Eat, Pray… oh shut up and pack

Everyday I gets asked about why I came to Japan.

By 3 min read

My students ask me everyday. When I meet new people, it’s the first question out of their heads. When I Skype my Dad, he still asks me. Every. Single. Time. Why here? Why now? You’re finding yourself, right. Like that book with the movie with Julia Roberts…(This is the point when I tune out and think about something disgusting).

I didn’t just have an amazing job in San Francisco. I had, quite possibly, the best job I could have gotten. Editorial director for one of those free-lunch-and-yoga software companies, in an office overlooking the Bay Bridge. I could work from my super cute apartment, which was a twenty-minute walk away. I could take time off for modeling or volunteer work. Best of all, I could hang out all day with my co-workers, who were in many ways, my family.

At the office. In my head, I’m totally working.

At first glance, I could easily be mistaken for a 2.0 post-grad marketing drone with a serious case of Elizabeth Gilbert-esque wanderlust and a penchant for udon. So I understand the constant “Why” question. But it’s even more complicated than that.

I’m not just out of college. I have property, and art, and furniture that is not from Ikea, and I didn’t come here for a guy. I’m not running from the law, an estranged marriage, or a drug debt. So why would a single, thirty-something female pack up her glorious and successful life…to live in Japan? And teach English?

It’s a good question, but there’s no single answer I can pinpoint for you. I can tell you the numbers checked out. Being the hyper-analytical, OCD type (hot, right?) I looked at everything: relocation cost amortization over a minimum of a year, relative cost of living and tax savings, health care savings, personal safety, online management of my investments and property, continued retirement planning if I decided to stay, an exit strategy if I decided to not. It was legit (enough) to make it work. And I’d still see my friends and family over the holidays. But the loss of the job and my beloved work-people? To be honest, I’m not over that, and probably won’t be anytime soon.

On my own blog, I wrote about this move as the need to feel uncomfortable and to remember how lucky I am. Sure I have the usual: crazy relatives, formerly-drug-addicted friends, a bevy of self-obsessed existential crises, but it could be a hell of a lot worse. Anyone who’s traveled outside of an all-inclusive resort knows this. Unlike Gilbert, I don’t need to sift through a pile of emotional wreckage, but there is something being worked out–and it’s not a seven-figure book deal. Flinging myself across the planet is teaching me a valuable lesson. I just don’t know exactly what it is yet.

If you’re reading this from outside of Japan, and you’re seriously thinking about making the move. Stop analyzing and do it. Do it now. Do it before you give yourself yet another stack of excuses why you shouldn’t. It’s a worn saying, but there are always going to be reasons not to make a huge life change. And you already know most of those reasons are bullshit. So many take far greater chances in their lives to experience something different– maybe amazing, maybe horrible– but the worst thing for me would be to stay put just because I told myself I couldn’t do it “right now. Maybe next year.” Risk now. Prepare for the worst, and then place yourself directly in a position to either succeed or fail. Find out what happens.

Years from now, when I’m a powdery, purple-haired, thrice-divorced widow, I want to look back and feel like I did something, not because I had to, or was expected to, but because I really wanted to. And I guess I’m betting that this purposeful discomfort will indeed remind me of how lucky I am, and it will indeed be worth the sacrifices I’ve made. No spreadsheet in the world can reconcile that.


  • ken says:

    Great article. I’ll be in Japan eventually whether it be through the military or on my own anywhere within 5 years. Since you say there is a tech demand for gaijin, specifically which areas of tech would a gaijin be considered for??

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      Any of the major tech or social media companies (Google, FB, Amazon, are looking for bilingual dev and IT people. Always. You need to speaky the Nihongo though so start learning now!

  • Great piece of writing, Cynthia! Interesting – i have already told my boss i am quitting my secure, nice and well paid job and moving to Tokyo in three months. So, I am currently studying Japanese, checking out job options, reading a lot and just getting more and more excited…

    • Thanks Z! Whoa– You told your boss you’re quitting before you secured another job? Ballsy. 🙂 If you have any questions let me know. I’m going to write an article about all the stuff the interwebs doesn’t tell you before you come over. I was OCD prepared but there were a few things took me by surprise.

      • Sarah Good says:

        Well stated Cynthia! As a writer myself, you have a wonderful and powerful voice!

        I, too, am a 30-something living and teaching here in Japan … would love to keep in touch!


  • Dietrich says:

    Gah! I can’t wait until I finish school now!

    • Nice! When do you finish– next May? Start planning about six months out… when you’re bored online, start researching jobs and where you want to be (it’s kinda fun). If you have questions let me know. 🙂

      • Dietrich says:

        Actually, probably around May 2015 since I fell behind a bit. I plan on going into either IT or Digital Media development

  • Nakitah Vogt says:

    Reading this starts that anxious bubbling in my chest …
    Cause thats exactly what im doing … Im doing it …
    Great Read!

  • leslie nguyen says:

    Nice working photo by the way, ahahaha ~



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