Chapter 2: Launching Overseas and Living in Japan
The decision to move to Japan was a lifetime in the making. I’d been bred and raised to get an education and find a job as if life was all about moving from point A to point B. My family constantly asked me: what do you want to be when you grow up?
I lived through a mantra that said: build a resume, get good grades, be likeable, find a job, get a man, buy a home. Life was linear until suddenly I was an adult with a bachelor degree, looking at a job market that had little room for newcomers. I felt cheated, rudderless and deflated. Looking around, I questioned the system. I wondered how life could be so prescribed. Where was the adventure?
Somehow, somewhere the equation erred. It did not compute. X did not equal Y.
I questioned all those years in learning: taking advanced classes until my head felt ready to explode, taking unpaid internships, registering for summer courses to bulk up my GPA. I questioned what I’d really learned, how I could honestly settle down into a career when I’d never experienced anything monumental in my life. At 23 years old, I didn’t even have a bank account in my own name.
Setting Goals and Living a Dream
The first task we had to tackle: our goals. Some people live overseas to learn a language or start a business or find true love. Sketching clear objectives helps to define expatriate living. Creating a Travel Business Plan is important. Here are some considerations for a travel business plan. Goals can be general, like making new friends or specific, earning a black belt in aikido. We wanted to save money in order to travel. We wanted to see artwork, explore caves, visit feudal castles, and eat kishimen noodles. With the agreement to learn about the culture and save money for future travel, every other aspect of expatriate life fell in line to bolster the achievement of these goals.
Once in Japan, we set our plan into motion. This included working, saving, and hitting the road whenever we had time off. By no means did we skimp on socializing, dining, and entertainment. We went to the Grand Sumo Tournament in Nagoya, we just saved money by buying tickets higher in the auditorium. We just made adjustments.
Our eating habits shifted: no steaks, whole roasted chickens or turkey sandwiches. We ate like the Japanese: rice, noodles, and miso soup. I cooked almost every night. We brought lunch to work. We bought local produce. We discovered a beverage distributor for discount beer and liquor. At 5pm, we picked up ready-made foods from the supermarket as they went on sale before closing. When we went out on the weekends, we headed for karaoke bars with generous drink specials. We ate at restaurants with free salad bars. We had satellite TV, shared one cell phone, and slept on traditional futon bedding. We bought our bikes second-hand and pedaled them to the library for free internet service. When saving in Japan, we balanced out what we needed with what we wanted.
Living in Japan seems expensive. Apartments require huge deposits. Buying Western-sized clothing may feel like something akin to claiming bankruptcy.
Traveling in Japan can be even more exorbitant. The farther one travels, the higher the cost. A one-way Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto can cost over $200. But we saved using discount tickets. For daily commuting, we purchased monthly passes and ticket books that gave us discounted fares to work. As we began to travel up and down the country, we used the Seishun 18 Kippu: a transferable ticket that allows unlimited access to local and express JR trains on any five non-consecutive days.
This is how we saw the first cherry blossoms bloom in Nagasaki and how we followed the springtime celebrations northward, totaling over 1000 miles by train roundtrip. With the Kippu, we could travel 50 km or 1000 for a flat rate of 2,100 yen ($25) per person. On the slow trains, we could see rice farms, small towns, and rolling countryside. On the slow train, we took our time reading, writing, and absorbing the moment.