“What’s it like to be a new dad? It’s like a whirlwind. It just hits you out of nowhere. I’m really happy and excited. Every little thing she does makes us go, ‘Whoa, that’s something new!’ She’s already six months now, and it’s nice to watch her grow and be able to do all these different things. I never knew the real definition of cute until I’d seen her. But just a heads up, parenting is extremely tiring. Especially in the first few months. Babies need so much attention 24/7. Day in, day out. So on one hand, I’m the most happiest I could be. On the other, I’m the most tired. I’ve underestimated how much time and attention it takes to be a parent. I thought we could still manage certain things that we could before she came into our life. Nope, it’s all about her until things can settle down. Still, I’m not the one with her all day, every day. And I don’t give milk. So being a dad is a little bit different. Although I do help out as much as I can, like changing diapers or changing clothes.”
“When I was young, I spent a lot of time traveling alone and I loved it. Now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown tired of it. From a Western perspective, you hear people say, ‘Traveling alone is good. You discover yourself.’ I totally agree. But it also gets boring and lonely. I realized this when I went to Vietnam for a trip during the holidays. I saw some of the most beautiful landscapes while riding a motorbike, circling mountains. I saw all these hidden cultures and ethnic groups. It was surreal. However, coming back from the trip, I felt unfulfilled. Something was missing. I realized it was because I was alone and I was doing the trip just for myself. That’s why it felt empty inside. Sure, it was fun, but I think it would have been great to have gone with someone. Also, it would have been nice to go with someone who spoke Vietnamese.
“Good thing I was lucky to meet this girl in Hanoi. We got along so well. We talked for hours about our lives, our challenges, our pains and struggles. Like really deep stuff you’d only share with close friends. We saw each other pretty much every day for the latter part of the trip, just going to cafes, having conversations on what makes us human. All the experiences, pain and suffering, let-downs and failures. People can come from all different kinds of places and backgrounds, but essentially, we’re all the same. We all want love, peace, safety, health, and a good life.
“It was life changing for me to have experienced that human connection on that level with someone I just met as a random tourist. She told me she never had anyone to talk to or tell anyone about this her whole life. For her to share all this with me made me think, ‘Wow, maybe this is what travel should be.’”
I was feeling sick so I went to see my gynecologist and was told I had polycystic ovary syndrome, which will make it hard for me to get pregnant. My period also stopped. Good thing it got better after two years of treatment. But I wasn’t in good shape. I’d get tired and depressed. And it felt like having a baby would make me one lucky girl, knowing my chances of conceiving. That was 10 years ago.
I met my husband at the gym. We both liked to work out, visit temples or shrines, and go to the beach. We were inseparable, spending every day together. We’d go surfing or hiking in the mountains, any activity we both enjoyed. I guess the biggest surprise of my life was when I got pregnant with his child. My gynecologist couldn’t believe it.
Since becoming a mom, whatever I do depends on my daughter. When she’s asleep, I do this. When she’s awake, I do that. I take care of my needs after feeding her. Before I had her, I only thought of myself and work. Now it’s like my brain’s been rewired. Everything’s changed inside my head.
It’s amazing to watch her grow and develop as a human being. Before, she used to only cry or sleep, now she can hold a cup of water, take her favorite toy out of the box, and even imitate my dance moves.
While she’s learning new things every day, she’s also graduating from breastfeeding and crawling. Which kinda makes me a bit sad. I know she won’t be leaving home anytime soon but the thought still makes me sad.
My hope is for her to live the life she wants, one she truly enjoys and not put up with things because she has to. Please let her be filled with gratitude and may she be surrounded by wonderful people who will bring her love and joy in her heart. That’s the only thing a mother could ever hope for her child.
“When I tell people I’m Brazilian, they look at me with disbelief. How can someone look Asian and be from Brazil at the same time? But I am. I just happen to have Japanese blood. I’ve been told that I smile all the time, although I’m not always aware of it. Probably because I was really shy before. Maybe I’d put on a happy façade to hide my insecurities. I had lots of them. Like I used to care about whether people liked me or not. Now I care more about how I can contribute to others. So I feel like I’ve grown up a bit. I’m still in university but I want to make a difference in people’s lives through education. I think it gives people better opportunities and motivates you to go after your dreams. My father was the one who inspired me to do this. He used to have video rental stores and he would organize movie screenings for orphans.”
Him: “When I told her I got an offer to work in Japan, she said, ‘You already said yes, didn’t you?’ And I’m like, ‘Umm…yeah.’ That’s how much my wife knows me. We met in college. We took up dentistry, but I work in advertising and she works for the government. She actually had to take a sabbatical.”
Her: “He’s such an otaku (geek). He came ahead of us to find a place for the family. Me and the girls followed. To be honest, I had reservations about living in Japan, especially with the food. Being Muslim, everything has to be halal. Surprisingly enough, it’s not hard at all. There’s a halal community and there are supermarkets where you can get halal chicken, halal beef, etc. And the kids are happy. We live close to the Indonesian school and I can take them by bicycle. That’s unthinkable in Jakarta.”
Daughter one: “Daddy can’t ride a bicycle!”
“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.”
“I was a typical Japanese man until I was 43, when I had a stroke. I could have died. So that really changed my perspective on how to live my life. I started to appreciate the little things in life more, like a clear blue sky, for example. I learned how to say good morning to my family and show them affection. It changed me completely. I also began to notice how sad people looked while riding the train. Nobody’s smiling. People seem to endure work all day, leaving their feelings and emotions home. They work hard to the point of exhaustion then go home. Rinse and repeat. People seem to have forgotten how to have fun. Even my son noticed the despair on people’s faces while commuting to work on the train. Adults like myself should show young people that life is fun. We are human beings with emotions. We shouldn’t forget about that.”
“It’s amazing how few social connections we are away from each other. I once met these doctors who showed me pictures of their now grown-up children. I realized the photos were taken at the exact same place where my husband had traveled to many years ago in India. I suddenly remembered the story of how he got really sick, had his money stolen, and how a Japanese student helped him by lending him a hundred dollars. Unfortunately, my husband lost the address, too, and wasn’t able to return the money he owed. Turns out that kind student was the son of one of the doctors. So my husband was finally able to give back the money he borrowed, 15 years later. It’s absolutely crazy how interconnected we are when you piece people’s stories together. And there was no social media back then.”
“He’s very shy. He won’t even let me take his picture with my phone, let alone a stranger. But his older sister’s not camera shy. Actually, she’s inside this building, auditioning for a TV commercial role as we speak. We’re from India and I’ve been living in Japan for 13 years. Both of my kids were born here. Our life in Japan is perfect. I couldn’t ask for more. And you guessed it right–I’m an IT guy.”
“I wasn’t very serious in life. That’s why I’m desperately making up for it now. I’ve been here since 1989 and it’s only five years ago that I finally opened this restaurant. I’m from Nepal. I learned about Japan when my uncle got captured by Japanese soldiers during the war. You see, we got involved because we were British allies, even though we didn’t see the Japanese as our enemy. In fact, he thought we had plenty of similarities. We ate rice, kinda looked the same, and he didn’t feel like he was in prison because they treated him well. That story influenced me coming to Tokyo. Although life was easier then. Now I tell younger Nepalese people, ‘No money, no life. Work hard. Abide by the rules and you’ll be fine.’ Nepal is an agricultural country. But many young people are leaving to live their dreams in the big city or go to the United States, Japan or Europe. I tell them if they want to succeed, first, smile. Then have friends who’ll be there for you no matter what. And be thankful to your host country.”
“I wasn’t allowed to go out at night after school or work. My parents were always worried about my safety. I’d go straight home while my friends were out having fun. OK maybe there were a few exceptions. But only when I asked for a special permission in advance. However, I don’t blame my parents. This is usually the case back home in Bangladesh. The culture is so conservative. As a girl or as a lady, decision-making power is very low. Fortunately, things are changing. More women are getting bold and taking charge of their lives. More of us are joining the workforce. I was actually working for a bank for three years before coming to Japan. And we’re also excelling at it. It’s a revolution. Workplaces are becoming more gender-balanced. That’s why once I’m done with MBA in Japan, I’m going to help fellow women in finance. I understand their plight. Coming from the country I belong to, it’s not easy. I’ve had to deal with a lot of struggles in life myself. It’s very difficult for women to just strike it on their own and be independent. Most of us don’t have the knowledge, the proper tools, the financial literacy, and education. Thankfully, I’m able to study in Japan and not get so stressed out about safety. I feel like I’ve become a responsible adult, finally.”
“I used to suck at fighting and was no good at sports when I was a kid. I was this quiet boy who’d hide behind his older sister. But my dad, who was a judo practitioner, he encouraged me to learn kendo in elementary school. From there I moved on to judo, and eventually wrestling in high school and university. Now I’m a mixed martial artist and my main focus is Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Some say it’s a barbaric animalistic sport. Why would anyone subject themselves to this much pain? I want to change that thinking. Martial arts shouldn’t be about hurting other people. For me, it’s a form of communication. A way to test the techniques acquired during training, and to share knowledge. With Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it’s all about the technique. Even a regular guy can win against a much bigger dude, given the right set of technical skills and discipline. That’s why it’s become very popular with women and folks in their 40s and 50s here in Japan. Truth be told, in a way I kind of owe my life to this sport. A few years ago, I got very sick in the hospital and was told I might not make it. I guess my will to survive came from that fighting spirit developed in training all those years. So it’s a way of life for me. And giving up is not an option.”