Him: “We met at a Christmas party in Taiwan. She was studying Chinese, I was a biochemical science major, and we were members of a friendship and cultural exchange club between Japan and Taiwan. I sat next to her at the party and we became Facebook friends. That’s it. Didn’t speak to each other again for another half a year until I decided to go on a trip to Japan.”
Her: “I was born and raised in Japan, although my parents are both Taiwanese. That’s why I went to Taiwan to study Chinese. His message came out of the blue. He was asking for recommendations in Osaka but I’m from way up north in Fukushima so I hesitated at first. But he seemed like a nice guy, so I did some research and gave him a few suggestions. After a while, we decided to meet over coffee and then started seeing each other on a regular basis.”
Him: “That was four years ago, back in 2015. We got married last year.”
Her: “What I love about him is his kindness. He’s a true gentleman. The only thing is he’s forgetful, which can actually be a good thing (especially after fights). The following day, it’s all forgotten. We can start with a clean slate.”
“I think everyone goes through some kind of identity crisis. I’m from Taiwan and when I was 16, I went to the States, where I lived with a white host family. I went to a private school that was predominantly white, although there were also a couple of Asians and some black people. I remember eating lunch in the bathroom because I didn’t know which table to sit at, with so many different groups. And I didn’t feel like I was part of the Asian American group. I didn’t know what they were talking about. My English wasn’t that good at the time. So to save myself from embarrassment, I would eat lunch in the bathroom instead. That was the year I had a big identity crisis. But that experience really helped me learn about America, their politics, why they’re so passionate about American football, how they think, etc. Unlike a lot of international students who only go to America after college (and probably hangout mostly with their own ethnic groups), I got to experience how Americans grow up.
“Now I’m in Japan. I actually had no intention of coming here. But since I didn’t get a work visa in the States, which is a government lottery, I had no choice but to leave. And the Japan office of my company was their first suggestion for relocation. At first I was sad to leave my friends and the life that I had built in America. But now I’m glad I ventured out. I even found a Christian church that welcomed me with open arms. I was all alone during my first week here in Japan until I Googled and found somewhere I can belong. Most people here are foreigners, mixed-race, or Japanese who studied or grew up abroad and came back, so it’s very diverse. Not what I expected in Tokyo. And there are lots of groups and teams you can join to help you find a purpose. There’s photography, language exchange, or even groups that let you develop soft skills like leadership. I feel like because I experienced those things in the U.S., it’s so much easier in Japan. Up until then, I just followed whatever path was laid out in front of me. Now I’m making my own decisions in life. And I’m here thinking, ‘what can I do now?’”
“Moving to Canada from Taiwan to live with my aunt’s family and attend high school and university was a big moment in my life. And now I find myself at a crossroads once again. After going back to Taiwan and having worked there for two and a half years, I relocated to Japan through an internal transfer at my company because I felt like I wasn’t comfortable in my home country anymore. Call it reverse culture shock. And Japan’s a good fit since it’s close geographically and we have a lot of cultural influences from them. Not to mention it was my dream to live in Japan when I was younger, thanks to Japanese TV dramas and pop culture.
“But after almost five years, I still struggle to call Japan home even though I’m comfortable living here. What makes a place home is having a deep connection with the people, which I don’t have. Japanese people are nice, and I wouldn’t say they’re not as open (although maybe true to a certain extent), but it’s just different. I had this close friend who once apologized to me for sharing something personal with me. She was sorry for opening up to me and making me worry about her, which surprised me. Isn’t that what friends are for—to share some of the burden? In Taiwan, we share our problems and help each other find a solution. But here in Japan, they tend to talk mostly about superficial things. I had this colleague I was having lunch with for two years, and I never got to know if he was married, had kids, or anything personal like that. It seems like you’re only allowed to talk about work, your travels, or the news. Anything but personal stuff.
“So now I’m thinking of my next step while doing an MBA in Tokyo. Recently, every time I go on a trip abroad and come back to Japan, I get more and more homesick. I guess the older you get, the more you value the bond and connection you have with your family and close friends, those who have the same wavelength as you. It got me thinking where home really is. Taiwan, Canada, Japan?”
“I was going through a difficult time in my life last year due to a relationship that had ended. Not only that. Some friends went through divorce, someone had cancer, and one even committed suicide. So it really shook my faith in God. And my friends tell me I’m someone with a strong faith. Because of this, I started to wonder what God is really like. Is he different from the loving god that I’ve come to know? How could these horrible things happen to good people? Although I’m 100% sure that God is real, I don’t know where he was during those testing times. Good thing my faith’s being restored this year, but with the understanding that life is not all rosy. There are times when it can be difficult. Although these trials let you experience and see how real your faith is. It helps you gain perspective, since your outlook in life can get distorted when you’re sad.”
“I wasted half my life trying to make other people happy. My family and relatives were totally against me moving to Japan. My stepdad is from the Caribbean and the traditional culture there is you’re not supposed to go against what your parents said. But I didn’t really want to study Spanish or something else in college. And I couldn’t tell my parents because of my upbringing. So I taught myself Japanese, instead. I’d even bring a memo pad to bookstores and copy phrases from books I couldn’t afford. I also made a deal with my parents. I got them to pay for my trip to Japan and either China or Taiwan if I got into law school, which I did. Then when I came to Japan, I realized being an attorney wasn’t for me. I ended up dropping out of law school and pursuing other things while working tech support jobs. The money I saved I used for trips to Japan. Then I finally gave it a shot and moved to Japan. I taught English here for several years and got used to living in Japan so when I tried to move back to Los Angeles, it didn’t work out. Things had changed too much in LA for me. Right now I work as an English teacher in Japan but I see the writing on the wall—this industry is slowly dying. Salaries are going down. No matter how good you are, it’s hard to stay working for the same place long term. So now I’m trying to retool and plan for what I’m going to do next. I taught myself Chinese and have been going to Taiwan a lot lately. I think we should all focus on what drives us, what gives us energy, or what feeds our soul.”
“Working with machines as an engineer for 6 years didn’t let me meet new people much. I was confined to a lab most of the time. The only time I got to talk to clients was when something went wrong and I had to apologize. It got repetitive so I switched careers and found myself in recruitment. I also relocated from America to Japan since it’s closer to Taiwan, where my hometown is. Now I do a lot of talking to people—and in Japanese, too. I’m not sure what I got myself into. I’m confident in my listening because I watched a lot of Japanese TV when I was little. But speaking is a whole new ball game. And I struggle making friends with Japanese people. Even though Taiwanese culture is so close to Japanese (people say it’s the combination of China and Japan), I find it hard to make real connections here. At least my colleagues are very international and I get to help people find jobs in IT, which is my territory. Also, Japan is picking up on Taiwanese stuff so I’m really happy our popular goods, like soup dumplings, are spreading around the world.”