Remember the first time you moved out of your parents house? I’ve had that feeling all over again since moving to Japan. It’s hard to believe it’s only been eight months, and so much has changed in my life. In such a short amount of time, I’ve experienced so much – some of it a result of great planning and organization, and some of it purely by chance. And while most of of my experiences have been positive, it’d be untruthful to say there are no negatives.
I came to Japan with no job and prospects. About a month after landing and a few job interviews, I joined an American-based company’s Tokyo branch in December 2013. It was important for me to find work that was not only in my field, but something I knew I’d enjoy.
It was a gamble coming here without a job but I saved up enough money at my previous job to be able to live, on a strict budget, for about a year in Japan. So, I am very fortunate at how things turned out for me.
There have been challenges – from understanding the immigration process to simple everyday tasks like grocery shopping. Thankfully I have great friends who were able to help me out with things that I had no way of figuring out on my own. Like my air conditioner!
If you have ever learned a second language, then you know the best way to learn is to be completely immersed in it. I have noticed my Japanese has improved leaps and bounds since I’ve arrived. I have gone from barely being able to string a sentence together to being able to express myself (although in the most basic ways possible.)
There is still much work toward becoming fluent, but I’m learning everyday. Besides textbook study, I’ve found ways to work my language skills in to everyday life. Japanese is the language of preference on my iPhone – in fact, I instant message with my Japanese friends only in Japanese. Reading absolutely everything I see. Tokyo has no shortage of advertising so being able to read ads while on the train does help quite a bit. I will look up words to find out how to read it and the meaning. I’ve also been reading Manga comics like Yotsubato! – which, while aimed at elementary school children, is a good way for me to ramp up my understanding of words.
Recently wrote the N4 Japanese Language Proficiency Test, here in Tokyo. It’s the second lowest level of the exam, where N1 is the highest level. The test was a welcomed challenge and motivated me to do more book study, to accompany my speaking skills.
There have been some frustrations and difficulties along the way, which is going to happen. Anything worth doing will have its challenges. One challenge seems unavoidable – when asking someone who works in customer service, such as a food service employee, a question and they reply to me in English. While I do appreciate it, sometimes it throws me off. It feels strange replying back in Japanese after they replied to your question in English. It used to really bother me, because I want to speak Japanese. But, I realize there’s a good chance they don’t realize what I’m trying to do.
One thing that I told everyone before I moved was “There will always be a futon for you, so you should come and visit!”. So far three people have taken their opportunity to come and visit. John has been to Japan twice now and cannot wait to come back. My mom and her friend Shannon have visited as well. Mom was brave and stayed for a full month.
Don also came over on a Working Holiday Visa and is still currently in Japan. A few more friends are looking at coming in the next few months.
Also have had the chance to reconnect with old friends and classmates. Met with my friend Erina. We graduated together in 2003 back in Canada. Visited my friend Yuki up in Tochigi-ken. We were in the same volunteer group back in 2003, when I was first in Japan. Cannot forget our Host Brother Hiro (pictured above), who stayed with my family in 2005. There are still more friends I need to connect with.
Besides learning Japanese there are many other interests and hobbies that have become part of everyday life. One thing I relish is the ability to visit Tokyo Disneyland whenever I get the chance! With my 2-Park Annual Passport I am able to go anytime I wish. As a Disney parks fan, this is a dream come true!
I have also been working very hard on my website, Fat Hobbit, which focuses on travel advice for the Tokyo Disney Resort. It’s aimed at foreign visitors who are looking to make the most of their experience, and has been getting a great reception so far. In fact, it was recently highlighted on a Disney fan podcast!
As an avid gamer, it has been odd not to have my hands on one of the new next-generation consoles back home. With a tiny apartment and a small TV, getting one of the new systems hasn’t been high on my priority list, so my gaming console of choice has been my Nintendo 3DS. I have been enjoying Monster Hunter and Animal Crossing in what little spare time I have. Because games are region-locked on the 3DS, I haven’t been able to buy games here to play on it, but in the next coming weeks I am going to pick up the You-Kai Watch 3DS XL when it is released. Then I can start playing Japanese games, to help improve my abilities even more.
As fun as the experience has been here in Japan, there is a dark side to life as well. I’ve been unfortunate enough to witness two train accidents while I’ve been here. Much is written about them online, and so I won’t dwell on it here, but it is a very unpleasant – yet everyday – part of life in Japan. I’ve also encountered some Japanese people who don’t care for foreigners, but thankfully they are not in the majority. I do not let these experiences ruin anything for me, but take them for what they are — an experience.
Overall, it’s been an exciting eight months here in Tokyo, and I can’t wait to share even more stories in the coming months. Of course, you’re always welcome to come visit. There’s a futon here with your name on it!