Staying in Tokyo???

This is going to sound insane after my last entry where I confidently declared I’d be moving back to the US within the year (or, well, I think I sounded and felt pretty conflicted but I was leaning very very heavily towards US).

But I think I have to stay in Japan.

Because of Trump insanity…

It’s weird, and I actually feel guilty. When he was elected, I felt fired up to get back home and start helping. I wanted to attend marches and get involved and fight him and his whole crazy team. But now, after the first week of terrible news has rolled out, I’m starting to feel more worried for my own livelihood. I wanted to move back and live with my parents and do freelance stuff for a couple months – just chill out from Japan and the work culture here. But if I do that, I won’t have insurance (well, I could get Cobra or something, but if I ever needed to go to the doctor it would probably cost less than insurance out of pocket for a few months). Here, I have insurance, and I have a job. The job comes with one very terrible inept girl child of a manager, but it’s at a game company and overall it’s fun.

But honestly, my feelings started changing before Trump’s inauguration. At first, I didn’t want to be back in Japan, but soon I plunged right back into that Fangirl Life. We attended the second stage play/musical of the game we play every day, Ensemble Stars, and it was an incredible experience. We were in the fourth row and all of the guys were shining. The girls in the row behind us kept muttering “muri, muri, muri, muri, muri” very fast every time anything remotely exciting would happen (hard to translate, as literally they were saying “impossible” but in a slang sense it’s more like “oh no, oh shit, this is amazing, wow, I can’t handle this oh my god!”) and it was just like…. #same. SAME, ladies. I am overwhelmed by every single moment of what I am witnessing. I can’t even describe it unless you play the game too and know all the characters. The play was left open-ended – as in, there HAS to be a third one – and that third one HAS to feature my favorite group and thus my favorite #1 BOY. I thought, at that moment, “I am staying in Japan until that play comes out. I am 100% serious about this, it’s that important.”

And then I did more fangirl things every weekend after that, and I just kept thinking – life here is pretty great, and really fun, and I have access to all of it whenever I want. And all those things that annoy me about life here (everyone assuming I don’t speak Japanese and needing to know my life story once they find out I do, stupid old men on trains trying to boss me and everyone else they see as inferior around [literally, the other day some old guy invaded my personal space and freaking kabe-don’d me–placed his hand against the door right by my head, boxing me in–when I was standing in a corner by the door because he wanted to stand where I was standing. Of course I felt disgusted and moved away so he got the spot], etc etc etc) began to seem more like… the price I pay to live here among all of these amazing things.

Just like that, my entire worldview shifted. Yeah, this one experience might suck – but it’s the price I pay to get so many other great things. Just like that, I began to feel optimistic as opposed to pessimistic about life here, and a lot of things I’d been bitterly resenting seemed not worth the anger anymore. I can’t change them, so I might as well work towards changing what I can, when I can. I’ve been in a negative mindset for such a long, long, long time now that I almost couldn’t believe the turnaround. (And this is WITHOUT meds, people! I’m still off them!). That was a month or so ago, and while the optimism wore off a little, I am still feeling oddly chipper about the idea of continuing to live here. I also sort of feel like the whole Trump thing has neatly solved my dilemma by making the US not quite so appealing anymore. Sometimes it’s nice to have a decision made for you because one option suddenly became quite obviously not so attractive.

I was obsessing earlier over how this was never my dream. One of my coworkers told me that this very life was in fact her dream – since middle school. She decided in middle school that someday she’d teach English in Japan, and she held onto that dream. Her mom made her promise she’d stay in-state for college, knowing that as soon as she graduated she’d be off with JET to Japan. And she was, and she taught for a while then joined my company, and she’s very happy here in Japan and has no plans to move back to the US. My other coworker said in middle school her goal was to move to Japan be a game producer of Final Fantasy 25 (ha, little did she know it’d be 2017 and 15 has only just come out).

And then there’s me, who thought I’d be the luckiest girl alive just to get to make one visit to Japan in my lifetime.

Why didn’t I dream bigger? I don’t know, but just because I didn’t doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my life now. It’s almost crazy to think how I ended up here and how many twists of fate and bits of luck have brought me here. Just because I never thought this was possible doesn’t mean I have to give it up and pursue something more ordinary. Especially not to make friends and family back home feel more reassured about me and my choices. My sister moved back to the US but she only sees our parents/goes home one time a year, two at most. That’s the same as me…

I also realized that deciding to leave was also a way of running from problems, which will probably follow me to the US. Like: I hate that my kitchen sink always gets clogged (because there are no built-in garbage disposals here). I hate that my bathroom gets moldy. I hate that my bed is a twin size. I hate that I don’t have a desk for working, just a low kotatsu table to sit at. I hate that my bicycle (cute and purple as it is) is old and rusty and the tires go flat easily and it’s effort to pedal it. I hate how expensive my rent is, and how far (10 minutes) my place is from the station. I hate how my living room doesn’t feel cozy. I hate how hot and humid summers are here. I hate how my shower curtain (and living room curtains) are held up by suspension rods, not actual fixtures, so they fall down sometimes.

All of these things, I was going to fix by leaving – so not really fixing them at all, just avoiding them. I might get to escape my rusty, flat bicycle, but I’d just end up dealing with car insurance and car repair bills again. One problem for another. But what if I stayed and actually tried to fix them? What if, after the summer when I may get to go to a con in LA for work, I look for a new job, one that pays better and is seishain (permanent company employee) status so it has bonuses? What if, after doing that, I move in with one of my friends so we can have a bigger place but save on rent? What if I sell my twin bed and bedding and buy a bigger bed so I can feel like a goddamn adult? What if I get a tall desk and an office chair? What if I get a better bike? What if I accept the mold-growing bathroom (until I bleach the shit out of it periodically with Kabi-Killer) and the lack of garbage disposal as the price of admission – the price I pay to live here with good health insurance, basic safety with low crime and NO guns, and general good quality of life? Plus, a TON of amazing friends I’d be so sad to leave and not get to see regularly anymore? (On that note, Ry and I booked flights and hotels to go to Shanghai over Golden Week! Shanghai Disneyland with one of my favorite Disney buddies, here I come!)

What if I grow up and start acting like an adult instead of whining about not getting what I want?

These changes can’t happen overnight, but they’re something to work towards. It’s better than just running away and thinking starting over will fix everything. I’m not saying I’m going to stay forever, but I no longer feel compelled to leave. It’s nice to have the warning bells in my head go silent. I’m realizing that I actually am comfortable here, and leaving would disrupt my equilibrium. It may not have been the original plan – but what ever is?

You are never gonna get everything you want in this world
First things first, get what you deserve

See the light where the sky meets the sea – it calls me

I know everybody on this island
Seems so happy on this island
Everything is by design

See the light where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
And no one knows how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know
How far I’ll go

I’m recently returned from a visit home to the US for Christmas. I went to Los Angeles and stayed with my relatives there, and then I went to Nebraska where my parents live and spent the holiday with them and my sister. I came back to Japan on New Year’s Eve, and for maybe the first time I strongly did not want to go back. As soon as we landed, my voice disappeared as if in protest. I’ve been back a week now and I’m trying to cling to the feeling that it’s not real, that this isn’t my actual life. It’s just a pretend expat life halfway across the globe from my home country. If it’s not real then somehow that makes it a lot easier to deal with.

Try as I might, I can’t fight the feeling inside that tells me that I do not belong here and I need to pack up and go. If I didn’t feel this way, and if I weren’t increasingly convinced that if I stay here I might as well resign myself to being single forever, then staying is actually not a terrible decision. It’s safe here, I have health insurance, and I have a good job that’s relatively fun most of the time (and crappy a fair portion of the time too thanks to a crazy person who insists on stupid meetings and procedures, let’s be real). There are a lot of reasons why this is a good life and one I’d be crazy to give up for something entirely unknown.

But I just can’t stop thinking about how this isn’t what I intended. I never meant to stay here this long. It was supposed to be in and out. Stay long enough to get fluent enough to attend translation grad school back in the US, then go once I could do that.

And there’s the part of me that’s itching for the next adventure, the next challenge. When I was still living in Dallas, I thought it would be impossible for me to ever live and work in Tokyo. I read blogs like Move Over Godzilla, desperately jealous of her life, which sounded like a wonderful dream to me (and now we’re friends and she’s basically my cat’s godmother). But now that dream is mine, only it doesn’t feel like a dream. It is when I take a step back and look at it objectively. I’m living a life that would make my 14-year-old self just die of envy and anticipation, one she would have never imagined or desired in a million years.

That’s the other thing – just when did I start wanting to go so far away from everything I’d known? When did I start wanting to stay so far away? I get told all the time that I’m so brave, so adventurous, that this person I’m talking to who lives no further than 20 miles from where she grew up could never do what I’ve done. While I was home, I told my relatives of my plans to move back to the US sometime in 2017. “Good,” said my grandpa’s wife, the relief plain in her voice but shocking to me. Is what I’m doing now so aberrant? And then I went to a new dentist’s office to get a cleaning and had to explain to the hygienist that I hadn’t had a cleaning in a year because I live in Japan and don’t like Japanese dentistry or how dental insurance covers visits. Later, I had to explain the same thing to the receptionist, and a lady in the waiting room overheard. All of them looked at me like I’d grown two heads. The simple fact of my life is so outside the bounds of what they could ever consider. When did I start becoming different from the majority of the people who surrounded me in terms of wanting to make a life far from where I’d grown up? I can’t ever remember dreaming of a life outside my hometown.

While I was home, I saw Moana. I loved it and have been listening to the soundtrack – and fighting back tears when some of the lyrics hit a little too close to home. Moana was always told to find happiness in her village and island, not to pursue the feeling she’s always had that there’s something worth exploring beyond the water. For a time, she believes that.

I’ve been standing at the edge of the water
Long as I can remember
Never really knowing why
I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water
No matter how hard I try

She thinks she can be happy without ever venturing out – but realizes she can’t, and that her people were originally voyagers and explorers, and she goes on a journey and comes back with plans to make her people voyagers again.

I have become a voyager, and in a way I am the child of voyagers, who are the children of voyagers themselves. My parents are not from my hometown or my home state. They met in college in a town that was my mother’s hometown but for my father was only another stop along the way for his family. He had grown up in various cities and states, and after he began college his parents and youngest sibling moved again. My parents moved to my hometown because my dad got a job there.

Perhaps because my parents were not from the place where I grew up, I never felt a strong tie to it. I’ve always wished to live in a beautiful place, and that city is not beautiful to me. The one thing that matters to me about my hometown is my friends, who I made in school and who are still my strongest and best friends, and the majority of whom still live in that city. My parents no longer do; two years ago they moved to a city neighboring the town where they originally met (partially by coincidence as that’s where my dad was offered a job, and partially to be closer to family).

Most people don’t do that though, and I’m just realizing that now. Most of my friends live in our hometown and have chosen to raise their families there. They like that it’s familiar, that their parents are close by too, and see nothing wrong with it. I met up with my 2nd grade best friend in LA, who left our town for college and has never moved back (I hadn’t seen her since middle school), and we expressed to each other how amazing it is that we’ve both left – and how what’s even more amazing is how so many have stayed. I guess I just never would have predicted that – didn’t more people realize how boring it is? How ugly it is? Do they just not notice, or is being close to family more important? Again – when did I become so different? Have I always been like this or did it develop over the years? My parents never took me on international trips; we didn’t have the money for that. I never fantasized about living abroad for a long stretch of time. At the end of my two study abroad sessions, I was so happy to return to my country. And yet I’ve become an expat, but it feels like I’ve never been able to truly enjoy it. Or I have for a short stretch before wanting to leave again, and then the cycle repeats. It’s been like that the whole time.

(And if I’m so different, how am I going to fit in with people in the US? I was already an awkward kid who had a hard time making friends, though it finally clicked for me eventually. But even now I don’t have anything to say to hairdressers or dental hygienists – normal people – and it’s gotten even worse now that I live abroad. I can’t expect that to change after moving back. I’ll have experienced something most of them will never know. One nice thing about being an expat is that when you meet other expats, you automatically have more in common with them than you would your countrymen/women. I’ve always felt like I fit in at social gatherings here. This is another thing that makes it tempting to just stay.)

When I wound up living in my home city again after college (for what ended up being four years), I wasn’t happy about it. I had to do it for circumstances related to the person I was dating at the time, who is also from that city and still lives there, but I felt trapped. I definitely wanted out, and saw Japan as my out. But I didn’t see myself moving to Japan and staying there; I saw it as a step along the way on my journey. I worked hard towards my goal of going to Japan, and believed that there was a voice telling me I had to go do this to create the life I wanted for myself. Well, maybe there was.

But now there’s another voice, and it’s telling me to go. Again. But I’m scared, because the US is a scary place now, and I’m not confident I’ll be able to build such a good life there. I can’t just go live with my parents in my hometown because that home doesn’t exist anymore. I can go live with them in Nebraska, but I don’t want to live in Nebraska. If I didn’t fit in with most people in Texas, I certainly don’t fit in with most people in Nebraska. It’s the land of basic white people. So I’ll have to job hunt from afar, which puts me at a disadvantage, even though I’m bilingual in Japanese and have game company experience. I want to wind up on the West Coast but I’m very worried about whether I can land on my feet this time. I should be more confident – I always have so far. I did the impossible and got jobs in Tokyo, after all. But job hunting in the US is a bit different, and it can sometimes take a while. Meanwhile I’ll be in my parents’ basement, which does not have as many windows as I’d like, especially in the bedrooms, and I’m worried I’ll get depressed instead of using my time off to recharge, work on personal projects, and do freelance translation (which I’m also worried I won’t get enough of – there hasn’t been much of it for me lately and the savings I’d gotten from it are getting depleted).

Worried, worried, worried. That’s the theme of thinking about my impending move back. Sometimes I really wish the voice inside me telling me I have to do this wasn’t so strong – I’m not at all convinced it’s truly the right decision. (Did I say voice? It’s more like a blaring siren inside my head every day I’m here telling me THIS IS WRONG, THIS IS WRONG, THIS IS WRONG. It was quiet while I was in the US because it felt right and natural to be here. But I emerged from customs and it was back.) But yes – I don’t think I will meet a good life partner for me here, and I really want that for my life. That’s true. And I miss things like being able to easily check out books from the library, and buy the types of paleo-friendly, eco-friendly food and daily necessities I want from the grocery store – that’s true too. And I’ve suffered from some of the worst depression and anxiety in my life because I was living here, in an inherently (for me) stressful place so far away from my support network, and so many Japanese men have done me wrong, and there’s less sunlight hours in Japan than in the US, and the racist microaggressions… etc etc etc.

I think in a way, this is how I have the next adventure, how I take my next leap. While I’m scared, part of me is excited to tackle the challenge of trying to find work in games in the US, of trying to be able to live on the West Coast. That’s what seems impossible to me now. But so did life in Tokyo, once.

See the light as it shines on the sea
It’s blinding
But no one knows how deep it goes

“I will drink life to the lees”

[Written prior to the election. I have MANY THOUGHTS on that and a lot of worries, which I may get into at a later date.]

Oh my god, I finally have an entirely free weekend with no plans. None!!! FINALLY!!! I don’t know what is wrong with me, but I just keep getting caught in this loop of wanting to stay in but getting a million invitations and turning down only a few and just doing the rest, and while it’s FUN it also means my apartment is a complete shambles because I only come home to sleep and eat dinner.

Some of the things I’ve done in the past couple months:

  • gone to Tokyo Ramen Show with my two coworkers/friends I hang out with all the time NOT to eat ramen (though we did that too) but to see a voice actor from the mobile game I play every day do a talk show and then we got to meet him and talk to him one on one which was actually deeply embarrassing. His face is just so beautiful.
  • trained for and successfully ran my first ever race, a half marathon. The training entailed three physical therapy appointments to teach me how to strengthen leg muscles to avoid knee pain, and tons of exercises and practice runs. I’d never run longer than maybe 12k before (half marathons are 13 miles/21 kilometers). I blame this all on Miss Godzilla, who I ran it with and who encouraged me and our other friends to sign up (I was the only one who registered in time). My only goal for my first race was to make it under the time limit of 3:05 (oh, and not get injured) but I actually finished at 2:28 which is insane, especially considering I had to walk/power walk a lot of the last few kilometers. I ran the Chiba Aqualine half marathon and while it was amazing to run out into Tokyo Bay on a giant highway, the gentle but steady incline there AND back sapped my energy! But that moment when I was running back and checked my phone and saw I’d run 17k–the farthest distance I’d ever run–and felt so much confidence was amazing. After the run we (me, Miss Godzilla, and her husband Matcha-kun) headed straight for a fancy onsen at a fancy hotel, which was just what we needed. There was a lazy river inside the women’s baths…
  • went to Karuizawa in Nagano with two friends, and it was so great with such clear pure air and green forests everywhere. I had to run 15k as training for my half marathon, and my friends are runners too so they ran the first 8k or so with me, and it took us to a waterfall in the middle of a nearby forest. It was magical. Plus we visited a gorgeous, luxurious onsen (Hoshinoya) twice while we were there, and stayed in an amazing renovated yet traditional guesthouse in the woods
  • saw Kimi no Na wa (Your Name) and it blew my damn mind. I can’t get over how amazing this movie is, and how I just want to watch it over and over. It was so, so good. I just wish it would come out in theatres in English-speaking countries so I can make my friends back home go see it, goddammit! I need people to see it! Oh, and the soundtrack by Radwimps is really good too.
  • saw Spitz with my friend who just happened to be visiting from Germany right at the perfect time to go with me! Our seats were about 10 rows from the front and center, so it was great to just feel soaked in wonderful Spitz music, even though a lot of it was stuff from their new album and not my old favorites.
  • went off my meds and pretty quickly felt depression clamp back down on me, which is annoying because depression didn’t even used to be my problem; anxiety was. But it made me feel like “oh, so I can only tolerate life in Japan if I’m on meds. Got it. Yeah, I really need to move back.” I’ve started exercising more since then and the endorphins have been amazing and really helped. I feel like I’m in a pretty good place now, but I still just feel so antsy about my life here all the time. I feel like I can’t settle down, like I need to get out of here. I really wish I didn’t feel like this because it’s basically like I’m living a dream life, but it’s like a constant warning blaring in my head. I’m going to try to move back sometime in 2017.
  • went to Seoul for the second time and stayed with my friend since 5th grade again, and hung out with her cute white Persian and hedgehog. We went to a raccoon cafe!!!
  • logged in to Ensemble Stars every damn day. Yep, that’s still happening. I’m also watching Yuri!!! on ICE which is so good and also very, very gay. It is practically BL.
  • Went to Tsuruoka, Yamagata with a former Yamagata ALT to meet up with other former Yamagata ALTs and watch “Japan’s most moving fireworks.” The fireworks filled the entire sky and were set to music; it was indescribably amazing. We stayed with a friend who has ADORABLE cats.

I’ve realized that I have a lot of friends here. Like, a lot. It’s mainly due to joining a running group soon after moving to Tokyo, and pretty quickly bonding with a bunch of other expats. Each of those people introduced me to other people, who introduced me to other people. Three years later and at this point I am hanging out with friends of friends of friends–and the original friend has left Japan! Not everyone though; a lot are still here and I see them regularly, although many of us don’t run with the group as often as we used to. Aside from those people I have the friends who moved to Tokyo with me from Matsue (Ry and Ty), the people they introduced me to (including Nichome friends who I manage to run into every single time I go, which isn’t even that often anymore. Summer 2013 we were there every weekend), the friends I’ve made through work, and the people I knew from college or study abroad. I also have some freelance translator friends picked up from networking events. I’m really happy with the social network I’ve made for myself here. (Although funny that it’s never led to a SINGLE boyfriend. I’ve had to meet them all through apps or dating sites.)

I also realized that I do a lot of different things here, and while it’s fun it also eats up a lot of my money. Like, going to doujinshi events and buying doujinshi and then going to Ikebukuro and buying more doujinshi and anime/game goods gets expensive. I’m jealous of most fangirls who get to live at home and not pay rent so all their money can go to this stuff. But then I also go out to eat, or go drinking, and that costs money too (in Japan it can get pretty pricey when you’re drinking with a group for some special event like someone’s birthday. Like minimum $35). Or I go somewhere that’s far away, which costs money. And I like going to Tokyo Disney, which is also expensive (I usually only go about 4-5 times a year, but still). Even going running with my group costs money. Joining a gym costs money. Basically, being a nerd who is also active is pretty expensive. Most nerds save money by staying in all the time. I also go out quite a bit, so I don’t save that way.

I’m trying to work on saying no to invitations and having less plans. It’s not like I’m an extrovert; I actually need a lot of alone time. But it’s really hard cutting back. Things sound fun, and I want to go to them. I also feel bad saying no to someone’s birthday thing, for example. And I always think–“What if at this event I will meet someone it’s really important for me to meet? Can I really afford to risk missing a potential amazing opportunity?” Like, not just in terms of love, but in terms of my career as well. I could meet someone who could refer me to amazing work I would love to do. And there’s a part of me that’s like “I will drink life to the lees” and wants to have as many different experiences as possible in the hopes that someday I can turn them into writing (another quote, by my favorite Sylvia Plath, from her journals: “I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life”). Or another part of me thinks: “This is it, this is a choice, an intersection in your life.” And what if based on the choice I make here, a parallel universe forms. Like, maybe in some parallel universe there’s a me who never moved to Japan and is living with the boyfriend she had when she moved, fully satisfied in love (or thinks she is) but still longing for new experiences. Big life choices are always hard for me because there’s so much I think about.

It’s also funny because I’ve changed a lot just living here in Japan. Only 4-5 months after I first moved here, my sister and I went to Thailand from Japan together, but none of the things she wanted to do sounded fun to me (I declined to go ride elephants with her, for example. By the way, this elephant farm has an excellent reputation and it’s basically the only place to consider doing that because it isn’t exploitative to the animals at all). Now, they all sound fun and I’m kicking myself for missing out on them. But we were just at totally different places in our time in Japan; she was nearing the end of hers and I had just arrived and was still terrified of so many things. Living here has made me more adventurous and I’m really glad that happened. It makes me think that taking the plunge to come live here was worth it, even though I lost things along the way.

On a somewhat related note, I get really frustrated when I think about friends back in the US who talk about wanting to travel but never do. “Oh, that place is on my bucket list.” “Oh, I have such bad wanderlust.” But in the past 5-10 years, they haven’t traveled outside the US, or even gone on an extended non-work trip to another US city. The reason they claim is because they can’t afford it. I really think that’s BS for most people who aren’t in serious debt. It is possible to set aside money every month into a travel fund, and also to make a series of decisions based on increasing your income and minimizing your expenses. You can also do what my sister did, and read credit card forums until you know which card to open and how to maximize the benefits and miles from it. She financed her trip to Europe (the airfare, anyway) mainly on credit card miles after reading up on how to game the system. My point is that if you really want something, you will find a way. And if you don’t, you need to stop talking about it like you do because it’s frustrating to hear.

Anyway. Work is still… work. There is still a crazy person as my manager who seems pretty disinclined to consider me for promotion. She knows I want it, so does the other manager (who’s much more on my side, but not usually willing to stand up to her), and they like to tease me with it and exhort me to “remember to act like a leader,” but she continues to try to convince me I don’t really want it and I might not be suited to it anyway. Ugh. I don’t even want it anyway if it’s going to mean her explaining the job to me like I’m 5 years old. If only I could leave, but I need to stay at least until 1.5 years here, ideally until 2.

In the meantime, I’m getting lots of great stories about this girl. She wants to pretend she works at a fancy print publisher and not a nerdy game company (she works with anime style art but hates anime AND anime fans, WHO ARE OUR USERS), so she designed this brochure passed out an anime convention over the summer to look “fashionable, like a magazine.” In the design instructions for the brochure she included the year’s Pantone colors, AS IF THAT MATTERS AT. ALL. The cover of the brochure ended up totally bland and unimpressive (literally two character sprites on a grassy field) when we had a chance to really wow people with a cool, attention-grabbing cover. When Japanese representatives from our company visited the booth, they were horrified and wondered if anyone walking by the booth knew that it was a game company. They had the booth team frantically rework the PowerPoint to make it expressly clear that this booth was for a game. These are the sorts of terrible decisions she makes all the time, and no one stops her. She is a nightmare, and she has made numerous people quit. But it’s Japan and she’s a permanent company employee, so she will never be fired, and I doubt she will ever choose to leave. She’s deluded herself into thinking that she’s crucial to the team and she’s selflessly taking on the mantle of manager when what she really wants to do is creative stuff, but the team needs her so she nobly works as a manager–when the truth is she does the least work out of everyone and all she does is slow us down by insisting on unnecessary meetings and questioning things that aren’t a problem (she loves to police people’s vacation time, for one). Plus, the managers above her are a revolving door of people who don’t care about our team, so no one is around long enough to notice or care, and she basically has free will to do whatever she wants and explain away any mistakes as being not her fault. (Nothing is ever her fault.)

Anyway. I’m trying to just not be bothered by her ridiculousness, stay out of her way (and just nod and agree when I do get caught in her laser beams), and get through my time here for the sake of my resume and future job hunts. The right decision when working with a crazy narcissist like this is absolutely to quit, and that was my instinct once I realized that a month in, but it’s a bit more complicated when you live abroad and need a job to have a visa. (Another reason to move back.) As I’ve said before, my job is amazing except for her. And who knows. Maybe someday I’ll have enough anecdotes to write a David Sedaris-style essay on her.

Work venting (or: why am I not getting promoted?!)

I’m currently really upset/unsettled about a work situation so I’m mostly going to vent about it.

First, a nice positive update. My love life is currently going well. I have a boyfriend! And from the looks of things so far, a very good one. Which I’ve definitely thought and said in the past. So I still feel cautious that this one is going to pull the rug from under me like, unfortunately, a couple have in the past. But… he’s really good. He thinks I’m the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen (this is what he said). He voluntarily met me at the airport when I got back from my trip to the US and then accompanied me to go get my cat from my friend’s place where she had been staying while I was gone, and helped me bring her back to my apartment. This is not an easy task but he did it cheerfully, willfully, and happily. When he asked me out, he did it as we were riding Splash Mountain on a very impromptu (we arrived at 5pm) trip to Tokyo Disneyland, which happened solely because I said I wanted to go and he agreed readily. The one thing I was a bit unsure of about him was his hair, which was getting a little long and he said he actually had no plans to cut it (it’s a minor thing, but hair is a big part of how you look, and I am shallow). I didn’t tell him to cut it, though I did say I prefer shorter hair (and he said he prefers naturally colored hair when I showed him pictures of me with partially dyed blue and pink hair, so I jokingly said that it’s the same for me and short hair, and maybe if he cut his hair I wouldn’t dye mine again) and I had actually made my peace with it because he was making the look work, but when I saw him last weekend I didn’t recognize him because he had cut his hair the way that I had hoped he would cut it. He cut his hair for me… I still can’t believe it. Oh, and of course he looks EVEN CUTER with his hair cut! (Needless to say, I’ll be keeping my end and not dyeing my hair.)

He is Japanese but he went to grad school in London and lived for several years in Bangladesh; he can speak English (accented but fluidly) which means he can understand my English which is a huge relief for me (again, not because I can’t speak Japanese–I can–I just prefer to relax when I’m dating someone and if I’m always thinking and speaking in my second language I can’t relax). Aside from that we have great communication in general and I feel like I can talk to him about anything–not only that but he’s likely to just take it in stride. I had him do his MBTI type and he is ENTP, which is supposedly one of the best matches for my type, INFJ. I have actually never dated an extrovert before. I always get crushes on extroverts (and then we just become friends but never hook up ever), but I have never dated one before now. It’s another big relief because I don’t have to worry about him talking to my friends–he’ll talk to them just fine and in fact be HAPPY and EXCITED to meet new people. And of course, the fact that he speaks English will help if he ever meets my parents. Oh! And he’s already told his parents about me. We’ve been dating a month but when he went back to visit his parents over the Obon holidays he told them about me (this is extremely, extremely rare in Japanese relationships) and they bought me souvenirs which he gave to me. They got me two types of souvenirs from the part of Japan where they live, and his mom got me a clear file with Mt. Fuji on it with summer flowers all around it, which I love.

I’m still just in complete awe over this. He is so great, and I feel really happy and relaxed when I’m with him. When we were on the train bringing my cat home I felt suffused with this feeling of 幸せ; pure happiness.

But so anyway, let’s get down to the real reason I’m here, which is to rant about yet another unfair work situation.

So, okay. Some backstory. In March 2015, I was hitting a low point. I was basically being bullied at my job by my boss and I felt really isolated from my coworkers because many of them didn’t like me. I was dating Shiki but he was getting more and more distant. I was living in a tiny, cockroach-infested apartment that I hated. I wasn’t on my meds so I was on my own with my emotions. Moving back to the US seemed like the best solution to all of my problems. I wrote a long Facebook post about how I’d decided I would be moving back in a year because I was having such a hard time and couldn’t hack it here anymore. I got a lot of sympathy but it also kind of had more of a long-term effect than I had imagined. Basically ever since, whenever I’d meet up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while, they’d mention the post and seem concerned about me. Or I’d be talking with someone and suddenly they’d burst out with “Well, I don’t understand what you’re even still doing there, considering you’re miserable.”

In a nutshell, the post had the effect of convincing the majority of my friends that I was completely miserable and unhappy in Japan (and also, that the longer I stayed, the more some of them–the unkinder ones–judged me for still being there) and I was going to leave any minute. Which was true, at that moment in time. It’s not still true today though. March 2016 has come and gone and I’m still here. I do still have a tentative departure date, maybe, but it’s two years from now.

What happened to change things, really, was that I got a new job, and one that I was really excited about. In the fall, I was talking with two of my friends and one had worked as a freelance translator for a company where one of her old classmates had worked. This company also happened to be the rival company of my current company, so same industry, same genre. At that point in time, I just wanted out from my current company but I wasn’t ready to move back to the US quite yet. Going freelance and then moving back seemed like a pretty good plan, so I asked my friend to put in a good word with me at that company with the person I will call Sena (that’s the nickname my coworkers and I have for her, although she is American).

Then, I was contacted by a recruiter about a full-time position at that company. I jumped on it and interviewed. One of the three people I interviewed with was–Sena! And at that time I assumed she would be my potential future coworker, someone at the same level as me. And I thought I was interviewing for a position in charge of a game. I got the job, and was utterly thrilled and promptly decided I was staying another two years at least because I didn’t want to fuck up my resume which was already looking too much like I was a job hopper. I was so ready to get out of the toxic environment at my old job that I gave up my December bonus of about $5,000 give or take, which I would have gotten if I’d just stuck it out one more month. But I was at my limit and I couldn’t wait that month. Plus, I thought I was moving on to a higher position.

Surprise on my first day then, when I discovered I was actually part of a team for a game under the person in charge of the game, who was Sena at that time. She was my boss! I didn’t anticipate that.

So what I didn’t know until today is that at some point, either when my friend put in a word for me with Sena about freelancing, or during my interview process for a full-time job, Sena asked my friend some questions about me. And in that conversation, my friend (probably thinking of that Facebook post in which I declared I was leaving in a year and sounded miserable) told Sena that I had been thinking of leaving Japan soon and was going through a rough time.

Unbeknownst to me for a long time, Sena took that information and ran with it. At the time I interviewed they were interviewing a lot of people, and Sena would come back to the department and tell everyone–casually, out in the open plan office, not in a meeting–her thoughts and impressions on each of the candidates. This is really unprofessional! Anyway, so what she said about me was that she thought I’d only stay a few months and then I’d be out, that I didn’t seem interested in the company or the job at all. (Then why did you decide to hire me?!) None of this is true because that was never my plan and I took the interviews very, very seriously because, while yes I wanted out of my toxic company, I honestly wanted to work at this company. In fact, I thought the interview I had with her went very well, I thought it was the best interview I’d ever had in my life and that we all left it feeling like we’d bonded. But in reality, she came away with a totally different impression and was thus very dismissive of me before I’d even started.

So, I started, discovered I wasn’t in the director position, had a few meetings with her and HR and our manager about it, and I thought I made it clear to her that I wanted to become director in the future if I couldn’t start as one, if it was a role that I could do. In the meantime, I set out to become a very strong producer, which was my role (not its real name but I’ll call it that). And I did do that, and I am a very strong producer. I have an eye on not just my own things I’m in charge of but the game as a whole, and I spend my own time (sometimes my own free/weekend time) thinking about and coming up with new things to implement in the game and new ways we can make money. I was also given some more translation-oriented tasks to do, because that’s what I did at my last company, though where possible I tried to push my other skills–things that would be necessary if I were to become director. It never really felt like Sena listened to me about that though. Another girl joined the team I was on in February and I would not say she’s a stronger producer than me, though she tries very hard and we do work well together as a team.

So, now the time has come for the new director of the game I’m working on to be chosen, and Sena as the manager (she got promoted along the way) is in charge of the decision.

Did she ask me what I wanted? Did she ask the other girl what she wanted? Did she ask the current director, my boss, who thinks very highly of me and who herself said I was likely to be the next director, for her recommendation?

No.

She decided all on her own, based on her “intuition,” based on her impression of me from back in the interview and back in her conversation with my friend in which my friend said I was unhappy and might be moving back and wanted to go freelance (which I had also told Sena about, though I’m pretty sure I said it was like an in the future type thing), that I was not the right fit for the director position at this time, and she was going to promote my coworker instead. Who started after me. Who was an English teacher before this. Who has a total of 5 months of game industry experience. (At this point I have a bit over two years’ experience.) Who is not the stronger producer, as anyone on our team will agree.

????????????????????????

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So at first I thought, this is because Sena thinks I’m difficult and my coworker is compliant and easy to manage. She wants a yes man. But now, I don’t know. I think her impressions of me as someone who was just going to quit after a few months have done a lot of damage here. That was never my intention, and I thought I made that clear, but obviously I didn’t.

So I talked this over with Sena and the conversation actually went fairly well. I told her that I want to progress my career here, and I intend to stay for at least another two more years and by the end of that time I want to have a strong resume to show to game companies in the US so I can get a good (NOT entry level) position there. She explained that she sees a lot of herself in me, that she thinks I have a great gift for translation that she wants to use to the fullest, that she plans to put me in a different type of role (read: a translation-focused one, which is NOT WHAT I WANT), that she does have leadership plans for me in the future, but that choosing the other girl for this role makes sense for now. When I pressed her as to why her and not me, she said it’s because she wants to put me in charge of new projects in the future. (But I realized there’s a contradiction in what she said, because she also said that she wants to put “experienced directors” in charge of new projects, and I would not be an experienced director at that time.)

So I accepted it for a while and now I’m back to feeling bitter. Because this happened before. This happened at my last company. My friend was hired, everyone loved him, and while I left before this happened, he was promoted (in fact a position was created for him) and even if I’d stayed it would not have been me getting promoted. And I spent so long feeling shitty, like I don’t belong in the workplace, my personality is all wrong for it, I can’t just do what people tell me to do if I think it’s dumb, I talk back sometimes, I’m never going to have professional success as anything more than someone who does an entry level job really well, I’m never going to be promoted again. (I was promoted at my job in the US; twice actually, but neither put me in charge of other people.) And I was trying so hard to prove myself here (I mean, that wasn’t my sole motivation to do a kickass job; I did a kickass job because I enjoyed the work and it came naturally to me to excel at it), and it just feels like it was all for nothing. Arbitrary reasons, feelings, and “intuition” are going to be all that matters. (And this is coming from someone who values intuition a lot, but I also think when you’re making promotion decisions, maybe talk to everyone involved too.)

I’m more convinced than ever that I’m not going to thrive under this crazy person and I should just get out before she does any more damage to my career, but I’ve kicked up a fuss about this and I think everyone agrees by now that the next person to be promoted has to be me. So it would be silly to quit now, and also, I really don’t want to go through the whole job hunting rigmarole again, especially since I told myself this was going to be my last job hunt in Japan.

I did however get a new freelance gig, writing articles for a Japan news site, which is good because the translation work I was doing has pretty much dried up (so it’s good that I saved almost all the money from that).

More whining about dating and love in Japan

(Adapted from a comment I wrote to Mary of Ruby Ronin)

I’ve written about this many times before, but dating here in Tokyo as a non-Japanese woman continues to feel kind of hopeless, which is another reason I frequently think that I want to move back to the US (but cannot seem to decide one way or the other once and for all)–to find a life partner. Even though a “friend” accused me of having yellow fever numerous times, it’s not like I’m thrilled with the prospect of dating Japanese guys. But when you live here, it’s kind of your best chance, and I’m definitely attracted to the cute ones and appreciate their hairlessness. In any case, I have not had great luck with foreign guys here either (for numerous reasons), so there’s no use shutting out 98% of the population. For Japanese men, I try to look for the guys that have been overseas, while not going so far as to find the guys who are fascinated by all things foreign and just want to be wide-eyed around a foreigner, to try to find someone compatible with my American sensibilities, but even that is no guarantee. Shiki, my last ex who ghosted me, spent age 8-18 in the US. And he still had communication and avoidance issues.

The biggest issue is really communication. I believe you should be open and honest in relationships, and try to work out a better way of doing things together whenever there’s an impasse. But it doesn’t work if it’s just me explaining my feelings, and the other person is silent but formulating secret escape plans (Shiki) or refusing to budge at all and continuing to do what I already said I didn’t like (Mitsu – specifically telling me to change various things about my body).

Cheating, while I’m aware it’s rampant here, has not really been an issue I’ve noticed personally. Maybe they were cheating and I never knew, but I tend to go for introverted, shy guys who aren’t the type to be flirting and meeting up with girls. When things were going south with Shiki, acquaintances would tell me he must definitely be cheating, but that just wasn’t his personality. Maybe he was, but I tend to believe he was just mired in work and possible depression/exhaustion. I had a moment of weakness a couple weeks ago and LINE messaged him “Hey, hope you’re doing well.” He responded by creating a new LINE account, which automatically became friends with mine (I don’t think he realizes this happens every time he makes a new account). Of course, he didn’t respond to me, and based on the timing I guess he made the new account in an attempt to avoid me. He clearly still thinks I’m some crazy stalker ex. I don’t deny that I acted that way but he also pulled away the emotional attachment I had gotten used to (typical avoidant attachment style) so I think my reaction is somewhat understandable. I definitely tend to have an anxious attachment style so I just wasn’t a good match with an avoidant person anyway.

In addition to differing attitudes on cheating, there can still be weird attitudes about the sex industry that I don’t think most American guys would have. My ex Mitsu told me about an overseas trip he took (before we were dating) where he and his friends visited a brothel together, and he slept with one of the prostitutes there. He had no remorse, and it almost disgusted me enough to break up with him then. (To clarify, I’m not against the sex industry/prostitution as a whole, but I really doubt the woman he slept with for money in some South American country was doing it because it was a profession she had chosen. It’s more likely she was forced or roped into it, and I hate to hear about male tourists contributing to that situation. And I still don’t understand why he and his friends thought that was an okay thing to do all together while traveling abroad.) It’s still a really weird thing about him, but he never saw it that way. But I’ve heard of tons of similar stories. I heard about the executives at my last company going on sex tourism trips together; I’m sure they were married. Hell, the CEO of my last company allegedly had a sex apartment where he took girls, separate from his house where his wife and kid lived, and he also once brought vibrators to work that he planned on using later that evening and showed them to my old team leader (to be like “Hey bro, check this out, I’m such a stud”). But I think his wife totally knew and just accepted it as the price of her lifestyle. I think a lot of women here do think of it that way and accept that it’s going to happen. People just have a different view on marriage here, it’s more like a business transaction, an agreement to raise a family together as eventual platonic partners, than a romantic connection upheld that way forever. To me, that’s depressing, but that’s often how it is here.

I think it’s possible to find a great Japanese guy (a few of my friends here have) who doesn’t have any of the cheating and emotional unavailability issues, but they are extremely rare. You also often have to catch them early, like in college, before the Japanese society mindset clamps down on them and they turn into someone who would never consider actually committing to a non-Japanese woman.

Unfortunately, my American conviction that healthy relationships involve open communication, and Japanese people’s tendency to be afraid of and run away from (or just think is too rude to even tolerate) openness and directness really clash sometimes. That’s been the biggest issue.

However, I truly am enjoying the single life. For so long, I have spent my life waiting for a response from a guy, checking my phone and feeling disappointed when he hasn’t sent anything. I spent so much of last year obsessing over the demise of my relationship and trying to picture what the hell my ex was going through. It was just a lot of wasted effort. He wasn’t doing the same for me, so why should my life basically end up revolving around him? Once it became unequal, I should have ended it. I learned a good lesson. I am not waiting around for a guy and putting him on a pedestal and obsessing over him anymore. I’m way more important to me than some dude who doesn’t care about me. And relationships–having to factor someone else into your decisions, and make compromises, and hash things out–can be so much work. For once, I’m actually enjoying this time instead of desperately trying to find someone. I really like it.

…Or, well, I was enjoying the single life. Lately, I feel back to desperately checking Pairs (a Japanese dating app) and Okcupid for messages from anyone cute. And I’m feeling increasingly despondent about ever finding someone, even though it’s been my dream ever since I was little to find… well, I know “true love” and “the one” and “soulmate” is bullshit, but can I at least say “the love of my life”? I thought I had found that person, but he’s with someone new now and seems very happy, and we probably weren’t right anyway. I would really like to find my other half, it’s what I’ve been dreaming of almost my entire life, and I hate the thought of living out my life and never finding that person, which sometimes it feels like that’s how it will be. It doesn’t help that literally all of my friends back home are more or less happily paired off and have been for years and years now. I am the only one who had a long-term boyfriend and we aren’t still together today. Ugh, I hate it. I’m sick of looking for my 運命の人 and never finding him. Where is he?

How I ended up in Japan to work and live

Written in May 2012, when I was about to quit my job and go to Japanese school and then Japan:

It’s taken me a long time to figure out what to do with my life career-wise and then how to make that happen. I think I’ve finally worked out what to do and now I have to pursue it. But for a very long time I didn’t know. When I got to college I signed up as a double English and French major, reflecting what I knew to be my strengths and my favorite subjects from school up until that point, literature/writing/reading and foreign languages (and even the latter I’d only realized in high school). But I really had no idea how to turn either of those into a career. I was leaning more towards the foreign language side, though, because that seemed more fun to me and also more unique. I figured many people could work with their native language writing and so on, but it’s a rare ability to be good at foreign languages. I felt I owed it to myself to dedicate more energy to that side. That’s why the summer after sophomore year I wanted to intern at a publisher of translated Japanese comics to work with translating and Japanese, but when I got there I realized my language skills weren’t good enough so I was assigned proofreading and editing work instead. I fell in love with it. I realized I loved working in publishing and this could very well be another career goal for me.

So after that publishing and being an editor seemed like something to try for career-wise, but I was no closer to figuring out how to put my foreign language skills to use too. I had been translating Japanese-to-English (and some Spanish-to-English) as a hobby since sophomore year, so becoming a translator and/or interpreter was sounding like a pretty good dream. The summer before senior year I looked up grad schools with translation programs, and found one in Monterey, CA that sounded amazing. By that point I had decided to focus on Japanese as my language I’d translate from, and I can’t say why it’s my favorite, it just is. It’s the one I enjoy speaking, learning, and working with the most, based purely on its own merits. Plus, it also seemed like focusing on that over French or Spanish would differentiate me more from potential translator/job competition. Anyway, so I requested an application from the grad school, and it included a language test. I looked at what would be required of me as part of that test and I knew that my Japanese level as it was then couldn’t handle it. There would be no way I could expect to be accepted and go straight on to that grad school after college without seriously upping my Japanese, and there was pretty much no way I could do that in one year at school with the resources my college offered.

As senior year drew to a close, I began to get serious about trying to find a job after graduation. I had begun dating my first boyfriend ever (Kirk) that October and, despite being the same age as me, he was planning to transfer to a new university starting the next year to do a different major so he would be in school for a while longer. Because of Kirk and our relationship I decided to limit my job hunt to inside Texas; if not I would have expanded the search to places like California and NYC (especially since I was looking for publishing jobs) and I would have also applied to programs that hire English teachers to work in Japan, like many of my Japanese class peers were doing. In fact, I asked Kirk if he’d be interested in applying to teach English in Japan with me upon his graduation and he told me that he would. That became the plan going forward: I wait for Kirk to graduate and work in Texas in the meantime, then we go teach in Japan and I magically acquire Japanese language skills just from being there, then go to that grad school. That was actually the reason I wanted to do that; I needed to become fluent in Japanese and so it only made sense to go to Japan and work there doing the only job I was qualified for. After that, my plans got a little hazy (“magically” become fluent, etc), but I had hoped it would all work out somehow from there. In the meantime, work in Texas using my English degree while honing my future plans, so I searched for local jobs I could do. Some headhunters called me about Japanese- or French-utilizing jobs a couple times, but once they found out I wasn’t fluent or a native speaker they gave up on me. It just reinforced that I needed to get to a higher level in the language before I could use it professionally.

Originally I wanted to move to Austin after graduation and work there, but 2008 was also right when the economy tanked so there weren’t a lot of jobs in general. (The comics publisher in LA where I’d interned laid off half of its staff shortly after I graduated, so even if I could have moved to LA, that was out too.) I pretty much had to stay where I could live with my parents and job hunt from there; I applied to jobs in other cities but non-local applicants aren’t exactly welcomed. It took me a few months just to get hired in Dallas, as a proofreader, and I was lucky to get that. But it was a temp job and I was laid off with most of the other temps after about six months, and then a few months later I was hired at a book publisher. It was my dream job, it was exactly what I’d been wanting: an editor job, in my hometown, at a book publisher!

I started there in July 2009, considering it both my dream job I’d enjoy to the fullest while I had it and something I’d happily give up when Kirk graduated college and we’d go to Japan together. To that end I applied to the JET program for a July 2010 start date since that was Kirk’s projected graduation time; I applied Nov. 2009 and interviewed Feb. 2010. I was applying for a CIR job (which requires Japanese skills), not as a teacher, but I had said I’d be open to working as a teacher too. Kirk was supposed to apply too (as a teacher of course) but the application is very involved, with multiple letters of recommendation, and he simply didn’t get all his materials together in time. So I applied alone, and we figured that if I got it he would apply with another company and try to get placed near me in Japan. (This is an extremely difficult thing to do even if you’re accepted to the same program; this proposal was very dicey from the start.) This was also my little sister’s senior year and she was applying to the program too. Both of us also took JLPT level 2 in Dec. 2009 (in accordance with me trying to get the coordinator job); she passed and I did not.

In early April 2010 I found out that I had been accepted to the program, as a teacher. Even though it wasn’t what I originally applied for it was still an honor. I then had a big decision to make: go ahead and accept, trusting that Kirk would get his sh-t together on his own and accompany me eventually? Or decline in favor of us applying together later to one program, where we’d have greater chances of getting placed together? I was extremely tempted by the offer because, again, this is the foremost program for this and all throughout college I had heard nothing but how hard it was to get accepted by it. Turning it down was practically unheard of. My sister had also gotten accepted. In the end, however, I said no; I couldn’t handle how sad Kirk sounded when I started talking like I was going to do it. I could see this ripping us apart and me being a world away and he couldn’t manage to get to me.

Instead we decided we would apply together in the fall for a different company, AEON (which had successfully placed a couple friend of mine close together, so we had high hopes it would do it for us too). We had an interview in October all lined up. I should also mention that our whole teach-in-Japan plan was predicated on the assumption that he would have a hard time finding work. Well, he didn’t. He took a digital forensics class senior year, loved it, his professor got him a connection, and he worked at a forensics place in Houston over the summer and gained experience. By the October interview, he had been there several months and was loving the work. He was less eager to give up a burgeoning career to go and do something that would appear pretty random on his resume, and would in no way be constructive to it. But, he also knew I’d been waiting for him and he was willing to follow through on what he’d agreed. We were all set to go to the interview in Austin, but then the night before we ended up deciding to throw out the whole plan. All of it–no more going to Japan together, no more teaching together. I didn’t want to teach, really–it’s just the best way to get there–and I didn’t want him to be miserable and mess up his resume. (He was laid off from that job after a year but was able to find a new digital forensics job in Dallas and move there Aug. 2011. His career is well on its way now, and he still doesn’t want to put it on pause.)

I was also becoming more and more intrigued with the idea of going to Japan to study… not to work. It seemed like the better way to maximize my time there; if I were working full-time I wouldn’t have a whole lot of time and energy left over to study, after all. But if I were a full-time student I could progress faster in a shorter period of time. (Since the new plan entailed me going to Japan alone, this would be good for a long-distance relationship as well; it would mean I didn’t have to be away for so long.) I began researching possible ways to do this around the end of 2010, start of 2011. I found several Japanese language schools to study at, although I had no way of predicting how long I would need to be in the country to make all the progress I needed to. I had wanted to do three months… then it became six… then maybe a full year! But I quickly realized the snafu in my plan: to go abroad to study as opposed to work, you need money upfront. And I wasn’t in school, so I had no access to scholarships or loans (the private language schools don’t offer any funding help). And I didn’t have money, or at least not enough, and I certainly didn’t have it on my dinky [book publisher] salary that hadn’t seen a raise since I was promoted to editor at an already low rate in Oct. 2009. So: find a new, higher-paying job and save up until I DID have enough money to go study. That was task #1. (Task #2: Save as much of the money I earn as possible. This is why I moved back in with my parents April 2011.)

Task #1 succeeded! (Task #2 has also succeeded, though I still don’t have anywhere near enough.) This is why I quit [book publisher] to go work at [wire company] in June 2011. Well, that, and I had gotten extremely burned out (writing every day is draining for me, and there had been not one not two but THREE people who disliked me trash-talking me downstairs over the years). However, increased salary aside, my plan backfired when it turned out I hated the wire company more than [book publisher], and did not get along with my boss at all. I yearned for my old boss at the book publisher and the whole atmosphere of the office there, so when another editor quit and my old boss negotiated me an even higher salary than I had at my new company, I jumped at the chance to come back, and did in Oct. 2011. However, this time for sure I knew there was already an end date in sight.

In spring 2011, while doing all my research on Japanese language schools in Japan, I happened to find out about the IUC program, a 10-month intensive Japanese language program in Yokohama administered by Stanford for American students, that begins every September. I then set my sights on that program as the one that I had to do, and vowed to apply for it in the fall. I also decided to apply for a summer 2012 Japanese language program administered by the college that now owns the grad school with the translation program. (Kirk and I visited that school April 2011, just to make sure I’d love it. I did–and we also had a great vacation!) I figured one year of these two programs and I’d be set for that grad school, or at least I hope so. Both the programs are extremely highly recommended and sort of like Japanese boot camp; by the end of the 10-month program you are prepared to do just about anything you want to with Japanese, including work in a Japanese office or conduct grad school-level research in Japanese. Or have enough mastery of the language to train to be a Japanese-English translator. It’s exactly what I need.

So fall and winter 2011 that’s what I was doing, working on my applications for those programs (gathering letters of reference and so on). The 10-month program included a Japanese ability screening test, which I took in February; I spent Jan. and Feb. studying Japanese every single day for that. I did more to increase my level in those two months than I had in the three years since graduation. It was amazing and I’m still very proud of that accomplishment; I had no idea self-study could be so effective but I’ve learned a new discipline. (The feverish pace stopped after the test, but I still go through a chapter in each of my two grammar books every weekend now, and practice vocabulary every day.) I passed the test and have been accepted into the program. I have also been accepted to the summer program and awarded enough financial aid (grants) to cover half the cost of it.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story. I need funding to be able to do the 10-month program; it is exorbitantly expensive and the majority of those attending it are grad students with access to university funding and grants. I have none of that. I did not receive the one outside grant I was eligible to apply for as a non-grad student. The program is applying on the accepted students’ behalf to a multitude of other scholarships, and I do not yet know if I will receive any of those awards or if I will get enough to cover what I need to. I have been saving as much money as I can, in accordance with my plans, but it won’t be enough, it can only help. There is a very real chance that I won’t be able to do the program for the 2012-2013 year.

However, I am definitely doing the summer 2012 program. I’ve paid for it and purchased plane tickets. It was scary to commit before I knew if the 10-month program was happening but I had to or I would lose my spot. But in the case that lack of funding means I can’t do the 10-month program after this summer, I have a backup plan to get me to Japan in the fall anyway. I still don’t want to teach, but as a backup plan I’ve applied to, interviewed, and received and accepted an offer from a teacher placement program. If I go through with that, I’ll continue to save as much money as I can and re-apply to everything for the 2013-2014 year, hoping to get enough funding the second time around. I’m pretty much going to keep trying until I can do this; I feel a strong conviction that this is what I need to be doing with my life to best put to use the skills and talents I’ve been given. To do otherwise would be a waste.

As for Kirk… we will be long-distance during that time. It will suck, but he’s known forever that this is on my horizon, and we feel our foundation is very strong and we can handle this. He will also visit me halfway through my time in Japan. This is, by the way, why we’re not living together or engaged like other couples together this long might be. Well, that, and both of us just don’t feel ready to settle down quite yet. Both of us like our space and our independence and we’re not ready to merge yet.

Then, after the programs, after my Japanese is as good as it’s going to be, get an MA in translation with a focus on Japanese to English, and then look for a job as a translator. Will I really get a job after all this time, money, and effort… I have reason to believe, yes. Everything I’m doing is pretty much the best in the field. The programs are top-notch, the grad school is the best for this (there are companies that recruit exclusively from that school, and the professors and admin staff have amazing connections), and it’s all just going to be exactly what I need to do to launch me on a career as a translator. I talked to a recent grad of the school who also did both those programs and he’s employed; so is his girlfriend who graduated from the school too. Maybe Kirk will get a job in Silicon Valley and join me in Monterey while I get my MA; maybe we’ll stay in California or move somewhere else together after that (I’ll try to go freelance). It’s all sort of far off; all I know is that I have a feeling it’s all going to work out.

I mean, maybe. This is all really scary, especially the part where I don’t know exactly what I’m doing in the fall but I’m still quitting my job and spending some of my carefully saved-up money to go away for the summer and do a program. I still don’t know all the facts, I don’t know when exactly I’m leaving for Japan or where I’m going within it. I don’t have many details that people would want to know, and I’m basically taking a huge, giant leap of faith here and trusting I will land all right and I won’t end up broke and unemployed with no prospects. Um, fingers crossed.

So, four years later… what happened? I still achieved my dreams, just not in the way I thought I would, and I lost that boyfriend along the way (which I don’t regret in hindsight because we had other issues, but it’s still a little sad thinking about how I planned so carefully trying not to let me pursuing my dreams tear us apart, but in the end it did anyway). I’m still living in Japan, I didn’t get any funding from the 10-month program which was devastating at the time, I ended up working as a teacher to begin with and then moved into other work as soon as I could, I loved that summer program, I never went to MIIS (it’s just too expensive and I don’t need it), I passed JLPT N1, and I’m working both freelance and full-time in game translation and localization. And I’m single. Hah…

Toxic workplaces and bosses in Japan

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, and I think I finally have enough distance from the situation to do so. I mentioned briefly in this post how bad things had gotten at my last job (which I quit in November 2015 after working there a year and 9 months). I really don’t even know where to begin chronicling those experiences. They’re all so bad.

Basically, when I started working at this company, I was absolutely thrilled. It seemed like the best place in the world. I was working AT A GAME COMPANY, ON GAMES, and I was translating every day. The other people on my team seemed nice (operative word: seemed) and I had an incredibly charismatic team leader that I quickly developed a gigantic crush on (I mentioned him in the other post). I loved going to work every day and seeing him.

That fun time lasted… about 5-6 months. When I first started, I had been trained by the other full-time translator on my team, a really sweet fellow American girl. Everyone on our team was Japanese, and they adored her. After 5 months, she dropped the bomb that she was quitting to work freelance for our company, and had been planning to do so for a long time now. I was upset because I didn’t feel like she had taught me enough yet, and I was going to miss her a lot. I had tried to emulate her example in everything I did, but there were some things she was just naturally better at (like gently explaining her translation decisions to the Japanese staff members who had an intermediate knowledge of English but not enough to fully grasp our native-level translations, so they would question them) and that I struggled with. I was worried about her leaving.

At the same time, I found out that we supposedly had another team leader for this team who had been out on maternity leave since before I started but who was coming back at the end of the summer, and she and my other team leader were going to rule together, essentially. Also, the manager for the team who oversaw everything was also quitting, and until they found a replacement for him, an even higher-up manager was going to be overseeing our team part-time.

A lot of changes. This is pretty standard for this industry…

Anyway, I was optimistic about everything because it had all been so great up until that point, but that was basically the beginning of the end. The woman who came back from maternity leave turned out to be pure evil. I sensed this immediately, and only now has everyone else on my old team realized that she is a terrible manager. She is 90% of the reason I quit, and at least three other people have quit because of her as well since then. I’m sure many more want to quit but don’t have the opportunity yet.

Why is she so bad? Well, at one of our first morning meetings that we did every day that she attended, we were going around the circle saying our plans for the day. There were two levels of employees in our team, assistants and full members. Only the members say their plans, that’s how it’s been forever. So the assistants were silent and she said “Why aren’t the assistants saying their plans?” and she was told because they don’t, and she immediately said “Why not?”

I mean… that sort of aggression is just really surprising, especially from a Japanese woman. I thought she would spend her first couple weeks here observing, adjusting, and only then start making changes. Nope. She wanted to make changes from day 1, without even observing how things were working first. I had been working with my main team leader to hire a very skilled individual freelance proofreader, and had gotten pretty far in the plans, but once she got there that plan was completely canceled because she didn’t want proofreading to be done by freelancers. It was incredibly frustrating. She also canceled or slowly phased out other improvements I had been working on with him (namely, getting the Japanese team to be better about letting the translators check completed images, because often there would be typos because the images had been made by Japanese designers. But the Japanese team considered that a waste of time and balked at adding the extra checking step).

I met with her several times and talked with her about my frustrations and about what I wanted. She seemed to listen, but would then do whatever she wanted to do anyway.

One of the things she instituted that I absolutely hated was the rates for our freelance translators. Namely, she lowered them to cut costs. And our rates were already low by industry standards. I thought this was such a slap in the face to our hardworking freelancers. So before she changed this, the rates were 2.8 yen/character (lowest) to 4.5 yen/character (highest). Even 4.5 is just barely the low end of industry standard, but it’s pretty good, especially considering the amount of characters in these stories. You can easily make thousands of dollars a month. The only people getting the 4.5 rate were the girls who had quit the company to go freelance, and they were acknowledged to be our best translators. There was nothing wrong with the quality of their work. Well, she decided that the new maximum would be 4 yen/character, so these two were going to have their rates lowered to that. Unbelievable. I still don’t abide by this at all. They work so hard and this is the thanks they get?? And then she lowered the lowest rate to 2.3 yen/character, which is abysmally low. Part of my job was to find and audition new freelancers, but after she did that I couldn’t get anyone to agree to work for that. And the people that WOULD work for that were terrible! (By and large. Fortunately, there were exceptions, but then I would just feel bad for those people for working for so little!) And trying to get good translators raises was absolutely impossible. It was so frustrating and I hated feeling like we were deceiving people. I really disliked that part of the job.

Then a replacement translator for the team was hired. It was my friend Ry I had known since I first moved to Japan to work; I had recommended him and he had gotten the job. Everyone was thrilled. It should have been great, but… it quickly became obvious that everyone preferred him to me. I mean, I get it. They’re all Japanese women, and of course they’re going to prefer a white gay guy to a white woman. I see it. But it still stung, because I was really trying my absolute hardest, but it was like nothing I did was going to be good enough.

The problems were also compounded by another girl on the team who decided she didn’t like me. She had initially been hired to do planning work, but it was too stressful for her and she wanted to do something else. I had been pushing that we do our proofreading in-house (by me) and stop using this terrible third-party company we had been using up until that point, so they seized on that and decided to make her the official in-house proofreader and have me train her, because I had lots of proofreading experience. So I did, or tried to, but it was soon obvious that she didn’t have the right skill set, or shall we say English knowledge. She’s a returnee who’s lived abroad many many years, went to international school, and can speak English at a native level fluency, but that’s not enough to be a good proofreader. You also need to be a good reader and have a wide vocabulary and knowledge of idioms. She didn’t have that knowledge and would mark things as wrong that weren’t wrong; she just hadn’t understood the idiom. I tried really hard to work with her and recommended a number of things she could do to improve (like start reading a lot more books in English; she said she didn’t have time) but she wasn’t improving at all.

I talked to several higher-ups on the team about it, and told my new team leader when she came back about the situation, but almost everyone felt more sympathetic towards her than me. I wasn’t being harsh, like “You need to fire her, she’s terrible,” I was just frankly expressing my concerns. I think that got back to her and she developed a bitterness towards me. She’s very prideful about her English ability, and she didn’t like that I was implying it needs any work.

I think the reason the higher-ups didn’t care is a part of Japanese work culture, which is not about matching people’s abilities to their jobs. It’s about taking the stance that everyone has the same basic skill set, no more or no less, no one’s more talented than anyone else, and from that point on it’s all up to your hard work to determine how you’ll excel. So it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t have the right skill set for a certain type of job; if they just work hard enough at it, they’ll be able to do it eventually, and until then we should support them and be patient.

As an American, I find this philosophy complete CRAP. The most qualified person for a job based on talent and experience should be hired for it. Jobs shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all type thing where you hire people for departments, not specific positions on that team. But in Japan they love to shuffle people around every few years, moving people (especially people hired right after graduation) from the game development team to the PR team to the marketing team and so on. It’s ludicrous. If you want the best product, put the people best suited to it on that team–not just ANYONE and tell them if they work hard enough they can do it. What if they have no interest in that type of work and they quit? What if they’re not good at it and the product suffers? I just do not understand Japan on this one.

Anyway, so naturally, this girl took to my friend, the new translator, right from the start. So for the translators’ team it was me, him, and her. And she hated me, and wouldn’t speak to me unless she absolutely had to (she went to crazy lengths never to speak to me, like waiting until I’d left my desk for a minute to put a souvenir gift she was handing out to everyone on it so she wouldn’t have to speak to me, or chatting it up with everyone else as she delivered souvenirs and then saying one perfunctory word to me and moving off immediately. It was so obvious and childish!). But she loved him and always went to him for help, even if I was the better person to ask. And then there was my new team leader, who was quickly (too quickly–they had planned it all along) promoted to manager to replace the one who had quit over the summer, and once she became manager of the whole department things just went completely to hell. That was in January of last year, and I spent the entire time from then until November when I could finally quit being more or less absolutely miserable. It felt like everyone on the team was only barely tolerating me, even though I was putting out an extremely high-quality output of work every day and working very hard, and I spent several lunchtimes crying in the bathroom. It wasn’t a good time, at all.

I also had several long conversations with this manager in which I cried. It wasn’t pretty. Almost every time we went behind closed doors to have what ended up being a 1-2 hour conversation, I started crying. And it didn’t phase her at all. I think it made her think of me as weak. She told me I needed to be more 冷静 (calm, unemotional). She said this as she was doing the exact things that were making me emotional, like not listening to me when I said I couldn’t handle all the work she was giving me and not letting me negotiate my deadlines at all. Basically, another member would decide my deadlines and the amount of work I would do, and I couldn’t change it at all. If I tried to say “Actually, that’s going to overload my week, can we adjust it?” they would act like I was the most irresponsible, unprofessional person in the world. It made for a lot of really awkward translation team meetings where the girl who hated me would just sit there smugly. I found out later that she also asked to have her workload adjusted, and it was granted no questions asked. It was reduced to the point that she is now barely doing any work, and working at a snail’s pace with noticeable mistakes when she does, and the other team members are having to pick up the slack. Yet when I asked, I was treated with the ultimate contempt. I was told that I have 40 hours of overwork included in my pay, and if I haven’t used them up, then I can’t ask to have deadlines or workload adjusted. When I told the amount of characters I was translating per week to my future coworkers at my interview for my current job, they couldn’t believe how much I had been doing. But I never had a choice. I was forced to do it and I was not allowed to say no or they made me feel terrible. I tried so hard to please them so they wouldn’t make me feel like that, to just shut up and say yes and do what they said, but it didn’t help. She just found a new angle to criticize me from. Nothing I did was good enough.

I made a lot of mistakes, definitely. I spoke too critically to Japanese members of the team about how they were letting English typos and mistakes slip through the cracks on in-game images, which quickly incurred their wrath. I stupidly contacted a fan on Tumblr anonymously but said I was an employee of my company (my manager found out and was livid. That was the day she lost complete trust in me). I didn’t turn in a couple translations on time (though I had warned them I wasn’t going to because it was more work than I realized it would be), although I made every deadline since that point because they warned me so harshly after that. I went to a celebratory party held the night of a day I had called in sick (though I only sipped ginger ale, and just went because I really wanted to celebrate the woman whose honor it was being held for), and was warned not once but twice that I shouldn’t have done that. I was also told off once for using my internet browser to access 8tracks so I could listen to music to focus on my work (because that’s using company resources for something not work related. Ridiculous!).

But I did so many things right and just wasn’t appreciated for it. I actually cared about the games and the characters and just wanted to make a good product. I caught so many English mistakes and turned in good, accurate translations that fans liked. I came up with a lot of new systems and ways to improve workflow and the team (well, I had to–one thing about this job was that we all had to make a presentation every month, one PowerPoint slide, and give a 60-second presentation on it in front of the group. In Japanese, of course. I hated that). My first six-month performance review, with my first manager, went really well. My first team leader loved me, and still thinks I’m great. It was only when my manager took over that my reputation started to really suffer, though my work hadn’t changed at all. Also, because I was translating for games that members of our San Francisco team were in charge of, sometimes they would look over my translations too, and because they’re extremely picky, they had a lot of critical comments, which they shared with my manager and she took them as bible truth, barely letting me defend myself, and certainly not believing anything I said to defend my translations. None of the other translators were subject to that; if they were, they would have been criticized too, I know it. But because it was just me, that only made me appear more incompetent to her. (I stand by my translations. They were great, and accurate, and true to the feel of those games.)

But at my last performance review, right before I quit, my manager told me that because the sales goal for the game I proofread the texts for hadn’t been met, she was going to reduce my salary. I wasn’t in charge of sales. I had nothing to do with sales. All I did was catch every English mistake I possibly could in the scripts. That was the extent of my power. And yet, because the sales goal hadn’t been met, she was going to punish me. It was so petty. I wanted to quit right then, but I had to wait a few more days.

Then when I did quit, my manager and another woman whispered and gossiped about where I was going next, and if it was our rival company, that wasn’t legal and they could sue me. Actually, no, they couldn’t. I specifically asked HR when they gave me 50,000 yen as a sort of non-compete bribe when I quit if it was okay if I went to a rival game company. They said it was, as long as I didn’t spread specific information I’d acquired at this company. I just can’t believe my manager was all too ready to try to harm me, after she’d made me miserable in the first place and had to have known it.

And I could point fingers at other members of my team and say what I did was no worse than what they did (one girl regularly yelled, actually YELLED at another member). But I do want to take responsibility for my mistakes. I just think my manager was never sympathetic enough towards me. I was basically the first person hired for this department to translate full-time. The girls that had been there before me had both started as game planners and had transitioned to translating more and more. I’ve also realized since leaving this company that the whole company environment there is very toxic and cliquey. Everyone seems to have their own agenda, and if you fit into it they’re nice to you and invite you to things, and if you don’t they completely ignore you (and you have to see their posts on social media about hanging out with just each other, the Japanese girls only group). Looking back I realize how snobby and cliqueish the Japanese girls on my team, and others, were.

It’s not to say I didn’t make good friends there, including with Japanese girls in my department and in others. I did. But it wasn’t enough when the majority of them didn’t seem to like me at all or respect my hard work.

It’s been very hard for me to separate out how much of what happened was me, and how much was them. But now that I’m in a new environment which is so, SO much less toxic, where people are actually friendly and seem to mean it, where my coworkers actually like me and think I do a good job, and where I seem poised for promotion in the next several months, I’m realizing it has to be largely them. (I should also mention that my last team was primarily Japanese, and the Japanese people’s opinions were the ones that counted–even though it was the English localization team. At my new company, it’s the exact same industry but the English localization team is actually made up primarily of, you know, English speakers. So the majority of my coworkers are Americans, plus one super cool returnee Japanese guy and one Korean girl who’s also amazingly chill. It definitely makes a huge difference in the work environment, but even in the all-Japanese teams at my new company, which I work pretty closely with as well, I see that difference in the environment too. It was just so toxic there, and it’s really and truly friendly here.) Not shockingly, other people have quit because of this manager too, and Ry says everyone on the team hates her and wants out now. Yeah, I can’t say I’m surprised at all. I’m just glad I’m out. I took a week to attempt to unwind in Bali after I ended up quitting earlier than expected because I couldn’t take her a second longer (giving up my December bonus of about $5,000 to do so). That’s a story for another post…

Fortunately, Ry and I’s friendship didn’t suffer at all as a result of the team turning on me but adoring him (my manager loves him so much she even promoted him–if I’d stayed he would have been my boss!), and we still get together for lunch at least once a month, and drinks on the weekends sometimes too, and trade gossip. As for my old team leader I had a crush on, we talk on LINE every once in a while and I got to see him last month for lunch while he was back in Japan briefly.

There are some issues with my new job, specifically one very high maintenance person, but overall it’s really, really good. I also don’t do translation full-time anymore; I’m doing more general localized game planning type work. It’s really fun and every day is different and interesting. My coworkers are almost all otaku nerds and we giggle about silly fandom stuff every day. We are also all super into the Japanese boy idol game Ensemble Stars and we discuss it every day. It’s like when I would go in to high school to join my friends before class every morning, I love it.