Why Did I Move to Japan? – わたしが日本にたどり着くまでの物語
As a foreigner living in Japan, one of the most common, but difficult questions that I get asked is “Why did you come to Japan?” August 15th, 2020 marked the two-year anniversary of me coming to Japan, and the longer I am here, the harder that question is to answer. When I hear the question, my mind immediately goes in several different directions looking for a decent response. There are plenty of “reasons” as to why I enjoy living here, but it is increasingly difficult to find “the reason.” When I first moved to Japan, there was a clear and easy answer: I intended to go to graduate school here. In order to do so, first I needed to attend Japanese Language School in order to get my Japanese ability to an academic level. But still beneath this answer there was the inevitable follow up question: “Why Japan?”
Like many American millennials, I was exposed to Japanese media at a young age through anime such as Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Naruto. To me, these had a very distinct feeling compared to the American cartoons that I watched at the time, but I do not remember recognizing these programs as “Japanese” until I was 11 or 12 years old. This led to a fascination with the ideas and fantasies of ninja and samurai in Japan. Aside from this image, I did not know much about Japan, but continued to stay interested in anime throughout my early teenage years. When I first started university, I began as a painting student planning to major in studio art. At this time, I became interested in the works of Houkusai and other Ukiyoe artists as well as Japanese tattoo artists that I discovered on Instagram. This became an inspiration for my paintings in this period and increased my interest in Japanese culture, but this was still within the limited scope of geisha, samurai, Kabuki, yokai and other typical subjects of Ukiyoe art pieces and traditional Japanese art. At this time, I still did not really know anything about Japan, but I was very interested in the country, and knew that it was a place that I at least wanted to visit once I had the opportunity.
After 3 semesters of art school, I dropped out of my university, and started to work as a cook at a café in my hometown. This café had a menu with food and tea from all over the world, including Korean, Chinese, South American, Indian, French and Japanese teas, sweets, and dishes. With this job I developed a love for cooking and became really interested in learning about Japanese cooking. I would help my boss with making mochi, and azuki bean paste as well as learning the correct way to prepare matcha. In my free time I learned how to make simple Japanese dishes such as oyako-don and katsu-don. Around this time, Ramen was becoming a trendy food in the United States, and ramen shops started opening all around my city. This exposure to Japanese food made me want to come to Japan to try the “real thing.” Unfortunately, the café I was working at had to close, and I was very lost as for what I wanted to do with my life.
I ultimately decided to go back to university to get a degree and come to Japan as an English teacher. The idea was to not just go to Japan but to be able to travel the world and live in several different places and experience the local culture rather than just visit for a week at a time as a tourist. The best choice for pursuing this goal was to study English literature, which at the time, I had little interest in. However, as I continued to study, I really fell in love with studying literature, particularly contemporary American fiction. I also studied world cultures and literature as my minor. Through this is where I started studying the Japanese language at my university. This is also where I discovered Japanese Literature from authors like Kawabata Yasunari, Souseki Natsume, and Ooe Kenzaburo. As I approached my graduation from university, I had a change of heart and felt that I wanted to do more in Japan rather than just teach English. After talking with my Japanese professor, she encouraged me to look at going to graduate school here in Japan. At the time my Japanese was not at the level to properly study in a Japanese university, but I found a program that was taught in English at Sophia University, and so I applied to that program as it seemed like the fastest way to get to Japan after graduation. Sadly, my application was rejected, so it was time to make plan B.
Plan B was to visit Japan for 3 months on a tourist visa and while living off my savings to see if I would really like living here. The first 6 weeks of this trip would be spent at a Japanese language school to help improve my Japanese. After arriving, I very quickly decided that I liked it here and put in an application for a one year and three-month program starting the following January. Studying Japanese was not easy, I went to a rather strict language school and with homework I spent nearly 6 hours a day studying Japanese.
After about a year of being enrolled at my language school, it was time for me to send in my applications to graduate school. I was at “business level” in my Japanese studies, or JLPT N2 level, and had selected a program at Osaka University for a comparative study of contemporary Japanese and American literature. I never sent in the application. I had decided that I was simply tired of being a student, and the thought of being in grad school for the remainder of my 20’s was too much. The one thing that had not changed was that I wanted to stay in Japan. I was working part time here at LanCul, and they offered to sponsor my visa, and I would work here full time as a mate. This seemed like a perfect opportunity and a good environment to work in, so I took the offer without hesitation.
I am not trying to make a “story” out of my life or anything along those lines, but in telling the events leading up to my first two years in Japan, I wanted to share the important thing that I have learned: that nothing really goes according to plan. I have learned not to hold on to expectations, it is important to be flexible and open to the opportunities that come. Of course, it is still important to set goals, but when they do not work out, getting discouraged is not an option. When I moved here, I naturally had my own expectations of what Japan would be like. I still do not really know if they have been met or not. I have never really felt a sense of disappointment, because more than anything, I just feel comfortable here. Even though I am obviously a foreigner, and obviously “not Japanese,” I feel like I have found a place where I can live comfortably, and safely, and a place where I can just enjoy my life. I really do not know how to conclude any of this, because in all honestly, I still do not really know why I have decided to live in Japan, but I am very glad that I did, and I am excited to see where it goes from here.