Moving On: What It’s Like To Drop Everything And Start Fresh In Tokyo
The Big And Little Steps You Take To Follow Your Dreams
Sometimes it takes time to learn what you want to do, or where you want to go. Here's one woman's story on how she's trying to figure it all out.
In early April I left my home in Sendai and moved to Tokyo. After three and a half years of teaching English up north, I decided it was time to quit my job and attempt to pursue my dreams. Yes, I know this sounds corny. But the reality of this decision is much more than corny. It’s exciting, equally scary, and it’s finally happening.
My goal here, in the big city, is simple. I’ll be searching for ways to support myself by doing the things I most dearly love: filmmaking, podcasting, writing, illustrating. And I’ll be documenting the whole experience one mistake, and one small success at a time.© Photo by Jes Kalled
Three Years Of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”
Year One of Staying: When I first arrived in Japan after college, I had no plan. I was 22, heartbroken, and happy to have a job. Coming to Japan was a leftover arrangement that was made before a relationship ended, but I came here anyway hoping that I could improvise and make it my own. Despite the overtime hours of my first teaching position, I was able to carve out some time to work on creative projects: short films, zines, short stories. But I wasn’t sure how to turn those things into something that would pay for my utilities, rent, and my late night conbini trips. Back then the most influential part of my life were the new friendships I had made since moving to Sendai and I couldn’t imagine leaving them behind and returning to America. So, I stayed.© Photo by Jes Kalled
Year Two of Staying: Overworked and tired, I began looking for a different teaching position. I was under the impression it was impossible for a foreigner in Japan to do anything else except teach English. This year was perhaps one of my hardest. I spent the first six months in my friend’s vacated, internet-less apartment. Unemployed and cold because the heater didn’t work, I spent almost every day at Starbucks where hot cocoa, warmth, and the wifi needed to look for a job were guaranteed. Finally, after three months, I was able to find one. So, once again, I stayed.© Photo by Jes Kalled
Year Three of Staying: The new job afforded me more time to work on my creative projects, and with it came some great coworkers and lovely students that I won’t forget. My new company even helped me find a new apartment, one complete with internet and a working heater. I would spend two years and three months there, enjoying friendships, living a stable life, doing a bunch of things. Yet, all the while I was feeling a little stuck.
Unemployed and cold because the heater didn’t work, I spent almost every day at Starbucks where hot cocoa, warmth, and the wifi needed to look for a job were guaranteed.
It was around these particular times that I decided to start a podcast called Aliens and Moonbeams, a title worthy of the whimsy and mystery of being foreign in Japan, and other places too. It was through making this podcast that I’ve been able to look back at my experiences of the last three and a half years living abroad. After watching my country from the outside, having about a million awkward encounters and discoveries — after saying goodbye and hello to old loves, new loves; in-between missing and not missing home — after all that, I finally knew I needed to share these stories. Perhaps I also needed to find a new place to do so.
And that’s when I realized it was time to go.© Photo by Jes Kalled
Time To Go
Months later I was sitting in my empty room, walls bare and floors cleaner than they ever had been, waiting for the landlord to ring the doorbell. I went over my “how to move” checklist once again, feeling a sense of accomplishment for having checked everything on it. I had done all the standards: Hand in resignation letter, hug coworkers; contact utility companies to cancel contracts; throw away semi-moldy mattress; sell stuff (that wasn’t moldy); send things to new apartment; pack; clean; give clothes/shoes away to a second hand store (or to a friend who likes your sneakers); send unnecessary things home. I had also done the more personal ones: Ride bicycle one last time. Make sure skateboard goes with you to Tokyo. Maintain your sanity. The list, in the background of an empty room, read more like a how to say goodbye to a place you love letter than a practical list.
Final Destination (For Now): Tokyo
I’ve been living in Tokyo for just about two months now, and I’ve already come face to face with the struggles of somebody trying to “make it” in a place they barely know. The buildings are taller, and the threat of being swallowed up by a crowd of people is almost always imminent. The faces that pass by are unrecognizable, and I often get lost somewhere among the magnitude of exits that make up most train stations. The lady at the Seiyu who gently encouraged me to use my excess change, and the children who recognized me and yelled my name from cars that are passing by in Sendai, are nowhere to be found. My small apartment in Sendai is now inhabited by someone new, and I’m confined to an even smaller share house bedroom with narrow walls that I can almost touch with both hands on either side. But the light pours in from the windows in the morning, and at night I can see the city lights from my balcony.© Photo by Jes Kalled
For the first time in a while, this beginning—as difficult as it is—feels like my own. Coming to Tokyo isn’t a leftover plan, and I’m not here by accident. When I left Sendai I expected to be facing the uncertainty of joblessness and doubt. That much holds true. But what I wasn’t prepared for, was the feeling that I was doing exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time.
For the first time in a while, this beginning—as difficult as it is—feels like my own.
Every struggle, every new encounter, every party, every mistake I make in the big city—I’ll be there with my camera or my tape recorder, documenting the amazing ups, downs, and diagonals of what it’s like to live in Japan. As every episode of my podcast will assure you, “Being an alien can be a human thing too.” And new beginnings are about as alien and as human as they can get.
“Moving On” is Savvy Tokyo’s new personal stories series about taking new challenges, leaving the past behind and embracing the future — even when nothing makes sense and the road ahead is blurry. Are you new to Japan? Did you leave behind something to move here? Have you closed a door to open a new one recently? We’d like to hear your story. Contact us at email@example.com