“I never saw myself as an adult in my own country. I always thought I’d be living abroad because I just didn’t feel like I belong here. I was away for college in the states but had to return due to visa issues. And when I did, everything had changed. People think it’s easy. They assume I’d have friends to return to, that I can just go back to the way things were. But I didn’t really have close friends in high school to begin with. So it’s like navigating uncharted territory, except people expect you to fit in right away. And then your parents still treat you as a teenager. Also, sometimes I get asked if I’m really Japanese. What does that even mean? Just because I don’t talk like everybody else or I bring up topics that make people uncomfortable, doesn’t mean I’m not Japanese.
“Anyway, that’s why I’m taking a break from everything. I’m just enjoying this fleeting moment. But when I’m ready, I think I want to work in the area of mental health. Especially for those from diverse backgrounds, third culture kids, or returning students like me. One of the things that got me a bit depressed when I came back was how people don’t think social issues, such as sexism or racism, apply to them. They think racism only happens in America, between white people and black people.”
“My father was screaming at me on the phone a few weeks ago. He said, ‘Get back home to Egypt! I don’t want to see you in a body bag or coffin.’ So I told him I’d be safer in Japan even if I got infected with the coronavirus. Medical treatment is better. Plus I’m supposed to start working in April after grad school (sucks that graduation ceremony got canceled though). Although the company sent an email when the outbreak started, telling me to stay home. They’ll send me the computers, instead. How’s that for a first day on the job? Work from home right away.
“It’s been a tough couple of years for me. But I’m lucky for so many reasons. I was doing menial jobs seven days a week to support myself while doing research in the laboratory and attending Japanese classes. I don’t know why I turned down a good job offer in Egypt just so I could have this hard life in Japan. I guess I was looking for something different. Also I didn’t really fit in back home. Although funny thing is, I also didn’t fit in here in Japan in the beginning. It’s hard navigating social cues, and ‘honne and tatemae’ (true feelings vs behavior displayed in public). Lucky for me I met a girl at one of my part-time jobs who became my girlfriend. She explained everything and now it all makes sense to me.
“So after all that hardship, I’m grateful I finally got a scholarship, a job offer, and me and my girlfriend are getting married this year or next. Of course, everything would’ve been perfect if not for this coronavirus. It even canceled the welcome party for new hires at my company so I’m a bit disappointed. But hey, there are bigger things to worry about. And I’m all about chasing problems. Because a problem-free life is boring.”
“I was born with a disability. I don’t have part of my leg because of a malformation below the knee. It’s like an amputation. So growing up, my parents would always push me to challenge myself. They wanted me to live an active life. If I wanted something, I had to go pick it up myself. And then when I was 12, my mom enrolled me in karate class. That’s how I got started in Japanese martial arts, which helped me with my studies by bringing me focus. Years later, what started as an extracurricular activity, became my ‘ikigai’ or lifelong pursuit. Working for Brazil’s foreign service, I’ve been able to cultivate relationships with people from all over the world through aikido. So martial arts not only empowered me physically, mentally, and spiritually, but also enabled me to make friends. I encourage everyone to try it since it did wonders for me. I reached my potential through martial arts. That’s why I teach as well. I have a student who has autism and I’m seeing some improvements in his listening skills, balance, focus and control. I believe it’s beneficial, not only to individuals, but also to society as well.”
“I’m not in the best place in my life right now. I would say I’m blessed, but I don’t feel the best. And now I’ve decided to leave and go back home to Taiwan, partly because of the virus. I came to Japan on a working holiday visa because of my boyfriend, who lives here (we met while I was traveling). But I haven’t been able to find full-time work. Before, I did some graphic design in New York as an intern for a Japanese advertising agency. That’s how I got exposed to their work culture. Plus Taiwan is geographically, as well as culturally, close to Japan. Still, I haven’t been able to get a real job due to the language, despite being able to read kanji. Although I must admit, I wasn’t really trying hard to begin with. So I did a lot of babysitting, mostly for international families. And I also did a few English teaching jobs as a tutor.
“But now I’ve decided to leave, especially with the virus and all. It’s not easy making my decision because of the timing and it’s such a sensitive topic. I don’t know if it’s OK to go back. I don’t know what I’m facing. Will I be quarantined? I’m worried because people are not so friendly to anyone returning from abroad right now. That’s what I heard. At the same time, since I don’t have a job here, it’s hard for me to make connections and it’s making me depressed. So let’s see. I hope I can find a job and get settled back in Taiwan. Then let’s see where things go with my boyfriend because he’s still gonna be here working. He’s not coming with me.”
“I was babysitting for an American couple when the outbreak happened, and it turned into a two-week, all-expense-paid trip for me. They were based in Shanghai but in Tokyo on holiday. So the lockdown in Shanghai forced them to stay two more weeks and work remotely, while I showed their kids around town. One of them was Taiwanese-American and I’m from Taiwan doing a working-holiday in Japan, so they felt at ease entrusting their kids to me. I guess babysitters suddenly got a lot of work after the government announced school closures nationwide. Although I hate to benefit from other people’s misery, it was a fun, rewarding two weeks I’ll never forget.”
“I had a kidney transplant so I take meds that weaken my immune system, which makes me worried sick about the ongoing pandemic. And I usually take precautions, like wearing gloves, but today I forgot them. That’s what happens when you work so hard. I practically have no social life in Japan. My fellow Indian friends complain that I’m here seven days a week. No time for them even on weekends. And after 16 years of living in Japan, I still don’t have Japanese friends since I don’t drink alcohol. But I’m happy to be here. Me and my wife built a life here—we raised our daughter, who’s now an adult, and I opened this restaurant 10 years ago. I guess my main concern is the restaurant business in general. More than the coronavirus, I’m worried about growing competition from cheaper Nepalese restaurants that are cropping up everywhere. Good thing Japanese people love Indian curry. Business is surprisingly not bad despite the outbreak, thanks to this area being residential. I hear in the city some places are bleeding cash.”
“I was born and raised in Tokyo. I’ve never been outside Japan and I don’t think I ever will because look at me, I can’t even speak English properly. Plus it’s just too scary abroad. It’s safer here. Also, I prefer to stay put. You know I’ve been doing this electronics store clerk job for the last 10 years, straight out of school. Business is a little slow these days because of the coronavirus. So I have to do more cleaning than talking to customers. It’s actually kind of a relief since there’s less chance of coming into contact with someone who’s infected. And I don’t have to explain about product warranty in English.”
“Am I afraid of coronavirus? Hell yeah. I make it a point to wear a mask on crowded trains. Am I gonna let that stop me from serving kebab? Hell no. We’re always open for business, come rain or shine. People still gotta eat after all. Although I realize I’ve been working so much since I came to Japan nine years ago. That’s all people do here–work, work, work, work, work. To tell you the truth, I get homesick. I miss the culture back home in Iran, where people are friendly. Here, people work too much. But to be fair, it’s a great place to make an honest living. Actually, my brother owns this kebab place. So he’s living proof that if you work hard, you’ll make it in life. Oh you should try his other Persian/Turkish restaurant. It’s just two minutes from here. They even have belly dance shows.”
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“I’m from Lithuania and he’s from Nepal. We met while studying in Japan. We never thought we’d stick around after graduating from university, let alone start a family in our adopted country. It’s kinda weird raising what people these days call ‘third culture kids’. Our eldest attends Japanese school and it can get tricky sometimes. She wonders why we don’t always observe local customs and traditions like her classmates do. An example is when three-year-old girls visit a shrine or temple in November to pray for health and give thanks to the gods. She asks us, ‘Why do other kids get to dress in a kimono and I don’t?’ So I think we’re gonna have a long talk about identity and all that stuff. Good thing she’s very perceptive.”
“After a year of courting her, I finally got her to say yes to being more than friends two days ago. We’re now officially ‘boyfriend-girlfriend’. Although I’m just visiting Japan while she lives here. So it sucks but we’ll be physically apart when I go back home to the Philippines. It’s going to be a long distance relationship. But I’m positive we’ll make this work.”
“Sometimes it’s tough being a single mom, especially when you’re abroad. I came here to be with this guy I was in a long-distance relationship with. I left everything behind, my whole life in Jakarta, to find work in a foreign country and live with him. But after six months, we decided to part ways since he got a job offer in Singapore and me and my son (who was 12 years old then) didn’t want to relocate again. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. But hey, that’s life. And my son, who’s a teenager now, had one hell of a time adjusting to the language and culture. Good thing there’s an Indonesian school in Tokyo and he finally started behaving well. I don’t know how long we’ll stay but I still got three years left on my visa.”