For new readers who don’t know me (yet), I have been going to Japan for work and play for about 30 years now and used to live in Tokyo while working for a large internet company. A common question I got when living there was, “Why did you come to Japan?” I thought I’d share some of my answers here.
I first became interested in Japan back in the early ‘80s. Three of my favorite cousins moved to Hiroshima, courtesy of Ford Motor Company, and I used to hear all sorts of fascinating stories from them about daily life there. Simultaneously, one of my classmates throughout my K-12 education was living in Nagoya and he, too, used to share tales of his hilarious antics as a blonde, 6’4” guy living in a place where very few Westerners ever traveled. Because of those influences, I was determined to visit at first opportunity and even went so far as to learn some basic Japanese (I’m a huge language nerd, more on that later).
Flash forward to 1991. My then-girlfriend/now-wife had taken a teaching position in Chengdu, Szechuan, China and my buddy Matt was still living in Nagoya. I decided to take summer vacation from grad school and visit them both. I spent several weeks in Japan, first staying with Matt in Nagoya to get oriented (no pun intended), then traveled up and down the main island, Honshu, courtesy of a Japan Rail Pass. This was back in the days when, outside of Tokyo, there were virtually no Westerners, no English signage, very few English speakers around and it was quite the adventure for me, as my first big trip abroad.
I fell in love with Japan. The people I met were extremely friendly, gracious and helpful (some day maybe I’ll tell the story of drinking and singing karaoke with a bunch of local carpenters); the history and culture were fascinating (I have a martial arts background, so there was a connection there); the natural scenery was gorgeous and the food? To this day I still cannot get enough Japanese cuisine. I vowed that one day I’d find a way to live and work in Japan.
Over the next many years, when opportunities presented themselves, I returned. I continued my language studies as a hobby and achieved a modest level of ability. Eventually one of my positions afforded me the chance to travel monthly to Tokyo and spend a week or two tending to consulting customers and assist the local sales organizations. Finally, I landed a full-time job at Japan’s largest internet company and made the move to Shibuya.
All good things must come to an end. Due to family reasons, my wife and I decided it was time to return to the USA (and for me to try to lose the weight I gained living in a restaurant-dense neighborhood). Lots of good memories remain, along with that extra 10 kg, and I hope that when circumstances permit, we can return to the Land Of The Rising Sun once more.
P.S. If you’re interested in language learning, I occasionally jot down some thoughts on the topic here: https://japanese.substack.com/