This October marked 8 years since I first set foot in Japan. I remember that day clearly. I landed in Osaka at around 8pm in the night and took the express train to Kanazawa, transferring at Maibara. I remember thinking that Japan at appeared to be lifeless, everywhere I looked I was met with muted night lights and silence, not a soul to be seen outside. Of course, it didn’t help that this view was at night from the express train, traveling silently through the countryside. I got to Kanazawa Station a little after midnight. Back then, it was under construction and the beautiful gates were yet to be revealed. The signage was in English so it was easy to find the exit. I had booked a hotel near the station for the night because it was too late to check into the Morinosato dormitory that I was to stay in for the following six months. I was to check in the following day. I had printed out Google Map directions because I didn’t have wifi on my phone and free wifi wasn’t that common back then. Of course, I couldn’t figure out in which direction to walk – how do you find North in the night? Actually, I can’t even find North during the day and I’m so glad for the Google Maps feature that now shows a shadow in the direction you’re walking (anybody else know this feature?).
Luckily, I stumbled into a couple by the station that walked me to the hotel. It was less than 5 minutes away from the station. Staff at the reception spoke English. They asked me if I wanted a non-smoking room and of course I said yes, but my room still smelled faintly of smoke. The following morning, I woke up ready to start my life in Japan. But first, I was looking forward to the buffet breakfast. Alas! It was all miso soup, fish, rice, barely boiled eggs, several condiments I was afraid to try.. there were some sorry-looking bread rolls in the corner that I had with coffee and got a taxi out of there. Suffice to say, I was not a fan of Japanese food back then but it has grown on me and now I love (most of) it.
When I tweeted about my 8th year anniversary, someone asked me about the highlights and lowlights of the past 8 years. I spent the first four and a half years in Ishikawa, and moved to Tokyo 3.5 years ago in April of 2019 where I currently live and work. Let’s start with the highlights.
Moving to a new country where you don’t know the language, with a culture that’s almost a total opposite of where you come from, forces you to grow and find a place for yourself in this new culture without losing yourself. Your perspective changes a lot. You evolve to survive. I’m more resilient. More tolerant. More practical, less dreamy, which is unfortunate I think. It’s hard to elaborate this without writing a 2,000 word essay but I know many of you readers can relate. You don’t have to move countries to find you’ve grown as a person. I think it happens for most people when they get into their 30’s.
I’m just going to list some of the highlights with links, in no particular order, so this post doesn’t get too long. Also, I don’t have enough time to write it all out.
Achieving my Goal of Getting a PhD by 30
All while single-handedly taking care of J.
Snagging a Dream Job
I wanted to work in AI Research in a global company and I’m doing exactly that. Got that good job in Tokyo!
I’ve travelled around Japan with so many of my friends – ski trips, trips to traditional Japanese villages, trips to onsen towns, a trip to Okinawa, etc. In particular, experiencing Tokyo, Fuji Q Highland, Hakone, Kyoto and Osaka, traveling by hired car, bus and bullet train with my best friend from way back, was quite the highlight.
In the past 8 years while living in Japan, I was able to visit South Korea (Busan and Seoul), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur and Penang), France (Nice), New Zealand (Christchurch), Philippines (Cebu), Canada (Toronto), and the USA (Las Vegas, baby!)
Watching J Graduate From Daycare
I was happy Jeremy had fun at daycare (nursery school) in Ishikawa. It was quite sad that we had to move to Tokyo but there aren’t as many jobs in Ishikawa.
So I no longer need glasses for my myopia. What myopia?
And enjoying 14 months of paid maternity leave.
Meeting Eliud ‘The Goat” Kipchoge earlier this year.
Making Some Very Awesome Friends
I have met so many awesome people who have become very close and very good friends. This is both a highlight and a lowlight because most of my good friends have left or are leaving Japan. This is the hardest part of friendships, when friends have to move away.
There are so many more highlights, I’m sure I haven’t included all the important people, persons and events that have happened in my life these past 8 years. But I’ve always blogged a bit every year and I’m glad I can always look back and relive some of these highlights.
J Getting Bullied Out of Japan
This was definitely my lowest moment in Japan. Learning that J was getting bullied in school was so painful. I had to take him out of that school immediately, then he got stuck in Kenya during covid. I am just glad that I was finally able to bring him back and found an affordable international school for him.
I always knew I wasn’t going to stay in Japan forever and when this happened, it started the countdown. I don’t know if we’ll make it to 10 years! But my tiny little family is currently in a good place and I just want to enjoy these moments.
Saying bye to friends
I have made so many good friends from so many different countries, but many of them have left Japan and I don’t know if I’ll ever meet them again.
In the last 8 years, the distance has also affected the closeness of my Kenyan friendships. Definitely a low point of living away from home (Tokyo doesn’t feel like home really).
In the same vein, losing (to death) friends and family while away has been really hard.
Adjusting to the Loneliness that is living in Japan
I worry that I have changed so much and gotten used to the loneliness that is part and parcel of “living in Japan”, just never knowing your neighbours and even when you know their faces, never exchanging nothing more than a cursory hello, despite years of living next to each other. That lack of warmth from people, I miss it. Spontaneity. Laughter.
But it’s a sad LOL. The dating game for foreign women in Japan sucks.
While there might be other lowlights, I choose not to dwell on them!
Here’s to another 8 years in Japan? Hope not!
Thank you for always sharing your journey! Congratulations to all your achievements ; PHD before 30! Having Jeremy back with you. 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽
Best wishes too in all your future endeavors.
And that’s a cute pic of your family! 😍
I got my PhD at 30, not before 🙂 thanks! I’m glad you’re reading.
Thank you so much for this post! It’s so interesting to look back and see what’s changed, and then to take stock and decide where you want to go from here. I’m glad I could get to know you even partway along this journey ❤️
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yep, this was definitely a taking stock post. I’m glad I met you along this journey too.