2021: A Bullet Journal Kind of Year

Image from https://collegeinfogeek.com/bullet-journal/

I got inspired to start a bullet journal after watching my friend Bern’s video on youtube. If you want to know all about it, just watch the video, it will be worth the 10 minutes.

I don’t know why I have never taken up bullet journaling before, it’s ‘write’ up my alley. Get it? I love making to-do lists, goal lists, bucket lists, and all kinds of notes. I scribble down on several notebooks all day. I’m really enjoying the process of working with pen and paper, and of course, there is the colouring. I like the idea of having everything in one notebook. I’m not actually using it on a daily basis, but more of a monthly basis. The main tasks on my monthly to-do lists in the journal help me to focus on what’s important. It’s from these that I make my weekly/daily to-do lists.

I wanted to share some of my goals this year but I’ve realized they are rather personal. Let’s just say I have life goals, career goals, financial goals, health and fun, and creativity. The health and fun category includes such delightful goals like exercising and sleeping well. The life goals include goals that will transform my life. I guess I can only blog about them after the fact.

Reading goals bullet journal
How I’ve set up my reading goals in the bullet journal. I know I have no talent when it comes to artwork but I am so satisfied with my drawings. These are the 4 books I read in Jan and I hope to do a review post soon.

One of my goals is to read 20 books. Last year, the number of books I read was an atrocious 6 books.

I hope to write more this year. To grow my vlog. To spend more time with my family. I can’t explain how much I’ve missed Jeremy. I’m looking forward to welcoming the new baby some time in March. To enjoying my maternity leave in Kenya, reunited with Jeremy.

I look forward to getting the covid vaccine. To the reduction of covid infections to manageable levels. I’m so tired of covid.

What are your goals this year? And what do you think of the bullet journal?

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Taking Stock of 2020

The days are long but the years (months) are short, so they say. Can you believe January 2021 is over? This post was supposed to have been published in late December but unfortunately, I have been having a writer’s block. Anyway, better late than never.

I write down my goals each year and 2021 is no different. This, of course, necessitated a reflection of the year 2020 and what a clusterf*ck of a year that was, huh? Not that 2021 will be any better but at least we are more prepared. Aren’t we?

Anyway, here is how 2020 went down for me.

Achievements in 2020

  • In September, I did the IELTS English Proficiency test and passed. Well, this really isn’t an achievement to brag about. I hate these English proficiency tests that we Africans are always subjected to but as an educated Kenyan, it would have been super embarrassing to get a low score.
  • I made the decision to expand my family and made a baby, who is due March 2020.
  • I traveled quite a bit (see further below)

Things I did not achieve

  • One of my biggest goals of 2020 was to reunite with Jeremy, my 7 year old son currently living with my parents in Kenya. Unfortunately, COVID-19 threw a wrench into my plans and we’ve had to endure a longer separation than I had hoped. This remains my top goal this year.
  • Two publications: I had a goal of publishing my work. Sadly, my first paper got rejected and then coronavirus happened and I would say my productivity dipped a bit. But I don’t want to talk about my work on this blog. With my maternity leave starting in March, it seems like I won’t be publishing anything in 2021 as well. In research, it’s a game of publish or perish. (I hate the game, just saying.) I did submit a patent though, so all is not lost.
  • I did not even get started on my goal of studying Japanese and sitting for the JLPT N1 as I lost all the enthusiasm I had for the language somewhere along the way. Life is like that sometimes.
  • French? was a question on the list of goals for 2020, for which I have no answer.
  • I did not read or write as much as I would have liked. I hope to improve that this year.

Places I traveled to in 2020

Looking back to last year, despite COVID-19, I did manage to get around quite a bit.

  1. 5 Days in Okinawa in July:

This trip happened after the initial lockdown in Japan was lifted. Suddenly, it seemed like everything was back to normal and in fact, the Japanese government was encouraging us to Go-To Travel. Other than the continuous use of masks in public, there was little else to indicate a pandemic was ongoing.

Initially, we had hoped to go to Okinawa during the Golden Week but that happened to be during the state of emergency. After six years of living in Japan, this happened to be my first (and perhaps only) chance to go to Okinawa.

This being our (my housemate and I) first time in Okinawa, we had to pay our visit to Naha, the main island, where we set up base. Our itinerary on the day after arrival included exploring the area around the American Village, North of Naha. It was easy to access it by bus. We walked around the near empty shops and in the afternoon, swam at the beach there.

On our morning there, we took a boat to Zamami Island where we stayed for one night at a friendly hostel. (Tip: do not take the fast boat (Queen Zamami), riding the waves wasn’t fun. Take the Ferry Zamami, a slower and more leisurely ride.) We had planned a hike to the Observatory Deck on top of the hill but it rained all afternoon. The rain finally stopped near twilight and we walked to Ama beach to see the turtles that frequent the beach. Unfortunately, they didn’t come that evening because of the rains and the water wasn’t too clear. We swam anyway.

On the fourth day in Okinawa, we finally had clear skies and we enjoyed the morning away at Furuzamami beach. We took the slow boat back to Naha in the late afternoon.

Day 5 in Okinawa was also a clear day. We had booked a snorkeling trip to the Blue Cave via Airbnb’s experiences. Swimming with the fishes was fun but I was grossed out touching them when we tried feeding them.

After the snorkeling, which barely lasted an hour, we went to a nearby beach to while away the afternoon and to catch the sunset as it was our last evening there.

2. Shizuoka in October

For a while, there were no more outings after coming back from Okinawa. The number of covid-19 cases was rising as more and more people heeded the Go-To-Travel campaign call. We were also becoming more conscious of our actions in spreading the event and were staying at home as much as possible. I personally, have been working from home since March 2020. Inevitably, cabin fever struck. By October, we could bear it no longer. We decided to avoid public transport, rent a car and enjoy a weekend away in a ryokan. At the ryokan, we had no interaction with other guests at all. (Unfortunately, we did have some interaction with the staff during checkin/checkout and when they served our meals.)

The drive to and from Nishiizu in Shizuoka was so nice, with lovely views of Mt. Fuji on the way. The views from the ryokan by the sea side were the best I’ve had from an onsen. We caught the sunset in the evening as we enjoyed the onsen, and enjoyed the sunlit ocean during the morning bath. 10/10 recommend. One thing I’ll definitely miss about Japan are the onsens.

This image is taken from their website

3. Kenya in November

As mentioned in a previous blog post, the trip felt absolutely necessary for my mental health.

4. Takayama End of Year

The end of the year changed from sunsets to snowscapes. We again hired a car and drove to a ryokan to spend the last night of 2020 enjoying the onsen in snow. On the way back, we passed by Matsumoto Castle in Nagano.

Have a productive 2021! What do you hope to achieve this year? 2021 goals is going to be the theme of my next post. See you then.

Posted in Blog, Japan, Life in Japan, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

To Kenya and Back: Traveling in a Pandemic

It’s not travel as usual these days. The airlines have their requirements, the destination countries have theirs. The lower demand hasn’t led to lower ticket prices either. Flights are fewer and may be cancelled or rescheduled, which would invalidate any old COVID tests you’d already done. My flight to Kenya even had a 12 hour layover at Doha! I wouldn’t recommend traveling unless you absolutely had to.

In my case, I felt like I was drowning in Japan and desperately needed to come up for air by seeing my family. It had to be in November because I knew that in December, the COVID infection rates would skyrocket with the cold weather in the North and new travel restrictions may be put in place. In addition, more people would be traveling during the holidays meaning a higher chance of being infected in transit. I couldn’t plan my travel for after the holidays either: in Jan/Feb I would be 7 or is it 8 months pregnant and really shouldn’t be flying!

Before booking my flight to Kenya, I had to make sure I could return to Japan. At the start of the pandemic, Japan had closed its borders to everyone except Japanese citizens. Even permanent residents had no permission to return to their “permanent residences” if they had left the country after that announcement.

But finally, in September, Japan loosened the entry restrictions and residents could travel freely out and back into the country, subject to some conditions such as a negative COVID test result.

To be clear, the test should be negative or you may not be allowed to enter Japan. Or Kenya, for that matter.

Before Leaving for Kenya

Initially, I had asked my company if it was possible to “work from home from Kenya” but was told that due to tax reasons and such, working from home can only be done within Japan. So I had to take all my remaining leave days to maximize my time in Kenya. The sad reality is that I cannot afford to take unpaid leave. Yet. Especially not with another child on the way (so excited, I can’t wait. Does pregnancy need to take this long?)

To enter Kenya, I needed:

  • a COVID certificate showing I had taken a test 72 hours before (departure from Japan or landing in Kenya, I don’t know). Anyway, here are places where you can get a COVID-19 test in Tokyo. You can also Google, there are more and more places now, including at Narita Airport. You can do the test on the day of travel. Warning, the average price is around JPY 40,000. Some people are really making money in this pandemic.
  • to fill a health surveillance form by the Kenyan Ministry of Health that asks for your contact details, etc. After filling the form, I got a QR code that I had to show at the airport in Nairobi before proceeding to immigration.

In Kenya for three weeks

The three weeks went by in the blink of an eye. My mum, ever loving, ever giving, was up waiting for me when the taxi dropped me home at 1am. I finally hugged and held my son, after nearly 10 months of not seeing him. He has grown up so much. He told me, as we were brushing our teeth one morning, “I had really missed you.” 😭😭😭😭

He has picked up Swahili (or the version of Swahili that Kenyans speak) and Kisii, having stayed in Kisii for almost 6 months during Kenya’s lockdown. His fluency in English is now at “native” (I hate this term) level: he can read the newspaper (not sure he understands it all though). Still, he refuses to speak English, preferring Ekegusii and any attempts at good morning will not be answered until you ask, bwakire.

Then you get a cheery bwakire buya.

He is forgetting Japanese. しょうがない。It can’t be helped. The words are still there but with no chance to use them, they are receding. His favorite show used to be Pokémon on Amazon Prime (.co.jp). We used to watch it in Japanese but now he watches the show in English on Netflix. He was explaining to me that Pikachu can “evolve” into Raichu and it was kind of cute when the word that came to him was 進化。

“Mum, it can.. it can.. shinka into Raichu.” Japanese used to be his primary language.

He is completely obsessed with football, and Barcelona is his favorite team. My mum told me he once said he wishes he was Messi’s son.

Most of all, he is happy, outspoken, friendly and back to his old self. I would never consider a return to Japan for him, unless for a visit.

There was so much to do. My grandmother passed away last year November, so we traveled to Kisii for a small memorial. I had errands to do, like replacing my expired ATM card. I’m completely satisfied with my bank Stanchart (not a sponsored mention). I also had to get some legal documents sorted.

Me, my son and my niece in Kisii.

I met my niece, Sam’s daughter, for the first time. Our youngest brother’s son was also born a week before I left. I was so happy to have met him as well. At one time, my brothers and their families, me and my son, and my parents were all living under one roof. Talk about a full house.

I met many cousins I hadn’t seen in a while, although I didn’t meet all of them. I met most of my friends from campus (undergrad days), we’ve been friends for over a decade now.

The newest member of the family, my nephew. May you live long and prosper, R!

Nairobi is dusty, with all the construction going on. The traffic on Mombasa Road was a nightmare. Kisii was nice and green, but when it rained we could go nowhere with the muddy roads.

And then, before I knew it, it was time to leave.

Before Leaving for Japan

Japan demands a covid test with a negative result done within 72 hrs before the departure date. Plenty of hospitals in Nairobi offer tests, including Gertrude’s and Nairobi Hospital.

My brother drove me to the airport, with my other brother, mum and Jeremy coming along. I arrived in good time to check in, “balance” the weight of my luggage and even have a cup of coffee before take off.

But then, the Qatar Airways agents started with their nonsense. They claimed we (me and another passenger who was also going to Tokyo) needed explicit permission to enter Japan, even though the rules for reentry had clearly changed. She claimed that since August, they had been handling entry into Japan, and I told that since then, so much had changed. She refused to read the latest on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. She had to take our passports with the landing permission slips, our residence cards, covid certs, etc and send them to the embassy in Japan for confirmation.

We almost missed that flight. We were checking in past 4:20PM for a flight taking off at 5:10PM. My luggage was overweight and I had to leave behind all the precious chapati, ugali and uji packets of flour. No time to “balance my luggage” by selecting what to leave behind. Qatar Airways’ 30Kg allowance is quite low.

We were the last passengers to board.

At Narita Airport

The rest of the flight was uneventful. The transit at Doha in Qatar was a couple of hours or so. We arrived at Narita and the first thing we did was a COVID test (saliva). We had to wait an hour or so for the result and could then proceed to immigration if it was negative. I don’t know what they did to those whose result turned out positive. We had to fill forms with our contact details and where we would stay for the following 14 days. I opted to use the Line app to communicate my health status for the next 14 days. It was either Line or they would call you on your phone/school’s/employer’s phone to follow up on you. We could not take public transport. You had to arrange for someone to pick you up.

In Japan

I got home on Saturday night, barely rested on Sunday and was back to work on Monday. The three weeks full of activity in Kenya, plus the jet lag, meant I struggled to focus on work this past week. Today, a week later, I feel recovered. My energy levels are back up. I do feel like going to Kenya was akin to taking a much needed deep breath. However, I’m back in the water, treading it, and so I’m just taking it one day at a time.

P.S. I am starting a YouTube channel/podcast soon. Should have the first episode out this coming week.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Travel | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Struggling with my mental health in Japan

A lot of people tell me I’m strong. But I think that I’m just independent, organized and a dreamer. I’m always forward-looking, if optimistic. The way I get over the present (if it is not pleasant) is by focusing on the future. More accurately, futures. I visualize all kinds of futures. I dream up stories and conversations and adventures that I will have. Of course, the future rarely matches my dreams 100%, but so far it has turned out great.

I guess the hardest thing you could ever do is become a parent. When I got my son Jeremy 7 years ago, I was hardly 25. Oh, how happy was I to see his cute face for the very first time. I had been dreaming about meeting him for my entire pregnancy. I was going to become a mother, and married or not married, that was not going to affect my status as a mother. Of course, I couldn’t do it all on my own and had support from my parents.

When I was coming to Japan in October 2014 to pursue my PhD, it was only natural that I planned to bring Jeremy along. I envisioned a future in which I would study while he was at daycare, planned for it and that’s how it turned out. I completed my PhD in the stipulated time while singlehandedly raising him. Again, I had a lot of support from a lot of people. I learned to speak a 4th language: Japanese. I got a job at top-tier Japanese company.

However, underneath all my achievements, I think I have suffered from low grade depression throughout my entire time in Japan.

If only everything was this still and beautiful

Like everyone else, I of course have ups and downs. But I cannot say that I struggled with my mental before coming to Japan. Like many young adults who had just finished their undergraduate, I struggled with what to do next; with finding my purpose; with the pressure to find a well paying job that I was passionate about while also miraculously bringing about wonderful change in the world. I was disillusioned for a while, but in that post-campus period I managed to travel to Rwanda for 2 months, got a scholarship to do a master’s degree and found a part-time job. I partied a lot in that period, 2011-2012, until I got pregnant and then the reggae stopped, as Kenyans like to put it. Real life was here.

But I looked forward to the motherhood challenge. It gave my life new purpose and I started to dream of possible futures with my son, my baby, my Jeremy. When I got the scholarship to come to Japan, it felt like new horizons were opening. I was finally going to get into the AI field.

In Japan

I had no idea how lonely and isolating life in Japan could be. I come from a warm country, climate-wise and people-wise. Japan is so cold. In both respects. (Of course the summers are extra hot, but it never makes up for the cold). I am an extrovert. I like going out and being in the middle of it. I like talking to people and making a (few good friends and) tons of acquaintances. I feed off the energy of the crowd, if that makes sense. I speak my opinion. I (am)was loud. My friends used to say to me, since high school, “Harriet, modesty is a virtue”.

The very things that made me who I was are frowned upon in Japan. Suppression of emotions, both negative and positive, is probably the first lesson you learn as a child growing up in Japan. I have witnessed parents shushing a happy baby making bubbling noises in a train.

At first I resisted these changes, and tried to stay true to who I am. I tried to get into the middle of “it”, but there was literally nothing happening in my rural campus in the middle of nowhere-ville, Ishikawa. Don’t read me wrong, the people are nice and friendly, but the place has no heartbeat. No vibe, as my friend Savanna puts it. Sometimes I feel the feint murmurs of a heartbeat in a lively place like Shibuya or Shinjuku, but when I peer closely I see lonely individuals in crowds, their glassy eyes glued to their phones in packed trains. The daily grind takes the joy and the very life, the heartbeat, out of the living, who are being ferried endlessly in Tokyo’s thousands of trains.

Pedestrians at rush hour in Japan.

As I said, at first I tried to resist. But the culture in this country is very strong. You simply cannot swim against the current and still survive. You’ve got to float along with it, and try to stay afloat. That’s what I’ve been doing, surviving rather than living.

I’ve learned not to speak what’s on my mind but what I’m expected to speak. I have learned to keep my opinions to myself. I avoid all topics with strangers except food and the weather. In fact, it’s hard for me to start a conversation with a stranger. I long ago stopped asking why to nonsensical rules.

One day, I got into a Chuo Line train, and although the seats around me were empty, I found myself trying to be smaller, gathering my clothes and bags tightly around me, and trying to be as if I were invisible. On that day, I texted one of my best friends in Kenya and told her to please remind me to leave Japan someday.

I cannot blame Japan for what I’ve become: a stranger to myself. There are tons of foreigners who are thriving in this country, who knew who they were and what they wanted. Perhaps, Japan was their dream country. Coming to Japan for me was an act of serendipity, I had never planned to come but then I have stayed this long.

However, this year has been the hardest. First of all, I am separated from Jeremy, as I have blogged before. This will always tinge the brightest of my days a tad grey. Then, the coronavirus pandemic happened. The working from home, the isolation, the scrambling of my plans to reunite with Jeremy… Of course, being the dreamer that I am, I have adjusted my plans for an alternative future. But the pandemic is a grey horizon that is hard to see beyond.

This October has been so hard that I’ve decided I need a break. I got my leave approved and will be going to Kenya in November to spend some time with my family. I’ll be blogging about that process of traveling during covid19 later.

Usually, my ‘downs’ never really last for more than a couple of days. Previously, my mood was so stable (if constantly on the lower side since coming to Japan) that when I studied the ‘down period’, that couple of days when I didn’t feel like doing anything, it turned out to be post-ovulation blues. I was never really moody or anything, not even during my periods, but I’d be lazier and less creative than usual. I was more likely to binge watch TV and overeat during this time.

I recently binge-watched Criminal UK, France, Spain, Germany. These British actors were so brilliant. I cannot believe that’s Raj from the Big Bang Theory! He killed (pun intended) it with this character Sandeep. Kit Harrington was great as well.

But this month, my downs have refused to go away. It was a gradual decline from the beginning of the year, through covid19 and everything. The downs cannot be explained away by post-ovulation blues, since I am currently pregnant (and very excited about it. Reading this post, it might not sound so but I assure you I am. It’s my one bright candle in a sea of darkness. Another baby to the rescue. Is this a pattern?). I’m now in the second trimester by all calendars and ways of counting, so I should be getting my energy levels back and that pregnancy glow.

At Shibya recently. I do glow, sometimes.

These have been my signs:

  • Can’t eat – nah, I kid! Surprisingly, I’ve always maintained my appetite in good times and bad.
  • It’s extra hard to get out of bed in the morning. I guess in sleep, my mind is at rest and I can escape my reality for a bit. I have never been a morning person and it always took me a while to “get started” but it has been getting harder and harder every day, and some days I just never start. I hum and drum and push myself around to get things done, but I never really start, you know? To the point that I sometimes I have meetings in bed (shhhh please don’t tell my bosses this). I have always been someone who enjoys going out and spending all this time indoors has been too much. This past weekend, I literally did not step outside for 3 days, not even to take out the trash. This can’t go on.
  • I can’t do very simple tasks. Simple coding tasks at work that usually take an hour are taking an entire day now, even stretching to a couple of days as I join the ranks of procrastinating pros. I had a mountain of clean clothes I had laundered sit on the desk in my bedroom for an entire month! I usually enjoy folding and putting away clothes but I lacked the energy to do it.
  • Can’t exercise. Sure, blame it on the pregnancy but I couldn’t even go for simple, 20 minute walks. Yet exercise is one of the best ways to get out of the downs.
  • Did I shower today? Is a question I find myself asking.
  • I cannot write. I don’t mean serious writing. I mean just blogging. Since coming to Japan, my blogging frequency went down. I found it hard to be open about myself and my life, while I transformed myself to fit into the society. Yet I can never fit in, always the gaijin in the margins. I have never given up on the blog though, and I will continue to write. If you are wondering what happened today, I finally had a good day! I’ve been productive since morning, went for a 5KM walk, and I’m now blogging ‘creatively’ at 23:26. Hopefully, this is the start of a turnaround.
  • I cannot read. I enjoy reading all sorts of stories and books, except self-help. I hope I can revive this hobby that once filled my head with even more dreams.
  • Joy never ‘peaks’. I find that can no longer focus (hence cannot complete simple tasks including writing). My feelings are kind of even-toned, leveled, monochromatic, pastel at best. Never bold nor bright. I fear I am acquiring the emotional acuity of the people around me: recognizing feelings are coming and promptly shutting them down. Must not make decisions based on logic or emotion, must follow rules. Must not show emotions. Must put on my outside face. Tatemae.
  • Worst of all, I have stopped dreaming. I have no daydreams or fantastic tales living in my head. It is hard to envision the future – normally I live in like 3 different futures simultaneously. In September, I sat for the IELTS English language test, in order to prove my proficiency to the gods and gatekeepers of the “native” English kingdom.
    While preparing for the test, I read an essay about three types of people: past-focused, present-focused and future-focused. Within those groups are two types: the negative/positive types. For example, past-focused negative are always regretting the past, while past-positive live in nostalgia. Of course, we are don’t all fit 100% into one category. I would say that normally I do spend a lot of (my thinking) time living in a positive future. But these are not normal times, and I’m in danger losing the dreamer in me.

Read more about the three types of people here. Which one are you?

On to the future. These individuals are always doing something, going somewhere, and, in general, multi-tasking. They are natural managers and planners. They are responsible, capable, perceptive and excellent thinkers. Take a task or event and they will be the ones to break it down into manageable steps, look at it from many different perspectives and tell you what could go wrong or how it should be done for the best outcome.

I’d like to end this post on a more positive note. That I’ve written such long and beautiful prose is proof that things are getting better. I’m even thinking of starting a vlog (in a podcast format) so watch out for that soon. I will blog more. I will submit another story to another writing competition. I will start working on my first book. Eventually, I will dream of bright and colourful futures and one of them will come to pass. The Japanese say “kotodama‘.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Motherhood | 22 Comments

October Update: A Special Announcement

And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

Lyrics to Better Days by Goo Goo Dolls. This is my prayer for 2021 as 2020 is already a nightmare and we need a do-over.

Well, it’s been over two months since I last wrote here. In the last post, I wrote about my Lasik surgery back in June. I am happy to report that the dryness I was experiencing is gone. My eyes are fully healed, and I have even forgotten that I had Lasik. I am enjoying perfect eyesight without the contact lens struggle or the smudgy glasses.

In July, I took a social media break for a couple of months to concentrate on a certain project that I shall blog about later – it is not related to the special announcement. I didn’t delete my facebook, Instagram or twitter accounts. I merely deleted the apps on my phone and stopped logging into the websites on my laptop. While I’m now back on twitter, I haven’t checked Instagram or facebook for a couple of months now and I don’t think I will. I had also given up on Netflix but that only lasted a month.

In mid-July, my housemate and I stole away from Tokyo to enjoy a few days of sun and sand in Okinawa. This was after Abe had lifted the state of emergency in Japan and coronavirus cases had dipped slightly, and hope was in the air. We had a great time chasing the sunset during a rainy summer in Okinawa. I will blog about that later. Apart from the automated infrared gates checking our temperature, there was little else at Narita Airport to indicate that a pandemic was going on. Of course, everyone on the Peach Airlines flight was wearing a mask, but check-in was by the automated machines and nobody asked questions. The flights to and from were nearly full. Okinawa wasn’t crowded but there was a sizeable number of domestic tourists. This was before the Go-To travel campaign had been launched, but after the state of emergency had been lifted.

Since coming back from Okinawa, all of August was spent indoors. I definitely had a case of “working-from-home” fatigue. The tweet that “2020 is the year of zoom and gloom” hit home. I missed my family and pre-covid19, I had planned on going back to Kenya in July to visit them during the summer holidays. However, with airspaces mostly closed, there wasn’t anything I could do. All this time, I was off social media.

I know you are wondering what happened to the plan to reunite with Jeremy, after he was bullied out of school in Japan. Earlier this year, it had been my aim to relocate from Japan. I had even consulted my bosses;they were very understanding and supportive. However, the coronavirus pandemic started and everything was put on pause. The US even stopped issuing new H1-B visas (or is having issues issuing skilled visas) and nobody knows when they will resume. Companies froze hiring, much less international hiring. There was really nothing to do but stay put and stay safe for the moment. It really, really breaks my heart to be apart from my little one for this long. I hope to see him soon and I really hope we can live together again soon.

Jeremy hanging out with his cousin. I can’t wait to see them both.

After a slow start, work picked up well as we got used to working from home. I’m now in my second year of work. This, coupled with my previous corporate experience at Ernst & Young, and my PhD, puts me on the cusp of seniority in my career (I hope). I realize that in the next couple of years, my responsibilities at work are going to increase. Even if I changed jobs, I would probably be interviewing for senior/managerial roles. I know this because recruiters lurking on LinkedIn send me “senior researcher” roles. I’m excited about the future of my career.

On the other hand, I have been thinking a lot about having another baby. I would see cute, fat babies on the trains and long for one of my own. I’m 32 now and my career is about to pick up, and I may not be able to take a long break from work in the future. At the moment, I’m still relatively “junior” at work. When I had Jeremy 7 years ago, I was only able to take 3 months of paid maternity leave. Only 3 months! That’s what is mandated by the Kenyan constitution. Your employer pays you your full monthly salary during the three months of maternity leave. However, I’m grateful I was able to take paid maternity leave, however short. I joined Ernst & Young when I was 5 months pregnant and they had no problem with me taking maternity leave 4 months later.

How about Japan? Well, you are guaranteed leave 6 weeks before your due date (or until the day of the actual birth) and one year after the baby is born. However, whether it is paid maternity leave or not depends on whether you had been contributing to employment insurance for at least a year. For the 6 weeks prior to birth and for about 6 months after birth, you get paid 67% of your average monthly salary based on your earnings from the previous year. But there is a maximum cap: ¥287,000. For the remaining 6 months, you will get 50% of your average salary, again with the same maximum cap. For some reasons such as inability to find a daycare center for your child after their 1st birthday, you can extend the leave for another 6 months, again at 50% of your salary.

The timing of the maternity leave is certainly generous. The pay comes from employment/labour insurance. To be entitled to this pay, you must have paid monthly premiums for at least a year, unlike in Kenya where your employer is obligated to pay you even if you joined during your 9th month of pregnancy. That means you can’t join a company immediately and get pregnant soon after, or join a company already pregnant, and expect to get paid childcare* leave. You are entitled to the time off, but it is not necessarily paid. Furthermore, it puzzles me that it’s your employer who has to file for these payments, and they need to confirm every two months that you will still have your job at the end of the leave. If for some reason your employer terminates your contract, you will lose your childcare leave payments. Worry not though, it is illegal for your employer to fire you while you’re on maternity leave, so unless something drastic like your company going bankrupt happens, you should be okay.

Why is there a maximum cap though? Although you get 67% of your salary for 6 months and 50% thereafter, it is capped at ¥287,000 Yen, as I mentioned earlier. It means the more you earn, the more income you will lose during your maternity leave. If I take one year of maternity leave right now, I am going to lose up to ¥2.5 million in annual income, which is about half of what I make right now. Right when my expenses are going to be increasing as I bring forth into the world a brand-new human being. However, if I do take maternity leave in the future, that means losing even more income (remember the maximum cap). In fact, if your title is executive director or CEO, no matter your actual income, you will not get any pay during your leave! (Read more here).

But still, the prospect of taking a year-long break (haven’t had any since the PhD), and spending time with Jeremy in Kenya (or in Japan) in the coming year was tempting. The coronavirus pandemic means the world is on a bit of a go-slow at the moment. I’m early enough in my career that it’s possible to take a break and bounce back, and I can afford to lose half of my income for a year, painful as it may be. I also know that after 35, my body may have a harder time with pregnancy.

One July evening, I was meeting my partner at the station. As usual, he was early, and I found him waiting for me by the escalator to the station entrance. He’s always well dressed in fitting suits but without the coat in the summer. It’s not so much his looks as his confidence that gets me. While waiting for me, had had been looking up restaurants and asked if I would like pizza. Of course, any time.

Now, don’t be surprised to know I have a partner. I know I blog and complain a lot about dating in Japan, but don’t take everything I write too seriously.

We ended up at this pizza restaurant on the 5th floor of an old building neatly tucked between a newly built pachinko parlour on one side and a karaoke bar on the other side. We chose to sit outside. It felt safer to sit outside in these corona times. It turned out to be a Chicago pizza restaurant, the pizza with a deep crust. It tasted Japanese. It was delicious. We had a couple of mojitos to accompany the meal.

“Listen,” I said to him. “You know… I’m 32 now… I want to spend some time next year in Kenya… Japan has generous maternity leave… I’m not yet a manager at work… I love you blah blah blah… “

“unhh,” He said patiently in that nasal way that Japanese men do.

“I was thinking, could we make a baby?”

“Sure.” He answered.

“Really?” I asked. I hadn’t thought it would be this easy.


And so, we made the baby.

Thus, the special announcement. I am now about 14 weeks pregnant. The due date is early April 2021.

Little alien at 12 weeks 🙂

I shall be blogging a lot about my experience being pregnant and working in Japan, pregnancy and childcare expenses, and the paperwork, especially if you are not married (yet). I’ve already informed my employer. And my parents. And some close friends. Apologies to those I should have informed personally who are learning about it from the blog. This should explain the tweet below:

Wait, wait! Sadly, I am not getting married (yet), but I do need the certificate for other related reasons so I will take your congratulations!

*There is a difference between maternity leave and childcare leave in Japan. Read more here.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Work | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Vision 2020: I Had Lasik Eye Surgery in Japan!

Before you panic thinking I had some kind of medical condition and didn’t inform you, my dear family and friends, I want to state that I simply had lasers fix my eyes so I don’t have to wear glasses or contacts anymore.

Lasik eye surgery is an elective procedure to correct myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism. It’s been around for more than 25 years, getting safer and better as technology improves. There’s little to no pain, recovery takes a day, no blood, no stitches, no general anaesthesia. You just walk out of the surgery room, straight back to your life and you can go back to work the next day. Read more about it here.

I don’t remember when I first heard of LASIK or when I seriously started considering getting LASIK.

Myopic History

I discovered I had myopia in secondary school. I probably had it for a really long time before then, but I had never had an eye test my entire life. In Kenya, I don’t ever remember having any vision tests when I was young. When Jeremy, my son, was in kindergarten here in Japan, I think they had the eye tests (in addition to hearing, dental, pin worm, cognitive and other tests) done annually from around 3 years old.

In secondary school, I always sat in front of the classroom because I wanted to see the blackboard clearly. I realized I had myopia when I sat at the back one time, and realized I was the only one who couldn’t see the blackboard. My classmates around me could clearly take down the notes and I had to copy from their notebooks. I went back to my seat in front of the class after that and didn’t think much about it.

When I entered university, I, of course, sat in front during lecturers. Unfortunately, my myopia had gotten worse, and even at the front, I could no longer see the board clearly. I told my parents I wanted to get glasses and they thought I just wanted to get glasses to look cool. Nobody in our family wears glasses, they argued.

It was true that I thought glasses looked cool. (And we called them spectacles or specs for a long time, until Americans influenced us more than the British colonized us.)

Yet, here I am, almost 13 years later, burning my corneas with lasers so I don’t have to wear glasses anymore. How times change.

Anyway, my father told me to go to Kikuyu Eye Hospital to get my eyes properly checked by the best eye doctors *ophthalmologists* in East Africa, and not just the opticians and optometrists along Moi Avenue who just wanted to sell you glasses.

At Kikuyu Hospital, I was diagnosed with Myopia and given my first prescription glasses. Finally, I could see everything around me so clearly. So this is what the rest of you had been seeing?

Here I am wearing my first prescription glasses 10 years ago, in 2010. I was with my brother Albert, watching a Harambee Stars football match at Nyayo Stadium.

A couple of years later, I got a more stylish pair of glasses. Since then, I’ve had two or three more pairs.

With my best friend Phyll in 2012. I think we were attending some event I don’t remember.

When I came to Japan in 2014, I was content with my glasses at first. But gradually, my vision had become worse and without my glasses, I couldn’t even drive. I couldn’t read road signs, forgetting my glasses was not just a minor inconvenience as it had been in Kenya.

Contact Lenses for Lush Lashes

A few inconveniences of wearing glasses could be sorted out by wearing contact lenses. Like if I wanted my thick, mascara-coated eyelashes to be seen, I’d wear contacts. Also, big eyes are considered beautiful in Japan and my glasses were covering them up. If I wanted to wear sunglasses, or I was going to watch a 3D movie, then contacts it was. I bought the daily soft lenses and went through an entire struggle learning to put on contacts and take them out. I need to write a book on that whole journey. How to not blink as your finger puts a foreign object directly onto your eye.

Can you see my beautiful eye lashes? 🙂 I was wearing contacts in this photo

But soon enough, even contacts weren’t enough. Even when I got the two-week ones that could last longer.

I couldn’t wear contacts when swimming. So, I couldn’t see well around me, couldn’t tell the time on the clock to know when it was time to get out of the pool. If I went out to the sea, the same thing. The joys of scuba diving were lost on me. If I came back after a night out, I couldn’t go to sleep right away. I had to take out my contact lenses and soak them in the lens solution overnight. If I had contacts on too long, they would dry out. If I was flying and knew I’d fall asleep/have irregular sleep, it was back to glasses.

There was a permanent solution to it all: Lasik surgery. I did some research online. Watched videos. Talked to people or read about who had had Lasik or PRK (also uses lasers but it’s a little different).

Googling LASIK

I heard it’s cheaper to get it in South Korea, which has the best cosmetic surgeons in the world. But we happen to be in the middle of a pandemic, COVID-19. I can’t just fly to South Korea to get it done. Luckily, we are now working from home so this felt like a good time as any to finally get it done.

After Googling about Lasik clinics in Tokyo, I settled on Shinagawa Lasik Clinic because they have an English page on the website and a representative who speaks English who will guide you throughout the entire process.

I dialed the number on the website and Richard Masuda, the English rep, picked up the phone. I thought I would just ask some general questions, and ask for a consultation. He said, the examination is free (except for a ¥10,000 DNA test) so I could just book any time to go do it one morning. And if I was a good candidate for Lasik, then I could have the surgery that same afternoon. Oh, it was that simple? Yes. However, if I didn’t want to go through with it, it was fine. I had up to 3 months after the free assessment tests to make the decision. If I didn’t get surgery within the 3 months, I’d have to repeat the tests. I decided to go for the tests on 6/22.

With Lasik, you can literally go back to work the next day, but I took a couple of leave days, to be on the safe side.

I arrived at the clinic in Ginza on Monday, June 22nd at 9:30am. It’s called Shinagawa Kinshi Clinic but it’s actually in Ginza. My appointment was for 10am so I decided to get a 7-11 Latte and watch the trains from the 13th floor where the clinic is located, as I waited.

At around 10am, I went to the reception and they asked me if I had had chocolate or coffee. Unfortunately, I had and they asked me to rinse out my mouth because one of the tests was an Avellion DNA test to check for any corneal abnormalities. Testing positive means you are not a good candidate for LASIK. Richard then helped me fill in the forms and explained what they all meant. There is no hurry to sign the consent forms for the tests and if you need more time, it’s acceptable to cancel the whole thing and go home to first read the terms and conditions.

I signed the forms and was then led through a series of various eye tests to check my visual acuity, corneal thickness, the shape of eyes, astigmatism, night vision, etc. They put some stinging eye drops into my eyes, the medical assistant apologizing profusely the whole time, to dilate my pupils so the doctor could look deep into my eye (and brain probably LOL). Then they gave me a cotton swab to collect DNA cells from my inner cheek and by noon I was done. I was told to go for lunch and come back by 4pm to have the surgery of the results were all OK.

Infidel at Starbucks

I went to Cafe Gusto for a cheap lunch, with Infidel as my companion. I really enjoyed reading that book. Then I went to Starbucks where I made one ‘tall’ Yuzu Lemon Tea last a whole two hours, as I read my book and occasionally looked up to admire the tall Japanese guy working on his MacBook opposite me on the table. When I cast my eyes downward to read my book, I could feel his eyes on me as he stole glances. So this is how you guys pass time at Starbucks? Hehehe. When I rose to leave at 3:45PM, he finally looked me straight in the eye, and I asked him if he was writing a book, he had been typing furiously. He said, no he was working. He started small talk – where are you from, how long have you been in Japan, your Japanese is so sugoi, so amazing – I cut him short and told him I had a LASIK surgery to get done. He said, why don’t we exchange line, I said sure, let’s arrange a date to answer all your questions (and some of mine as well). Truly Infidel behaviour.

With my copy of Infidel at Starbucks.

LASIK Surgery

I went back to the clinic and was informed that I had passed all the tests and could have the surgery as planned. I put all my stuff in a locker, took off my glasses for the last time, wore a hair cap, and followed the nurse and Richard to the theatre. I was all calm until the moment I had to lie down face up under the machine which I knew was going to cut open a thin layer of my eye’s epithelium to expose the cornea. I felt it was too late to chicken out.

In a way, I was glad Richard was there. He psychologically held my hand, encouraging me to take deep threats, to relax, this will all be over soon. He can also physically hold your hand if you felt scared. The first step was to create the corneal flap. The hardest part was when they used clamps to keep your eyes open. There was someone there the whole time generously ‘pouring’ anaesthetic eye drops into your eyes and gently wiping away the overflowing ‘tears’. When your eye is in position, you are told to stare at the blinking green light. Then there is some suction as the machine keeps your eye in position. Then the surgeon says lights off, everything goes dark and you feel nothing as the machine uses a laser to create the flap. The countdown begins, I remember clearly hearing 26 seconds, 10 seconds, done. The lights came on and the surgeon moved the machine over to the left eye to repeat the process.

Image from https://theyenews.com/prk/

Since I had myopia of -3 and just a touch of astigmatism on my right eye, I had chosen to use a cheaper machine which didn’t combine corneal flap creation and laser sculpting. So I had to get up with blurry vision after the corneal flaps were created and walk the short distance to the next room for the laser sculpting.

I remember I had a feeling that something was very, very wrong and I just wanted to be held by my mummy and sleep and wish everything could go back to normal. My eyes weren’t in any pain though.

The next step took even less time, except this time my eyelashes were taped first. Then the clamps to keep my eyes open. I could feel and see the surgeon lifting the corneal flap. Then he told me to look at the blinking green light. He aligned the lasers, which were blinking read. The room went dark. Someone counted… 10 seconds, 7 seconds… I smelled the singeing. Then the surgeon replaced the corneal flap and I could feel him brushing it smooth. Then the other eye. Then more singeing, a smell like when hair or wool catches fire. Countdown was from 7 seconds I think. The surgeon smoothing the flap. More numbing eye drops. It was over.

お疲れ様です。 Good job, the surgeon said.

Arigatou gozaimashita, Richard and I answered. I walked out. I could see, but it was a bit cloudy like when you have been swimming with eyes open underwater for a long time.

I rested for a while and then Richard got me eye drops and explained to me how to put them on every hour. By the time, the feeling in me eyes had returned and it felt like I had crushed onions in my eyes. Stingy, but bearable.

My housemate came to pick me up and we rode on public transport home. The lights were too bright for me, probably because my pupils must have been still dilated. I had to wear dark glasses to make it more bearable.

By the time I went to bed that night, I could already see so clearly.

On the way home from LASIK surgery

The Next Day Checkup

When I woke up in the morning after a deep sleep, I was pain-free! I was seeing clearly, better than vision 20-20.

I went back to the clinic by myself. I was still sensitive to light so I wore sunglasses, but overall it was nice seeing in HD, better than glasses (my lenses had -2.25 power but my myopia was -3).

The doctor looked deep into my eyes, and then declared that my cornea was healing normally and I should continue using the eye drops as instructed and come back for another checkup after one week.

Mirror selfie, day after surgery. This time, the sunglasses didn’t need to be too dark.

One Week Later

Last Monday, on June 29th, I went back for the one-week checkup. I was declared healed.

Surprisingly, my vision had come down a bit compared to Day 2. That’s because my cornea is now healing, on the day after everything was fresh. On day 2, I could read the bottom line with either eye, very clearly. One week later, only with my left eye. My right eye could see up to the second-to-last line. This is better than the target anyway, and might become better or slightly worse as the healing process goes on. Still better than 20/20 vision.

I can now go back to running, I still have another 120 days left to run in 2020. I can wear eye makeup. I still shouldn’t swim or go to the onsen for a month. I’m still using the eye drops, but just 2 or 3 times a day. I wake up with dry eyes but it’s been getting better and the eye drops help.

Yesterday as I was going out, I kept thinking I had forgotten something. Ah, my glasses. Then I remembered, I don’t need those anymore. Not for a long time to come.

I went outside to enjoy my life in HD.

I took some photos with my housemate who just graduated with her master’s degree in psychology.

I’ll go back to the clinic for another checkup after 3 months.

P.S. The cost of LASIK will vary depending on how your assessment goes which determines which machines will be used. Also if you have a referral code, it can give you a discount. If you want a referral code, let me know.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Running in Japan – 200 days of running in 2020

Growing up, I was never an athletic child. In high school, I couldn’t complete one lap. You wouldn’t know it if you’ve recently followed me on social media.

I started running in February this year. When I say running, I mean jogging. My best pace thus far has been 7:02 minutes per kilometer when I ran a total of 6 Km. That’s another thing when you start running, you realize that runners focus on pace, the inverse of speed. For reference, Eliud Kipchoge’s pace is around 3 min/km. At his fastest, he ran 2:52 min/km.

I run along this road in Mitaka City, Tokyo. It stretches over 10 KM and has a cycling/pedestrian path that’s decently shaded even on sunny days.

Why am I running?

Why did I start running? I don’t really know. I think I am motivated by a desire to get fit, to reduce body fat so I can look better. It’s also probably a way to cope with the stress and anxiety that is guaranteed when you’re adulting. I definitely run to cope with the separation blues – I haven’t seen my son in over 5 months. I missed his 7th birthday. I’m no closer to engineering our reunion, and then covid-19 happened…

Maybe I’m running from my demons. Either way, I kept running until I reached a point of no return.

Anyway, this isn’t my first attempt at regular running. I jogged infrequently over the course of my PhD, and then I would slack off after a few weeks.

When I was in campus, doing my undergrad, I woke up at 6am for a few months to jog in the morning. Then I didn’t jog again until like 5 years when I was doing my PhD. I’d do 2-3km stretches.

But now, this current streak is the longest I have done. It’s also the most serious and most dedicated.

Just do it. My running outfit. When I started, my pace was quite slow. Now, 3 months later, I cover this distance in about 45 minutes.

Feb – The Beginning

When I started in February, I did not use any app to track my distance. I just ran to the nearest Gyomu Super(market) and then turned back. I felt so good and thought I had run so far. I would then get home and feast bananas, apples, yoghurt, thinking ah.. fruits, so healthy. (Wrong, they’re actually full of sugar). I’d weigh myself and wonder why the scale was trending upwards!

Only later, when I started using Runkeeper to track my distance, did I realize that I had been covering only 2.4 KM! Barely burning 200 calories.

I was also running 2-3 times a week. I realized if I needed to complete my goal of running 200 days, I would need to up my frequency to 4 or 5 times a week. I was hoping to reach 100 days by the end of June.

March – The first 5K

I ran my first 5 Km race one morning before work. It was quite easy to just keep going once I reached the Seven-Eleven convenience store that marked the turning point for 3.3 Km.

Well, approximately 5KM. There is no natural turning point (traffic light) that gets me to exactly 5KM.

April – Getting to 10K

By April, we were completely working from home. I realized I could use the commuting time to exercise.

I was running 4-5 days a week, covering 5-6 KM each time.

I also got proper running shoes with good sole support.

Got a pair of Adidas running shoes. I got them at a discount for about 30 USD.

I did my first 10K in early April. Thereafter, I did 10K every weekend but I realized I needed a couple of days after to recover. I learned to take it easy whenever I had to.

May – No turning back

My weight stabilized. I am probably losing fat at the rate I’m building muscle, so it is all balancing out. I look leaner though. My skin has experienced the biggest change so far. It’s always been smooth but now it’s silky soft.

I enjoyed the flowers blooming in May, especially azaleas and roses. See the header image..

On Sunday, May 30th, I decided to keep going 20 minutes after the temple that marks the 10K run. I realized I had succeeded in running 14KM!

This temple marks the 10K turning point.

When I realized I could do 14KM, I realized I was finally within my bucket-list goal of running a half marathon.

June – Weight Worries and the Unofficial Half-Marathon

As I write this, I’ve run on 79 different occasions. I still have another 121 more days of running to do before the end of the year.

My weight is not going down, and my housemate is impatient with my whining as I step on the scale daily. If you are running, please don’t frustrate yourself with the scale. Keep it out of sight.

I’m now watching what I eat, even as I keep running.

Saturday June 13th – Unofficial Half Marathon

It was forecast to rain from Saturday at 8am. Figuring I needed about 3.5hrs to do the half-marathon, I woke up at 4am! I never knew I had it in me to wake up this early.

I carried my phone (I have a phone holder) and some cash to buy water at the convenience store on the way. I also carried 3 tablets of these hydrating salts.

It is summer now, so the sun was already rising! It was a dawn kind of light, and it got daylight-bright by 5am.

I started slow and just kept going and going.

At the 7KM mark, I popped in the first tablet and felt refreshed – ish.

At the 10KM mark, I stopped at a vending machine and got a 600ml bottle of water. I kept sipping and kept running. I also took the second tablet.

I had to keep running with the bottle of water in my hand, taking frequent sips.

It was past 6am when I neared the 14KM mark, I think. I took the final tablet at the 15KM mark. I had finished the water and disposed of the bottle at the next convenience store I came across.

I had only 5KM left to go when it started raining lightly at first and it increased in intensity. My legs, especially my knees, were starting to feel the strain. I told myself if I kept going, I would get home to rest. I was soaked to the bone.

There was no turning back. The sooner I got home, the sooner I could rest. I took walking breaks when it got too much.

I was expecting to take 3.5 hours (the average cut-off for a medal in official half-marathons), when I was pleasantly surprised to find I had finished after 2:40!

And even though I still had over 1 KM left to make it 21KM for an official half-marathon, I knew I could cover that in less than 10 min. So I can do a half-marathon in less than 3hrs. When COVID-19 is over, I’m signing up for an official half-marathon.

I may not be able to run in the coming week, for reasons I shall blog about later. (Subscribe so you don’t miss it!).

But I am very proud that I was able to run an unofficial half-marathon. My smartwatch told me I had done 22KM and that’s why I stopped, although Runkeeper recorded only 19.71 KM.

I was surprised to find I was able to move about the next day and went for the Black Lives Matter March in Shibuya the next day. I walked over 6KM.

I rested for a couple of days, doing some light walking. On the 4th day after the half-marathon, I was able to do a 5K recovery run.

Running in Japan

I am happy I can run safely in Japan. Even at night, it’s relatively safe to jog in my neighbourhood. No white men will come hunting me down and shooting me in broad daylight like they did Ahmaud Arbery.


Follow my running journey on Instagram Stories or Twitter. I still have 120 days to go this year.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Dating in Tokyo

It’s been a year of living in Tokyo. A dramatic time has been had by all.

I moved to Tokyo in late March of 2019, after living in Ishikawa Prefecture for 4.5 years. I started a new job in April while my son, Jeremy, started elementary school. He didn’t last 6 months in the Japanese elementary school, so I took him to Kenya to stay with my parents in late October while I figured things out. I thought I would definitely have it all figured out by the first quarter of 2020, and in fact, I had a couple of plans well laid out. Then coronavirus happened and everything is basically on hold. I mean, the Olympics are cancelled postponed. Over 300,000 people have died. I’m just grateful I have a job I like and I can comfortably work from home. Jeremy remains in Kenya under the care of my parents. I miss my family very much.

Okay, back to the topic at hand. I know you all want an update on the actor I went on a date with. Sorry, I remain mum on that particular person but all I can say is that he did get me these flowers on my birthday.

Birthday flowers
Birthday flowers

Today’s post is about another gentleman I met back in January. He goes by the name Tak*. I’ve shortened it for anonymity. There must be at least a million Takashis and Takeshis in Tokyo alone lol.

I’d just come back from Kenya after the December holidays. January was cold and lonely. So when my friends invited me to go out dancing to cheer me up, I gladly accepted. Ah, remember when we used to go dancing? #covid19.

The date was set. It was a Friday evening after work. On this day, I didn’t even bother dressing up. There I was rocking my jeans and a t-shirt. Fuck contacts, glasses all the way. We had dinner at a cheap restaurant, as usual, then turned up at the Latina club which is located in one of Tokyo’s more notorious entertainment districts. I won’t say which one. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about babysitters.

Dinner at a cheap izakaya in Tokyo. This wasn’t that particular night, but it could have been. I’m the one in the rainbow t-shirt. These are my besties in Japan.

The club was crowded by the time we paid the entrance fee and squeezed our way in. At the time, there were whispers of some outbreak in far away China. Nothing to do with us. We put our bags in a locker, got our drinks and scoped the dance floor.

Now, I know “they” say Japanese people can’t dance, but it’s like all the ones who can dance had turned up here. The dance floor was alive, full of beautiful couples moving intricately, turning here, dipping there, swirling close before twirling away, all so seamlessly. The ladies were dressed in tight shorts or dresses, effortlessly rocking 6-inch heels. The men were also in slim jeans and fitting shirts, flipping their hair back, leading their partners in salsa and bachata. Man, Latina music is beautiful. Even though one of my friends complains it’s repetitive, the same beat over and over again. (Side eye to Martina). It’s enough to just go there and watch the couples dance.

So I was watching this couple dance. By couple, I don’t mean that they are together together. Just dance partners for the moment. The guy had caught my eye. He looked late 30’s/early 40’s. He knew his way around the dance floor, he was so graceful. I caught him once or twice stealing glances my way. He was in a light blue shirt and dark blue slacks. He had a full head of hair which he had slicked back with gel, but in the heat and sweat of the dance club atmosphere, it was becoming loose in a very becoming way.

This is not Tak*. But it could be. The hair is similar. I got this image from Pinterest.

When there was a break in the music, he thanked his dance partner then came over to the counter where my left feet and I were chilling. He bought me a drink and introduced himself. I was fumbling in Japanese so we switched to English. He spoke fluent English. He asked me to dance. I stepped all over his toes but he was patient with me. At the end of the evening, he gave me his business card, he is a producer with a leading media company and had lived in London for some time. My friends and I then rushed to catch the last train. That’s literally how 90% of evenings used to go pre-covid19. You always kept one eye on the clock for the last train.

A few days later, I decided to text him. That was the start the most bizarre texting thread I’ve ever had.

It started well enough. I’m the one in blue, his replies are pale blue.

The start of the exchange.

Our schedules didn’t agree at the time but we decided to meet later that week.

Jan 23rd.

Unfortunately, at this time again, our schedules just couldn’t match. I had a farewell party to attend. Ah, any excuse for a nomikai. But this was a nomikai I couldn’t miss as a colleague was leaving Japan.

This was on Jan 24th.

I figured it was a one-week business trip and texted a week later on Jan 31st. Two months went by before a reply! Note the dates. The reply came back on March 22nd at 3am, by which time I had totally forgotten all about him. I’d lost interest and was busy coming to the terms with the new reality. Coronavirus had spread faster than bush fires in an Australian summer and borders were closing. (It was around this time my friend was rushing to catch the last flight out of Japan to Kenya, another dramatic event characterized by cancelled flights, a suicide and the last Narita Express.)

Tak’s reply was was a simple “Yes”. Huh? Cat got his tongue?

What’s with the random don’t go out? So as not to catch the coronavirus?

Anyway, working from home, I find myself fiddling with my phone much more than when at work. That must explain why I continued to text back, right?

3 am texts

I don’t know what was happening to the formerly fluent English speaker and texter. Did someone else take over his number while he was in M****** for two months? Did he forget his English in that time?

Then I noticed all his texts kept coming between the ungodly hours of 2 and 4 am.

Haven’t heard anything back yet.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, binaries and non-binaries, is the reason I am still single.

The moral of the story is: dating is hard in Tokyo. For those in Japan, how is/was your dating life?

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Tips for Kenyan Students Coming to Study in Japan, Part 2

Part 1 is here. 

On social life, dating and relationships

It will be lonely at first. You may want to talk to your friends and family, but the time difference might make it hard to be in contact all the time. It might take time to make friends, and even then, your friends might be busy with their studies and/or part-time jobs.

Alcohol is expensive in bars and clubs, but very cheap in supermarkets and convenience stores. But don’t stock up on alcohol to drink at home alone. It can become a habit. Do not drink too much.

Dating will be hard if you are a woman. It’s easier if you are a man. Japanese women are more confident and won’t mind being out with a foreigner. “They” say Japanese women are very “meek” as girlfriends but when you get married, the script is flipped and she is in charge. It is common and expected in Japanese households for the women to control the finances and make all the life decisions regarding basically everything. You are expected to hand over your salary and she’ll budget it and give you pocket money.

You’ll find yourself downloading Tinder and trying out online dating, something you’ve never had to do because of the deep social ties you have in your country; or the ease with which you can approach a stranger and ask for their number. Don’t be embarrassed about it, we conduct our lives online now so dating is just one aspect of that life that has moved online now. Unfortunately, online dating is full of creeps, but so is the real world.

On Getting a Mobile Phone Contract

Immediately you land at Narita or Haneda or Kansai, your first thought will be how to get an internet connection. Change enough money into yen to rent a two-week portable wifi device. It can get you going until you’re settled.

It took me a week of negotiation to get a Japanese mobile contract. It’s not like in Kenya where you can just get a pre-paid SIM card in under 5 minutes. Here, most providers want to sell you a phone and SIM contract. They won’t even let you buy a SIM card only since you’ll already be arriving with your phone. If you want to upgrade your device, this is a chance to get a 2-year contract. Otherwise, try getting a contract-free SIM card from the mobile virtual network providers.

On Money

Japan loves its cash. People carry huge wallets walking around with over ¥100,000 (approx $1,000) in cash. Luckily, it’s a safe country. There are a lot of cash-based transactions and useless bank cards that only act as CASH cards, not debit cards.


Cash still rules in Japan.

You’ll burn through the Yens very quickly. The cost of living here is very high. Getting on the high-speed train from Tokyo to Osaka will easily cost you ¥12,000, one way. In Kenya, that’s the equivalent of the journey from Nairobi to Mombasa, which costs ¥3,000. So if you want to travel during the university holidays, just know it will be costly to take the express or high-speed trains. Buses are a way cheaper option especially if you book in advance.

It will be cheaper living in rural  or near-rural prefectures than in Tokyo or Osaka. If you have to choose between a university in Tokyo/Osaka or rural Japan, consider cost of living vs having a social life. There is a better social life in the big cities, but you will end up spending more on these social activities. The food costs are about the same. Rent is what is significantly cheaper in rural Japan.

If you want to send money to your family, use WorldRemit, it’s the cheapest. Transferwise is cost-effective too. Avoid Western Union, it is convenient but quite expensive. I’m just giving you tips here for you to do begin your research, so don’t ask me to take you through it step by step.

You can work part-time. You are allowed up to 28 hours a week. You can teach English, do dishes in restaurants, make ramen, convenience store clerk, etc.  If you have a scholarship, you can just work for fun and to make a bit of money. If you are working to pay your fees and upkeep, it can get tough but know that you’ll make it. Keep your eye on the prize.

On driving

For the love of God, do not come to Japan without a driving license if you ever plan on driving in Japan. It will cost you about ¥300,000 ($3,000) to get a driving license from scratch. It will cost you less than $50 to convert your existing license to a Japanese one. You can use an international driving license but only for a year after arrival in Japan. After that, you have to convert it to the Japanese one. Even that won’t be an easy process, but it’s cheaper. I wrote all about it here.

You are going to need a car especially if you leave in rural Japan, more especially if you have a family. Do not buy a white plate car (that’s a car of 1,000 CC or more). A yellow plate car (less than 1,000 CC) will do just fine (Also called kei-cars.) Cars are cheap to buy initially but you pay tax annually. For a yellow plate car, the annual tax is about ¥10,000 (~$100) and it goes upwards of  ¥35,000 ($350) for white plate cars. There is also a need to renew registration every two years (¥60,000 – ¥1000,000 or more).


A kei-car like this will be very cost-effective. Sure, it tops out at 60Km/h but you will probably be driving in the range of 40-50 Km/h most times.

Make sure you get insurance, which may cost over ¥72,000 annually (~$700). Without insurance, you can be royally fucked if you ever get into an accident.

On Housing

If your university offers you accommodation, take it. The cost of renting in Japan is quite high.  The average cost for a one-bedroom apartment in Tokyo is around ¥80,000 a month. University apartments are usually subsidized. If they don’t provide accommodation, ask if they partner with real estate agents. The universities will usually help you find accommodation or direct you to a real estate company that will help you. Some universities have family housing

On sexism

All the secretaries are women. All the doctors, men. All the pilots, male. All cabin attendants, female. In my 6 years of living here, I’ve never seen a female pilot or a male cabin attendant. You will be surprised to find Japan lags behind Kenya when it comes to gender equality. So sexism, language and cultural barrier (and xenophobia) will stand in the way of your career success.

Medical universities literally lowered the high scores of female candidates to limit the number of women who will become doctors. Their spots went to men who had lower scores. It’s that sexist. Reason being? When the women get married and get kids, they’ll stay home to look after kids so no need to train them in the first place. That’s because, in Japan, they are set in their way of life and don’t want to change. There are clear rules of division and labour. Women are denied access to high paying jobs meaning they rely on their spouses. They stay home and look after the kids, men go to work. 

They are averse to change. Risk-averse. Once a system works in Japan (fax), they cling to it and never want to change.  Unfortunately, things have to change if the negative population growth is anything to go by.

On the weather

Japan has four distinct seasons and it is something that they are very proud of. On weather-related tips, one practical thing I can tell you is don’t bother shopping for seasonal (winter) clothes in Kenya. No need to bring too much luggage. Once you arrive here, there is no need to go to high-end shops. There are so many good quality clothes in second hand/recycling shops. That’s where I got all my winter wear, which I still have 6 years later. Remember to enjoy seasonal activities and events. Cherry blossom picnics and BBQ in spring, summer festivals and fireworks, autumn foliage drives, winter skiing.


Sakura in Japan. Image, courtesy.

On Natural Disasters

Typhoons in the summer. Earthquakes that occur at any time. Especially in the greater Tokyo area. We have slight earthquakes from time to time. The country is well-prepared to deal with natural disasters and you’ll be given information on how to prepare for such disasters by your university and local city hall. Pay attention. Stay calm.

On Staying Here with your family

If you can bring your spouse/children to Japan, do it. It will be a nice experience for everyone all around. It will also be a great support system for you. It’s very easy for your family to join you in Japan, although finding work for your spouse might be hard. One option is joining you in the same uni to also further their studies.

Choose rural Japan if you want to bring your family. The cost of living is cheaper, people are friendlier and there will be spaces in kindergartens for your kids. If they are of school going age, they will have to deal with the Japanese language barrier when joining elementary or high school, so think about that.

If you plan to bring your family, make sure you put in extra effort to study Japanese so you can navigate the visa applications, the schools, the hospitals, the supermarkets, etc.

On Staying After Graduation

If you don’t plan to live in Japan after graduation, you don’t have to invest too much time in studying the language.

If you plan to stay on after graduation, I would advise you right now to start studying Japanese. It will be your most useful skill. It’s crazy but Japanese companies can hire someone with a nuclear physics degree to work in marketing, as long as you’ve got good communication skills (including Japanese).  So study Japanese.

If you want to stay on for the very long term, it is possible to get permanent residency and even a Japanese passport. Just be aware that Japan doesn’t allow dual citizenship and you’ll have to give up the citizenship you currently hold.

In conclusion

Sorry, this post has been all over the place. Here are some my posts about Life in Japan. Japan is an awesome country, if a little boring. It’s a great country to study in. Working here for a few years would also be a good experience. Living here in the long-term will be a difficult journey though not an impossible one.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan | 1 Comment

Tips for Kenyan Students Coming to Study in Japan, Part 1

The other day, I got an email from someone in Kenya who has gotten a scholarship to study his master’s degree at a university in Tokyo. He wondered if I have some tips or advice for him. Of course, I do. But they wouldn’t fit in a short paragraph, so I decided to write a blog about it. I hope it will be of benefit to all students coming to Japan, although some advice may be specifically for Kenyans.

I’ll try to be brief, there is much ground to cover. From studies, food, language, culture, social life, banking and insurance, mobile phones, driving, earthquakes and disasters, finances, dating and relationships, life in the big city vs in rural Japan, rules, manners, social norms, renting apartments, hospital visits, cost of living, weather, living here with your family… I could write a book. Maybe I will write a book someday.

For now, I will try to keep it brief. Update: it ended up being almost 4,000 words so I decided to break it into 2 parts.

Here are a few tips, not in order of importance. Leave a comment below if you have any questions or want more info about a topic. 

On Academic Life

  1. Don’t Come for Undergrad

There are many reasons not to do a bachelor’s degree in Japan. First of all, a majority of the courses in undergraduate are taught in Japanese. So unless you want to spend 2 years in language school followed by higher education in a language you are barely beginning to get a grasp of, don’t come here for undergrad. Imagine learning electrical engineering/political science in Japanese as a non-native speaker after only 2 years of studying the language. Also, if you haven’t been exposed to Kanji like the Chinese students, you’ll have a much harder time. In addition, campus in Japan is boring. Trust me on this (you might find out why later in the post). I had the best time in a Kenyan public university: the freedom and social life there surpasses no other.  The friendships I made have spanned time and distance and are still strong today.  Furthermore, I believe it is important to enjoy young adulthood in a familiar environment. You won’t have deal with the loneliness, culture shock, strange food and customs, new language.. all while studying for your degree and without your close friends or family nearby.

2. Come for your Master’s/PhD

Hopefully, you got a scholarship to come to Japan for your master’s or PhD. If you don’t have a scholarship, it will be harder to get one after arrival in Japan, but not impossible. It’s easier to get funding for PhD scholarships than a master’s degree. It’s also easier to get scholarships for some areas like technology and engineering than say, social sciences.

How to get scholarships? For African students, there is the Abe scholarship and also the MEXT scholarship for students worldwide. (The topic of finding a scholarship and a graduate supervisor deserves its own blog post).

If you do your master’s degree here, consider another country for PhD, just to get a different experience. That’s because you’ll also have a better chance at successful employment in a country that has less of a language and cultural barrier.

Oh, btw, here are some tips for PhD students.


On the day I got my PhD. September 21st, 2018.

3. You Won’t Fail

As a Kenyan, you won’t fail. There are hardly exams for classes, it’s mostly reports that you have to hand in. Attendance counts for a lot. For your thesis, it’s possible they consider effort more than contents – I have read several masters’ theses with atrocious grammar. Luckily, as a Kenyan, your English is at native-level. It will give you an advantage. Just don’t be surprised if you are asked to prove your proficiency through stupid TOEIC tests – I’ve done 3 so far and got the maximum score each fucking time. So don’t worry about your grades. I’m sure if you have made it thus far, you’ll do well in a Japanese university.

4. Publish and Attend Conferences

Most universities or laboratories have enough funding for you to attend 1-2 conferences a year. Use this chance to attend conferences, to get your work published, and to also travel… You can even submit a poster of your work, or work-in-progress. I did my master’s degree in Kenya and never published anything because our unis aren’t focused on publications and suffer from a lack of funding. In my PhD, I attended 4 conferences in Canada, New Zealand, France and the U.S. I also published one journal paper.

5. Take Advantage of the Funding

If you are studying physics or chemistry, take advantage of the ample funding in universities to request for equipment and materials. Even if you are in social sciences, be aware that you can make a request for a MacBookPro/decent laptop for your writing. This is one thing that Japan does very well, funding public universities from either the government or private sector. This is especially the case in specialized universities like JAIST, which I attended.

On Language and Culture

  1. If you get a chance to study Japanese, seize it with both hands

You’ll be surprised at just how little English is spoken here. Your lab mates will speak in broken English and you’ll be auto-correcting everything they speak in your head. Your professor will probably speak in broken English too. Do NOT correct them. It is an endless and thankless journey, and you might hurt their pride and feelings. Just appreciate the fact that you can communicate.

Outside of the lab though, it will be a real struggle to do anything without some Japanese language ability. You will need to drag along a Japanese speaking friend to go to city hall,  the bank,  the hospital,  the restaurant, basically anywhere. You can’t even read your mail (oh there, will be tons of paper mail), so you won’t be able to tell what’s important or not, without knowing some Kanji.

If you get a chance to study Japanese, even if you are staying here for a short time, seize it. It will be helpful whether staying for the short or long term.



Studying Japanese. Don’t do stupid things.


2. You’ll live in a foreign bubble, especially in campus

Since you won’t be speaking Japanese, you will probably be living in a bubble of foreign students who speak English. This is okay if you are planning to get your degree then go back to your country. If you plan to stay in Japan longer, try to explore out of your bubble. Join community events where international students are invited.

3. Rules, manners and norms

Japan is a rule-based country. Everything is done by the book. Japanese people are scared to go abroad because they fear the chaos out there. Everyone keeps time. To be on time is to be late. Even if everyone has arrived and is seated, and the PowerPoint is ready, the meeting won’t start even a second early. Everyone will keep looking at the clock, keep fidgeting (no chatter though) until the second-hand strikes 00. Then the chair will clear his throat and say, “good morning, welcome everyone” or whatever. Do not talk on the phone on the train. Don’t eat in public. The longer you stay, the more rules, manners and norms you will discover. Japanese people never make ‘independent’ decisions, they always follow some rule book (written or otherwise). This can be shocking to you as a Kenyan coming from a country where everyone thinks for themselves and where we threw the rule book out of the window. It can get annoying sometimes when it’s for small inconsequential things that are blown out of proportion. Don’t be surprised if at McDonald’s you are denied Ketchup if on the menu it states that your burger comes with BBQ sauce. The bus will leave you if you are 2 seconds late, even if the driver can see you sprinting. The students’ office can deny your application for graduation if you submit your documents 1 second after the stated time. You can lose an entire academic year because you were lax with the deadlines. It doesn’t matter if the people who will sign the documents are missing, or the printer is not working. Deadlines don’t get extended for whatever reason or excuse. Don’t get frustrated, you’ll soon get used to the rules. 



Yes, there are rules for everywhere and every situation.


4. On Indirect Communication and the Difficulty of Making Japanese Friends

Japanese is an indirect language and in this culture, people never say yes or no. They never say what they are thinking either. They tell you what you want to hear. They talk about safe topics, like food or the weather.TV is just food shows, this country has a food porn problem – it’s food shows on every channel. (If you have lived in Japan, you’ll appreciate that video, otherwise don’t click on the link.) You assume that after a couple of months of meeting, you’ll form close friendships with Japanese people but it can take years to get close to them. You’ll find yourself making friends with fellow foreigners. That’s fine, you should make and maintain friendships. The unfortunate thing is most foreigners in Japan are transients. You make friends with people this year and the following year they are gone so make the most of it.

5. You represent all Kenyans (and all Africans)

If you like a certain thing, say pancakes, Japanese people will be like “oh.. Kenyans like pancakes.” That’s because of their collective culture, in which they say things like “Japanese people like this… or that..”. So everything you do will represent Kenyans (and Africans) in general. They’ll make remarks about your long legs, your well-defined muscles, your small head.. things you’ve never thought about.

6. Everything you have heard about safety and cleanness is true.

Ref to 3 above. Following the rules is one of the reasons Japan is as safe and as clean as it is. You can leave your iPhone, MacBook, and wallet on a table in a restaurant unattended, go the toilet and come back to find everything untouched. You can jog at night. Muggings are extremely, extremely rare. Even then, they’re not violent – I read the news of an old lady who was pick-pocketing young distracted mothers out shopping.

The first thing you will learn is how to separate the trash. Plastics, plastic bottles, coloured glass bottles, clear glass bottles, aluminium cans, steel cans, metals.. all go into separate bags. Jut follow the rules.

Don’t be surprised by Japan’s love affair with plastic. There is so much plastic packaging in Japan, it will drive you crazy if you are an environmentalist. I mean, we’ve had to ban plastic bags in Kenya but in here, it’s plastic on steroids.


A single strawberry was packaged in 4 pieces of plastic. This is a true story highlighting plastic love in Japan. Here is the link. https://medium.com/social-innovation-japan/7-surprising-facts-about-plastic-in-japan-f6920cc8e621

7. A country where things work nearly perfectly.

Everything works. Welcome to a country where the national health insurance scheme even includes international students, who are offered a huge discount on the premium. Health insurance includes dental care. People obey the rules, even traffic rules. No overlapping. No hooting. Peace and quiet. You will never encounter corruption at public offices. The power never goes off, unless it’s a disaster (actually during the strong typhoon we had last year, we still had power in my area). In the 6 years I have been living here, never once have I experienced a power cut. Or a water cut. Or downtime with the internet. No dust. No trash in the streets.  Clean public bathrooms everywhere, with toilet paper (albeit single ply). Clean water to drink the park. Safe tap water. It’s just so refreshing to be in a country where things work. Convenience stores that are conveniently open 24/7.

8. High tech, Low Tech

Sure, Japan is said to be high tech but don’t be surprised by the large amount of paperwork needed just to carry out many procedures in the university or at city hall. I still don’t have a debit card. Many places are cash only. Fax machines are still in use. You’ll be surprised to find that Kenya is more tech-savvy in some areas than Japan is. Once a system works in Japan (fax), they cling to it and never want to change.

On Food

At first, the food will taste very strange. Everything has soy sauce in it – we hardly ever use soy sauce in Kenya. Then there are the deep-fried meat cutlets; meat should never be fried. But eventually, you’ll get used to it.

Ramen, okonomiyaki and curry are the only Japanese foods you can enjoy the first few weeks. However, they are calorie-heavy. So watch out, many of the people I came to Japan with are significantly heavier now. 



Japanese beef curry. Yum. Photo, courtesy.


Fruits are expensive. Avocado is a luxury. So are watermelons. A fresh mango can set you back ¥2,000 (USD $20). But please make sure you add some fruit in your budget, otherwise.. the scurvy. If you can’t afford fruits, then maybe try canned fruits like pineapples. 



These high-end mangoes cost ¥10,500, before tax. That’s approx USD $100


Food is generally expensive in Japan. If you are a single person, it might even be cheaper to eat at the school cafeteria than to make meals for yourself. My advice is don’t stress or starve yourself. That is what it costs to stay alive.

Eating out alone isn’t expensive. Eating out with friends can become expensive though, especially if accompanied by drinks. You can easily spend ¥10,000 – ¥20,000 on a night out.

Nobody eats sushi every day.

Food is a safe topic that Japanese people talk about constantly.

Whenever you are offered food in Japan, be sure to pause in chewing, appreciate it, and say “oiishii desu ne“. It will please everyone. It doesn’t matter what it tastes like. Just learn how to say “oishii” and other variations like of the same like “umai“.

Part Two Here.

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