Accomplishments & Frustrations In Japan

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.

Sakura in Kichijoji
Spring in Japan is simply beautiful. Sakura is something that cannot be missed.

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.

Climbing Mt. Takao just outside of Tokyo
Climbing Mt. Takao just outside of Tokyo

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.

Anime Expo 2014
No amount of Japanese language ability gets you ready for the crazy outfits you will see inevitably while you are here.

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.

Sumo Tournament in Tokyo
You do not need to speak Japanese to enjoy a Sumo Tournament. This was quite the experience.

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.

Mom, Shannon, Hiro, Yurina, and I enjoying Monjya-yaki near Odaiba, Tokyo!
Mom, Shannon, Hiro, Yurina, and I enjoying Monjya-yaki near Odaiba, Tokyo!

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.

High School Reunion
Reunited with Erina after over 10 years since we last saw each other. Graduated High School together in 2003.


John and Yuki in Utsunomiya
Yuki and John posing with the mascot for Utsunomiya.

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!

Mom and I at Tokyo DisneySea
Happy I got to share my happy place with Mom! She loves it just as much as I do.

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.

Mt. Fuji from Hakone
While not playing games, I am exploring all that Japan has to offer. Including see Mt. Fuji from Hakone.

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!

4 thoughts on “Accomplishments & Frustrations In Japan”

  1. Hello Chris,

    Loved the post. You look so happy. You inspire and make me want to travel internationally, as well!
    I hope you and your friends were safe through the Hurricane?
    Take care and have fun!

    Jackie T. Rabbitskin

    1. Thank you for the kind words Jackie! The typhoon passed right by us here in Tokyo, so nothing to worry about. But we prepared for it.

  2. Burns!!! A random though for you (and to prove I do occasionally actually read these):

    “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.”

    Since I’ve been dating a girl for the last 8 months from Shanghai I’ve learned that oftentimes we forget that the person across from you maybe just as excited to practice their English as you are to practice your Chinese (Japanese for you). In fact, that was something I learned in Germany as well. Many Germans *love* an excuse to practice English so if you look English or American (I’ve been called both) they’ll try it out just for fun.

    1. I agree with you. I do not mind that one bit. It is more when I speak Japanese then they switch to English automatically. But, everyone reacts differently. I am just not used to switching between languages so easily, so I get tripped up. Good to know you’re actually reading my stuff 😉

Love reading your comments