Japan Tokyo

The first 4ish months living in Tokyo: A shorter post, probably, or at least fewer photos

We have officially been in Tokyo for four and a half months now. I wanted to record a bit about how the move went and how things are going on in this still relatively early stage of our life here – last time we moved to Japan I didn’t actually post anything until we were fairly close to leaving and I think it’s possible I missed some of the details from early on.

When we landed in Japan this time around I felt quite a bit different than last. I’ve developed a sort of constant (perceived) life-GPS or “grounded-ness” that made it impossible for me to feel that my life had totally changed when we stepped out of the airport. I still feel like me, just in Japan. That might not make sense but in the not-so-distant past I remember arriving to a new place and having an out-of-body feeling that took a LONG time to go away. This was disorienting but on the plus side, very exciting and in ways intoxicating. That said I felt (and still feel four+ months on) very very happy, you might say “joyful” when we got out of the airport.

Our flight was uneventful. We brought quite a bit of luggage with us, arguably more than we needed, but a lot of the stuff we packed was books and clothing for Lindsay’s job. We also brought some particularly heavy stuff, e.g. silverware because I hate spoons/forks that bend easily. When I think about it now I’m honestly not sure how we had so much stuff.

One of the first photos I have out of the airport
All of our bags. Roughly 300 pounds worth of luggage.

Edit from later me: I’m finishing this post in the main Hong Kong library, we just flew back out of Haneda to HK yesterday and it was strange coming back through the airport the other direction, especially after spending so much time in Tokyo over the last months. Somehow the airport felt “small”, despite being a major international airport.

We decided to be lazy and take an Uber to our temporary AirBnB. It was relatively cheap (maybe USD$40ish?) but taking the train would have been a huge pain with our luggage (almost always we’d deal with the pain to save 30 bucks or whatever, but it was just too much to carry on a packed train).

Out first night we went and got sushi and a conveyor belt sushi place right next door to us, Hama-Sushi. This was sort of cool just because in Koryo we also had a Hama-Sushi that was walking distance from our apartment so it felt nice to go back to one of these places after being gone from Japan for such a long time. In addition to being able to see the Hama-Sushi from our bedroom window, we also had a 7-11 about 30 feet from us. Convenience stores are something we missed a lot about Japan so this was sort of stupidly magical I’d say.

EDIT: I didn’t really mention here super clearly re: moments of joy, but going to this Hama-sushi and sitting at the counter, tired and pretty dazed with jet lag Lindsay and I both had moments when we sort of laughed to ourselves / stupidly grinned at each other because of how thrilled we were to see little things, like the not-even-that-nice-because-Hama-sushi wet napkins you get for washing your hands, or the songs that play as your mediocre-but-amazing-by-many-standards tuna nigiri zipped to us. Just little moments like this that I’m failing to really describe that we felt really really happy. We continue to have quite a few of these as I mention below.

This is the view out of our bedroom window, which also happens to be the living room)

After eating sushi we took the train to see Lindsay’s school.

Here Lindsay is in front of her school on our first night in Tokyo

We rented an AirBnB for two weeks in an area called Kamata, a major station in the Southern part of Tokyo. We actually ended up really liking the area and considered living there, but it was not quite as central as we were hoping.

The AirBnB itself was small, but fine. We ended up staying in two different rooms because we had to extend our stay (twice!) as finding a permanent apartment proved harder than expected (more on that in a bit). A somewhat long and boring tour of the apartment is here – actually it’s both apartments we ended up staying in:

Lindsay decided to go into school on Saturday (we arrived on a Friday), so Saturday was her first big day. I went with her to school on the first day (and on Monday I think). I’ll let Lindsay talk more about her school / work if she wants, but in short her school is great and she is happy to be teaching again.

Apartment searching ended up being pretty long / soul sucking. It wasn’t exactly “stressful” because we knew we were going to survive and eventually find a place, but basically every apartment I looked at had some issue. Even the apartment we ended up with isn’t perfect (it’s expensive and has a sub-optimal layout) but the first 3 or 4 apartments I saw were just not very inspiring (and still expensive!).

We ran into two major issues:

  • We were being picky on account of our Koyro living situation (multiple cockroaches throughout the week, sometimes on the bed when you were sleeping, etc) and wanting to stay in a convinient / desirable part of Tokyo to give us the best shot at being happy and
  • We are foreigners so many apartment rental companies don’t want to rent to us (for good reason – we tend to come and go, break contract with nothing really tying us to the country)

These are just a random, sort of difficult to get much from photos, but sort of gives an idea. The apartment from this photo was in an older building, and the price was still roughly 170k yen (roughly USD$1100 per month)

A weird old air conditioner with tape forming a seal, plus a window that was tinted dark and barely opened
The view out of the main door / balcony of the apartment, an overflow parking area. Not super inspiring.

We had done a TON of research trying to figure out where to live before coming to Tokyo. It’s such a huge city and as mentioned above we wanted to give ourselves the best chance of enjoying our experience here. I think we could be happy anywhere realistically, but also we want to meet friends and go and do things while living in the city we’ll be much more likely to do those things if it doesn’t require an expensive or hour+ commute. So we had originally planned to live in either Juyagaoka or Oimachi while keeping an open mind to other options as well.

While Lindsay was teaching the first week I spent a TON of time (10-15 miles a day) walking around all of the potential neighborhoods trying to get a feel for them. This is not each because with such huge area to cover and so many different side streets and alleyways (etc) I never really felt 100% sure that I “knew” an area. That said I put in quite a bit of effort and at least felt like I could develop opinions.

Juyagaoka is a very nice neighborhood, more upscale, with tons of boutiques and lots of very cute shops. It’s quite popular with families and I’d say the population trends more middle-aged well-off types. I think we could have been happy there BUT the reality is we’re not really the type of people to shop at fancy boutiques or higher end fashion stores and such. It’s fun to walk and look at cute little stores with fancy stuff, but we don’t shop there realistically.

The other area we had been recommended a bunch (keywords being down to earth and convenient in a lot of people’s opinions) was Oi, (long O sound, Ōi technically, or 大井), Shinagawa. This area (or Ward, or City) in Tokyo that is very close to Lindsay’s school and pretty convenient for getting around the city. This is where we ended up finding an apartment and where we now live!

The apartment we ended up in was actually originally recommended against by the real estate agency we were working with (for good reason really) because the layout is “weird.” Layout in an apartment, especially a small apartment (ours is 42 square meters) is really really important. Arguably our apartment feels more like a 30 square meter apartment than 40 based on how we’ve been using it, however there are a few features of it that we really like.

Apartment as of a few months ago. We’ve added a few things since this point but it’s still largely the same at this point, or at least very recognizable!

The video above is a good way to get a pretty good idea of what the apartment is like, but the things we like are:

  • It’s a brand new unit, never lived in, so very modern and clean feeling (with the exception of a smell discussed below)
  • It’s in a VERY convenient location – I say this at least once a day to Lindsay, but we are about 12 minutes walk from both Nishi-Oi and Oimachi stations (西大井駅と大井町駅), which translates to us being able to get to 75% of the city without transferring. E.g. we can go to Shinjuku station or Shibuya without transferring. Or we can go down to Yokohama without transferring. Etc, etc.
  • Lindsay can walk to her school if she wants, it’s about a 25ish minute walk but very doable and reasonably pleasant. Alternatively, when it’s really raining she can take a bus that picks up about 5 minutes from the apartment.
  • Because we’ve opted to stick our bed in the tiny room in the basement (see video), it means we have an entire extra “bedroom” that we can use as a guest bedroom OR use for a bonus-chill space / room or office. It’s not a practical optimization for day-to-day living, but it’s really nice to have the option of having the extra area (e.g. Corie is coming to visit in a bit and she’ll have her own room – with us having to walk through it in the morning to get upstairs, but still, better than having to sleep in the living room I think.
  • The kitchen area while small is actually pretty well setup for cooking. Counter space is plenty, stove is nice enough, sink is great. Overall it’s not a bad space to cook or significantly worse (sadly) than our house in GR because the layout is pretty optimized in Japan, vs a bunch of smaller counter spaces in GR.
  • I didn’t explicitly mention this but part of the reason we wanted new construction was for concrete walls, and so far it seems to have paid off in terms of noise issues. We hear almost nothing from our neighbors, and we hope we aren’t causing any issues for anybody either. So far no noise complaints at least!
  • The actual area is fairly cute, and there is a lot of options within 10 minutes walk in terms of food, grocery shopping, etc.
  • There is a nice little public bath (sento) almost visible from our apartment window. Maybe a 3 minute walk door to door (though here is where I have to admit that I shamefully have not actually been to it yet!)
  • There are a ton of great restaurants, izakayas, etc, within 10-15 minutes. There is a somewhat well known area near Oimachi station with a bunch of tiny little side streets with bunches of tiny little izakaya and restaurant. Four or five nice grocery stores within 15 minutes walking. It’s not that “special” compared to other halfway major stations in Tokyo, but still.

Some bad things..

There are some bad things, specifically:

  • The apartment isn’t cheap. It’s on the top end of our budget when looking for apartments in Tokyo. By US standards it’s reasonable I suppose, but for us currently it’s a significant amount of money
  • The apartment is on the ground floor, which means when we open our windows we often have people looking inside as they walk by. This is something that hasn’t bugged us too much, but it does mean at night we aren’t opening our windows wide looking out over the city, we are closing our blinds. There is a plus side to this, which is it’s very easy to get in / out of our apartment, sometimes walking up a few flights of stairs in the morning or at night after a long day is sort of enough to prevent you from wanting to run outside to get a snack at the store or whatever.
  • When we first moved in there were two bad smells
    • The first smell was a sort of sewage small of some sort, LIKELY caused by a water trap being empty (because the apartment was new). This smell was terrible but went away fairly quickly after we moved
    • A lower grade musty / ammonia / ??? smell possibly (likely?) from new construction has been around for a long time. I’m not honestly sure how much of this is because of the relatively fresh concrete (my dad immediately said “smells like fresh concrete” when he visited, honestly I didn’t even consider that) vs the must of having the basement be below ground vs something else. I will say just recently I’ve noticed the smell is generally better and less noticeable, although in our clothing closet I feel like the smell can “build up” if we don’t leave our closet door open.
  • Dust. We are lucky with the new construction in that we have a TON of big vents for lots of airflow, but on the flip side these seem to let in a TON of dust. I imagine living on the first floor next to a small but fairly regularly trafficked road doesn’t help. I’ve since installed a bunch of “filters” and am hoping this will improve things
  • The area right around our apartment isn’t super exciting. I’m talking within 5 minutes. The sento being there is pretty awesome, and we have a Lawson, but there isn’t like a HYPER LOCAL (next door) bar or anything like that.
  • I would also say the neighborhood feels halfway between a place where people live and a super hip area. Actually that’s not a good way to describe it… it’s just not a casual, sort of down to earth area, but it also isn’t absolutely hopping. I think because it’s a more expensive area there are more people commuting, going to bed early, waking up early, working hard. Hard to describe, but there is another station one stop South called Omori, when you walk around that area it feels a bit more “salt of the earth” or something, more people walking around in Crocs to get cigarettes and beer at the grocery store, more seedy feeling pachinko parlors, etc. I think in ways I wish our area was a bit more like this just because it is the type of place where you feel like you can let your hair down a bit more vs knowing most people you run into are probably very busy running to their stressful job. This is probably not a fair or accurate assessment of reality, but from a non-Japanese speaking person living in Tokyo the past 4 months this is my general feeling.

Getting to some sort of point

The point I originally wanted to make with this post is that coming to Japan this time felt different. I feel like I have more personal “baggage” which keeps me a bit more grounded. I’m not sure that’s ALL bad though, despite how it sounds. At the same time I want to make the point that I’m really happy, and there are a lot of moments of true joy that I feel on an almost daily basis. I’m living a dream in a huge number of ways. Walking through the quiet, calm, peaceful side streets of Tokyo after a night out with Lindsay, knowing there is so much here for us to explore and learn about, I’m incredibly grateful to have this experience and I’ve mainly been successful in fighting down any sadness I feel knowing this won’t be forever.

I think my biggest hope for myself is that out of this time I have to live in Tokyo, I find something to take with me that enriches the remainder of my life. I’m not entirely certain what that means to be honest, I just really hope I can come away from Tokyo with something that in 5 or 10 years when I’m feeling sad, or like life is hard, I can use. I guess maybe a better way to say it is that I hope in a way I can turn my time into an investment in my future, vs just a fun period of time I enjoy.

ALSO, a few more things to note just for the ol’ memory banks to be jogged when I read this in 10 years:

  • I had an amazing trip with some friends (without Lindsay, who had to work!) to Nasu and hiking / climbing some mountains, which culminated in this frankly amazing mountain onsen / lodge that was absolutely incredible (this is just a small video from the walk from the lodge up to the open bath, which was incredible at night under the stars with a cold beer in hand)
  • Lindsay and I are currently as I type this in Hong Kong, and will be here over Xmas 2023.
  • We’ll be going to Macau for a day as well, which will be fun I’m sure (or at least hope – I just booked round trip tickets for 120 bucks for an 8 hour stay, I’m hoping we aren’t ready to go home after an hour or something!)
  • We had an amazing trip to Nikko together for a long weekend which was great. Stayed in this old youth hostel on a river, really amazing time.
  • We feel like we have endless things to explore in Tokyo, it’s almost overwhelming to think about how much we don’t know and haven’t seen (yet it’s becoming a bit more familiar on the whole)
  • We’re starting Japanese classes officially next month, which is huge, because the language barrier and intimidation we feel is perhaps the hardest thing about living here.

OK, what a mess of a blog post.

Camping Japan

We’re (probably not) moving to Tokyo (edit: ok, actually we are)

Warning: This will be more of a high school emo style blog post without a lot of photos, so set your expectations accordingly!

Note: if you’re reading this, either we’ve decided to move to Tokyo, or it’s been weeks or months since this discussion came up and we’ve decided not to and the thought has been well put to bed. I’m writing this for myself, to process my thoughts / feelings and document them for the next time this type of life changing issue comes up.

Two weeks ago Lindsay got a “cold call” from a quality international school in Tokyo, Japan asking her to interview for a middle school position that starts in August of this year (roughly three months time). They had found her resume in a hiring pool from a job she had applied to a long time ago and reached out randomly and without prompting. This was totally out of the blue, and unexpected, and pretty “world rocking” to be honest. To be clear, we had absolutely zero plans on moving to Japan, or even visiting Japan this year, BUT… Tokyo! One of the worlds great cities! Japan! Curry! Onsen! Sento! Beautiful mountains and streams and Hokkaido in the fall! Easy access to Korea and Vietnam! Etc.

Mexico Mexico City Travel

A Longer Stay in CDMX – Mexico City (plus Tolantongo and Cozumel)

Lindsay and I spent a bit of time in Mexico City a few years ago – roughly a week I think. We went there a few days after the Christmas holiday and were there for New Years Eve. It was a really wonderful trip, and I think Lindsay and I both were pleasantly surprised by the “ease” we felt there. We decided at the time to add a longer return trip (if the opportunity should present itself!) to Mexico City (henceforth CDMX) onto our travel TODO list.

Last year when we were planing our 2023 travel plans we decided it would be a good time to head back, this time, for a bit over a month and a half. The timing was almost exactly the same as before except we found a cheaper flight New Years Eve so arrived in CDMX on the 1st of January.

Arriving in CDMX is easy and uneventful. One of the great things (or terrible, not sure on the moral issues) about the city is that Uber is incredibly affordable, and convenient. I think the Uber from the airport, 45 minutes maybe, was only 14 or so dollars. In general Uber was our chosen method of transportation while in the city. Most trips to places we would visit would cost (with a healthy tip) between 5 and 8 dollars.

Anyway, the apartment we rented for the time in Mexico City was in a neighborhood called La Condesa. It’s one of the “hipper” and more touristic neighborhoods, lots of cute little coffee shops and restaurants. We were near-ish the border of two hip / cool / touristic neighborhood called Roma Nortre and Hipodromo. Overall this is one of the “obvious” neighborhoods to stay in, and I’d certainly recommend our exact area to anybody thinking about visiting CDMX.

Argentina Brazil

How to remove your appendix in Argentina (via Brazil) for only $4,403.23

Our first “big” international trip after moving to Michigan was a two parter: a week in Rio de Janeiro with our mates Kevin and Sabrina, followed by roughly 5 weeks in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It had been roughly 2 years since Lindsay and I had left the UK (between then of course moving to California, then back to Michigan) and we’d done zero international travel during that period. This was largely due to COVID, but also just all of the general life stuff happening. It was honestly a bit weird taking an international flight after that stretch and arriving at an airport in Rio.

Fresh off the plane in sunny Rio!

The thing that sort of hit me is both how out of place I felt arriving in a new country, but also how comfortable and “normal” it felt. Unfortunately the “normal” part I don’t mean in a “I’m so cool and used to travel” sort of way, but more in a “I am sadly slightly less excitable when it comes to arriving in airports in new places.” I’d say I felt somewhat “shocked” actually, like “wow, I’m in this amazing new country, but I don’t feel that much different.” Again, this isn’t exactly a good thing, it’s just how I felt.


Back to Michigan to buy a house

If you didn’t read the previous post about our time living back in California, the tl;dr; is that we left California both for family but also because we decided as much as we love the Bay, we wanted to live somewhere less expensive, with more fresh air, and with a bit of a slower, “chiller” vibe.

No matter were we are living we always feel a draw to our families. This is both amazing, and difficult. It’s great because we love our families, and we’re incredibly lucky to have such amazing people in our lives we genuinely love spending time with. On the flip side, no matter where we live we always feel at least a bit unsettled because we are often so far away from family. SO, when we left California to try something new part of our decision about moving back to Michigan was because of the opportunity to establish a home base near family. This was an intentional choice designed to help future proof our lifestyle, provide security, and also allow us to both be near family but also in our own space.

California Uncategorized

We lived in Oakland, California, again

I think if we had said aloud, “We want to stay in the UK for another year, we will figure out a way to make it work”, we would have done just that and very possibly been in the UK to this day still. But that’s not what happened!

Sometimes I ask Lindsay, “why was it we ever left York?” We always have to talk about it for a few minutes before we remember what it was like at the time we made the decision – Lindsay had no more classes or “purpose” in the UK, we hadn’t been home in roughly a year, and the pandemic made the future seem uncertain (In the last post I wrote about living in the UK I touch on this a bit, but barely.). And so, Lindsay decided to start applying for jobs and (semi)unexpectedly ended up getting a job back in San Francisco, and so our next move was decided! I really do think we could have just stayed put in York and lived there happily ever after.

Instead, we left and made a short stop over at our family homes in Michigan before moving back out West to California – Oakland specifically.

Film Japan United Kingdom York

A few random film photos from the past few years

The ones of people that regularly read this blog likely are aware that I have a film camera to take most photos these days. That isn’t saying a lot really, I don’t actually take that many photos nor is my heart quite in it the same way it was back in university days. That said, I wanted to post a few random photos from the past few years as I just recently FINALLY was able to go through and scan my film photos from our time living in the UK.

The photos from Japan I actually have had on Flickr for about a year now – there was a photo store in the mall in Koryo ( エコール マミ ) called Kitamura and I was able to cheaply get all of my film developed there. When I moved to York, I had a few last rolls of film from Japan to develop and there was York Camera Mart that was great. Unfortunately because of covid, I wasn’t able to developed most of the film I shot in the York so ended up developing the rest of it in San Jose when I moved out to California (where we live now – Oakland!).

Anyway, here are some photos.

United Kingdom

Living in York in the United Kingdom during COVID-19

I don’t get really really sad all that often, but last night and today I’ve been pretty bummed out. Last night, Sunday May 10th, Boris gave an update about measures and next steps being taken in the UK to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The tl;dr; for me is that the country is not opening up (much) again anytime in the near future. My family, who was planning to come for almost an entire month in June, will almost certainly not be coming (this already seemed fairly unlikely, but I was holding out up). Lindsay and I will more than likely not visit another restaurant, museum, coffee shop, library, or pub while living in this wonderful country. We won’t visit Ireland or Northern Ireland. People we are just really starting to get to know and form friendships with we likely won’t see again before we leave.

Finland Germany Sweden Travel United Kingdom

Three and a half weeks working and traveling between Berlin, Stockholm, Helsinki, and London, and an analysis of working while backpacking

For the month of December Lindsay and I decided to take advantage of the long break Lindsay had from school between classes and the semi-flexible work schedule I have by spending (most of) the month “backpacking.” We actually JUST arrived home last night around 8:30PM.

I’d say the theme of this trip was “work a lot.” Honestly this isn’t a complaint or a problem, in a way this was a “bucket list” item for me – doing the “romantic” backpacker thing all while working a reasonably stressful and high-intensity full time job. In ways it’s a dream, because I could, in theory, continue to travel indefinitely like we did in December throughout Europe and live out of backpacks and hostels, seeing the world all while maintaining an income. I now at least have some idea of what that would feel like (as opposed to long term travel WITHOUT jobs, which of course is something we have a lot more experience with).

United Kingdom

Moving to the United Kingdom (York!)

edit: After writing most of this blog post, I realized that I didn’t provide much context about why we’re moving to the UK. Long story short, while in Japan Lindsay decided that it was about time to get a masters degree. After months of researching different graduate programs, Lindsay narrowed it down to a program in Vermont at Marlboro College in Vermont, and the University of York in York, England. The University of York ended up feeling like a better fit for what Lindsay was looking for, so we decided that was the next place for us to move after Japan.

Back to the States

Moving home from Japan ended up being a fairly tiring endeavour, but we did it in two full days (a bit more really as we left on Saturday in Japan and had the benefit of gaining a number of hours on the way back to the States).