Moving On: Slightly Unemployed, Slightly Failing, And Definitely Broke
But Still Following Dreams In Tokyo: Chapter Two
A story that inadvertently highlights the merits of peanut butter and jelly sandwich as the number one endorsed dream chasing meal.
It’s been about four months since moving to Tokyo and so much has happened. And so much hasn’t. I have a job, kind of. It’s a dream job, kind of. As of today, I have about ¥10,000 to my name. I don’t know how exactly I’m going to pay my rent, health insurance, phone bill, last year’s residence taxes, and still eat food every day this month, but I’m going to make it work. I think. (Shout out to my friend who sent me a broke-peoples’-starter-kit care package).
Slightly Unemployed© Photo by Jes Kalled
There’s an art to explaining you’re broke, and/or following your dreams. And I have not mastered that art yet. At all. Some of the scariest questions (followed by my simple answers) a person can ask me at the moment are “Why are you here?” (Because Tokyo is rad), “What do you do?” (I’m following my dreams), “Want to go out tonight?,” (I’m sorry I can’t afford that right now) and “Are you an English teacher?” (Yes, kind of). However, the reality of answering these questions is usually me fumbling around for an explanation to what I perceive to be a very immediately complicated existential dilemma—eventually blurting out, “I’m slightly unemployed.”
[S]lightly unemployed” is a fancy way of saying you’re trying to make things work.
How can one be slightly unemployed? Well, I guess you could say “slightly unemployed” is a fancy way of saying you’re trying to make things work. Nothing is stable right now. Dream-wise, or bills-wise. My situation is in constant flux. I’ve found some awesome opportunities only to lose them—had to scramble together some one-day-only jobs to make up for sudden losses. Sometimes I work at a cute donut-cocktail truck stand in Shibuya. Sometimes I work as a reporter/camerawoman/writer/filmmaker, and as of very, very recently I’m teaching English part time to adults as well. I don’t know when my days off will be most of the time, or if I’ll be let go or downsized the next day in some cases. My schedule is iffy, kind of weird, but mostly exciting because this is just the beginning, folks—at least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Slightly Failing© Photo by Jes Kalled
Symptoms of failing may include confidently explaining to your co-workers in Japanese that you’ve erased an entire video project that you were editing for weeks. Of course, you haven’t erased the entire project, you’re just poor at Japanese sometimes, and it takes some shocked faces and some verb readjustment to realize your mistake and assure them that you didn’t delete it—instead it’s been completed. That’s all you meant to say.
The real failure comes in when your boss hands you a microphone so that you can interview foreign ambassadors, dignitaries, and congressmen you just learned the names of minutes before…in Japanese. Hashtag unqualified. It’s in these moments that I look to the philosophers who said “fake it till you make it” and I pretend that’s a real thing that philosophers said.© Photo by Jes Kalled
The failures come in all shapes and sizes. And the weird thing is that your peers don’t see the mistakes you make. They don’t see you struggle with language barriers, botch a dance audition or trip on a very public sidewalk. Instead, your friends see the photos of your mini successes on Facebook or Instagram. However, it’s between the clicks and the posts that other, not so graceful things are happening: the club you’re in with your friends who covered your entry suddenly becomes overwhelming, the music you were breaking free to is suddenly too loud, and you’re crying in the bathroom because a guy you like is with someone else, or the job you got is no longer yours, or the money you saved is for yet another bill, or the thing you just accidentally stress-ate is actually made of seafood—which you’re slightly allergic to.© Photo by Jes Kalled
But let’s rewind a bit to when things were looking brighter. One month into my new life in Tokyo I had applied to a handful of jobs. To my amazement, things began falling into place rather quickly. I had found two part time film-related positions. Stable ones. I was elated. It was perfect.
The next month, I went “home” to Sendai for my friends’ wedding. While there, I stayed with a friend who insisted on watching horror films every night before bed. One of those nights I received a FaceTime call from my newest employer; she informed me that she was restarting her business and that she would no longer be able to employ me or anybody else who currently works there. She was very sorry, and explained that once she got her startup going she hoped to re-employ us in September…or October…or December. The horror movie was paused; my friend sat next to me, out of sight and listening to our conversation—nodding at my responses, and trying to give me comforting, reassuring glances. When the FaceTime call ended, I wasn’t sure how I felt.
“Did I just get fired?”
“Yes,” my friend confirmed.
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
We pressed play and finished watching the horror film.
The Hustle© Photo by Jes Kalled
I returned to Tokyo in a kind of daze. I looked out the window of the shinkansen and felt incredibly guilty for taking it. All I could think about was that I had to find another job to make up for the three days of work a week that I had just lost, and I needed to find a solution as soon as possible.
When I got back to Tokyo I went into overdrive mode. This meant not limiting myself to film or art jobs; I applied for various English teaching and waitressing positions too. But I wasn’t always on the top of my game. When you wake up on a Tuesday morning and technically have nowhere to be, your friend, Netflix, and your bestie, convenient store donut, always want to hang out. That said, I still applied to what felt like a million jobs.
Fast forward to now. In total, I’ve applied to about twenty-seven—ish jobs. Some I got, most I didn’t. One look at my current schedule and you can understand that the search isn’t over. I have yet to reach a kind of stable balance. It’s a work in progress. Weirdly enough, I’m happier here in this uncertain, low-income, sweaty-handed hustle than I would be in a place that limits my creativity and need to stretch my arms and reach—or sometimes flex should that opportunity arise.© Photo by Jes Kalled
So this is where I am right now. Slightly unemployed, and still slightly failing. Sorry, Netflix. Sorry, convenience store donut. You’re looking pretty tempting right now (really tempting) but we’re going to have to postpone our usual chill sessions until I figure this out.
I may be broke, but I’m in Tokyo. And contrary to some of my nightmares as an inaka-born child, the buildings haven’t swallowed me yet, and I’m no more lost than I was a few months ago when I first arrived. I anticipate more mistakes and more failures, but I’ll still keep moving forward.
Now, it’s time for another seafood-free PB & J.© Photo by Jes Kalled
“Moving On” is Savvy Tokyo’s 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 firstname.lastname@example.org