***日本語は下記をご覧下さい*** “After having a miscarriage, we decided to try again and now here’s our feisty little one. He’s only six months old but he’s already bigger than your average Japanese baby. Once he learned how to crawl, he started leaving a trail of destruction at home. But he brings so much joy to us, which is great because my pregnancy was not easy at all. You know all these pregnant women on TV or Instagram with perfect lives, looking all radiant, doing sports, rubbing their belly while having a cup of decaf tea, and having a blast with friends at their baby shower? It was the complete opposite for me. Complications after complications, sudden bursts of emotions, nurses offering help because they were worried about my mental health but couldn’t communicate in English. Then I’d hear whispers from them about me gaining more weight than Japanese women. Well guess what, I’m from Germany so we’re not exactly the same. And our parenting style is sometimes different too. But everything’s fine now. Thankfully, my husband is really supportive. He’s a great dad to our son. Although sometimes I feel so alone in Japan. At least my brother and his girlfriend, who had their second baby 10 days before ours, share the joys of parenthood with us even though they’re miles away.”
“When I was a student, I joined a government scholarship program to learn English in the UK. I met a Japanese girl there who was studying flower arrangement. We became friends and she even visited me when I returned home to Kassel, Germany. I wanted so bad to be together with her so I moved to the UK. And then once she finished her studies, we moved to Japan. She’s now my wife and that was 18 years ago.”
“Women sometimes come to me, asking me for help to find a potential marriage partner because they know I organize events and activities for the expat community. They say, ‘Hey I have a friend who’s now 34 and needs to get married by 35. Can you help her find a boyfriend?’ I tell them it’s not going to be easy. Everybody works until very late in Japan. People usually don’t leave the office before the manager does. But this doesn’t mean they are more productive. They’re just physically present. And I guess it’s out of respect for hierarchy. But it’s one reason Japan is having fewer babies. Working long hours means less time to go out, socialize, and make friends, which is how you meet an eligible guy and hopefully start a family. I think the government recognizes this problem, but the pace of change is glacial.
“That’s why I also see a lot of depressed people. Stress from work is too much. So I try to make a difference by hosting activities, especially outdoor ones like hiking. Although I notice that some people prefer drinking events, instead, which is perfectly normal since it’s fun. I’m German so I like to drink myself. Problem is there’s not enough time to mingle and get to know people well enough to establish a real connection. Outdoor activities, on the other hand, are much longer in duration and allow people to put their guards down after a day of interaction. I do this because after years of studying engineering and working in automation technology, I’d rather spend time with human beings than machines. Wanna know a secret? Setup events on a rainy day. You’ll have a higher chance of meeting real people who still attend despite the inconvenience. You also eliminate fair-weather friends.”
“I’m from a poor family in East Germany so people didn’t think I could make it to Japan. Yet here I am, doing what I do best. I make videos about Japan for a German audience. At first, we were just talking about our own experiences. But then viewers started asking questions like, ‘How do I move to Japan?’ or ‘I want to live and study there, too. Please tell me how’. Interest keeps growing. And I think one reason is Germans like the peaceful lifestyle here, not necessarily the big city life. Now we even have sponsors. To think this all began when I was doing social media marketing for an ‘izakaya’ (with a German twist). However, people are also curious about work-life balance and how easy it is to make friends in Japan. My hope is that the videos can help make the transition smoother. We try to prep them up because it’s different here. For example, life is easier in Germany in terms of shorter work hours. There’s not much overtime so you can do leisure activities, like go to a karate club or a fishing club. You also get paid sick leaves on top of public holidays and regular vacation days. But in Japan, you work till midnight, so fishing is out of the question.
“That’s why I’ve decided to go back home and leave Japan. It’s hard to pursue my own projects while working a full-time job and doing overtime (just so I can get a visa). As much as I love Japan, there’s always a glass wall. I see my goal but I can’t reach it because I can’t get through, especially when you’re always trying to fit in. You will win no medal if you just follow the herd. And for four years, I got no medal for trying to assimilate too much. In Germany, I can just get a part-time job and have time to work on my own stuff. I’m still going to produce Japan-related content. But I’m going to do it on my terms. I think we have to forge our own path, even if it means going a step backwards to advance more in the end. Maybe that’s the price you have to pay if you want to go your way. But there’s also a bigger payoff waiting.”