Why I decided to move to Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Akihabara Buildings

Growing up, I loved watching anime.

Tokyo Harajuku SilhouetteI would hurry home from school each day, just waiting to slide in front of the TV to watch my favorites: Detective Conan, Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, Naruto and Yu-gi-oh.

After my family got a computer – I might have been 8 or 10 – I spent all the time I was allowed to sitting at the PC, reading manga and exploring online forums. Through that, I found out that Japan was actually a real country – can you believe it? – with a unique language and culture. This was the start of my Japan fandom. Soon, I dreamed of visiting this enigmatic place I had only gotten to know through the realm of fantasy.

Tokyo Shinjuku at NightIn 2016, I finally had the opportunity to fulfill this dream: I visited a friend who studied abroad in Tokyo. We started our trip in Tokyo, traveling all the way down to Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and the enigmatic island of Miyajima. I was impressed with everything I saw, but I’ll have to admit: having dreamed of seeing Japan for 12 years, I was disappointed that it was just a regular country with regular people living regular lives – much unlike my expectations, fueled by getting to know the country only through its more fantasy-driven media content. Of course, the nature was beautiful, I loved the food and the people were incredibly kind and helpful, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had been tricked by the media I consumed. I came home with a suitcase full of souvenirs, plush dolls and figurines and a little bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.

Tokyo Robot Restaurant EntranceThe next year, I went on a trip to Japan, Taiwan and South Korea with my boyfriend. With my disappointed expectations behind me, I could enjoy Japan for what it was: a unique country that may seem different to me, having been brought up in Central Europe, but was not the crazy colorful theme park some people seem to believe it is.  It was special to see Japan again with a person that had always been interested in the country, but never deeply enough to be disappointed by the fantasy he’s built surrounding it. Watching him get excited about the food, the nature and the culture made me realize why I fell in love with Japan in the first place. My excitement was rekindled big time.

Directly upon returning to Germany, I wished I could go back. I would look at pictures and remember the fun we’d had. I thought of excuses to go back. Turns out I didn’t need an excuse. I just needed a change of perspective.

During a Yin Yoga session, I was sitting in my position for what seemed like hours, letting my mind wander in lazy circles. I needed to make a change in my life – desperately. I was only feeling more hollow and burnt out with each passing year and I just couldn’t, wouldn’t take it anymore. I thought about moving to Berlin, just packing up and going away to a city where I could indulge in my interests and hobbies. But then I thought: Why not go a little further?

Kyoto Japan Maiko Dance
Eight months
earlier, I had become obsessed with studying the Japanese language. I’d always dreamed of learning it and, because I just couldn’t find a course in my city, I tried to study by myself at home for hours at a time and on the go through an app. By chance, I stumbled across Go Go Nihon, a website that promised assistance in moving to Japan to study Japanese at a language school. I loved the idea, sharing it with my boyfriend and mother, the latter of which sadly cut down my excitement immediately. „How are you going to pay for that?“, she asked. Truthfully, I didn’t know. The website suggested 7500 EUR for 6 months of studying abroad in Tokyo. That money did include everything: housing, classes, flights, food and all other living costs. But it was still an incredible amount of money. So I benched it. „I’ll do it eventually.“, I said to myself. But I didn’t know whether eventually would ever come.

I changed positions, my brain going into overdrive. What if I only went for 3 months? What if I worked hard now, saved up money and left in January? My body grew hot with excitement. I could do it. I could really, really do it. And so I did. Within one week, I had booked my flight, organized my visa, found an accommodation and made a payment plan. I sat in Yin Yoga a week later, flabbergasted. How can it be so easy? Within one week, I’d fulfilled a dream and changed my whole life.

Tokyo Japan Tokyo Tower View

All my life, I had felt paralyzed, thinking that getting out of situations that made me unhappy took months or even years of preparation. I’d never left the preparation stage, constantly lengthening the periods of time, claiming to be „responsible“ and „sensible“. But really, I was just scared of change. Scared of taking a risk. Scared of failing.

But I realized this: I was even more scared of never changing. Of being stuck forever.

So I did it. Have there been moments of insecurity and fear? Absolutely. I will move for 4 months at first. Not that much time, but for the first time in my life, I’ll be truly apart from my family, my long-term boyfriend and our cats. I will go it completely alone, without knowing a single person in this foreign country. I can say about five words in Japanese and can only read Hiragana. There’s a lot of reasons to be scared. But you know what? It’s worth it. I don’t want to say no to things that I really want anymore, even if it feels terrifying at first. My life has been marked by no’s and it has made me anxious, unhappy and unfulfilled. So from now on, I’m going to say yes.