Moving to Tokyo, an Introduction of my Life as an Expat Part I
Right after our honeymoon in Italy in November of 1995, Keith and I left Los Angeles to start our married life in Tokyo. He was offered a job as an expat working for a Japanese owned company. We moved to a single story, two bedroom apartment. One room had a tatami (a Japanese style room) and our toilet had heated seats. It was fairly small for American standards but our Japanese friends kept telling us that it was a very comfortable apartment. It was located in one of the trendy areas of Tokyo called Jiyugaoka, filled with many restaurants and shops. I really enjoyed living there and everyday was like an excursion trying to find the nearest supermarket, cafe, or a good inexpensive restaurant. I found shops that sold Japanese plates, teacups, bowls, etc. Collecting Japanese plates or housewares had later on become my obsession.
Keith enrolled me in the Japanese language school where he was taking lessons. There, I met a few women whose husbands were also sent to Japan for work. Diane, a petite woman in her mid-30’s from Ohio. She was pretty, energetic and somehow had a Martha Stewart qualities about her. Rose, A very beautiful Filipino model who was married to an American banker. Bhavna, originally from India and Margaret, a Taiwanese, whose husband worked for Microsoft. All in the same boat, we instantly became friends. We frequently went to lunch together after our class and shared our new discoveries in a bustling city that was completely foreign to us.
Expats were typically spoiled by the company. Our housing, electric bill, and even our phone bill were all paid for. We were given a COLA (cost of living allowance) on top of the salary. You could definitely save a lot if you were smart with your money. Tokyo was a very expensive city and a typical meal there was anywhere from $50-$80 for two. Although it had the best restaurants and even food stalls inside the train stations were considered good. The Japanese took pride in almost everything they do, in my opinion. If there’s one thing I enjoyed most about living there was definitely the food.
I discovered a lot of good restaurants in our area. There were a lot of really good ‘kaiten’ sushi (revolving sushi or sometimes referred to as merry go round sushi), Korean bbq restaurants, and really awesome Italian restaurants. It sure felt like heaven to me. Everyday, I usually walked around (while Keith was at work) and got to know Jiyugaoka and the surrounding areas.
Tokyo was very crowded and there were at times I felt claustrophobic missing the wide open space in LA. Even NYC felt less crowded compared to Tokyo. And then there was the language barrier. Being a ‘gaijin’ (foreigner) definitely had its disadvantages. You can’t easily go in a restaurant unless you knew they had a menu with pictures or someone there would understand English. Or browse in a bookstore where it’s filled with a ton of interesting books and magazines yet only written in Japanese. I felt I wasn’t getting to know Tokyo well enough because I couldn’t speak Japanese fluently. Fortunately I met Kaori.
Kaori showed me Tokyo in the eyes of a local. We went to those tiny restaurants where non-Japanese speaking gaijins would dare enter. We went to supermarkets and explained to me what those strange looking ingredients, or bottles of sauces were. She cooked foods for me that they normally cooked at home. Kaori was very knowledgeable, smart, and had extremely good taste.. She saved me from ultimately getting overwhelmed or even possibly getting bored of my new home country. I thanked God for giving me a Japanese best friend.
Six years of my life in Tokyo can’t be written in just one blog. The city (the whole country) was complicated yet exciting. The adventures I had there were never ordinary. The people I met were fabulous and interesting. The six years of my life as an expat were THE MOST EXCITING years of my life.