Musings on my past self and my family

Two things have made me decide to go look at my old high school era blog and reread the entries there. One was the fact that my favorite manga of all time, Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP, is getting a sequel (and the first chapter came out this month!) so I reread the second half of the manga, volumes 7-12, had a lot of revelations over parts of the story I had forgotten, and wanted to know what my 15/16-year-old self thought of them originally when I read them for the very first time. I knew those things would likely be chronicled in my blog from that time, so I opened it up. I’ve also been experiencing some difficulties with my sister lately and I feel like a lot of it is rooted in the fights we had when we were teenagers, so that was another reason to look back at my thoughts then.

It has been pretty eye-opening to relive that time. I forgot how many of the fights I had with my parents (dad mostly) and sister revolved around the Internet and the computer. This was 2002, and until we got DSL we had dial-up, which meant that while my sister and I had our own desktop computers, only one of us could be online at a time, so we fought a lot over whose turn it was. Of course there were no smartphones and Wifi giving us 24/7 Internet access. And then my dad decided we were staying up too late, so he set a timer for the Internet to shut off at midnight, which was the source of so many fights as well. He was also concerned we were “downloading too much” (we downloaded a lot of anime and music) and he didn’t understand that, for example, simply leaving a music program open did not mean anyone could access my computer and download files from it (and when I tried to explain this to my parents, my mom would just say “Listen to him, he knows about these things.” But he didn’t know better in that case).

I had sort of forgotten what it was like to live in my parents’ house and have to abide by their ridiculous rules. I am so, so glad I live on my own and support myself 100% and don’t have to do what they say anymore. There were silly religious things they made us do too–like an hour of Bible study every Sunday (I was raised Christian, and my parents would be deeply disappointed to know I am very much agnostic now, and will definitely never identify as Christian or believe in its teachings again).

Continue reading

More whining about dating and love in Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I ended up in Japan to work and live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toxic workplaces and bosses in Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Momoko Kanzaki of Laurier

Getting ghosted fucked me up for a while. I still feel a tiny bit fucked up about it when I think about it now, though I’m feeling in a better place every day. Honestly, 2015 was basically me getting progressively more jaded and cautious after suffering romantic and career rejections (even if things seem to be better now on at least one of those fronts).

While I was still trying to figure out how to get through that whole situation, during the gray period where no one had officially broken up with anyone but getting my supposed boyfriend to contact me and follow through on promises to see me was like pulling teeth and I wasn’t sure whether to pull the plug or hold out because both choices seemed equally painful, I did a lot of desperate late-night googling. I read up on ghosting, fading out, all of that in English and Japanese, because I figured there might be cultural differences that would mean I should get a Japanese perspective too. The Japanese sources ended up being more helpful to me because the work culture is so much more intense here, which is why it’s a lot harder in Japan to figure out if someone is really, truly just busy with work or if they’re fading out on you, because it is possible that it’s entirely work stuff and his feelings haven’t changed. I read accounts from several girls who endured months-long periods of virtual radio silence from their then-boyfriends, now-husbands who eventually surfaced and they were married. (Who knows if those are actual solid marriages though, or if he’s going to pull that same stunt again down the line.) Another girl said that her boyfriend regularly disappeared for months at a time, and she waited patiently because he always came back around, and it was just an established pattern by then.

At the beginning, stories like that gave me hope. Yeah, exactly! It’s just work and he’ll come back to me! Everything was so good! By the end, they just depressed me. These girls are getting played, and so am I… 

One of the things I came across during these Google sprees was the writing of Momoko Kanzaki, a writer for the women’s/love section of Excite News (lol, I know, Excite still exists and is relevant–only in Japan). I was so moved by what she wrote in three of her columns, which seemed to be about exactly what I was going through, that I copied down the text and saved it. She takes a very brassy, no-nonsense view of how men often treat women, and a lot of it was just what I needed to hear, although it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

She wrote about dating busy men. First there’s this article [J], entitled “Men who won’t contact you because ‘Work is busy'” (I’ve translated these excerpts; any bolding is by me).

Men who can’t even make plans using work as an excuse, who will happily leave you waiting for months on end, and who are too tied up to even text you are not a partner who is honestly face to face with you.
If you’re thinking about your future, it can’t be one-way–it has to be “partners who are both properly facing one another” or it won’t last.

She followed it up with “No impatience, no complaining, no brooding… how to date a busy man you rarely see?” [J].

Men who are buried in work, who say work is crazy are not placing importance on love, so they’re not going to fall in love. It’s highly likely that, unexpectedly, they’ve rarely gotten truly close to a woman before; they’ve kept themselves at a moderate distance. It’s also the case that they reject deep connections and are afraid of them.
They can’t bear people’s feelings.
That’s why they make it their job’s fault, saying “I’m busy, so…” and seek refuge at work. These men are not open to love.
It’s highly unlikely that he’s going to fight for you, nor can you hope that he’ll treat you with good faith. He can’t face your serious intentions.
He’s fine keeping you waiting, he won’t give you an answer, and he wants to be vague. He doesn’t want to get scolded later, so he won’t even make plans. He refuses to take responsibility or shoulder any weight.
So if you want to force it to work with a man like that, all you can do is smile, look past it, and endure.

She also wrote about the fadeout: “‘Is this a fadeout?’ Men who go radio silent–why do they suddenly disappear?” [J].

I think it’s buried deep in a man’s psyche to choose to flee when things get rough. They don’t want to be blamed, so they don’t want to become the bad guy. There are things he’s hiding and things no one can know, so he fades out.

To have someone suddenly sever the ties in your relationship is truly rough. You don’t even know why he left, and even though you want to know the truth, he continues to completely ignore you no matter if you call and text. When he won’t tell you anything, and you can’t even talk to him, all you can do is end things all on your own. With no way of confirming that it’s over, it’s incredibly difficult to force yourself to bury your feelings.
You have to give a good kick to a guy who won’t say a single word to you.
You can’t hope for a constructive relationship from someone who tries to run away when things get bad and inconvenient for him, and you can’t build a solid foundation. So while ending it with someone like that is the right thing to do, a wordless declaration of intention causes people to suffer; it haunts them and won’t let them go. There’s nothing so painful as to be ignored with no reaction at all.

Yeah, it was pretty much like she was speaking into my soul. Everything was happening EXACTLY as she described. I really think my ex Shiki was afraid of forming a deep connection with anyone, and once I seemed to be asking that of him, he disappeared. Looking back, I really wonder if he’s gay or something (there were some bedroom issues too) and that’s why he preferred me at arm’s length. I just don’t know. It continues to baffle me why he was so adoring in the beginning and then went cold.

But I refuse to have a partner like that anymore, someone who is avoidant and puts work first, who doesn’t make love a priority. “Partners who honestly face each other”–that’s what I want to find looking forward, though I also have very little hope of finding an enlightened guy like that in Japan. Which is why right now I’m just enjoying the single life, and can’t summon the motivation to go on a bunch of dates and attempt to get the best one to ask me to be his girlfriend. I feel like my life is pretty busy already, with not enough time for me to chill at home (and work on freelance stuff), because I have a lot of (wonderful!) friends who are always inviting me to fun things, so I don’t even know where I’d fit a boyfriend in anyway. But these articles are a reminder not to settle for (Japanese) male bullshit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dating Japanese guys as an American girl

I’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences dating here, and about the types of situations I want to avoid from here on out (that’d be almost everything I’ve experienced so far, ha) and how best to avoid that.

I’m really realizing that for a lot of Japanese guys, because I’m not Japanese but I’m a white girl who speaks Japanese, I was sort of an interesting and different one-time thing. They didn’t want to make me their girlfriend, but they WERE interested in sleeping with me and then making an excuse as soon as they could to never see me again. I go into every date hoping for something serious and lasting to develop (if we click), but I think a lot of these guys were not looking for the same thing. I think because I’m not Japanese, it was easier to fetishize/dehumanize me, to think “Oh, I wouldn’t date her, but I’ve never been with a white girl before, so let’s try it out. Okay, that was fun, I got my one experience I needed, bye.” And I’m not sure if it was because I’m not Japanese or because they were in a different place in their life, but I’m realizing I have kind of been taken advantage of. And while this didn’t happen a LOT, in most cases I still went along with it, I was just as curious as they were, but it’s gotten old and I’m no longer interested in helping any more Japanese guys check “sleep with white girl one time” off their life bucket lists. So I’ve attempted to institute a policy of “I only sleep with boyfriends,” but unfortunately, I still got blindsided recently. And I really don’t want that to happen again.

Remember at the end of my final breakup post when I said things seemed to be developing well with a new guy? Yeah, that just ended up leading to ANOTHER ghosting experience. Seriously, the universe could not be more cruel. I was still reeling from my breakup with Shiki, trying so hard to protect myself from anything like that happening ever again, hoping to find another relationship, and I ended up getting ghosted AGAIN.

So back in August, this guy Ryo and I had a good first date, and for our second we spent most of the day at a pool and then changed into yukata to watch fireworks. The next next weekend, we met up to watch the Tamagawa fireworks, this time in jinbei (we coordinated). After the fireworks we went drinking in Shinjuku Golden-gai (fulfilling a longtime goal of mine!), and I got a little tipsy. Our conversation over LINE had been openly flirtatious/sexual for a while up until that point, and I was getting worried that things were leading to a physical-only place, when I wanted a relationship. So I told him that I only sleep with guys I’m dating. He asked what would be necessary to constitute dating. I answered “告白 kokuhaku,” the typical love confession that prefaces a relationship. Basically telling someone “I like you, do you want to go out with me?”

Aside: It’s very refreshing that this custom exists here in Japan because in the US, you can end up in this weird limbo until one of you initiates a “DTR” (defining the relationship) talk and clarifies whether you’re boyfriend and girlfriend or just hanging out. I think that lets guys get away with being lazy and cowardly, but in Japan it’s expected that at some point the guy will let you know his intentions (or just stop contacting you, which is fine if no kokuhaku has taken place yet).

Anyway, so I told him that’s what I would need before sleeping with someone, and he then proceeded to… ask me to go out with him. He gave me a lot of compliments, said he’d been thinking that he’d like me to be his girlfriend, and I ended up a blushing mess. It was sweet. I accepted immediately, which surprised him, but I said that I had also been thinking I’d accept if he asked me.

It all kind of went downhill from there. Because I was drunk and had not been with anyone for a long time (the last time Shiki and I slept together was in March. MARCH), by the end of the night I had decided we should immediately consummate the new relationship. So yes, it was me who brought it up; he didn’t say “Okay, we’re official now, let’s go do it.” And we did. But the next morning, while I had expected we would make or get breakfast together, he left pretty soon after waking up.

And didn’t text me at all the whole rest of the day.

Or the next.

I finally texted him something like “??” since I had asked him what to do with the carton of tea he had left in my fridge. He told me I could just throw it away. Confused, I said “Oh no, you’ll drink it the next time you’re over, right? Since we’re dating now?”

No reply.

I wrote him a text saying “Oh, I forgot to tell you before, but I’m excited that we’re going out now, and よろしく and all that!” Again… nothing.

Finally, on Thursday of that week I let him know that I thought what he’d done was pretty shitty and I didn’t think he was that kind of person, but this was clearly not a relationship and it was over.

And that was it! He never responded again. I got ghosted again by someone who had allegedly asked me to be his girlfriend but in reality just peaced after sleeping with me. (Full disclosure: He was no big loss to me, I wasn’t developing real feelings or anything, but to get slapped in the face with such rude behavior–AGAIN–was really not what I needed particularly at that point in time, when I was still raw over Shiki.)

So, this isn’t happening again. After a lot of licking my wounds and trying to heal from the breakup over the past few months (I still feel upset about it, but hoping that continues to fade with time), I have a date for Sunday night with a Japanese guy who speaks English, and after we set the date/time, I messaged him this: “Oh, but I need to say something… I have gone on several dates in the past with Japanese guys who it turns out just wanted to have sex with me. I really hope you’re not like that, because I am looking for a boyfriend and I don’t sleep with guys so casually. Just so you know! Sorry to have to say this, and hopefully you still want to meet. :)”

Fortunately, he does still want to meet! He reassured me he’s looking for a girlfriend and doesn’t sleep with girls casually either. I will still be on my guard (and I will never again sleep with someone the night they ask me to be their girlfriend), but hopefully this will cut down on the phenomenon. I am very sick of Japanese men using me and throwing me away, and I’m not going to tolerate it anymore.

Other big changes have happened in my life, such as a new job (yaaaaay I finally quit my terrible boss!) and a new apartment (yaaaaay I have real space to live in now!), but I’ll expand on those later. I have a lot to say about leaving my old company and realizing my boss and I were never going to understand each other and she was never going to recognize me and my abilities…

JLPT N1 July 2015 Results!

I PASSED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yessssssssssssssssssssss. This has been my goal for a very very very long time, especially ever since my little sister passed it first in 2011 or something and I’ve been infinitely jealous ever since, but finally I’ve caught up. Mwahaha!

I thought I’d compare my scores from this time and the first time I took it (in Dec. 2013).

Dec. 2013 Results (Fail):

得点区分別得点
(Score Breakdown)
言語知識 (文字・語彙・文法)
(Knowledge of Language [Characters, Vocabulary, Grammar])
38 / 60
読解 (Reading) 12 / 60
聴解 (Listening) 31 / 60
Supplementary Information (*) 文字・語彙 (Characters/Vocabulary) B
文法 (Grammar) B
総合得点 (Total Score) 81 / 180

* B: Percentage of correct answers above 34%, less than 67%

July 2015 Results (Pass): 

得点区分別得点
(Score Breakdown)
言語知識 (文字・語彙・文法)
(Knowledge of Language [Characters, Vocabulary, Grammar])
40 / 60
読解 (Reading) 35 / 60
聴解 (Listening) 34 / 60
Supplementary Information (*) 文字・語彙 (Characters/Vocabulary) A
文法 (Grammar) A
総合得点 (Total Score) 109 / 180

* A: Percentage of correct answers above 67%

The first time I took the test, I knew I’d failed the first section (kanji/vocab/grammar/reading). (I actually passed characters/vocab/grammar with 38/60, but failed reading dismally with 12/60). Actually, I hadn’t brought a watch and they’d covered up the clocks in my room, so I wasn’t able to gauge my time well. I panicked as the questions were a lot harder and were taking a lot longer than I expected (I hadn’t studied for this test as much as I should have, even though I was seeing a weekly tutor paid for by my work at the time) and by the time the reading section rolled around I had no time left and was too panicked to make much use of the little time I did have left. I didn’t finish that section before time was called. My company at the time was paying for the test, which was the only reason I didn’t leave at the break after the first section and walk out. I was sorely tempted to. But I’m glad I stuck around for listening as it was surprisingly easy and restored a lot of my confidence (and I did pass it at 31/60, which shocked me as I thought it had been so easy I’d have gotten a near perfect score), even though I know I’d still failed overall, and I was right.

The second time, just last month, I knew I’d done just fine on the first section. I’d finished it with a couple minutes to spare and felt confident about my answers. (This despite the fact that I really had not been studying as hard as I would have liked, but I reasoned that I’d been working in an almost entirely Japanese environment for almost a year and a half, as a translator, creating one-slide PowerPoints in Japanese and giving 1-minute speeches on them once a month, and had acquired a lot of advanced vocabulary in that time, so I probably didn’t need to study that much – and I was right. I passed vocab/grammar with 40/60, a slight improvement over last time’s 38, and passed reading with 35/60, a HUGE improvement over last time’s abysmal 12 points). However, I was very worried about listening as I hadn’t studied for it at all, since it had been such a breeze the last time and I figured that my whole life in Japan is one big listening test anyway, but then it ended up feeling more difficult than I expected, and I wasn’t as confident about my answers as I would have liked. But it all worked out okay in the end! I even improved on my listening score from the first time by a few points (31 -> 34 out of 60). And I was able to get A’s in vocab and grammar this time around, when I’d gotten B’s before.

So, yay! Now I have bragging rights and my Japanese ability has been officially measured and assessed and I can level up my resume with it.

Ghosted by my Japanese boyfriend

[Edit 9/27/17: This post ended up being fairly successful SEO-wise, so if you’ve come here looking for answers because you’ve been ghosted by your own Japanese guy or suspect you may have been, I don’t have any answers but I do have plenty of sympathy for you! I don’t know if my situation will help you feel better or not. Two years later and I never heard from Shiki again. I attempted once to reach out and just ask him how he was, and he responded by deleting his entire LINE account. If I could do it all over again, well, first I would remind myself that he was scum for treating me like that and I didn’t want him anyway. Second, I would have tried to be really patient, distract myself with my own stuff, and wait for him to contact me (but I tried that at the time, and I couldn’t do it). I definitely drove him away with my actions, and I acted too clingy and needy. So if you want to keep your guy, don’t do what I did. But also know this—he was a jerk for abandoning me like that without fully explaining the situation, which drove me to behave like that. I still have some deep wounds from this, but I feel more secure in myself now and I won’t let this happen ever again.] 

Well… it’s officially over. For me, anyway. It was probably over for him back in June or even May, and while I began letting go in July, it took me until August 1 to tell him–just in case there was any doubt at all, which there probably wasn’t–that we were through. And this entry is going to be me attempting to get all of my emotions about this out, like a catharsis, so I can move on.

My last post was June 11. The last email I received from him was on June 9, in which he called me scary for saying I wanted to come over and see him in the morning before work and comfort him, and since then I did not hear from him at all. At first I continued to send supportive, lighthearted messages 1-2 times a week. At first, I told myself not to expect a response. But… I started to want some sort of reply, some sort of acknowledgment that what I was doing was helping him. And I was beginning to have a very, very bad feeling about all this; my faith was running out.

I also heard from his youngest brother during June (but only after I pestered him over various social media, honestly worried that Shiki might be depressed/suicidal because of his work situation. It turns out selective avoidance is a family trait!). His brother basically said that while he does not have contact with Shiki (and he also let me know that the middle brother is moving away from Tokyo – ??), June is also a busy month for that industry. His advice was to wait for the busy period to end. That gave me a bit of hope and around the end of June, I had one last burst of determination to wait it out and keep being patient to see if he would come around.

On July 1, I sent him this:

It’s been more than three weeks since your last email you sent to me. Is everything okay? I feel worried when you don’t respond to me at all. Worried about you (and your mental/physical health), and about us. I really hope you’re doing all right. ><
I’d really like to see you or hear from you sometime soon. I think that would help both of us.
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is this Sunday, July 5 at noon. I’m nervous… >< If you have a chance, could you wish me luck?
I know June was also a busy month. Do you think July will be less busy for you?
….No reply… And of course he didn’t wish me luck or say anything to me on JLPT test day. (I took N1 again, and it went fairly okay, by the way. Hoping I passed.)

Anyway, the lack of response was starting to feel hurtful and/or worrisome, depending on how lenient I felt. I had asked him to wish me luck on the test he had studied with me for in February (we had a few study sessions back then where he studied for some legal certification and I studied JLPT N1), and he didn’t. No matter what, it just didn’t seem like a good sign. If he really cared about me, no matter how busy he was, he would have made some attempt to reach out by now. How hard would it have been to say “Good luck” to me on July 5? But he didn’t. It was beginning to feel deliberate, not like he was too debilitated by a busy work schedule and depression to do anything but sleep, eat, and go to work (as had been my assumption up until that point).

So, by the time my company summer vacation rolled around, I was feeling pretty done with things. I had talked to several people about the situation by that point, and everyone agreed this guy was a dud (which was hard for me to accept, but by that point I really just had to). When I protested that I still needed to get my stuff back from his place, that it couldn’t be over until I did, people told me to let the stuff go or joked that he’d already thrown it out (but I knew he wouldn’t have, it’s just not in his personality). I couldn’t let it go though because that was one of my favorite pairs of PJ pants. Anyway, I used my summer vacation to spend 10 days back in the U.S. relaxing at my parents’ house. While I was home, I couldn’t help rethinking the Shiki situation and feeling bitter. So, on July 19, I sent him this:

You are a coward.

You have hurt me deeply by just ending our relationship in the worst way – not contacting me anymore. Is that any way to treat your girlfriend of 9 months? I have cried and felt so sad and lonely over the past three months, and it is your fault. I have tried to help you and be there for you and comfort you and encourage you, and in return you have insulted me and ignored me. All I know is that work is busy, but I don’t know why, and I don’t know what your schedule is like, and I don’t know when it will end.

And you won’t even take responsibility and talk to me about it. You won’t even let me get any answers.

「はなさない」や「大好きだよ」や「Don’t move back to the U.S.」と言ってくれた優しい彼氏はどこ?(Where is the sweet boyfriend who told me “I won’t let you go” and “I love you” and “Don’t move back to the U.S.”?)
なんで消えちゃったの?本当に仕事の忙しさだけが理由? (Why did you disappear? Is work busyness really the only reason?)
なんでちゃんと向き合って話してくれないの? (Why won’t you face me properly and talk to me?)
なんで逃げてるの?なんで返事をくれないの? (Why are you running away? Why won’t you give me an answer?)

I hope you know that you can’t avoid me forever. You still have things that belong to me and until I get them back I’m not going to just fade away and leave you alone, even though I know that’s what you want.

I did decide to move back to the U.S., by the way. You told me not to, that you didn’t want me to, but then you disappeared, so what am I supposed to do?

You might as well tell me something so I know what the hell is going on with you. I suspect you’re depressed because of your work situation, but that’s no excuse for just abandoning a relationship with someone you supposedly care(d) about – with someone you led to believe you truly cherished, and who waited for you to come around for so long.
I think you need to be a man and take responsibility.

You’re the one who asked me to be your girlfriend, so you need to take responsibility for ending this relationship clearly if that’s what you want.

I want to hear an answer from you. I’m sick of waiting.

I had never taken this tone with Shiki before. Yet again… and predictably… no reply.

I decided that once I got back to Japan (on Monday July 27), I would go over to his apartment one morning without warning, wait for the time when he normally leaves for work, and ask for my pajamas back. I thought if I asked or gave him any advance notice, he’d say no or ignore me, so it seemed pointless to give him any warning.

So, on Wednesday July 29, I did that. I sat down in the hallway outside his apartment door (I knew based on past experience that even if I knocked, he wouldn’t open) and waited for him to come out around 8 a.m. He did come out, was clearly shocked to see me, and I walked up to him and said (in English) “You have my stuff.” He looked confused, so I said in Japanese “荷物 [stuff]” and he got it. He went back inside and dug up my pajamas and gave them to me. His hair had been cut into a spiky style at some point in the THREE MONTHS we hadn’t seen each other, and I really didn’t like it. He looked much better before. He had moved my pajamas from the hall closet where I’d put them to one of the plastic boxes under his bed (why?!), so he had to rummage around to find them. There were big, thin boxes in the hallway of his place, like for a bookshelf or something. I started crying (good thing I was wearing sunglasses), and he seemed shaken up too (well, probably also surprised to see me outside his apartment).

We walked to the station together (only 30 seconds) – although he realized he forgot his train pass (maybe proof of how unsettled he was to see me) and had to go back to his apartment to grab it, and though he told me to go on ahead I waited, and when he came out he rushed past me and I had to jog to catch up – and along the way I told him “I want to talk to you, when do you have time to do that?” After a long silence where I wasn’t even sure he was going to answer me at all, he finally said “Sunday….” and when I asked when on Sunday, trying to clarify that he had meant he’d have time to meet then, he paused for a long time again (at this point I had gone down to his platform with him, practically chasing after him, he was clearly in a hurry to get to work and/or possibly to not be near me anymore), and finally I said “Then could I come over at 9pm on Sunday?” and he nodded/said yes, so I said I would and then left – his train was coming in – and went to the platform on the other side to go to work.

It was a lot more unsettling to see him than I’d thought… and for us to interact with absolutely no affection, no physical contact whatsoever for the first time, it just really drove home that things have changed and are over between us, which was really hard to experience. I’d gone through that when my ex and I were fighting – the interaction that’s tense and not normal, no physical affection – but this was obviously different, as we hadn’t seen each other in 3 months and he hadn’t contacted me in a month and a half and definitely seemed to be considering us over already – so it was more like having an awkward encounter with an ex, which I’d never gone through before.

I’m not sure why I set up a time for us to talk more, since I knew even then that it was likely to be even more painful and his answers don’t really matter anyway. I wasn’t even sure he’d keep the appointment, but I was hoping it would help make a clean break, and I HAVE been saying this whole time all I wanted was to talk to him. I just wanted to establish that we are, in fact, broken up and that’s what he wants.

But of course, he canceled the day of. Around 6pm on Sunday August 2, he replied to the angry email I had sent July 19 (quoted above) with this:

今日仕事でいない (I won’t be there because of work today)

The も at the end is senseless, or he typed and didn’t completely delete something like もう連絡しないで (Don’t contact me again). Yet another poorly composed email from him that gives the impression that he’s too frazzled from work to even write properly. Who even knows the truth anymore, though? Does he really have to work past 9pm on a Sunday? If he does, clearly the insane schedule is still going on. But that’s his fault for not prioritizing his own mental and physical health, and also his relationship, and letting all of that be sacrificed just so he can do everything his job asks of him. If he’s been lying to me this whole time, and actually something else happened (like he got back together with an ex, or whatever), then I still deserved an explanation. In any case, he needed to make time for me and to either explain the situation or end things properly. And he failed to.

I wrote back with this:

Ok. I thought you’d cancel so I’m not surprised. Rescheduling would be pointless so I won’t try. If you ever want to talk, you can ask me. 

Just in case there is any doubt, we are broken up now. Thanks for the memories. Enjoy your work-filled life. 
P.S. Your haircut looks dumb. 

Normally, I wouldn’t have added that last dig at him, but I was drinking sake on a patio way out on the Chuo line with my friends and in a reckless mood. I had a friend push the send button for me.

It bothers me that he chose to cancel by replying to the last email I had sent him, proving that he IS aware of the emails and he’s reading them, he’s just choosing not to reply and to ignore me, knowing what that means. How could he end up being so terrible, I just don’t understand it…

Whatever. He has to live with the fact that he hurt me in this way, and I’ve made sure he knows it and knows what a terrible thing he did (regardless of how much his work schedule influenced it, if it in fact did). If he wanted to avoid facing the consequences of his hurtful actions and the proof that he’s hurt and upset me, he didn’t get to do that. I put it in his face anyway. I’m annoyed I spent so much time pitying him and coming up with excuses and rationales for his behavior.

This is easily the worst breakup I’ve ever had (but to be fair, the other two were pretty clean breaks and this is the only messy one I’ve ever experienced), and I hate that it’s like an open wound now, and it still pisses me off when I think about it. I’m actually still in shock. He was so sweet, and we were so happy spending time together, and he did and said so many things that made it clear he really cared about me and wanted to keep seeing me… I don’t understand how he could have done this, and how things got weird for good AFTER he put all that effort into our 6-month anniversary. I’m just blindsided. Yeah, it’s ghosting, but I just don’t understand. Why?

I’ll write more about my feelings about this whole thing, but I wanted to get the facts and an update out in case anyone was curious. Sympathy is MUCH appreciated!

I’m still feeling very hurt and rejected, even though I tried to reclaim some of the power in my last email to him and reject HIM. But it’s obvious that he was checked out since May/June, or maybe even earlier, no matter how big of a role the busy work schedule played. I know I did my best and I was a great girlfriend and I did more and hung in there for longer than most people reasonably would, and if that wasn’t enough for him then that’s on him for not appreciating what he had and honestly telling me if it wasn’t working for him anymore or if he wasn’t able to pay attention to a girlfriend anymore. He’s a coward and avoidant and he has to live with that and live being that way. I get to move on and know that I am capable of real love and a real, secure partnership with someone who thinks I’m amazing and deserving of all their love, and I will find 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.