Interview with an Expat: David in Tokyo, Japan

David, a thirty-something American expat, tells me all about his life living and working in Tokyo as an English teacher. Everyone in the world has surely heard of Tokyo, and we all probably have some preconceptions about the city, but David is here to tell us what the city is actually like, living and working there from the inside. Read the full interview below to learn a thing or two about one of the world’s largest cities, and whether or not it lives up to all its hype. (Ness in bold font and David in regular font):

Could you start by telling us your age, nationality, hometown, ethnicity, and what kind of person you consider yourself to be (personality wise)?

I’m a 34 year-old white male. I was born in Sacramento, California, but I consider San Francisco my adopted hometown. In regards to living abroad, I’m pretty open-minded and always seeking new experiences. I’m looking for a different life or different opportunities that maybe I wouldn’t be able to find in my home country.

Sounds like we’re in the same boat then, as that’s how I like to live overseas. I understand you’ve been in Japan five years now – have you been in Tokyo this whole time?

No, I moved around quite a bit my first few years here. I lived in a guesthouse slash hostel my first month in Japan, and then I lived in Saitama for three months. I was staying at a dingy place in Saitama – it was one of those kind of places that lets you live there for free if you teach a certain amount of hours of English every week. Then I moved from there to a place in Setagaya, which is actually part of Tokyo. I was there for six months. I then moved to Sagamihara, which is in Kanagawa prefecture, and I stayed there for a year at a company-rented apartment. And I’ve been in Tokyo since September 2013, so I’m coming up on my third year of exclusively living in Tokyo.

David Standing Next to a Restaurant

Do you have experience living in or traveling to countries other than Japan and the USA?

Yeah! I’ll just chronologically go through my travel experience. I’ve been to both Mexico and Canada, but I don’t count those. In high school I did an exchange program where I went to Belgium, France, and Luxembourg for a couple of weeks. That was kind of the beginning to my overseas travel experience. Then in my junior year of college, I did a semester abroad in Australia. Once the semester was up, a few friends and I drove a camper around New Zealand for two weeks and then went to Fiji for a week.

A few years after that, I went to Peru for a few weeks. And since I’m half Jewish, I qualify for what’s called a “birth right trip” to Israel. So I had a free trip to Israel where I went with a group of about 40 people. That was back in 2008 and lasted a few weeks. I also went to Jordan, and it was cool seeing the Middle East.

Then I came to Asia a couple of years before I moved to Japan. I went to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Then after coming to Japan, I took a short trip to South Korea. And I’ve also been to India since then.

Well, that’s far more countries than I had realized you’ve been to! So out of all of those places, were any of them your favorite or least favorite?

It’s really hard to pick a favorite, but I’ll never forget Machu Picchu in Peru. But also if you get up really early, you can hike up Huayna Picchu, and they only allow a few people to hike up there each day. I remember noticing how small the steps were up there, and realizing how tiny the Incans must’ve been. That was cool, and I’ll always remember that.

Laos was a really beautiful and natural place, and it was really refreshing going there from Thailand. I had a great time in Thailand, but Laos was just so quiet and serene. There was also a lot of French influence there. It was an interesting contrast going from somewhere really developed for tourism to somewhere that isn’t.

I wouldn’t say I disliked it, but India is the only place I’ve ever been to where I felt a lot of culture shock. I had lived in Japan for a few years at that point, and I’ll never forget seeing a guy who had a monkey on a leash, or seeing a guy riding on a horse while I’m riding on the freeway in a taxi. It was just a crazy no rules kind of place – people pissing on the side of the road, huge containers full of trash, and so on. But yeah, India was one of the only places where I felt huge culture shock, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing, but I definitely wouldn’t want to live there.

Have you ever traveled anywhere that you never want to return to?

No, I wouldn’t say that, but there are certain parts of countries I wouldn’t wanna go back to. The thing with traveling, which I think most people also experience, is that as you get older you realize you can’t go everywhere. When I was younger I just wanted to check off all these places and get passport stamps. “I’ve been here. I’ve been here. I’ve been here.” But I realize now that it’s more enriching to travel to a country and spend more time in just one city, rather than traveling to many cities and only staying a few days in each.

I’m a huge proponent myself of slowing down when traveling and soaking in just one place. Or traveling to a certain country for weeks or months at a time. When people travel nowadays, they move around far too often and far too fast, which I think just isn’t the way to truly understand a place when you travel.

Yeah, now when I travel to a place I consider more whether or not there’s a genuine reason I want to go there, beyond just saying I’ve been there. I always wanna maximize my experience there, rather than simply just getting a passport stamp.

Beyond Tokyo and the other places you’ve lived, have you seen any other parts of Japan?

Yeah, in Kansai I’ve been to Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. Around Tokyo I’ve been to Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, and Shizuoka. I’ve been to the area surrounding Mount Fuji, but I haven’t been to Mount Fuji yet. I’ve also been to Ibaraki, Kyushu, Fukuoka, and Hiroshima. A couple of years back I went to Hokkaido and Sapporo. I certainly haven’t been everywhere yet, but I feel like I’ve seen a fair amount of Japan in the time that I’ve been here. I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of what Japan is like outside of Tokyo.

David at Mount Tsukuba
David at the top of Mount Tsukuba in Japan’s Ibaraki prefecture.

So of all those places, were there any that you felt were really great?

I think Japan is a beautiful country with a beautiful culture, so I liked all of them. I felt like the lifestyle up in Hokkaido was far different than here in Tokyo, where everything just feels so cramped, noisy, and hectic. Hokkaido feels so spacious, and life is much more slow and relaxed. There’s also a lot of natural beauty.

I remember Fukuoka being a really nice city. It’s somewhat big, but it doesn’t feel crowded, and it’s very green. And it has more tropical weather. Osaka was cool too, and Hiroshima was really nice. But to be honest, everywhere in Japan that I’ve been, I’d be happy to go back to and see more of. Even though I’ve already been to Kyoto three times, I could go back again many times as there are so many temples to see and things to do there.

Up to this point of living in Japan for eight months, my travel in Japan is mostly limited to Ibaraki of course, but I’ve also been all around Chiba, and I’ve been here in Tokyo a few times. I’ve got a trip to Kyoto coming up at the beginning of May which I look forward to.

How do you make a living there in Tokyo? Could you also tell us your salary?

When I first came here, at the same time I was living at that guesthouse I mentioned earlier, I worked at a preschool teaching English, and they agreed to sponsor my visa, which was a three to four month long process. I was getting paid pretty much nothing during that time – maybe 100,000 yen a month? But after I started working on getting my master’s degree in TESOL, that opened up a lot of doors to higher paying jobs and networking opportunities.

Though it’s hard to come up with an exact figure, I’d say the average English teacher here makes 250,000 yen a month, which is usually just from working with a single employer. But when you do the math and figure out the hourly pay rate for this kind of job, it’s usually quite low – say maybe 2,000 yen an hour. Teaching at a university usually pays upwards from 4 to 500,000 yen a month, but of course that requires much higher credentials.

I’ve found that working multiple part-time teaching jobs is the best way to maintain flexibility in your schedule, which maximizes your earning potential. Many of these jobs pay around 4 to 5,000 yen an hour. But finding enough part-time jobs that all line up perfectly into your schedule can be tough, almost like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. You also have to make sure you don’t burn yourself out by running all over town from one job to the next in a single day.

I remember one month during my first year here, I made 530,000 yen, but I worked like a slave. I had to wake up at six in the morning and then get back home at eleven at night. I had to spend five hours a day on the train running everywhere, so the quality of my life wasn’t very good. But over the last year or so, I average around 370 to 430,000 yen a month, and now most of my teaching jobs are near one another and easy to get to, so my quality life is much better as a result.

Prior to being an English teacher, did you work in any other industries?

Yeah, I worked for Wells Fargo for three years, which is a large retail bank in the US. I started as a teller, but then I got promoted up to business banking. The money was good, but I didn’t really care for the job, and eventually it got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. So I took some time off, did some traveling, and eventually got into teaching English.

What do you think was the “trigger” that made you go from living and working in the US to teaching English in Japan?

I think knowing that I could live almost anywhere in the world by teaching English really appealed to me. I did some ESL teaching in San Francisco, but it wasn’t really enough to make a living. It seemed like I could be doing the same thing but somewhere else in the world, which would’ve been much more rewarding. And I remember at first I thought I wanted to live in Brazil. Eventually I got sick of doing the job back home, so I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok. I then spent several months traveling in Asia, which ultimately led to me teaching English here in Japan.

David outside a Restaurant

That’s a very similar story to my own. What do you like the most and what you liked the least about your job in Tokyo?

I like that because I have almost eight years teaching experience now, I can just show up to my classroom with little to no preparation and teach. All I really need is a whiteboard. I also like that because I’m only teaching adults, I can be more selective about who I’ll teach English to. I only want to teach students who are actually motivated to learn, as their motivation to learn greatly affects my motivation to teach. I don’t want to be babysitting a bunch of junior high school students, or acting as a dancing clown for a bunch of little kids, so now I only agree to teach adults who actually want to learn something.

What I like the least is that so many Japanese students have unrealistic expectations. So many students come to learn English and after only a few lessons their motivation starts to wane, because they assumed by signing up for X number of classes, that they should be able to speak English after they complete all those classes. But that’s not the way learning English works. Continually having to deal with this kind of student gets tiring.

Unfortunately, I’ve also encountered a lot of these students over my years of teaching English in Asia, and they can be real motivation killers. So are there any other benefits or disadvantages to your teaching job?

Because I live in central Tokyo, my primary employer is literally only a five-minute walk from my house. And one of my other employers is only a ten-minute bike ride away. That means I don’t have to wake up early, nor do I have to take the train. That gives me far more flexibility and free time during the day. I can also have a split working schedule, say a few class in the morning and then a few later that night, and that won’t ruin my day, because I’m living in the city center. This is would be far less conducive if I was living on the outskirts of the city.

One disadvantage is that I don’t get any paid vacation time. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. And I also can’t take too long of a vacation, or I risk getting replaced by another teacher. So I can never really enjoy myself too much.

David under Restaurant Lights

Can you give any advice to newbies interested in working in Japan as an English teacher?

My first tip is to get a job before you come to Japan. That might seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually much easier to find an employer who’s willing to sponsor your work visa application from overseas than it would be if you were already in Japan. Many of said schools won’t be the ideal employers, but once you’re in possession of a work visa, you’re free to change to a different employer – you don’t have to stay with the same employer who originally sponsored your application. So if you wind up with a bad employer once you’re here in Japan, you can just find a better one while you’re on the ground and already have a work visa.

This work visa system is actually unique to Japan, because in Thailand and China (and I believe South Korea) your work visa is tied to your employer, so you can’t just walk away from a bad employer so easily.

Well, one caveat to this work visa system in Japan is that you have to find another employer to sponsor your new application once your current visa is due to expire. But on the plus side, you can get anywhere from a one-year to a three-year work visa, and I was lucky enough to get a three-year one on my first attempt. Renewing is a lot easier than getting a work visa for the very first time, but still, you have to have a good relationship with your employer/school for them to be willing to sponsor your application.

But after you get that first visa, you mostly just gotta hustle and build some good relationships. If you’re looking to maximize your earning potential, then teaching business English is the way to go here. And in Japan, I think if you show up on time every time, you look professional, and you teach a good enough job to where the students are satisfied, and you can maintain that for some amount of time, then you’ve already separated yourself from 95% of the other foreign English teachers in this country. Also end any contracts you have with companies in a very professional way by giving them as much advance notice as possible.

The first year or two of teaching English in Japan can be tough, but the longer you do it and the more relationships you build, the more opportunities you’ll have come your way and the more selective you can be.

David at a Shrine

 

This is very good advice for Thailand and China as well. Don’t expect great things right off the bat in any of these countries – go to them, hustle a bit, and keep at it for a year or so, and things will only get better and better and easier and easier. You’re probably not going to have an awesome work situation waiting for you as soon as you step off the plane.

How’s the cost of living to income ratio here in Tokyo? Do you feel your salary offers you a good lifestyle?

Maybe I’m not the best person at saving money – I like the convenience of living in central Tokyo, I like to eat well, I like going to an expensive gym, and I like spending money on nice clothes to look good for work. Everyone has things that they like to allocate their money towards, and my kind of lifestyle and spending habits make me comfortable to be here overseas. Nonetheless, I think it’s easy to live within your means here. You can be frugal in Tokyo without a doubt. You can save money here.

So it sounds like you feel you are afforded a good lifestyle here on your salary, right?

Absolutely! Tokyo is such a comfortable and convenient place to live in so many different ways.

It’s common to hear about how expensive Japan is, and I think this worries a lot of people who might be considering coming to Tokyo to work as an English teacher, as they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to afford a decent lifestyle or if they’ll be able to save once they’re here and working. So it’s interesting to hear from someone’s who’s actually living here about the cost of living.

Can you offer any tips on how to live more cheaply in Tokyo?

Instead of going to an expensive private gym like me, you could instead go to a decent public gym, which is generally much cheaper – say 200 or 300 yen per visit. Instead of blowing money by eating at restaurants, you could go to the grocery store and buy natto and hard boiled eggs. If you live in a more central location in the city, you could bike or walk everywhere, which saves you a lot of money that would otherwise be spent on subway fees.

In order to avoid paying key money* on an apartment once you first arrive in Tokyo, you could live in a guesthouse for a while, which usually gives you a private room, but you share your bathroom and kitchen with the other guests. You could also rent a minimally furnished apartment in Tokyo, which pretty much has the bare basics, but often doesn’t require you to pay any key money. These places are usually not all that nice (not much space, older, inconvenient location, etc.), but they start at around 60,000 yen a month. Once you’ve been here a while and got some money saved up, you can move somewhere nicer. I lived in these kind of apartments my first couple of years here, but I’ve since upgraded to somewhere much nicer.

(Key money is basically a non-refundable fee that you pay to landlords in Japan once you first move into their apartments, and it usually costs a lot of money – maybe equal to a month or two’s worth of rent.)

Also, if you can, try to do some of your shopping in some of Tokyo’s more suburban areas, like Ikebukuro or Machida, as shopping in these areas is usually much more affordable than in the more central and popular areas of Tokyo like Ginza or Omotesando.

David Using a Vending Machine

People in central Japan or the areas surrounding Tokyo should also check out the secondhand store franchises like Hard-Off or WonderREX, as these places sell almost everything you can imagine, and there are many good deals to be had. These kind of stores can be a lifesaver once you very first move to Japan and need to buy some things for your apartment or need some nice clothes for work.

Now for a big topic change – how’s your love life in Tokyo? Do you feel being an American guy here helps or hinders you in regards to romance?

My love life here is good. I’ve got one and a half girls at the moment, haha! It’s definitely not hard to meet girls here – I think it’s probably one of the best cities in the world for finding single, attractive girls. But I don’t really think my success here is due to being white or American, but rather from being in good physical shape, from dressing well, and maintaining my appearance. This is certainly not unique to Japanese girls, but the girls here strongly value showing you off to their friends, and how you’ll make them look being with you.

It sounds superficial, but the more you invest in how you look, the more success you’ll likely have here. Also, speaking some Japanese will greatly improve your success, as does being culturally sensitive. Some people will say that you don’t need to know Japanese to date the girls here, but I thinking knowing some of the language can help you greatly. I think I’ve certainly had more success by learning more of the local language. I’m guessing anyone who hasn’t been successful with Japanese girls was likely lacking in one of these areas.

Tokyo is a city where you could be waiting at the subway station for your hot date to show up and see ten other hot girls while you wait. Just like in any other big city in the world, Tokyo provides you with the most opportunities to meet girls. It’s an unbelievable city. Even in small town Japan you can find attractive girls everywhere, but I never found that to be the case in small town USA, for example. No matter where I travel in this country, I never cease to be amazed at how many good-looking girls are all around me. Everyone else I know who comes to visit me or anyone else who also lives here in Tokyo all seem to share the same opinion as me.

I’ve also noticed there are a lot of good-looking foreign women here in Tokyo – this is similar to both Hong Kong and Singapore. Usually when I travel to large cities around Asia, I don’t notice very many attractive foreign women, but this is not the case here in Tokyo. So even if you’re not into Japanese women for whatever reason, it seems like there are plenty of other attractive non-Japanese women to date in this city.

I haven’t quite tapped into the foreign women scene in this city, but yeah, I imagine if you spend a lot of time where foreign women tend to go, in places like Ginza or Minato-ku, you’ll possibly find what you’re looking for.

Are there any comments you can give us on life in general as an American guy living in Tokyo (i.e. do you “fit” in, any discrimination towards you, unique experiences, etc.)?

The situation is really just what you want to make of it or how you want to perceive it. Sometimes I notice people looking at me or guys looking at me kind of strange, which I could interpret as them not liking me or as me not fitting in, but some of them might just be wanting to speak to me specifically because I’m a foreigner. Maybe they’re just wanting to speak English, or maybe they’re just wanting to make a foreign friend. But overall, I think it’s a huge positive being a foreigner here.

Once you understand that you’re not Japanese and that you’ll never be Japanese, and you can be at peace with that, you’ll start to be accepted as much as you can be as a foreigner in this country. There are certain foreigners who come to live in Japan for decades, learn to speak Japanese fluently, and are culturally sensitive, and they often complain about how they’ll never be 100% “accepted” as a foreigner here. But they’re not ethnic Japanese and never will be, so they have to come to terms with this hard fact. But you can still make good friends here, even though you’re technically an outsider, so it’s useless to always be bitter about something that’s never going to change. And Japanese people are so kind, considerate, and polite, so I don’t think you’ll ever experience true discrimination here.

Being a foreigner in Japan also allows you to use the “gaijin card.” Because you’re foreign, people here expect you to speak zero Japanese. They expect you to not be able to use chopsticks. They expect you to be ignorant of Japanese culture. Even after several years of living here, you’ll continue to get shallow, redundant comments like “your Japanese is so good” or “you use chopsticks so well.” But at the same time, people will excuse your cultural “gaffes,” whereas another Japanese person could never get away with making the same mistakes. Though when you speak some Japanese or show some cultural awareness, people will really appreciate that, so you kind of get the best of both worlds.

That sounds a heck of a lot like China. What do you like the most and what do you like the least about life in Japan or Japanese society?

There are so many good things worth mentioning. Everything here just works. The Japanese attention to detail. There’s very low crime. It’s clean. People are polite and selfless. It’s just a very comfortable place to live. I’m often disgusted and appalled by the way so many Americans choose to live their lives, but I find probably 95% of Japanese people’s lifestyles to be very agreeable.

No one in Japan fucks with you either, not even a gangster Yakuza guy. But in the US, you have to be much more wary of the people around you and more on guard. Japan is just so much more comfortable and safe, that I often question the way things are back in America. You can even leave your smartphone on a table in Starbucks here while you go order, and when you come back it’ll still be there. I think that’s a great way to live.

As for what I don’t like, most of these are just very minor complaints. I don’t like that I can’t get any big food portions here. There’s also not a whole lot of variety at the supermarkets here, in comparison to the ones back in America (i.e. Trader Joe’s). Also, people are not very direct here, so you have to consider people’s feelings more when you speak to them, because people often make decisions here based on their feelings. For example, seldom will people tell you “no” here, rather they’ll just say “I’ll think about it.” I wouldn’t quite say I dislike this, but it takes some time getting used to.

Man Standing on a Boat

This is all interesting stuff! How do you stay healthy in Tokyo? Any lifestyle, diet, or gym tips that you can share?

Not that I was eating unhealthy before I got here, but I’ve really cleaned up my diet since coming here. I only eat clean foods (no processed foods). I try to avoid carbs, especially excess carbs, and not eat more than I need. I also try to cut out excess sugar, which helps control my blood sugar levels and also helps control my cravings. I also try to cut out excess salt, and I also eat a lot of protein and a lot of vegetables.

For me, going to the gym is the catalyst to eating healthy and feeling good. I’m always trying to put on muscle and lose fat, which can be hard to do at the same time. I also do some intermittent fasting – sometimes after going to the gym I’ll eat a ton of stuff, and if I consume something not so healthy, I’ll counterbalance that by not eating anything for a certain period of time, which kind of “erases” the caloric damage done by the unhealthy food I ate earlier.

Sometimes there will be days where I try to eat nothing but vegetables, like broccoli or kale. And then there might be other days where I’ll juice fast, and consume nothing but juice for the entire day.

I also do a lot of the same things you do to stay healthy, particularly the parts about going to the gym to build muscle and lose fat and controlling my carb intake. Do you have any tips for newbies coming to Japan on how to live here more successfully? For example, how to avoid too much culture shock when you first arrive here, etc.

Just knowing a little bit of Japanese before you come here will certainly enrich your life more. I know I felt much more comfortable living here after I had learned some basic conversational Japanese. You certainly don’t have to learn any Japanese in order to live here, as there are many foreigners who’ve lived in Tokyo for years, yet they speak zero Japanese.

Be open. Be flexible. Develop as many diverse relationships as possible. Tap into different kinds of networks. Meet people through your hobbies, but also be open to meeting people with different interests than you. You can develop good relationships with people here just through traveling and doing simple things together – like say going to Yoyogi Park together – even though you might have nothing else in common. The more people you know here and have a good relationship with, the more opportunities that will come in every facet of your life. That might come through getting a job offer down the road or even the opportunity to meet a nice girl.

I’m somewhat of an introvert and a loner type of guy, but even I have realized that’s there only so much I can do by myself, and that I can really expand so much more by meeting other people.

Right, and of course these tips apply well to pretty much any country in the world. What’s your overall impression of Japanese and local Tokyo cuisine? Any favorite dishes?

Tokyo is a place where you can get cuisine from all around Japan. If you go to Senso-ji, one of the most famous temples here, you can see food trucks serving cuisine from every part of Japan. I couldn’t even begin to name all of the different kinds of Japanese cuisine available in this city.

I personally like to buy sashimi, spinach, and avocado, and then make a very simple but good meal out of that. My favorite Japanese food is probably okonomiyaki, which is a Japanese pancake made up of all different kinds of ingredients that are chosen to your liking. There’s an Osaka style and a Hiroshima style, or you could have a seafood style, an egg style, or a noodle style. The ingredients are all grilled together into a pancake, and it’s a really filling and good meal.

There’s also a lot of really good meat in Japan – yakitori (chicken), yakiniku (beef), sukiyaki (meat and a raw egg). There’s a lot of Japanese cuisine beyond just sushi, noodles, and rice, and think the variety of what’s available here might surprise a lot of people.

Japan_Tokyo_2016_02_07_029
A food stall set up at Senso-ji, Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temple.

Any least favorite Japanese foods?

No, not really. I’ve always thought that if Japanese people can bear to eat something, then I probably can too. This is especially true to me when I consider that so many people here are in relatively good health. But there’s one food here that foreigners can be very divided about, and that food is natto (fermented soy beans). I don’t mind the taste or smell of nato, but it can be very troublesome to eat, as it’s very sticky and hard to get out of the package. But I can eat anything here, including natto, so long as it’s healthy.

I don’t really care for some of the unhealthy foods here, like fried chicken, but this is not because of the way Japanese cook them or anything, but rather because those kind of foods aren’t a regular part of my diet, so when I do actually eat them, my body doesn’t react well to them. But I think that’s mostly a good thing. I also don’t care too much for ramen. Don’t get me wrong, ramen tastes very good, but it’s way too high in salt. Same with Japanese curry. If there’s one complaint I have about the Japanese diet, it’s that there’s too much salt in the food here.

It’s seems like in every Asian country I’ve ever been to, the food is always very high in carbs and salt. That’s one grievance I have about the food in this part of the world, but of course there’s still lots of great food over here.

How’s the expat scene in Tokyo?

Where you live, who you’re looking to meet, and whether or not you’re going to school here can all have a big impact on the different kinds of foreigners you’ll meet in this city. I’ve met expats through Meetup.com events, from teaching English with other foreign teachers, from going to a Japanese language school, and from attending my graduate school. You could meet foreigners who are into DJ’ing, punk rock concerts, or even gaming. Tokyo is a massive city, so you can meet all different kinds of foreigners here. It’s hard to really summarize the expat scene here, as it’s very large and diverse. You can meet expats into almost any kind of niche here.

I divide the line between the expats who’ve been here for a while and the ones who are just kind of passing through. Lots of people come to Japan through teaching programs like JET, and they just want to experience the country for a year or two before going back to their home country. There’s also a lot of backpacking, “working holiday” types who are just kind of looking to have fun rather than to settle down. And then there are the expats who are more established here, maybe through marriage and/or through having a child, and they’re more or less on the track of living here permanently.

It sounds like the expat scene in Tokyo is very large, diverse, and hard to fit into a single kind of box. What’s your absolute favorite thing to do or place to go in Tokyo?

I really love the Imperial Palace and the area surrounding it. I try to go for a run around there at least once a week. I also like Yoyogi Park, and I probably don’t go there enough, seeing as every time I go there, I really like it. Living in a city, I think it’s important to balance your life by finding time to enjoy more of nature and open space, so I like the places in Tokyo that provide the opportunity to do just that. This city is just so big, so you’ll always find something new here that you never noticed before, even when you think you’ve seen it all. Just the subways stations alone have level after level of shops and restaurants.

David at Yoyogi Park
David at Yoyogi Park during the cherry blossom season in late March.

Can you give us any comments on the weather in Tokyo?

That’s a good question, as I was very much unprepared for the weather in Tokyo before coming here. Tokyo has four distinct seasons – spring can be rainy, but beautiful, and a bit late warming up. Then the summer starts off very rainy and overcast, which is kind of depressing weather. But then the summer suddenly becomes very hot, humid, and muggy, which makes you miss that rainy season. Late summer is also typhoon season. Autumn is very beautiful and temperate. And then in the winter it becomes very cold and very very dry, and it doesn’t rain very much during that time. There was a lot of snow during the first few winters I spent here in Tokyo, but there seems to be less and less with each passing year.

Unsurprisingly, the weather sounds almost exactly the same as Ibaraki, except minus the snow, as there really isn’t much in Ibaraki.

How often do you go back home to the USA?

Usually two times a year – a month or so in the summer, and then a couple weeks or so in the winter. As I work a part-time job, I kind of have to take my breaks when they’re aligned with the holiday schedule here. Occasionally, I’ll make an exception to go back home more, like for special occasions, but I’m hoping in the future I’ll be able to make more time for trips back home.

Where would like to be, location-wise and career-wise, ten years from now?

I’d love to be location independent. Maybe have my home base here in Japan, but also be able to spend months at a time back in America with my family, particularly during the summer months here, as they’re my least favorite months in Tokyo weather-wise.

This would require me to have a job where I’m not tied down to Tokyo. Maybe rather than being the teacher, I could be the person who manages the teachers and sends them to certain schools.  Or rather than being the teacher who looks to textbooks for classroom material, being the person who develops that textbook. There’s a nonstop, 24-hour demand for English from all facets of society here in Tokyo. I think that’s part of what has kept me here for so long. I’d like to tap into this market and make my way up the ladder and perhaps even start some kind of English-related business here.

I also want the flexibility to be able to do different things. I want to create and produce things, which is far more important to me than becoming rich. I believe money can come naturally by creating good things. Teaching is okay, but I’ve been doing it for almost eight years now, and I don’t feel like I can progress much more, so I want a new challenge.

It seems like myself and many of the guys I’ve met here in Asia all have the same goals – to be location independent and making our own incomes.

Now for the last question: after it’s all said and done, would you do it all over again? That is moving to Japan? Any regrets or things you wish you did differently?

When I initially came to Japan, I definitely did not bring enough money with me, which in retrospect was not a very wise thing to do. I also think it would have been best had I came to Japan with a job already lined up or possibly have had some kind of side income to get me through the initial move, which was quite costly. It probably also would’ve been very beneficial to know some Japanese before I came here.

But yeah, moving to Japan was the best decision I ever made in my life, so I would definitely do it all over again. I was kind of in a rut in my old life back in America, which I don’t blame America for, but I’ve greatly improved my life since moving here. With each passing year, I can see that I’ve made more and more progress, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me today, David! There’s lot of valuable information here. Good luck in the future.

David Sitting on the Sidewalk

This interview took place on March 27th, 2016.

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