my personality more, as I am naturally more patient and don’t like as much aggression during conflict. So, I answer mostly with “For the meantime, I want to stay in Japan”, which ultimately leads to the question “Will you live in Japan forever, then?”.

To that I say “I don’t know”. Right now, I feel at home in Japan and after I get my visa renewed this year, I want to lay down my roots more, like with long term financial investments, etc. With that being said though, I am open to moving to another country if the opportunity arises and I think that it would be the change that I need in life, but I think I will always be connected to Japan somehow.

That, however, probably does not mean moving back to the US though. In my heart of hearts, I feel that the US would be the last place that I would want to return to settle down for many reasons, but ultimately I feel that it wouldn’t suit me in the long term. I have seen my home country in a very different light for all of these years and I’m not comfortable with going back into that fully again. I would rather accumulate into another culture,  than re-accumulate into American culture again. Now, will I say I will NEVER move back to the US? No. Life happens and there is a plethora of situations that would call for me to go back to the US for whatever reason, but my preference would be to not go back if at all possible.

What do you think? Have you felt this way about living overseas? Let me know in the comments below!


Challenging The Feeling Of Being “Alone”

If you were to ask me if I feared being “alone” I would more than likely say no, though I do admit I have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that can be pretty strong sometimes. I am naturally an independent person through the way I was raised. Heck, I even up and moved to the other side of the world without even blinking an eye right after graduating from University and I haven’t looked back.

Recently though, I have had the feeling of being alone quite a lot, even when I am not alone. When I talk to the people close to me about this, they seem to all point out that maybe it’s not feeling alone, but maybe feeling unfulfilled. I began to think what that could mean and I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t doing much for myself recently. What I mean by this is that all of my efforts in the past year or so have been put into things for other people mostly and not for myself. All of the things that I want or want to do, I push off to the side with the excuse of “I have no one who wants to do it with me” or “I will be missing out on something else, so I don’t have time to do that thing I want to do”. In return, it has put me into a slump where I am waiting on others to do things that I want to do for the “experience”. It’s basically that I am relying on others to dictate my actions and I have gotten so used to putting effort into something that is not for myself that I get hurt when they do not want to do something with me I want to do, when I would do for them if they asked me. See where that is weird? It is something I personally want to do but I am not doing it because I am waiting for someone else.

If I already know that it is weird, why haven’t I stopped yet? Well, if you break this situation down even further you get one more piece of the puzzle. As I get older, experiences matter a lot more than actual physical things to me. Sure, I have a whole list of designer things that I want from Prada, Louis Vuttion, etc, but spending time with the people who are special to me and doing experience things with them is priceless.  At the same time, I can’t always expect them to be able to do those things with me all the time either. As time goes on, everyone’s lives get busy as they enter into their middle/ late 20’s and it is not easy to schedule things to do with those people. Everybody has their own ambitions and priorities and scheduling around all of those is impossible.  Everybody else is being “selfish” and balancing their ambitions and priorities where they can, and I am still sitting here at a roadblock, bending myself to others just to be able to have just a sliver more of that time. Is it really worth that much time and effort and mental strain to keep on bending to others like that for just another small sliver? Or is it better to cherish the amount of time that you actually get instead? The balance of doing things with others and being okay with doing things on my own is a balance I have yet to find in myself, I suppose. I have gone to the extreme of not doing anything because no one wants to do it with me… and now maybe its time to go towards the other extreme and see what happens.

So now this brings me to the real point of this post. I have decided I need to start to tackle this issue head on and free myself of this “loneliness” mentality. It is not going to happen over night, but to start I will be going on trips to photograph and take video like I have wanted to for a long time. If my friends are free at that time, they are welcome to join me on my adventures, but if they cannot then I will venture out into on my own and have just as good of a time. There are so many things that I have yet to see in even the Kansai area and some of the things on my list include Wakayama, Kobe, and even venturing out back to Kyoto, where I lived for 2 years, and seeing some of the temples and areas that has to offer. Maybe I will even venture out to Okayama!

I hope this musing has helped you if you are in a similar situation. This mentality can be crushing and make you feel like you are so insignificant and not heard, but there is hope! You have to start with venturing out and finding what will help you.

P.S. Sometimes just one harsh talking to from a close friend can also help too, even if it is not what you want to hear. Cherish those people in your life, as they will be the ones that support you through this time of growth. It is one more reminder that you are not alone.

Loving Japan: A Journey of Personal Growth Part 1

I read this blog post by my friend Monica at Learning To Love Anywhere, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the same topic as her, but more specifically regarding living in Japan and loving Japan.  I had been through a lot of the same experiences as her, but my story is also a bit different as well. Here is part 1 of my story, and why I still love living in Japan.

The Beginnings

I had always been fascinated with Japan, ever since I read my first manga and watched my first anime back in middle school.  I even directed my own language education in High School and studied Chinese for 2 years,  just because I wanted to study Japanese in university. Before I moved to Japan in the Summer of 2012, I had been to Japan 5 times on trips that varied in length from 10 days to 4 months. Through these trips, I fell in love with the land of the rising sun, and by the end of my study abroad experience at Kansai Gaidai University, I knew that I wanted to move here for an extended amount of time.

Kansai Gaidai was an interesting experience for me, as I went through a lot of culture shock, especially around Thanksgiving. There was also the added pressure of graduation looming on the horizon and being scared about making the wrong decision for what I was going to do with my future after graduation, but all in all I believe that the 4 month study abroad really pushed me over the hurdle of living life in Japan. It was like I had been building up to the big move itself with all of the trips that I had taken. I suppose I can say that the rose-colored glasses were partially off by that point, or that I was just more tolerant than other people to culture change than I thought I was.

the Move and Graduate School

I eventually made the decision to apply to Doshisha University’s Global MBA program, and after returning to Japan in August of 2012 to study there,  I began to tackle a whole new set of issues. I basically had to live all by myself in a new country, with no help at all. I had to find a place to live, pay my own bills (health insurance, rent, gas, electric, etc.), and it was all in a new language…. all when I had never even done it in my own home country. I knew how to speak Japanese, but learning how to tackle all of that with all new vocabulary really skyrocketed my Japanese skills. I can safely say that at this point in the story, I really didn’t have any huge culture shock experiences that I can remember. My anxieties mostly came from the concept of working in Japan and not knowing how to get a job there, except for english teaching, after graduation. They really were not directed at living in Japan, so I was happy where I was and hardly had complaints about cultural issues at that point.

While I was used to life in Japan, I also felt very lonely living in Kyoto. Graduate school is a totally different experience than undergraduate education, with no real groups and circles that you can join.  Though I had friends in Japan, they did not live in the same city as me and though Kyoto is close to many cities in the Kansai area, my obligations to school and my part time job kept me busy inside the city and I only made trips out to Osaka on the weekends or national holidays.

I also felt kind of separated from the rest of my classmates, whom most had never lived here before or were older Japan veterans with their own things going on. They each dealt with some of the culture shock of Japanese bureaucracy and regulations, like not bending the rules for an international program, handing in lots of paperwork, and just the general aversion to risk,  in a very different way than me. In the end, most of my classmates moved out of Japan and returned to their own home countries for work, except for a  handful of them. This made me wonder if I was just used to the culture more than they were or of I was just more tolerant than they were to these specific culture issues, and it would continue to be a theme throughout all of my experience to where I am now.

So, I dove head first into the pop-idol culture in Japan (which I still love to this day, and am a HUGE fan of the business. GO NEWS!!), consuming as much as I could to curb my loneness and to keep my mind off of, again, the looming thought of graduation and the next step after that. My parents kept pushing me towards an internship in my second year,  but I was so scared to do anything and I felt they didn’t know what they were talking about, as they never lived in Japan and didn’t know the working culture, that I rejected most of what they suggested to me. I thought they were just trying to get me to move back to the states, when I felt like I wasn’t done in Japan by a long shot. I think I was just overanalyzing the situation and wanting my “perfect job” right out of graduation, when I hadn’t even paid my dues yet.

The Internship

Once I finally got the courage to look into internships and jobs, I eventually found something that I thought I could “handle” and could get me into working in Japan after I graduated. This is where the story with my LONG battle with working life in Japan begins.

Long story short, I was offered an internship at a hotel and I thought that would give me the foot in the door for a job there if I worked hard. My expectations were that I would have to do the “intern” work for the 6 weeks internship, and if I did a good job, I would work in sales and marketing there afterwards. What I did not expect was that this international hotel was a lot more Japanese in operation than I had thought it was, and that the hotel industry in general did not just let you “pay your dues for 6 weeks and then go into back office jobs”. I remember during orientation for the internship, I was told I had to dye my hair back to my natural hair color of dark-brown, when it was blonde at the time. It was only when I showed my passport and resident card to the HR personal, that they realized my hair was not naturally blonde. Before that point they had no idea. I was extremely disappointed, as I had taken over 6 months and hundreds of dollars to get my hair blonde, and despite negotiations, it was ruled that I had to dye it back to brown. Now, this is not rare in Japan to have your hair dyed back to your natural color when job hunting, as blonde is not a natural hair color for Japanese people for the most part. But, as a westerner my natural hair color could have been blonde and it did not look unnatural. In this particular case, I did not think that they had dealt with female foreigners like me before, so I sucked it up with the thought that I would have to work here anyway, so it would be worth it. Maybe after a while they might even let me go back to blonde, once they knew me and my work. When I look back at it now, I made a bigger deal out of it than I should have, but it really surprised me that I was foreign but it was still enforced upon me. I had this “super-foreigner” syndrome I suppose, I was a foreigner thus different than them.

After 6 weeks of rotations, from the restaurant, to housekeeping, to being a bellhop, to finally sales and marketing, it was left open-ended as I went into graduation. While I was traveling in Japan with my parents, I wrote 2 reports for them to make the decision for me to have a job there and in the end, I was rejected. I had never felt more hopeless in my life up until that point. I had graduated and I had no job in Japan, with less than 2 months until my student visa was up. At this point, I could have felt screwed over by Japan and left the country to find a job back in the US. It truly was an option at that point, and to be honest I almost took it. 2 years was enough in Japan, right? My play time was over. It was time to grow up and get a proper job. I had some very long and in-depth discussions with my parents the final 2 days that they were in Japan, and through hours of tears, I decided together with them to continue on in Japan and if Christmas rolled around and I still did not have a job, I would return home to America. So, I extended my visa for 6 months with a “job hunting visa” and got down to serious business. It was the beginning of October, and with my mind  a bit more open to what would be coming by working in Japan, I began my job hunting.

Continued in Part 2