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.
So to put this plainly: we were immediately put into a situation where we were had a really amazing and unique opportunity fall into our laps, but it was not at all aligned with our short term plans and had to very quick process this and weigh pros and cons. And it’s been a really tough and sort of oddly exhausting process.
My job has been a really amazing opportunity but is potentially coming to an end soon. That in itself is a pretty big life event because I’ve been working with a group of people I really love for the past 10+ years of my life. To have that job and those people go away means a big part of my identity and what has made my life my life is also going away, leaving a question of “who even am I?”. In ways this worked in favor of the Japan move because it means I’m sort of in a transition period anyway. But layering on a loss of work and the “purpose” that comes “cheaply” when you’re working a job that you enjoy on top of the sudden move to Japan just has made me feel pretty lost. “WTF IS GOING ON? WHO AM I? WHERE AM I GOING IN LIFE?”
On top of this is, there is this quote that I always think about
Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.Ralph Waldo Emerson
In my case my giant isn’t depression or anything too serious. But I suspect that my giant could be the work required to find contentment and peace. It is at least part of the puzzle, but it’s not everything.
I allow “grass is greener” mentality to live in my thoughts. Very rarely do I think, “ah yes, this is the absolute best thing in the world and I could not be happier” but I’ve felt it often enough that I still chase it. I don’t want to let that feeling control me or run my life or suck away happiness. I want to find the joy and excitement in simple things that don’t require moving across the world.
After quite a few years with this struggle I’m almost certain that to find what I’m looking for I need to put in effort. I have to invest in my community, invest in friendships, put myself in uncomfortable situations to meet new people, exercise, set goals and work hard to achieve them. I have done some of this since moving to Grand Rapids, but not enough that I can truly say “well, I’ve done everything I can, time to move to Tokyo!”
BUT, there is also this quote:
When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. You begin to attach much more importance to the things around you because your survival depends upon them. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. And you accept any small favor from the gods with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life.
At the same time, since all things are new, you see only the beauty in them, and you feel happy to be alive.Paulo Coelho
Being critical you might say this is just “ignorance is bliss.” In that way this quote dovetails with Emerson’s because left unsaid is that the newness wears off, and when it does there you are, where you started… And yet! What a wonderful experience it is to see something new, and to truly immerse yourself in a new world where you’re encountering mysteries daily. Winning small victories while learning a language (“ah, I know those kanji, we can park there!”).
We’ve lived in Japan before for around a year, and it was an incredibly happy and fulfilling period of life. We’re coming with a bit more context and experience so it’s not totally new. But also we’ll be moving to Tokyo, the (arguably) largest city in the world and we’ve never really lived in one of the worlds great cities.
The opportunity for Lindsay is also a great one. She’ll be teaching at a legit, well respected international school with a large international staff and student body.
Three months later..
In the end we decided Lindsay would interview for the job, meet some of the teachers and learn more about the school and other details. When she got the job we decided to go for it.
One bummer about moving to Tokyo is we had planned to spend a full two months in York this summer. We’d have actually been there as I type this, and we actually have non-refundable flights to Dublin and Marrakesh as well. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more content and generally just deeply happy then when living in York (this includes Japan), and we haven’t been back in quite a few years now. I wanted to reconnect with friends there and do some exploration of housing options to see if we still loved it there as much as we think we do, and potentially try to work towards a plan of buying a property there to live in part time. Not being in York right now is a really hard part about the Japan decision. We will be going to York ASAP though – just after Japan.
Anyway, after making the decision to push back our York trip and move to Tokyo for a while we had to start taking care of all the stuff required to move to Japan.
- Figuring out what to do with our house while we were gone
- Get a visa
- Find an apartment
Lindsay’s cousin and family (hey guys!) were looking to move to Grand Rapids so that took care of the house.
The visa situation was a bit of a nightmare. We were originally given a 4-8 week processing estimate for a “certificate of eligibility” – basically the Japanese government saying “yep, they can come to Japan to work.” Given this, we estimated we’d be flying to Japan around July 17th. That is what we told families and perhaps more importantly (selfishly!) that is what we told ourselves.
In the end, it took closer to TEN (TEN!) weeks for our CoE to be issued. This meant that instead of having roughly a month in Japan to acclimate and furnish an apartment before Lindsay’s students arrive, we’ll have literally a weekend (we arrive Friday afternoon, school starts Monday).
Not only that, but just a few days ago Lindsay’s school meetings have started, meaning she has meetings from 9:30PM to ~3:30AM. That’s brutal, when you’re also finishing up packing and driving to and from Detroit to get an entry visa issued, etc. I’ve felt incredibly bad going to bed at midnight, as I hear here having to try to put forth energy to meet people for the first time when she is dead tired. An absolute amazing person she is.
Actually this morning was when we went to Detroit to submit paperwork for our entry visa. Lindsay got off her work calls around 3AM, slept for 3 hours, then slept in the car while I drove to Detroit. Then she got home and had meetings for some curriculum writing stuff and then more school meetings (where she is currently!).
The delay in our leaving hasn’t been all bad though. At some point (a bit too late really) after the CoE delay started breaking our spirit a bit we decided to try to make the most of our time extra Michigan summer time. We:
- Made a great trip to Mackinac island
- Slept in the back of our Honda Fit in a Walmart parking lot
- Had an AMAZING beach camping and hiking trip
- Drove up to Houghton and camped for a few days in Hancock and did a tour of the Keweenaw, worked from the MTU campus for a few days
Beach Camping / Hiking
Nordhouse dunes here in Michigan was a great experience for us. It’s a reminder of why we actually like Michigan and Grand Rapids. Lake Michigan could never compete (for me) with the Pacific on the Northern California coast on “bigness” and “wildness”, but walking along miles of warm sand with beautiful clear and warm water with barely another person in view for miles is something it can compete and win on. Camping on a warm dune you have all to yourself is pretty awesome.
Houghton / Hancock / Copper Harbor
This was a pretty quick trip. We hiked out of Nordhouse and drove all the way up to Houghton (after getting stuck on the Mackinac bridge for 1.5 hours due to a backup caused by a Mini Cooper parade). A quick swim on US-2 and we made it to Houghton by around 9:30 in the evening. We got a beer at the KBC, followed by a pickle-back shot and two pickled eggs at the Dog, then we camped at a public campground in Hancock which ended up working out really well.
We spent Sunday driving all around the Keweenaw, up to Copper Harbor and back down, stopping at most of the highlights on the way. Lindsay had never been around all the area so this was nice.
We camped a few more nights and every morning we went out for breakfast (Suomi and Vicky’s) then went to MTU campus to work for the day. Back to camp to eat sandwiches at night.
We had to get back fairly early on the last day for Lindsay’s first day of meetings. We stopped on the way home for one last quick swim on US-2 and that was it.
One of the most notable things about this trip was that this was a goal for the year I didn’t think we’d actually complete. I’m really happy to be able to check this one off.
Not a ton to say about this besides it was a bonus and unexpected trip for the summer. Mackinac island is a bit of a weird place but I’m able to channel my child-like Disney-magic excitement a bit when we go there. We walked two full laps around the island (20+ miles for the day, in Crocs!) and went swimming a few times. The water was beautiful and it was a great time.
The day we came back from the island we decided to stay up north one more night and make a bit more of our freedom. We went to the casino in the Soo. We lost 8 dollars, then won 8 dollars at the last second and came out about 30 cents ahead. We ate at Antlers in the Soo (low energy so a bit of a letdown, also food was so laughably bad it was almost amazing), then decided to sleep in a Walmart parking lot in the back of our Honda fit. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it was free.
Signing off, a few days from our departure
As I type this paragraph (I’ve written this post in 4 or 5 different sittings over the past 3ish months – sorry about switching tenses and the confusing timeline!) we’re now ~2 days away from our flight.
We don’t know where we’re living yet. We’ve been looking at apartments at least two hours a day, every single day for over a month, and working with a realtor to try to secure a place. It turns out in our price range, at the station we’re most interested in, there isn’t a ton of turnover. This has been frustrating. We’re tired and exhausted from the waiting and uncertainty and now given we’re pushing up against the start of Lindsay’s school we’d really like to be landing and getting settled in. Instead, we are likely going to be living in a temporary furnished apartment (likely a tiny shoebox of a place) for a month while we continue to search. In ways this is ideal because it means we’ll get to really look at neighborhoods and weigh pros and cons but of course it means we’re not settled and there is no settled in sight.
I’m excited to get to Japan, but I’m worried I’m also overly mentally exhausted and not as excited as I should be. We will miss our family, our friends, and our neighbors. This could be part of my lack of excitement – as we approach our departure I’m still sitting outside every morning for quiet contemplation and warm chat with the neighbors and their kids.
Warm, humid but comfortable morning coffee on the porch with great people all around me that I can actually talk with will soon be replaced by unbearable humidity, terribly broken Japanese, and a shoebox of an apartment in the middle of the biggest metropolis in the world.
One thing I know for sure though is that I’ll never ever wonder, “hey, what would it have been like to go back to Japan and live in Tokyo?”