Happy 8 Month Anniversary! Congratulations on Lasting This Long!
Even more importantly, congratulations to all of my fellow MEXT scholars and friends, who have also surmounted many obstacles, made peace with the そこびえ “penetrating cold” winters, securedアルバイト or “part-time jobs,” located barebones apartments for relatively inexpensive prices, navigated the bureaucracy of the Japanese government, discovered the most delicious restaurants for reasonable prices around town, traveled all over Japan and to nearby countries, made friends with people from literally all over the world, and most importantly, uncovered ways to truly enjoy living in Kyoto, Japan!
As the days, weeks, months go by, I am realizing more and more how fortunate I am to live in such an exceptional city — a city, where tourists pay thousands of dollars to come and visit. So this post is going to be about all of the things I am grateful for, especially since I am a glass half full kind-of-person. If you’re already bored, feel free to read about awesome Japanese female entrepreneurs instead.
Seriously though, it’s been a superb, yet challenging experience thus far. As I look around my apartment, and realize how fortunate I am to be able to afford such a gorgeous, fully-furnished apartment, beautiful green curtains, a super warm bed (not a 布団 or “futon,” a Japanese-style bed on the floor), my own washing machine and dryer, cute mugs from dollar stores, a free こたつ or “heated table for the winter” from my Buddhist friends, and beautiful ceramic bowls from family members, I truly appreciate how the Japanese government scholarship has allowed me to partake in this wonderful journey.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting how fortunate I am, possibly because of the relative proximity to Thanksgiving (an American holiday to be grateful for our family, friends, and food on the table), and Christmas holiday season, or possibly because I’ve been here for eight months now! Regardless, it’s been a rewarding, surreal, challenging experience, for which I will always be grateful.
When I first arrived and met with my professor, I was incredibly nervous, but he welcomed me with open arms and immediately set me up with two Japanese students, who helped me navigate all of the tiny details of living abroad by reading documents I could not understand, helping me secure a bicycle to travel more freely, and answering all of my questions such as the location of the least expensive grocery store, female doctor, and places to shop for X product.
Not only did my professor allow me to audit two of his courses, but we also ended up going on a research trip to Silicon Valley. Plus, he helped me secure a paid summer internship at a Japanese startup in Tokyo.
The summer internship was an outstanding experience as well, and one that I plan on replicating each summer. After all, we have two months off from school, so there’s no better way to maximize my time here, than by gaining work experience in a foreign country!
Initially, however, I wasn’t sure if I would be paid. And I knew that I would have to continue paying for my dorm in Uji, plus pay for housing and general living expenses in Tokyo — a notorious city, famous for its high cost of living. With very few contacts in Tokyo, and the uncertainty of finding a decent place to stay in Tokyo, I literally chanted (active meditation) for at least 30 hours over the course of 2.5 months.
Finally, through a friend of a friend’s introduction, I met a phenomenal Airbnb host, who agreed to give me a discounted rate for his lovely house in a high-end, residential area. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, as we spent countless hours talking, biking, eating out, and exploring Tokyo and the surrounding areas such as Mt. Takao. He taught me so much about the history of Tokyo, basic ins-and-outs of living in Japan, his experiences in America, his female entrepreneur mother, and his wonderful family. Most importantly, we became so close that I decided to call him my “uncle.”
Through his experiences of living abroad and hosting countless people from all over the world, my uncle truly enjoys teaching people about the wonderful little tidbits about Japan, and helping them in small and sometimes large, extraordinary ways. Thanks to him, I was also able to explore Fukuoka — a city I fell in love with thanks to his remarkable tour guide skills and its striking similarity to my hometown, San Francisco.
I am also extremely grateful for my mom’s Japanese family, who I literally hadn’t seen for decades. As such, we’ve spent the past 8 months getting to know each other. Since they don’t speak English, they’ve also taught me an incredible amount of Japanese. And for that mere fact alone, I will be forever grateful.
With one of my aunts, I would sleep over at least once a month, bringing with me small gifts from America, and receiving her help with presentations in Japanese, mending one jacket, helping me read some potentially important documents, and much more. Plus, we’d cook, clean, and chant together, which was always a pleasure. After all, it’s rare for foreigners living in Japan to experience a home-cooked meal.
And with my other aunt and uncle, I recently was able to share a home-cooked meal with three of my foreign friends, and partake in a 3-hour tea ceremony experience.
Thanks to my Japanese family, I have also been able to purchase a perfect rack to hang laundry, the perfect furniture to house all of my stuff, and visited cool places such as 京都スタジオパーク, an old movie studio lot in Kyoto, and 万博公園, a beautiful park in Osaka that was used in the 1970 World Expo.
One of the most challenging aspects of living in Japan for me was securing an inexpensive apartment with furniture — an extremely rare occurrence, as apartments usually don’t even have curtains or washing machines. Also, I wanted it to be near school, near the gorgeous 鴨川 river, and near to the owner of my house.
After countless hours of chanting, followed up with active searching (I visited at least a dozen places), I finally secured a low-cost, furnished apartment that was very clean and with an owner who lived only a few doors down. And within the first week of moving in, I quickly met the owner, his wife, and their son, who just happened to speak English! Plus, anytime I call, he immediately answers, and is willing to come by at any time, and almost any hour to help me with something. As such, I am very grateful to be living in such a spectacular apartment with a super cool owner.
And lastly, I am extremely grateful to my Buddhist family, including the Kansai International Group (KIG for short) members, my local members, and my Kuzuha Aunt & Uncle, who have adopted me with open arms and delicious, organic food.
With the KIG members, I feel at home with our casual meetings, open-ended dialogues, and wonderful guidance. Plus, it’s helpful to have a group of international folks, who all practice the same philosophy, and share similar stories of living in Japan as expats.
My Kuzuha Aunt and Uncle have not only treated me to countless home-cooked dinners, but also allowed me to invite my foreign friends. And when I was working in Tokyo, they immediately set me up with their enchanting, highly energetic, and entertaining daughter, who showed me all over Tokyo! At the end of my internship, she even presented me with a custom-made mug that portrayed all of our amazing memories together! I am absolutely grateful to this Buddhist family.
And finally — for real this time — I am grateful for easy access to 鴨川 river, money to be able to afford yoga lessons, and access to inexpensive fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets. Born and raised in the health-conscious and athletic city of San Francisco, I am thrilled to be able to replicate some of my favorite things in my new, foreign home.
Thank you very much for reading this article, especially since it was so long. Since you’ve been able to last until this point, please enjoy some other articles I’ve written about these amazing female entrepreneurs.
I’ll leave you with some food for thought:
What are you grateful for? Specifically, why?
Who do you appreciate to have in your life? Or, maybe someone from the past?
What are the top 3 things that make you happy to live wherever you are right now?