The Question - 何しに日本へ?
Often, when meeting new people in Japan, you will be asked a flurry of the same questions over and over again. “What country are you from?” “Are you married?” “How long have you been in Japan?” “When will you go back to your country?” “What do you like best about Japan?” And of course, “Why did you come to Japan?” Of course there are many more and for some people this gets really old really fast. Personally though, I don’t mind. I actually enjoy these conversations. Being an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) exacerbates how often I am asked these types of questions by guaranteeing that I am asked dozens of times each year as I meet new students. For now, lets focus on one question in particular. Why did you come to Japan?
How we Answer
Everyone of course has their own unique answer to this question, whether visiting or living here. Some will answer with a brief generic response simply because they are either tired of answering or they haven’t put a lot of thought into it. It is also possible they just don’t have an answer. Other people will give a detailed and heartfelt response. Whatever the reason you have, its a good idea to be ready to answer this question. I can guarantee you will be asked at some point during your stay. Don’t let the frequency of the question fool you though. Even though this is a simple and generic question, there is a genuine curiosity and desire to hear your reply. There is even an entire television program dedicated to asking this question to foreigners in Japan, “YOUは何しに日本へ”. I actually enjoy that show quite a bit too. I even catch myself asking other foreigners this because I truly want to know their answer. Of course my answer has changed over time, and answering this question is not so simple anymore.
My First Answer
My first time visiting Japan, this answer was simple. I became interested in Japan through my limited exposure to its culture in America. Things like the dramatization in movies and on TV, Americanized Japanese restaurants, and the occasional band or music that I was introduced to had all shaped an image of Japan for me. I knew it was steeped in stereotypes, but I became interested none the less. So, one of my best friends and I decided that for our 30th birthday we would go big. It was the first time leaving the country for both of us and after much planning, we went to Tokyo for the first time. We had an interest and decided to come see it for ourselves.
Post 1st Time in Japan
That trip and the people I met there left a large impact on me. When I returned home, I took an even deeper interest in Japan. I wanted to know more about its history, culture, social structures, and its food. I wanted to learn everything I could. I read more and started looking for more Japanese recipes to try. I loved the food especially. But unfortunately life had to move on. It was a truly memorable trip, and I didn’t realize at the time how much of an impact it had on me. Even though I couldn’t speak or read the language, I told myself I would go back one day when I could.
It’s easy to get caught up in living from day to day or from paycheck to paycheck. Life changing trips and experiences become distant memories of better times. Plans to return seem to become more and more unachievable and nothing more than a pleasant dream. This is what it started to feel like when I got back and started working again. I wasn't content with where I was or what I was doing. I wanted to to do more. I couldn't quite figure it out though. Why was I feeling like this? (I know it may seem like I am wandering off topic here, but please bear with me. I promise this has a lot to do with my reason for coming to Japan.)
During this time, my closest friends and I would often meet on a regular basis to take turns cooking for all out friends. this would often be preceded and followed by long and deep conversations sitting outside on the back porch with wine and beer. During these conversations is when I began to speculate that everyone has great ideas, but not everyone acts on those ideas. To me that was the only difference between me and someone making their dreams come true with their own business. So I started to act on my ideas. I had no idea where to start, but i was going to be sure to take my first steps forward.
I tried many things and many different ideas, even pulled a few friends into my schemes. With each unsuccessful or failed project, I learned more and more. Then disaster struck. Things in my life came to a screeching halt. I had no idea where to go or what to do. I wont go into details of what happened because its a little too personal, but it was one of those events where you are left feeling lost and like you just want to start fresh somewhere else. In retrospect, it was that very event that was the push I needed to reassess my goals in life and to start making my dreams come true.
I knew that I wanted to create a business of my own. I knew the type of business and after much thought, I decided I would do it in the place I really wanted to be. Japan. So I made a plan. I started from my biggest goals and worked backwards to create many smaller and achievable goals. The more I broke everything down into smaller goals, the more achievable this dream felt. I began to do more research as well during this time, and I wrote out my goals as a checklist. I decided to leave my life in the city that I had lived in for twelve years and go back to college at 32 years old. Doing this let me check off a lot on my list of steps too.
I began to learn the language and culture which would be necessary for running a business in Japan. I studied abroad at Hiroshima University for a year. This allowed me to confirm my desire to live here. It also allowed me to travel and research locations and ways to get a life started here. I was also able to make a few good friends and connections here too. I also studied a bit more on business and minored in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). The minor was perfect for me in two ways. First, it made it easier for me to obtain a teaching job that would sponsor my Visa to move to Japan and live and work here. Second, I really enjoyed teaching. I learned that from one of my previous jobs. All these things were necessary for my plan to move step by step toward my goal and my dream. Opening my own business in Japan.
My reason for coming to Japan
When people ask me now why I came to Japan, my answer is simple but with complicated reasoning. I came to Japan with the intention of building a life for myself here and settling down. I want to open a business here and become a part of the community. The culture, the history, the people, the food, and the landscape are all a part of what I fell in love with about this country. They made me want to settle down here and make a life in one place for myself. Every day I am still learning more and more about the language, the people, and the culture. I am sure I will spend the rest of my life learning. I still don't have all the answers such as to where or when I will open my business, and I still have a long way to go to achieve my dreams. For now I am in the country I want to live in, and I am still moving forward with my life.
In fact, My reason for staying here has since expanded from my reason for coming. I have gained something very important to me. A happiness and a hope that makes me think that my lifelong desire for a family of my own might be within my reach. Honestly, I would love to settle down here with a family of my own, but I wont rush anything. For the first time, I am truly happy with where I am and where I am going. And I am happy to have friends to share it all with. Plans are great, but nothing ever goes according to plan. You have to be flexible and adaptive. My plan gives me direction, but my goals may change or slightly modify, and thats OK.
What ever your reason for coming to Japan may be, its all good. You don't have to have a complicated reason for wanting to visit or even to live here. As long as that reason is enough for you. It is my hope that some will read this and be inspired to take their own steps forward in life. Deciding to start over in a new country isn't easy for most people, and it certainly wasn't easy for me. If you are interested in some of the emotional turmoil I faces, then be sure to read more of my posts like "My life into three pieces of luggage" that talks more about that. I hope you enjoyed and I will leave you with one more piece of advice. Japan isn't a magical land, its a place just like any other. Living and working here is really not much different than working most places in the world. If you set high expectations of what you think it is supposed to be, then I guarantee it will never live up to that idea. Instead, keep an open mind and take in everything for what it is. Don't set high expectations and I guarantee you will enjoy every experience much more. Remember, you are the outsider here and you are the one visiting a new culture. The magic is in the experiences where you are able to lose yourself and be absorbed by another culture.