I arrived in Japan in mid-November of 2018. It was the result of a long-time interest in Japan, a lifestyle choice to become a traveler, and my wife’s similar ambitions. It took almost a year of planning and preparations to arrive at that moment.
As of this writing, I’ve been in Japan for one full year. I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on what I’ve learned, what it has meant to me, and where it will take me in the near future.
What have I learned?
Quite a lot I’d say. More than I can capture here but I’ll offer some highlights.
Japan is not a monoculture. It is a pretty diverse place in and of itself where you can find a huge range of attitudes, ideas, and expressions. It has not been difficult for me to insert myself into the flow of life in Japan. The cultural differences have been a point of interest rather than a source of conflict for me.
I’ve learned a lot about Japanese food and Japanese food culture. It’s a pretty powerful part of life here. I think it is more defining of the Japanese culture than in America where we have such a diverse approach to food. It’s also a wonderful way to connect to people of other cultures.
I learned just how easy it is to live in Japan without knowing any Japanese. I am basically illiterate here, yet, I have almost no difficulty making a normal life. That’s taught me something about literacy itself, but also the immense privilege it is to be a native English speaker in the modern world.
I have certainly learned quite a lot about teaching English to non-native English speakers. That’s what I’ve spent the lions share of my time here doing. I’m still pretty new at this craft, but I’d say I’ve got some talent for it and have improved quite a bit after teaching some 1000+ lessons.
I’ve learned many small details about the ebb and flow of Japanese life and the particulars of how things are done here. There are so many particulars of life here that are different. Yet, I’ll say that the basic human drives, desires, and nature is not so different, it has just found different expression over time and circumstance.
What has it meant to me?
I feel some measure of accomplishment to have made the move here successfully and to have navigated the various challenges faced by a foreigner in a foreign land. So it is self-validating in this respect. It’s also been a dream of mine to come here so it’s great to make that come true.
I’m disappointed that I haven’t taken the effort to learn more Japanese. It was sort of a fantasy of mine that immersion in the culture would motivate me and I’d come from Japan with this new skill and window into the culture. A year in, and I barely can muster survival level Japanese. This, along with realizing how powerful it is to speak English probably means I’ll be largely mono-lingual all my life.
Teaching professionally has been another dream of mine since I was pretty young. My work experience so far has cemented that this is a job I am naturally very good at and well suited to. It’s not great for making a lot of money, but it’s very satisfying at a personal level and not very stressful for me.
I have had my moments of soul searching, wondering what my ultimate goal of this wandering lifestyle is and how exactly I’ll sustain it as I get older. That’s a pretty good segway into this next bit.
Where are we going next?
I’m a year into a general notion of spending two years in Japan. It took about one year to get here, so that means its time to start seriously thinking about what comes after Japan and when will it happen. Also, how will we finish out our time here?
Sapporo, our current location as of this moment, is cheap and comfortable. Each move we make in Japan will cost us money. Moving from Tokyo was paid back in reduced rent and expenses. But going anywhere else would probably mean higher costs. So, this may well be our last long term spot in Japan.
Our next destination is probably going to be in Europe. Australia calls to us both, but its harder to find employment there for a working visa, and its an expensive place to just go on tour without working. If I can find an online gig that can support us, maybe. Europe has a lot more options and its a gateway to so many different places I want to visit.
I think if we do end up in Europe next, we will be there for quite some time. Likely not just in one country, but moving from nation to nation as work opportunities (or eventual self-funding) permits. Right now, we are eye-balling Spain as a starting point. The cost of living is low, and the demand for English teachers is pretty high.