Sayonara Tokyo

I remember when I was a child and attending the Junior Music Course at Yamaha, we used to sing this song at the end of each lesson. It goes like this:

Sayonara, sayonara,
Now as our time with you ends,
We say good bye to our friends,
Sayonara, sayonara.

Today, I had this song in my mind as we left Tokyo in the wintery cold weather.

Our journey in the last two and a half years have been an interesting one, with enough ups and downs to put a good roller-coaster to shame. Uprooting completely is not an easy task, and I take my hat off to all our friends who have done it with family in tow.

The worst thing for me, was starting the journey knowing that it will not be forever. I learnt that even a little task such as furnishing your house can be made more complicated with this basic thought. “We are only going to be here for a couple of years.” I also learnt that regardless of how short or long you intend to spend in a place, always furnish your house as if you will be there forever. Your house is your home and should always be treated like a sanctuary.

Not knowing what to do with myself proved to be a niggling issue throughout our stay in Tokyo. Leaving my job in London meant that I had freedom to choose what I want to do, I had thought. I knew that finding a job in Tokyo for a foreigner would not be the easiest thing, but I did not ever think that it would be that bad. The initial six months were spent applying for jobs and getting rejections, whilst I studied the Japanese language. I then received a job offer (and work visa!) but unfortunately, it was at a very bad time. The economy crashed and I was then told that if I started work, I would probably be let go after a couple of weeks. Times were bad.

Armed with a work visa now, at least, I continued my search for a job. On the plus side, my Japanese skills improved as I had much time to spare studying. I found and accepted a job a few months later. Relieved and happy to be working again, I thought that even though the job was as a receptionist, I would now be content. I was for the initial couple of months. (Un)Luckily, a colleague stepped down from her position as administrator to the president. I was asked if I wanted to try the role and I agreed. The next few months were probably the most ‘stable’ months during our time in Tokyo for me. I was learning loads as the job was in finance (which I had no knowledge of whatsoever) and the role was new. I was distracted.

Once the financial jargons became part of day-to-day vocabulary and I started to be comfortable with the processes, I found the administration side of things tedious. That was when I started to think about what I was doing again. In my past, I tended to look for a change after I got used to a certain job, after I felt that the challenge was no longer there. I had time in my hands, so I took a good look at my career path and how I felt in each role. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the jobs that I had and do not regret a minute at any of them, but I realise that there was a pattern. I am a Change Addict. I knew that unless I found something that I really wanted to do, I would continue to search for change blindly.

It was also during this time that I had seriously interviewed with a larger financial firm and managed to get quite far in the process. After meeting about eight people through nearly a month, they told me that they could not take me on as an ex-employee who had left to have a baby a few years ago had decided to return. Between the two of us, she is of course preferred as they would not need to put in any time or resource into training her.

So, I continued soul-searching. I know that my one true love in my life is books. Reading and writing. My mind is always filled with crazy story-lines and when I have time, I always have a book in hand. So, I decided to write. This decision relieved me somewhat. Though not knowing what to do or how to do it, I was happier. I don’t know if I would ever be able to make a career out of it, but I know that I will keep doing it, as long as it keeps me happy.

I still think about working. I think it is inevitable and a part of life. Friends and family always ask what I am going to do, even if I tell them about writing. Everyone knows that realistically, writing will not pay the bills, but the bills will still need to be paid. So, thinking about work more seriously now, I know that I will only do something (other than writing) to give me two things; 1) income and 2) ‘intelligent’ interaction with community.

Here are some questions for you to ponder on:
How many people truly love the job they do?
How many people who say they love their jobs actually look forward to getting up in the morning and are excited about getting themselves to work everyday?
Is work (in the traditional sense) truly a necessity or do we perceive so because society dictates it?
Do we really need as much money as we think we do?
Why isn’t monetary discrimination treated as a big an issue as cultural or gender discrimination?
Are lifestyle changes (upgrade) achievable without money?
Does anyone ever stop to take a stock check on their lives?
Do high-earners ever stop to think about what would happen if they lost their high-earning capability?

All the above have gone through my mind at some point. They do have one think in common though, and that is the ability to point me back to looking at the important things in life. My family and my friends.

In Tokyo, I found that it was hard to make and keep friends, and this was not for a lack of trying. I had wanted to so desperately immerse myself in the local society, that I did not even consider that the society might not want me. I learnt quickly that Japanese people keep a few good friends whom they treasure and generally concentrate their life’s energy into their work and to conforming with the rest of the society. I am of course generalising. However, when you are the ‘alien’ and not knowing where to go or who to turn to, the general can be very powerful.

We quickly built a good community of foreign friends in Tokyo, whom we will always treasure. As for Japanese friends, we have a few whom we are grateful for their openness and support throughout our stay. They helped make our lives easier whether they realise it or not. I hope that our friendship will remain, even from a distance.

Tokyo is a very transient place for foreigners. Many come and go, whilst those who decide to live there have to cope with these changes all the time. It is unlike any place that I have been to before and with its quirks, it can be both lonely and sociable at the same time.

We had a cultural lesson when we first arrived in Tokyo and the thing that really stuck in my mind throughout our stay is that Japan is a paradox. Everything that you think Japan is, it is also the opposite. Have a think about it.

Anyway, there are already many studies about Japan, its culture, the people, food, life, etc that would mean years and years of research, but what truly made us love our time there, were the little things.

We won’t ever forget:
– how safe it is in Tokyo
– the cleanliness
– the great food
– the craziness
– our great friends (thanks for the memorable send-off… and gifts!!!)
– Smash Hits (our favourite karaoke place) with Saito-san and Alejandro
– our favourite fish restaurant in Azabujuban with the really tall guy at the reception and sweet spectacled lady who still gets surprised when we order nattou, even though we order it every single time we are there (this was also the first place we went to when we first arrived and used our first Japanese sentence “eigo no menu ga arimasuka?”)
– our regular restaurants (Jinroku, Kookai, Ippudo, Kimukatsu, our local Tonkatsu restaurant, Omtrak…)
– and many many many more things

We left Tokyo with a heavy heart and will hopefully arrive in London with renewed energy for the next chapter in our lives.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this picture… of me sitting in Upper Class on our Virgin Atlantic flight. I’ve already had a lovely meal, nearly three hours of sleep, a snack of a chicken pie, a bacon butty and a banana (with cups of tea, of course). It is now time to put the laptop away, put my feet up and continue reading in the comforts of my own booth.

More updates soon… perhaps with more memories of Japan whilst they are fresh in my mind.

Jaa ne!

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