“Let me die still loving and so, never die.”

(The title of this post probably sounds a bit morbid, but it’s more trying to describe how I feel lately. It probably sounds so silly, but every day I feel all this love towards my favorite characters in the games I’m playing, and towards my friends that I talk to every day about fan stuff and other things, and towards my family I get to see next month, and I’m just really enjoying having a mindset of “I love this” instead of “I hate/don’t like this.” The quote in the title is from the play Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman–an amazing, amazing play I was lucky enough to see live once–and it really resonates with what I’m feeling lately. I want this love to go on and on.)

Oh man, was my last post really in February? Yikes.

I think I still feel the same way as I did in that post. I haven’t been seized with a burning urge to move back to the US again. I still feel like I’ve gotten too deep into the fangirl life to want to leave–everything is here, after all! And the next Ensemble Stars play is happening, and it’s centered around an event for my favorite group, so my BOY is there, he’s been cast and he’s adorable… and I’m trying so hard to get tickets but I might not be able to because it’s insanely competitive and it’s killing me. Please please please let a miracle happen and I can go see it live. PLEASE.

So I’ve mentioned many times before that there is a very narcissistic, self-important, hypocritical American girl as a manager on my team at work, known here as Sena. She apparently never approved of me from the start, thought I’d quit within 3-6 months, doubted my ability to do the job, deliberately didn’t consider me for promotion, has treated me with condescension, and refuses to believe that my previous experience at our biggest competitor is worth anything at this company. Basically, this means that no matter how hard I try on this team, I’m limited because of her. She’s also a huge stickler for the most inane of rules and will butter up HR to get them on her side before informing me that I must do something or other, without understanding my circumstances. It just makes me want to run screaming away, not to “try to do better” and comply with her wishes.

What I never understand, by the way, is why managers don’t think more about trying to retain good people. I feel like we’ve been searching for new people for this team for months and months now, and we’ve only hired two, and one had to quit after the first day because of unexpected personal circumstances, so we were already short-staffed even before I quit (spoiler alert, this post is about me quitting my job). Why? Because finding someone with the skills required to do this job (native English level + business level Japanese), who is willing to work for fairly low salary comparatively speaking, is actually pretty difficult. And I can not only translate (saving the company TONS of money) but do actual game planning work too. So you’d think they’d want to keep the people they have instead of forcing them out and/or judging them too harshly from the start (she has complaints about almost all of the applicants, including “no game industry experience”–which she also didn’t have before starting here, but I did, and she considers it worthless). But no, she’s forced out about four people already. Four! And I’ll be the fifth.

The irony is that I was going to get promoted. Finally! But it happened in a really demoralizing way. I was calling into a meeting with the two managers, including her, and the director of my game (you know, the one who has much less experience and ability to pay attention to details and was promoted over me basically because Sena wanted someone who would obey her). I was told that the director of my game would be moving to a new game in several months and when that happened, I would be made the director of my current game and a new person would come in to work under me. But I also received about four warnings for things I needed to be conscious of or fix about myself (be calmer at work, etc).

It felt like they weren’t choosing me as the best person for the role (in fact, they already chose someone else over me once!), they just had no choice so they were going to promote me, but they had a lot of doubts about me, and I was going to have to work really hard to overcome them. They were going to work with me and support me, but I’d have to work hard. Great, I feel awesome knowing you guys have so much confidence in me that you’re promoting me just because you don’t have a better option but you’d really rather not, clearly. I also really think a lot of the “concerns” about me have been blown out of proportion by Sena, but that wasn’t the time to argue them, so I didn’t say anything. But I hate how she’s poisoned people against me when she doesn’t even have all the facts and a lot of her conclusions are based on mistaken assumptions.

Then another person quit–my friend, someone who had been bullied and demoralized on a daily basis by this terrible manager girl for months. She finally moved to another department and had a different boss, though was still sitting with us and working with us, but it didn’t end. Sena still found ways to call my friend’s skills and abilities into question in the most condescending and humiliating of ways. The thing is, she doesn’t see that as what she’s doing. She thinks she’s just pursuing quality and correctness. She doesn’t understand that she’s trampling on people and demoralizing them in the process.

When the other manager, a Japanese guy who went to high school in the US and is fairly Americanized (ish), heard that Sena was the reason my friend was quitting, he finally took us seriously about this issue. He alerted his manager, a Japanese man, and both of them held separate one-on-one meetings with each of us about Sena. The Japanese higher manager laid out a new team hierarchy, where she would be demoted from manager, no longer in charge of our time sheets or checking in on our progress or anything like that, and she would instead do a purely translation/proofreading type role. Honestly, she’s been responsible for so many people quitting and other serious issues that if this were the US, she would have been let go, but because of the category of employee she is (and we’re not, by the way), she can’t be fired, so another place had to be found.

Well, that all sounded great, and what with the promotion, I thought I could hold on a while longer. But… in the end, I couldn’t. While Sena was definitely demoted in terms of she doesn’t manage our timesheets or meet with us one-on-one to discuss our work anymore, she managed to finagle herself an equally fancy new role on the team, a “Project Manager” who works with our engineers on rolling out new features. She’s definitely not the in-house translator the Japanese manager first envisioned she would be. Honestly, I don’t know what she really does all day, but it pisses me off that she gets away with this. It seems like she has so much free time she’s able to notice small mistakes very easily, and then she treats them like huge problems and calls all of us into meetings so we know how very wrong we were to do what we did and how we should have consulted with her or someone else first before deciding. (Of course, she makes decisions herself all the time that could and have backfired in the same way, but handwaves any concerns away and refuses to take responsibility if something blows up in her face.)

So our other manager is now the one who deals with us personally and has one-on-one meetings, but the last one I had with him is the one where I decided I had to quit because I didn’t feel supported by him. While he’d been sympathetic and concerned about the Sena situation when my friend first quit, it was obvious that Sena had gotten him back on her side again (the meeting occurred, coincidentally, right after they had lunch together) and when I tried to bring up concerns with her, all he said was “We all have to do things we don’t like as part of our jobs.” Excuse me?! No, in fact, we don’t. We can quit. And if you don’t care about me quitting, which apparently you don’t, then I’m going to. I don’t get paid enough and this company will never make me a permanent employee anyway.

There was also the fact that since April, I’d been experiencing physical symptoms of stress. It took me a while to figure out that’s what it was, because I didn’t think I felt stressed, but over time the symptoms got so bad I couldn’t ignore them. Basically, I woke up every morning with my neck feeling stiff and in pain. I switched pillows, saw a physiotherapist, had a deep tissue massage (which helped for one day), but none of it helped. It’s gotten a little better lately, but it took a while. The other thing is that I lost my appetite. I’d be sitting at lunch with my friend/coworker and I’d eat about a third of my food and then I wouldn’t be able to eat the rest. Or I wouldn’t feel hungry at all so I would go nap during lunch and not eat anything. Around 4 or 5pm I’d get hungry and eat something random. Naturally, I lost weight despite not really exercising or anything. It’s both a good and a bad thing because I like being skinny and I fit into my clothes better, but I know it’s not healthy. My appetite has come back somewhat, though I’ve realized that just being in the office–and sitting only two desks away from Sena and she’s always in my peripheral vision–stresses me out, and my appetite goes down again.

I finally realized that unless I quit this job, it was all going to continue. And it wouldn’t get better once I was promoted, it would get worse. I’d probably have to work even closer with Sena because she insists on still being very involved in the game I work on, I know she considers it her baby. She’d probably be the one to train me in the role, and I knew I just couldn’t handle that. Plus, the added responsibility and tasks of taking on that role sounded stressful too and also, just frankly not what I wanted to do with my career. Numbers… bleh.

So, even though I thought I’d never job hunt in Japan again and had even moved my interview suit to my parents’ house so I didn’t even have a blazer here with me, I started job hunting. I got a lot of interest almost immediately, because I have the skills that make you extremely marketable in Tokyo (native English speaker + high Japanese ability). I actually had to cancel several initial phone interviews with recruiters because things started moving so fast on other fronts. Within a week or so I had three interviews scheduled at three different game companies (including one very famous one). One of them turned out to be at the company where my friend who quit (and caused Sena’s “demotion”) had gone to, for a position in a sister department to the one she was in. She put in a good word for me with the hiring manager and I had an interview with him and really liked the sound of the job. It was definitely my top choice. The type of job also wasn’t localization, but PR type work, so I was going to get to try out a new type of job that maybe utilized a lot more of my skills and experience, plus get to be involved in cool stuff like events (and… maybe meet voice actors…). The other two interviews I wasn’t as excited about, even the one at Famous Game Company, and while they went well enough, one didn’t think I was a good “culture fit” and the whole atmosphere at Famous Game Company freaked me out (it was reminiscent of that one episode of Black Mirror), plus they didn’t even let me ask any questions! They just quizzed me for 20 minutes and then everyone left the room! In the end, I got a second interview but was super shocked that I’d advanced.

Then it was time to go with my company–everyone on my team EXCEPT Sena, thank the lord–to a big anime convention in LA. I’d been wanting to go with either this company or my previous one for about three years at this point, so it was like a dream come true, although in the end it was so much hard work. We were there for about a week, and on one night before it began I was able to have dinner with my relatives, but the rest of the time was work work work. We were worried beforehand that our booth wouldn’t be popular, but we shouldn’t have worried because it was actually crazy popular and full of people all day long, especially when we did our special event with our cosplayer (also my manager). He got so many new fans… it was ridiculous. But we also got to talk to a lot of fans and I became friends with some of them on social media. And during lunch break, my friend/coworker and I started talking to cosplayers for Ensemble Stars and we had so much fun talking to them and became friends on twitter with them too. It was great! Plus, Aro (my best friend since middle school who stayed with me for a few weeks last year, and then for 2.5 months this spring) was there as well as an artist, so we spent some time visiting his table as well and I got to hang out with him after the con and stuff. Which was great!

An old coworker from my last company also stopped by the booth (he was totally scoping it out and spying on it to report back to other people), scaring the shit out of me because I didn’t recognize him at first (his hair and clothes were totally different), and then on the last day while walking around artist’s alley with my friend/coworker during our lunch break, we spotted the one person we both happen to know, though she knows both of us separately! For me, she was an editor I worked with when I was an intern at TOKYOPOP, and for my friend, she was her upperclassman at their college and they also have an editor-and-mangaka-contest-winner TOKYOPOP connection as well. Both of us knew that we both knew her, but she didn’t know we knew each other, so she was probably really surprised to see us! We were rushing back to our booth, but we told her to stop by, and towards the end of the day she showed up and chatted with us for about an hour! It was amazing! We all got caught up on so much and she seemed super impressed with both of us and our careers. Yay!

But it was just so exhausting every day, hahaha. A lot of nights I’d come back to my hotel room and just crawl into bed–the first day was the worst because I wasn’t used to it. It had been 10 years since I’d worked a booth with a company (and also, incidentally, 10 years since the last time I attended this convention, though that time was as a fan), and that time I would also get drunk every night afterwards! Oh man, I must have been so young then, hahaha. Overall it was a lot of fun and a great experience, and we got to eat some delicious food (paid for with our company per diem!), and I think a good bonding experience for our team, but also so much work!

But yeah, then I came back and had a second interview with my top choice, which went really well (it quickly became apparent that they were super into the idea of hiring me), and later that day I heard back from my recruiter that they wanted to make me an offer! (I heard later from my friend who works there that I beat out 20 applicants they were considering, including a former coworker who quit my current place a bit too hastily. I’m so happy that for the first time in maybe forever, I wasn’t hired as one of a batch of people, I was chosen over everyone else as the sole person for the job and no one else will be starting with me. It feels really good!) So I went in and signed the paperwork and then I was able to quit with my current place. My last day is Friday! My new company is actually pretty well-known for the games it makes, more than my current one, so I’m excited to work at a place that’s a bit more high-profile! I don’t start my new job until September 1 so I have almost all of August off and will be spending two weeks of it in the US. I have a huge translation project to work on, so it’s perfect timing–well, I was hoping it would work out this way so I could do this, and I’m so glad it did. There’s more to tell but it will have to wait for another post…

Overall, I’m feeling very happy lately. I’m not on any meds but I can still feel lots of serotonin coursing through me (you can tell when that is when you go on meds–you start to be able to recognize the sensation), which is probably because I’m having a ton of fun playing these dumb games on my phone every day with dumb boys I love and freaking out over them with my friends. Every single day, that is my life lately. And it’s ridiculous, I know, but it’s making me really happy! I’m having absolutely zero success with my love life (well–not zero, but I’m not getting a boyfriend anytime soon) but I’m trying not to let it bother me and just enjoy this silly, fun life I have right now.

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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).

Tracy Slater’s The Good Shufu review: irritating misinformation, but nails the expat conundrum

I’ve been wanting to read Tracy Slater’s debut book and memoir The Good Shufu for a long time, but it’s my policy not to purchase a book I’ve never read by an author I don’t know, so I wasn’t able to for a while. Then I had my sister get me the ebook for Christmas and quickly devoured it. I’d been following the author’s blog for a while (after finding it through other AMWF blogs), and had grown very curious to know how she and her husband met and the details about their relationship (which the author shrewdly–but irritatingly–doesn’t share online, so as to promote interest in the book). I honestly thought I would love this book, as another American feminist expat in Japan who has dated Japanese men. Unfortunately… I found more that was irritating in it than things I loved. It’s probably the worst memoir I’ve ever read, and I like memoirs. Generally reading about other people’s lives is fascinating to me. And while the writing is very, very good and is basically the saving grace of this book, I have to agree with this A.V. Club review: “The Good Shufu promises an examination of how marriages fare in a culture clash, but it only delivers a faint echo of the marriage, little of the culture, and none of the clash.”

While her husband Toru emerged as charming and I could see why she fell in love with him, unfortunately the author came off as annoyingly obsessive. So many of the things she detailed just made me think “I would not like this person, and she is kinda crazy.” It was strange how much she pushed for Toru to be a part of her social life despite the fact that he didn’t really want that and wasn’t suited for it, although I can’t say I haven’t been guilty of the exact same thing myself. One of the first signs that things were going downhill with Shiki [my Japanese returnee ex I dated for 6 months] was back in February when I told him that I wanted him to join me and a few friends, most native Japanese speakers, for dinner the next weekend. He hummed noncommittally and I tried to get across that it was important to me that he come–I’d been telling my friends about this guy and wanted them to meet him, and it was only going to be three other people. I assumed he understood that it was a plan. But on the day of, he was unreachable until after the dinner was over. I found out that he’d been at work (the dinner was a Saturday night) and hadn’t thought to contact me to say he couldn’t make it. I wasn’t happy at all about it (I was too distracted hoping for an answer from him to even be able to enjoy the dinner with my friends) but it was yet another thing that never got worked out because he was too busy with work to really talk to me and when we did manage to meet up in person, nagging him about why he hadn’t contacted me two weeks ago didn’t seem important anymore. (This pattern continued for another few months. It was maddening.)

And I also did this many, many times during my relationship with Kirk [my American ex of 5.5 years]–insisted he come along to meet people he wasn’t enthused about meeting, mainly just to show him off as my boyfriend. But we also met each other’s circle of friends and could attend parties and get along with the people there, and I think that was important to both of us. It’s true that it can be frustrating dating a Japanese guy who doesn’t see that as a priority and who, if he does attend, is too shy to interact with people and can never get on their level anyway. But you have to realize that and give up on the dream of your man being your social companion the same way a western guy would. I eventually realized that but it’s bizarre that Slater, in her 40s, just doesn’t, and keeps throwing poor Toru into what sounds like absolutely miserable situations. I mean, these dinners she describes sound truly awful and forced. I don’t blame him for not wanting to go.

Another thing that struck me is she spends a large chunk of pages detailing their first fight, how she had been upset that he agreed to her suggestion of a weekend trip with “Maybe”–she would have preferred he clarified first that he really wanted to go, but needed to see how the schedule played out first. Then, later, he invites her to come to Osaka to see what it’s like, and it’s: “Well, maybe I could,” I had tentatively agreed. I let the idea take form in my head, solidifying slowly like liquid hardening into shape.

This is exactly what he responded earlier that you got so mad at him about!

But the thing that angered me the most about this book was a scene that hit a little too close to home–when the author and her new American expat friend are laughing at the expats they feel have naturalized a bit too much.

Bent over our soup, we gossiped about the expat scene, marveling at how different we felt from many of the foreigners we’d met. “Those gaijin who dress up in yukata robes, or who insist on only speaking Japanese? Like if someone speaks to them in English and they still respond in Japanese?” I rolled my eyes.

“I know!” Jessica shrilled. “As if it’s not totally, one hundred percent clear that they are not Japanese, as if everyone can’t see that they’re foreign. Um, hello, you’re white!”

Welllllllllll, first of all, fuck you. You talk later in the book about going to an onsen ryokan with Toru and wearing yukata with him there, so this is all coming off a little hypocritical here. But if you’re criticizing non-Japanese (non-Asian) people who wear yukata in the summer, you can fuck right off.

Here’s why I wear yukata when going to fireworks and other summer festivals. First of all, it’s fun, especially if your friends are doing it too. Second, it’s one of the few things about traditional Japanese culture that I like, and I want to cultivate that rare interest. Third… yukata are pretty and I like owning a few. Japanese people have absolutely zero problem with foreigners wearing yukata, and in the summer when everyone’s doing it, why shouldn’t I join in just because I’m white? I’m not doing it to pretend I’m not white. Japan never lets me forget I’m white, and I don’t wish I were Japanese or anything (no thank you). Yes, there are some people–you can mainly find them at anime conventions outside Japan–who dress up in yukata or those horrid cheap silk “kimono” and parade around for attention, and we call those people weeaboos, but that’s not what the majority of foreigners wearing yukata in the summer in Japan are doing. It’s fun and it’s a way to enjoy summer here with everyone else. Period.

Next, insisting on speaking Japanese. Yeah, I do that in most cases, and here’s why. In the majority of cases, my Japanese is better than the Japanese person’s English. (If they are essentially at native or high level fluency in English, then I’m only too happy to speak to them in English as a fellow native speaker. But those people are rare.) Once they realize that, most gratefully abandon all attempts at English. The ones that persist doggedly with their English attempts, though? I don’t like those people, and I see absolutely no reason to gratify their desires. Why? Because they are trying to use me, and they have typecast me, and I despise that behavior and will not indulge it. They have equated my white face with “opportunity to speak English because this person doesn’t speak Japanese” and they refuse to take in any other information, such as “Japanese fluency,” which would contradict their initial assumption. They are selfishly trying to gain something (free English practice) without taking into account me as a person, a human being, not simply a white face. There is a guy in my running group who will respond to my Japanese friendly comments with English every time, and it is infuriating because his English is not even that good. I’ve already established to him that I speak Japanese just fine, so I can only assume that he’s insisting in English in a stubborn sense of “white person = English! I must use my English and get practice!” (I could be charitable and interpret it as him wanting to accommodate me with my native tongue. But I really don’t think that’s the case.)

In those situations, the conversation doesn’t last long anyway, as I generally try to escape as quickly as I can once I realize they’re that type. I have zero regrets about this policy and it has served me well. There is no need, NONE at all, for me to speak English to anyone who tries to speak English to me, just because I’m a native English speaker. I’m not trying to pretentiously show off my Japanese ability or anything (though I know there are people like that, who act more fluent than they really are, and make the Japanese person feel awkward trying to accommodate them. This is, yes, another form of being a weeaboo, and I don’t like that behavior, but I don’t think that’s what I do). I’m just trying to do what’s easiest for both of us, while not letting myself get taken advantage of by a shameless free English conversation hunter/gaijin collector.

This whole attitude of “if you do anything Japanese people do, you’re just trying to run from your own identity, and we as other members of your race see right through you and are here to police your behavior” is ridiculous. Let’s all just get along as expats here as long as no one’s harming anybody, and stop playing the “I’m the more legitimate expat” superiority game. It’s just childish.

There was also some instances of Japanese language misinformation in the book, which makes me suspect that no one at the publisher did any cultural fact-checking. Dear editor, just because Japan seems exotic doesn’t mean you should let just anyone present themselves as a cultural authority on it and eagerly publish their book. Case in point…

  • “Saiaku-te!” was my fallback, which technically means “worst” in Japanese
    • Um… what?? 最悪 (saiaku) and 最低 (saitei) both mean “worst,” but as far as I know 最悪低 (saiaku-tei) is not a word. I spent a good minute puzzling over this one. ???
  • young mothers rode by on their mama-chari, ubiquitous one-speed bikes whose names were a riff on “mama chariots.”
    • Nope, chari is short for charinko, which means bike (said to be partially derived from “charin charin,” the sound of a bike’s bell). They are also not one-speed.
  • “Chu-gakkou?” I asked. “What’s Chu-ga-ko?” … “China,” she said softly in English.
    • No. 中学校 (chuu-gakkou) is middle school. 中国 (chuugoku) is China. It is insane that this was never fact-checked during proofreading.

But I also have to give credit where it’s due. The one thing she really nails is what it’s like to be back in the US after being in Japan–noticing the casual, non-deferential attitude of service staff, the loud people chatting on cell phones, the confrontational nature of car drivers. She concludes that if you live in the US, the rudeness around you is just part of life and you don’t notice it, and actually it’s better because everyone is more real this way: “you be you and I’ll be me, and somehow despite the annoyance and noise and clumsiness, we’ll have faith that we’ll all get by, ourselves, together.” And that Japan’s bubble of politeness can also be like a hermetic seal, closing off everything, good and bad. Hmm. I’m not sure I agree, but that observation was presented at the point in the narrative where Slater had been in Japan for under a year total, and I’ve been soaking in Japan’s politeness a lot longer. As much as I hate how often the politeness manifests as FAKEness (especially in the workplace among women), and how it can prevent real relationships, I do love the impeccable service and the deferential treatment. I never have a bad interaction with a service staff member, whereas in the US it’s like EVERY interaction is borderline crappy and I walk away feeling worse than before. That may be more “real” but I’m not sure it’s actually better in terms of everyone’s happiness. (Then again, the hermetic seal isn’t the healthiest either. Ultimately, you can’t say “Japan/The U.S. is better on this subject.” All you can say is which one suits you better for the long haul–but it’s not easy to decide.) I’m blending discussions of service interactions and actual interpersonal relations, but that’s because the same politeness philosophy pervades them both.

The other thing she nails is the realization–aided by Donald Richie’s advice, “No one loves Japan, my dear”–brilliant–that she’s never going to fall in love with Japan, and that’s okay. I get asked all the time by people back home I haven’t seen in a while, or people I’ve just met who have found out where I live, “Japan! Do you love it there?” I don’t know why people always ask “Oh, do you love it?” but it happens a lot. It always leaves me a bit flabbergasted. I don’t know what they expect–for me to gush, “Yes, I love it! It’s amazing!” and tell them tales of exotic wonder? I have never felt a pure, unadulterated love for Japan, and have never said I did. It’s more like a rocky relationship filled with ups and downs. Sometimes (like when soaking in an onsen, or eating a delicious bowl of ramen) I do love it, and sometimes (getting stared at, treated like a stereotype, fighting crowds, dealing with pointless red tape) I hate it. But I guess the assumption is that I wouldn’t be living here if I didn’t love it, and if I don’t love it, shouldn’t I be making plans to move back ASAP? Enough of this expat experiment already, if you’re not in love with the place then you need to come on back home already. It’s pointless being so far away from your family and friends otherwise. That seems to be most people’s thought process. And that cuts right to the heart to a lot of thoughts I’ve been having lately about when to plan to move back. In March I decided I would be moving back in a year or so, with June 2016 the latest move-out date. But then in the fall I got a new job and moved into a new apartment and life started really looking up. Also, the job hunt process had made me feel concerned that my resume was making me look like a job-hopper (after 7 months, 11 months, and now 1 year 9 months as my last three jobs), so I decided that I wouldn’t quit this new job for two years so I could repair some of that damage.

But it’s also not so simple as “I don’t love it here, so I should move back.” I don’t know where I would move to in the US or what I would do, and I no longer feel so miserably unhappy here that I need to get out ASAP (though I have felt that twice now during my time here, and quite severely, and both times only going back on my meds fixed it). My parents don’t live in my hometown where the majority of my close friends are anymore, and that city isn’t where I want to be long-term anyway in terms of transportation options or aesthetics. But I don’t know what city WOULD be good. Probably the Pacific Northwest somewhere, but then I’d have to make a new group of friends again, and I already have a nice group of friends and a nice life built up for myself here in Tokyo. If I’m going to be living away from my family and friends anyway, why can’t it be a city abroad? I’d still fly back to see them just as often (1-2 times a year) as I do now, so what’s the real difference? I think about shootings, and health insurance, and just basic safety (the ability to walk around a city after dark) and Tokyo wins every time. I’m close to a Disney park, tons of museums, zoos, and other cultural amenities here, and I can access them all by public transportation. I’m not throwing away my life or career teaching English; I’m working to further my career and it’s something I can take back with me to the US.

Plus, while I was home, I talked to a few of my hometown friends who ended up living in Tokyo too and then moved back, and both of them said they really miss it. One straight-up said he thinks he may have made a mistake coming back, and the other is actively planning an extended trip back. I can think of two other friends who did extended stays here in Japan and obviously miss it; my sister is probably in the same boat too. All of them cherish items from Japan in a way that I don’t because it’s normal to me now, but I recall doing after studying abroad here and during the 6 years until I came back. I know it would be the same if I left. I don’t want to leave Japan until I feel like it’s out of my system for good. I don’t want to be one of those former expats who wishes they were an expat again, and I don’t want to end up plotting a return after repatriating. I don’t want to dismantle my life here only to wish I hadn’t later.

At the same time, if this is what becoming an expat was going to do to me, I almost wish I had never become one. I almost wish I had stayed happy in my own country and never known what it was like. But I also know that wouldn’t have been possible, because 1) my ridiculous soul longs for drama; and 2) I wouldn’t have been happy until I did this. From 2008 to 2012, I was plotting how to get back to Japan, my plans always getting put off another year until finally in 2012 I really made the move, and now that I’m here–though it was only supposed to be a 1-2 year stay–I’m constantly reevaluating when I’ll move back. I don’t want to move back and just start plotting how to move to Japan again. But I do want to find a place I’m happy in and don’t want to leave. I’m just not so sure that even the US, much as I miss it and its grocery stores filled with things I want to eat, could be that place.

Back to the book review. It was good, but not great, and I was expecting more. I want to read a memoir of an expat in Japan who really gets it…

“Men are weak and easily overwhelmed.”

I don’t really even know where to begin. I didn’t want to write about what I’m going through at all until it’s over, which I was hoping would be around now, but I’m starting to think it’s going to take a while longer, so I might as well try to get some of these emotions out.

It has been a difficult year so far, overall. In January, I got a new manager of my team, who was promoted over my former team leader who I had adored. Starting in the fall (when she got back from maternity leave – previously, when I started my job, it had just been him as our team leader and I had loved it) they had worked together as team leaders, and I had not taken to her from the first. She almost gleefully informed everyone in December that he was leaving the team to go “elsewhere” (she didn’t seem to care where, as long as he was gone) and that she would be promoting a new person to be team leader while she took the manager role (which had been vacated in July). Well, in the end, my former team leader accepted a position as leader of the international localization San Francisco team (still the same company, but our subsidiary/American branch); however, no one could say when his American visa would be ready. So in the meantime, he would be hanging out with our department, essentially stripped of his team leader duties and responsibilities (but not his salary), communicating over skype with the San Francisco people as he awaited his visa and departure for the US. Today, June 10, he had his interview at the American embassy and he’ll be departing for the US in a week or so.

I am so very glad he’s stuck around these past few months because it has been really difficult for me to adjust to being under my new boss’s leadership (or should I say dictatorship). She has decided I am unworthy, and she has decided he is unworthy, so we have basically grown closer as a result. I’ve gone out for dinner with him and had lots of long conversations. For a few weeks we even got to have our desks next to each other and we talked a lot then too. I’m going to miss him and I’m glad I got this time to get to know him better.

But for a long time, I wanted to quit this job, and it was causing me a lot of anguish. I talked to several recruiters, met with one, scheduled and then canceled a couple job interviews… and I still have one eye on the market, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the best, highest-paying, most stable, and most fun job I can get here, and I am probably not going to find a better one, so I should make the most of it and make my peace with staying here. I can’t be fired, so I don’t have to worry about that.

In late March, Shiki and I had a hanami picnic just the two of us, and I told him about how I was going through so much difficulty with my job, it was making me question even being here in Japan at all. I said I was considering moving back to the US. He told me not to go, that he didn’t want me to go. In early March we took an overnight trip to an onsen town in Gunma together that he knew about. We stayed at a ryokan he was familiar with where all the baths could be privately reserved with your room plaque, and spent the night getting very drunk together, going to the large outdoor bath amid a snowy landscape all around us, and tumbling into each other’s arms naked in the middle of the water, giggling happily, drunk on sake and love. I recall us declaring to each other “Hanasanai!” I won’t let you go! We broke a sake glass and I scraped my knee against the concrete blocks inside the pool. It hasn’t fully healed yet. We spent the next day petting lemurs in a tropical dome and soaking our feet at a cafe with a foot bath.

From the beginning, Shiki has been possibly the best boyfriend I’ve ever had. He is always willing to listen to me, even my complaints, he contacts me every weekday, he shows me how much he adores me, he lets me get my way, and I feel happy and secure when I’m with him. We also laugh and giggle a lot about silly things both in person and over text. We text every weekday and see each other at least every weekend, sometimes on weekdays too. We spent a few weeks in February meeting up on weeknights to go running around his neighborhood and/or to a nice public bath a few stops north of his house. In one of our March chats, I had summoned up the courage to say “Daisuki.” I love you. (Well, one of the ways to say it in Japanese.) He had immediately responded “Boku mo daisuki yo.” I love you too. He speaks English fluently, but we usually fall back on Japanese. We had maybe mumbled it to each other before tipsy on his bed, but this was the first time saying it clearly. All of my friends always tell me how happy I look, how I start grinning when they ask about him and when his name comes up. Our relationship has been filled with sweet, romantic, caring gestures that make it clear how highly he thinks of me, and I’ve basked in the glow. I’m speaking in present tense, but actually almost none of that has been true for months now.

Starting in about March, Shiki’s own job ramped up in intensity. To insane levels. And I wish I could say this has a happy ending, but so far it doesn’t. It just gets worse. I found this out later, but evidently March, April, and May are the most intense months for his industry. I wish he’d told me; I wish he’d warned me. Maybe it’s worse this year than ever before and even he didn’t see it coming. But one day, he didn’t text me around 8:30 or 9 when he got home the way he always had before. Always, without fail (maybe skipping one day here and there), since we started dating he would LINE message me when he got home every weeknight and we would chat for about 30 minutes. But then he didn’t text the next day, or the next. And the last messages had been him telling me that he wasn’t feeling well. Then the weekend came, and I didn’t hear from him all weekend. Of course I sent numerous messages asking if he was okay. No response to any of it. By the end of it, I was clawing my eyes out with anxiety and worry.

I did the one thing I could think of: I went to his apartment around the time he leaves for work (8am) to see if I could run into him. This was around March 17 or so. I woke up that morning at 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep. Finally I decided to just go over there, knowing it was potentially a crazy move. I knocked on his door over and over. No answer. I texted him that I was there; nothing. I gave up, I walked back to the station (only 30 seconds away). Then my friend suggested I leave him a note to let him know I’d come by. I decided to go back and just as I was borrowing paper from the building manager, he stumbled around the corner. His skin was pallid and he was wearing a mask. He looked like the walking dead. He started stumbling towards the station; I fell into step next to him. He put an arm around my waist, almost out of habit. I asked him if he was okay, I told him he shouldn’t be going to work. He mumbled almost incoherently that he had to go, that he was going to work. Tears were streaming down my face; I was so relieved and yet worried for him. We said goodbye just inside the ticket gates and got on trains going separate directions.

I felt better having seen him; I knew why he hadn’t contacted me. He was clearly stressed and ill from feeling sick but also having to work anyway. I didn’t contact him for a few days. Sometime around the next week he contacted me, using a different method than LINE; it showed up on my phone as a text even though it came from a Gmail address. We had a long conversation in which I found out that he really wasn’t doing well. I told him I thought he was burned out. During this conversation or another, he told me he’d gone to the doctor and the doctor had recommended he take 1-3 months off. That’s how stressed he appeared. But of course he couldn’t do that; work was too busy.

I managed to see him on March 22 after the Free! voice actors event. We almost didn’t meet because even though he’d gotten the day off, he’d accidentally taken a key and had to go back to work to give it back to someone. But I insisted, and by the time I got to his place, he was back from going to give the key back. We basically just cuddled and relaxed in bed. I felt so happy and I hoped the busy period was over. He was still tired but had an attitude of “I’ve worked enough overtime this month; no more.” I didn’t bring up my issues with the decreased communication because I thought things were getting better. They sort of were. He had the next weekend off (and to my knowledge, that is the last weekend he’s had fully off since), and we met on Saturday to run the Imperial Palace loop, then we showered and had the hanami picnic for two. Then I had a friend’s birthday dinner, so I left him to go to that, then came home, then went over to his place and spent the night. Again, we just cuddled and relaxed and watched TV. In the morning, he had plans to meet a friend to go textbook shopping and I met a friend and her boyfriend for lunch.

But then in April, the decreased communication issues came back. If I texted him, he wouldn’t respond. I was having increasing frustrations with my job and I wanted to talk to him about it, but he wouldn’t reply to anything. I felt so miserable that I spent one morning just sobbing in bed about the situation, then Skyped my mom, crying the entire time. I picked myself up and went to go meet a freelance game translator who could help teach me more about breaking into that field and getting to know a wider network of other game translators in Tokyo. Then I had a friend meet me in Tokyo and we walked around Shinjuku Gyoen discussing the Shiki situation. I still felt utterly miserable, but seeing the cherry blossoms cheered me up a little.

Eventually I resorted to showing up at his door one day again. I knocked and he didn’t answer. I texted him I was outside and finally he replied and asked me to wait downstairs. I said no. He opened the door and I hugged him and started crying. We stood there for several long moments just holding each other. Then we walked to the station together and this time I went to his platform and waited with him for his train to arrive, hugging him. I left feeling that hopefully I had brightened his day a little, given him some human contact. Whenever the wind blew on me for the next few hours, it blew back some of his cologne that had gotten onto my skin and clothes.

Finally, on Friday April 17, as I was drinking with friends after a hash run, I got some messages from him saying that we might be able to meet this weekend, if not the following week. I happily made plans with him for Sunday, feeling ecstatic. Then he texted Saturday night that he was really sorry but he had to work after all. I said that’s okay and that I would come see him in the morning one day that week – Wednesday April 22, our 6-month anniversary. On Tuesday, around 9 or 10 (a rare time), he suggested that I come at night on Wednesday instead, since he thought he’d be getting off work early. Surprised and thrilled, I accepted. I came over and was treated to a steak feast. While a part of me was bitter that I was finally being let inside the apartment I had been denied access to for almost a month by that point, the rest of me was happy and grateful to learn he had gotten up early that morning to cook the carrots and potatoes for our dinner, and that he had gone out to a bakery and purchased a single-size Mont Blanc and strawberry shortcake for us to have for dessert. He pan-fried steak slices and we had a wonderful meal, complete with champagne to celebrate 6 months. After dinner, I couldn’t help getting into some of my recent difficulties with my job and the frustration I’d had with him not being around to listen to me. I told him how lonely I’d been, in a somewhat accusatory/whiny/sad tone of voice. I was crying. He hugged me tight and said he was so sorry that he’d made me feel lonely. (I couldn’t help but note that there were no promises things would be different going forward, however.) I told him again that I was thinking of moving back to the US, and he hugged me tighter and told me with emotion in his voice not to go, again.

Later we giggled over silly Youtube videos, then had a sexy shower together. He was too exhausted to do anything more, though, and we fell asleep. In the morning he made Italian coffee for us. At the station, I waited with him on his platform until his train came before going over to my platform on the other side to catch my train. While it was a great time together, and I was so grateful for all the effort he put into it, part of me felt a little unsettled for some reason as I walked to work afterwards.

That was the last time we’ve met since then. And contact is still at basically minimal levels. A week after that, I found out about the March-April-May = busy season for his industry thing. I decided I would try to just be supportive and not bother him too much all throughout May. But it was very hard to do that when he stopped sending even any responses. In March and April, if I went to his apartment at night and left a bag of healthy drinks and soup on his door, he would thank me a few days later. When I did it in May, I got no acknowledgment at all. He would not respond to any texts of any sort, whether encouragement texts (which he had thanked me for once in April) or texts asking if things were still busy and if we could meet. I told him I was proud of him, I tried not to say how much I missed him or how hard it was for me. I noticed, however, that the one way I could be guaranteed a response was if I announced I was coming over in the morning one day. He would never fail to reply the night before telling me I couldn’t, and in May the reason was that he had to go in even earlier. The replies would come at 2:15 or 2:30 am, telling me how late he’d been working. If he was working until 2:30 am and then leaving for work at 6 or 7, he cannot have been getting much sleep.

I tried to understand that he must be going through life in a stressed, overwhelmed haze, but it was also hard for me to only hear from him once a week at my instigation and to keep thinking “now it’s been two weeks since we’ve seen each other… three… now it’s been a month…” The whole issue took/has taken on the level of obsession in my mind. It is very hard for me not to be thinking about it in some form or fashion all of the time. It was hard for me to go from feeling just about perfectly fulfilled and satisfied in my relationship to frustrated, neglected, lonely, and depressed–yet not willing to give up. If time and energy, not his feelings for me, are the main roadblocks here, and I don’t even want to contemplate the Tokyo dating scene again, then why not just wait? Or rather, try to focus on myself and my own hobbies and interests, and my own mental health, and see if he’ll come along in time.

This was the opposite of the attitude I had when this exact thing happened with Mitsu over a year ago. He was already a crappy boyfriend who was overly critical of me, so when his work got busy and he disappeared and stopped contacting me as frequently as I’d gotten used to, I had much less patience and resolved to break it off the next time we met up, and I did. (I also wrote then, “I’m a little jaded now on whether [Japanese guys are] all going to be like this (shunt me aside as soon as work gets crazy, no matter what’s going on in my life)” – prophetic words, unfortunately, at least in my experience.) But in this case, I decided that because Shiki had been so amazing, and I’d been so happy, it was worth hanging on to, or at least waiting until I could talk to him, before cutting anything off. After all, my only option would be to send an email/text informing him that it’s over.

Unfortunately, my mental health crumbled around the start of May. Probably the job frustrations began it, and then losing my boyfriend’s presence in my life were the final straw. Depression with a dose of anxiety appeared in full force. I was so lonely, and yet I was turning down social invitations because even those couldn’t get my mind off this. I spent a weekend or two at home, utterly miserable, refusing to join my friends on their plans. Over Golden Week – which we had said we’d spend together; we had discussed it and agreed to remain in Tokyo, we had spent that night in April discussing potential things to do together, and then I never heard from him and can only assume he worked through it – I made a series of plans, such as seeing my host family, but I was depressed and thinking about this situation the entire time. After that I decided I would go back on my meds.

I have been on them for about a month now, and it’s still hard. It’s getting easier, and they are definitely helping, but there are still days when I wake up in the depths of despair. And they have not made my near-constant ruminations on the state of my relationship go away.

Last night, the worst happened. We didn’t break up, so maybe that’s too dramatic–or it’s too dramatic anyway–but it was like I had been dreading and worrying and fearing that our relationship would reach some sort of catastrophic climax as a result of him being too busy to contact me and me feeling so lonely and depressed about the loss of his presence in my life, however temporary, and then it more or less happened. He had told me towards the end of May in a response to one of my requests to come over in the morning that no, he had to go in early so it wasn’t possible, but “how would towards the end of next week be?” I was happy that he had suggested a potential time to meet. But when that time rolled around, I didn’t hear from him. Well, I sort of did. That Friday I got a phone call from him around 4:45 pm. I was shocked to see his name come up, as he never calls me, and certainly not in the afternoon during work hours. I picked up, but all I heard was electronics boops and beeps. It was almost certainly a butt dial. I hung up and called back; he didn’t pick up. I texted “Hey, you just called me – ???” No answer. I still don’t know for sure what happened. He has yet to explain it.

I emailed him that weekend that I was planning to come over one morning. On Monday night – this was about a week ago now – I got a reply saying that (translated) “things are busy for a while, so please be understanding, please go easy on me, please forgive me.” The one good thing is that it came on June 1, and I had suspected there was a deadline May 31, and it was at 11:30 pm, not 2:30 am, so he wasn’t working as late. But I was also disappointed as I had hoped June would herald a calmer schedule and less overtime and thus less stress. However, the message was almost entirely hiragana, he hadn’t even had the energy to convert to kanji. Another marker of stress.

I did not email him all that week, except for a photo of my cat and a short encouraging message “from” her in the middle of the week. On Sunday, I emailed that I planned to come over Wednesday morning. I had started to feel like enough was enough; it had been since April and if I could just see him, I could beam supportive, comforting, healing rays at him and show him that I can help him, that I can soothe his stress. He seems to be thinking that I’m mad at him and I wanted to show him with my calm presence that it’s not the case at all. I could give him a hug and provide him with needed human touch and contact. We could reestablish a bit of a connection to take back into our respective workdays. I told him that I wanted to hug him and I wanted to comfort him.

Last night, I received a reply. It was a flat refusal. No, tomorrow was impossible. He’s very busy with work, and didn’t he just email me recently? Why am I trying to come over? That’s scary (too intense, pushy). He’s very sorry but tomorrow is impossible. That was the gist of the email. Reading between the lines – with the help of a Japanese friend – what he is saying is “I am too busy with work right now and too stressed to even contemplate another person in my life right now. I cannot focus on my relationship at this moment. Also, I am a little annoyed that you don’t seem to understand this.”

Once I understood this, I wrote back “I understand. I’ll give you some space then. I’m sorry for bothering you while you’re busy.” And I’m not going to contact him after that. I may, further down the line depending on how much time passes, but it’s up to him now. If he values me and our connection the way I thought it was worth valuing and holding onto, then when things calm down he will reach out. And if he doesn’t after a reasonable amount of time has passed, then we will have to meet up so I can get my PJs and travel brush (which I left at his place) back and we will break up. I’ll be very, very sad to see what I thought was a good relationship and a good person for me go, but that will just be how it is. If that happens. The thing is, I can’t know that now. The uncertainty… is not something I’m good at dealing with. It makes me very uncomfortable. I want to know now – will he come back to me? Won’t he? Will we be able to have a talk about his behavior and figure out a mutually satisfactory way to communicate even when things get busy, or will he not be willing to do that? But I don’t know that, and I can’t know that now. I want to believe that he knows we have something special, and once he emerges from the fog of stress and sleep deprivation and overwork, he’ll remember that and come after me, but maybe he won’t. And even if he does, he’s going to have to prove himself. He made me very happy, but now he’s also made me very unhappy. He’s said many promising things (“I love you,” “I won’t let you go,” “Let’s talk later,” “I want to work hard to get back to a normal life where I can see you,” “Don’t move to the US,” “Please forgive me,” “How about meeting ___?”) in the past few months, but will he follow through on them, or will he just run out of energy and be content to see us fade away and me fade out of his life?

(I asked my Japanese friend if this sort of thing was common in Japan – the communication issues, contact totally ceasing once his work gets busy – knowing already that it was, but wanting confirmation. She instantly responded “Yes. Men are weak and easily overwhelmed.” She told me that she doesn’t date Japanese men for this reason.)

Part of me is annoyed that even though I tried my hardest to be supportive of him, to play the good Japanese girlfriend putting on a happy face, I still couldn’t help letting my American neediness show through at times, asking if we could meet and if he could contact me, and that may have turned him off. I’m annoyed that while I tried my hardest, tried so so so hard, it still wasn’t good enough. It could still have brought about the exact outcome I was trying to avoid–driving him away.

Too long I’ve been afraid of
Losing love I guess I’ve lost
Well, if that’s love
It comes at much too high a cost!

Well, that’s where me not contacting him for a good long time from here on out comes into play.

Part of me is curious to see whether he comes back to me or not. It doesn’t mean I’ll welcome him back with open arms and no questions. I do hope he comes back, but we will have to to talk about a lot of things.

All I know is that I don’t want to cut things off now without talking to him. There are cultural issues at play, and communication is key before I can make a decision. And until I can, I want to use that time for my own personal growth. Get new hobbies, go to therapy, keep taking my meds, reclaim my independence, go out on solo adventures around the city like I used to. Oddly, it will be better for me to have a boyfriend – even one I don’t see or talk to – during this time, because it will keep me from trawling dating sites and going on dates out of habit/desperation/boredom. I am also going to use this time to think seriously about when I want to move back to the US, and how soon in the future, and to think about what my goals for the next 5 years of my life are. I still want to find a life partner. Maybe Shiki is it, and maybe he isn’t (I admit, it doesn’t look likely now). But am I going to find that person in the US or in Japan? I just don’t know. Which is a better place for me to be in? I don’t know. Part of me wants desperately to live in my home country surrounded by family and friends again, but part of me enjoys the many perks of Japan such as safe, accessible travel and things like gyuudon, chu-hi, melon soda that I love. If I leave too soon, I might find myself desperately missing Japan and wishing to go back. But if I stay here too long, I risk losing my sanity and possibly my chances at finding the best life partner for me. At 29, with many/most of my peers engaged, married, or living with someone, I’m starting to get worried.

Last month, I had my friend do tarot for me. I asked him to look into what June would look like for me and Shiki. He pulled the Tower card. Change. Destruction to make way for change. Change from the ground up. Ultimately good change, but requires the destruction of existing, faulty systems. I was so afraid when I saw that card, and now it’s like it’s coming true. And only time will tell if the change is ultimately good or bad.

I like reading articles and stories about subjects like this, but I like to know how the story ends. I don’t know how this story ends. Probably everyone reading this is thinking “Likely not good. Likely a breakup in the end.” But who knows? Stay tuned, I guess. I wish I had a resolution to offer you, and to myself, but I don’t. I’m trying to be okay with that.