Four Years in Japan…Still Here, Still Loving It

Today is January 10th, 2012, indeed a very special day for me. Exactly four years ago today I hopped on a one-way, nonstop, 12-hour flight to Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan. Although it doesn’t really feel like it, four years is quite a bit of time. Four years is as much time a many people spend in undergrad (I spent four-and-a-half). In four years, a child can go through a large part of his/her pubescent life. Geez! I’ve been in freakin’ Japan for FOUR YEARS!?! Where does the time go?

In so many ways I feel that being here for four years is a wonderful thing, I happily celebrate it. In many respects I have been able to adapt to culture that’s markedly different from my native culture. I have been able to keep a steady job, pull myself out of the depths of a bankruptcy, make some cool friends, eat some tasty Japanese cuisine, teach some amazing students, and bear witness to some of the most beautiful landmarks/natural settings that I’ve ever seen. A large part of me absolutely adores Japan and living here.

I’d wouldn’t be telling the truth though if I said that was all there is to the story. The novelty, the newness of many things Japanese has worn off*. To be honest, there is also a side of me that looks at my time in Japan less enthusiastically. It’s this side of me that sees my time in Japan as more of a “So what?” than anything. It’s the side of me that says you’re still not married, you still don’t have the control of your life that you want, you’re still not fluent in Japanese (I am improving, though).

*Wish I could say the novelty of the language had worn off, because my a** would be fluent by now.

“So what? Just because I’m in Japan for four years doesn’t mean I’m living the life I want to. I didn’t come to Japan just have my life stagnate. I want to do more. I want to see more, I want to help more people. I don’t want to look back in 20 years and say, well the biggest thing I did my life was come to Japan and work…that’s it.”

I often have to check this side of my personality to make sure I always stay positive and upbeat. But this “so what” kind of thinking isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have some REALLY lofty goals I want to accomplish here in Japan. There’s nothing wrong with having dreams that keep my head in the clouds…as long as I stay tethered to reality. I kind of think of my dreams like this gigantic balloon floating high up in the sky with the a super long string grounded by a wooden post. The wooden post is that “so what thinking.”

Looking back over four years in Japan, I realize that I have had some amazing times, but I also realize that there’s so much that I haven’t done yet. There are so many places in Japan that I haven’t seen, so much of the language I still have to learn, so much more karate/martial arts training I want to do, so much more time I want to spend with friends, so many more foods I want to try, so much more traveling I want to do in Asia (China, Korea, Thailand). I look back on the move to Japan and as one of the best moves I ever made. I reflect on the last four years as my struggle to get stable. I’m certain that the next four years will produce a new set of struggles. Yes, some of these challenges will be tough. But this time instead of struggling to get stable, I am struggling to do something amazing. Who said struggles and challenges couldn’t be fun? I’m anxiously looking forward to every bit of it.

Still in Japan, Still loving it!

Donald Ash

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  • Petaris


    Four years in a foreign country is quite an accomplishment!

    • Petaris

      P.S.: Sorry if I butchered the katakana spelling of your name! :) Mine by the way is ジャスティン。

      • Donald Ash

        Nice. I’ll put mine in the comments section, too. My name is ドナルド in katakana.

  • Kumiko Inoue

    Four years! Wow :)
    As a Japanese, I feel happy you guys chose to stay in Japan longer .
    Im happy to hear you are having a great time in Japan!

    Btw, I remember your welcome party!
    You got lost didn’t you? Was it 2nd party?? Lol

    • Donald Ash

      I’m pretty happy about it, too, Kumiko. I think I get lost at every party :D . I can’t remember if I got lost at my welcome party, but I do remember getting lost for Atsushi’s farewell party.

  • Allan

    Dear Donald.

    While I am learning German, There is something I like to always ask myself.
    `I have been learning german for X years now, If there is a child in germany X years old, can I speak as well as them?,’

    I am by no means fluent in German.
    But look at your situation, You have only been learning Japanese 4 years man, Can you speak as well as a 4 year old? I bet you are miles better.

    Come on, Stop beating yourself up :)

    • Donald Ash

      Ah, German, the language I regret not learning, but I was a kid when I lived there so I didn’t know how cool it would be to have another language under my belt. That’s a good way to look at it I guess. I think I might be able to hold my own with a four year old Japanese kid :)
      Thanks Allan

  • Uh oh, you’re describing a lot of what I feel at the moment, and I’ve only been here one year. I still want to see more places in Japan, I still want to learn more Japanese but…

    I don’t want to be here forever, in fact my aim is to leave after 3 years. I don’t want to get into the trap of having my life stagnate here. I also have big goals and I don’t feel I can see them all the way through while living in Japan — though I’ve begun to set them in motion. You really gonna stay another 4 years?

    • Donald Ash

      HEY AMANDA! How the freak did I miss your comment?!? Sorry about that. I hear you on the whole stagnating thing. You know what’s funny, my sister had the same idea. She came, did her thing for three years, went back, and now she’s living her dreams. Amanda, I think about it everyday. Lately the homesickness has been hitting me a lot harder than I expected. When I was home last time, I was so happy just to be able to express myself fully and have people understand all of it. To be able to make jokes and have people get ‘em. I’m trying to figure this all out. I will stay for a while longer, I don’t know if it will be forever, but it is a possibility (if can significantly improve my Japanese). We’ll see…

      Thanks for stopping by to post, Amanda!

  • Robb J.

    Happy 4 year anniversary, Donnie. Awesome post :-)

  • Aaron

    You might be interested in the blog Fluent in 3 Months.

    It’s not like other sites that promise perfection. It’s just a site about a guy travelling the world, couchsurfing, and learning languages in record time by getting to know the locals.

    Overall, if you want to get better at Japanese, his advice is simply that you hang out with Japanese people a lot and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, friends and everything else that comes with life.

    Two of my favourite posts are:

    29 life lessons learned in travelling the world for 8 years straight


    How ditching perfectionism helped me speak Spanish all evening for the first time

    Anyways, the blog has so many interesting stories, mostly told by Benny himself, about how to get to advanced levels of fluency quickly. Truthfully, stories like his do pop up from time to time, especially in the case of people like Daniel Tammet (I think that’s his name). I’ve been reading your blog, and it sounded like you needed a pick-me up that wasn’t just another crash course. The vast majority of Benny’s blog is not a sales pitch, although, given how big he’s become, it’s no surprise that he, like you, has started selling a book

    Good Luck Donald ^_^


    Maybe you can couchsurf with Benny one day ;) Here’s the link:

    Also, I’m a Japanese learner who has been self-studying, translating and listening to Jpop for 3 years (not continuously). Anyways, I can string together long sentences with proper grammar, but I still need a dictionary from time to time ^_^; I’m getting there.
    It’s funny, I started learning Japanese because I was bored by school. Anyways, I think the secret is simply that we as humans are built to learn, but we usually try to stop ourselves from letting go of what we already know (the ‘identity’ we so painstakingly build and maintain for the sake of pride). If I had to estimate my skill, I’d say upper intermediate reading and intermediate speaking.

    Anyways, I really do hope that Benny’s blog gives you some fresh optimism and helps you get where you want to be!

  • Aaron

    Oh, excuse my double post, but this is probably the most relevant link for you Donald:

    It basically explains how Benny got where he is today…. The first step in his thousand mile journey.

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