life update!

I’m going to just write a brief update. I’m one month into my new job, and it’s going quite well. I’ve had so many bad experiences with work that I’m still on my guard, but it seems like things are probably not going to suddenly get worse. (I’m nervous because every other time I really liked a job when I started, something would happen to change it. Like an awful manager would suddenly come back from maternity leave and start making my life miserable, or someone who had previously seemed normal would reveal her true colors and I would realize that we were never going to get along.) I think in this case I can take everyone here at face value and it’s probably going to be okay.

My one concern is that I don’t… really enjoy most of my tasks. I can do them and sometimes it’s fun, but I don’t know if this is a field I’m passionate about (PR). I find myself wishing I could do my old job again, just get paid much better for it, not be under anyone I don’t respect, and have the status of a permanent employee of the company. I really liked the tasks I had at my old job and how I was never bored, always had something to do, and I didn’t always have to get what I wanted to do approved. Here, everything has to be approved, and sometimes you have to make a Japanese translation of it so everyone can understand which is… so… tedious and annoying. But the people at this job are good and everything about the job is great. I like that I’m doing something fairly important in the company, and my boss is great (I love having a male boss again, I’m sorry this isn’t a very feminist thing to say and I feel bad about it, but… female managers have just treated me so badly in the past, I can’t help it). Maybe I’ll come to like the tasks better over time…

Thanks to work I’m also playing like four more games because I have to understand how to play all of our games in order to write about them. That’s on top of the 3-5 games I was already playing in my own spare time. It’s intense… I’m logging in to like 10 games every day, and I never have enough time to read the stories.

My freelance project is coming to a close and I have nothing new lined up, which is both good and bad. This project brought in a LOT of money and I can finally afford some stuff like a new bed, a new washer/dryer, maybe even a pull-out couch–as well as a Disney World trip this winter with my family–but it also sucked away so much of my free time. I feel like I haven’t had time to do anything more than just basically take care of myself in months. I was supposed to finish everything this past weekend but I SLACKED OFF and now I’m just trying to finish by Friday.

My trip home in August between jobs was really nice! I spent about a week at my parents’ place and got to go watch the full solar eclipse with my dad and other relatives, which was super cool, and then a week in Dallas with Aro, my best friend. I also had a party and got to see just about all of my other friends too, which was great. I had to spend a lot of the trip working on the freelance project, so it wasn’t as relaxing as it could have been, but it was a good trip!

I also… got a boyfriend? I honestly don’t know how I found the time, I’m not sure what I was thinking except I decided very early on that I really wanted this guy. I met him the same way I met the past few guys I’ve dated or “dated” (there have been two guys in the past year where we went on four dates, chatting on LINE every single day for 1-2 months, and then one of us decided we weren’t ever going to become boyfriend and girlfriend), on the Japanese dating app Pairs. It’s basically the best way to meet people in Japan nowadays, especially since guys have to pay to use it so it weeds out a lot of the people who aren’t serious about finding an actual relationship (there’s so much trash on OkCupid in comparison…).

Usually on Pairs I would wait for a guy to “like” me (it’s like Tinder in that you can’t start talking to each other unless both of you “like” the other), decide if I liked him back, then wait for him to message me once the match was made. I wanted to see proof that he liked me and could be assertive. In this case, I broke all of my rules. I found him on the app, I don’t remember exactly how–maybe during a keyword search–and I sent him a “like.” I instantly felt like I really wanted him because he was cute but clearly a serious otaku (one of his pictures was him in cosplay), but he also liked doing active things (his other pictures were him on his road bike cycling around with his friends), which is fairly similar to me. He also said he could speak English too which I also like to see. I screencapped his profile and showed it to all my friends like “CHECK OUT MY SOULMATE” basically. He liked me too (yay!) so we matched and I sent him a message. It was me who first suggested we move our conversation to LINE (usually I wait for the guy to suggest that) and me who suggested we meet in person. However, every time I made those suggestions, he agreed enthusiastically, so I took it as a good sign.

Days before our first date, we discovered we were both at summer Comiket buying doujinshi. I went for two days and he went for all three. He actually spent 100,000 yen on doujinshi at Comiket! We didn’t meet there because we hadn’t even met in person yet (plus it’s huge and we were buying in different sections), but it was crazy to discover that we already had that in common. I had sort of assumed that as a male otaku, he’d be buying moe bullshit with cute (scantily clad) girls, but he told me that he buys all types of doujinshi, including BL/yaoi and GL/yuri, as well as male/female pairings too. I love BL, as basically anyone who knows me knows very well, but understandably it’s pretty rare to find guys who like it too, so this was… amazing to hear. Fudanshi (men who like BL) are pretty rare, and I’ve always wanted to find someone who at least understood my hobbies, so once again I felt pretty convinced that I wanted to date this guy.

Our first date went so well. We already had all the Comiket stuff to discuss, and then I found out that he’s just as addicted to a game as I am. He actually has two phones, and one phone is dedicated solely to his game (Kantai Collection AKA KanColle). Like… respect. I want a whole phone for my game too, haha. So he’s not ever going to judge me for playing EnStars every day. And actually, a limited gacha/grab bag in EnStars with my #2 favorite character as the rarest card to get had just started that day, and Touma (let’s call him that) had just told me how he had pulled in a gacha for a friend of his at Comiket and gotten the card his friend wanted, so he was pretty confident in his luck. I was super nervous about whether I would get this card (especially since I’d spent real money so I would have enough in-game currency to do the pull, and was prepared to do three 10-pulls trying for it), but I decided to go ahead and have him pull for me. I gave him my phone, he pulled… and he got every single card in the gacha. All four cards, including the rarest one (with a 1.5% chance of coming), the one I wanted. It is incredibly rare and lucky for one pull (of 10 cards) to contain every single card in the gacha. (In fact, I just had to do 14 pulls of 10 cards in order to get the rarest card of my #1 boy in another gacha in this damn game. Yes, it was expensive and honestly stressful, and yes these gacha are very dangerous, but I did get him in the end–two copies, even.) It’s possible to pull and not get any cards from the limited gacha at all (just fillers), and an average fairly lucky pull will have either the rarest card or the second-rarest, but not both. To get every single card, including the one I wanted which was the most difficult to get… well, it’s just some insane luck.

So that seemed like a sign…

And then the other thing was at the end of the date, we left the restaurant and it was raining. I pulled out my foldable umbrella, which is lavender with polka dots because I love purple. Everyone who knows me knows that I love purple. Most of the things in my apartment are purple. My bike is purple. My yoga mat is purple. My cat’s carrier is even purple. I looked over to see him pulling out his own foldable umbrella…

It was a deep purple color.

I was just like “Oh, your umbrella is purple!” and he said “Yeah, I love purple.”

……………….Guys.

So yeah. We are dating now. He hasn’t had a girlfriend in three years! I’m really, really nervous about this relationship because every time I’ve tried to date a Japanese guy, it has basically crashed and burned. My last real relationship didn’t even last a month before he was telling me I scared him. I actually held off on telling a lot of my friends for several days because I was so nervous. How many times have I written a blog entry here gushing about a new guy, only for the relationship to go sour very soon after? I don’t feel confident at all that I can be normal in a relationship and not scare a guy away! But I really like him and want to keep seeing him, and miraculously he likes me back and has told me so many times already (very cute). I’m just trying to focus on that.

Advertisements

“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.

“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).

How I ended up in Japan to work and live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toxic workplaces and bosses in Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.