The harsh, cruel winter had come to a calm end. The roaring winds from the sea of Japan quieted to a whisper, and the walls of snow melted down into the nearby Shinano River, flowing along the rice fields and out into the open sea. The locals opened their windows to welcome in the fresh air of a spring long awaited, the sun a welcome sight from the months of grey skies and winter storms. In yukiguni—or snow country, as Niigata prefecture is famously known thanks to the Nobel prize winning book of the same name—winters can bring up to seven feet of snow fall.
The clock struck 5—it was officially time to head home and call it a day at the office.
Yet no one was leaving.
Japanese companies worry about local staff pressing legal charges for unpaid overtime in the U.S., so they order us to clock out at 5 p.m. Of course, I wasn’t complaining.
So just like I do everyday, I shut off my computer, grabbed my purse, bowed and announced to the office:
“O saki ni shitsureishimasu” (I humbly apologize for leaving early).
To which they instantaneously replied,
I know, you think I must be crazy for suggesting you could save over $10,000 a year by living in Tokyo, a city famous for its supposed ‘high cost of living.’
But if there’s one big smack in the face I’ve received from reverse culture shock in the United States, it’s this:
It’s goddamn expensive to live in America!
I want to compare cost of living in America with what most people consider an expensive country: Japan.
More specifically, Tokyo.
This scenario is based on a single individual working in Tokyo with an English teacher’s salary, which is about 30,000 USD per year and averages out to 2,500 dollars per month.
Last weekend I turned 29—in other words, I’m that much closer to 30.
I used to dread turning 30. Growing up, we often believe 30 is the age that you become a true “adult.” If you didn’t have your life in order by 30, then by society’s standards, you were seen as a failure or a screw up. It’s why if you google ‘turning 30,’ you’ll find questions and blog posts filled with fear, anxiety, and questions.
Yet I’ve met countless people my age or older that have been struggling not only to find a job—but their path in life. For many, life begins at 30.
Before I delve into 2015, let’s look back at the resolutions I kept (and dropped) in 2014:
- Learn French.
- Take a class in web design and economics.
Find an amazing job in the USA(although it’s not very amazing)
Keep up the habit of going to the gym 3 times a week, aim to run for an hour nonstop (can do 30 mins now, up the score!)
- Take the GRE.
Grow out my hair. It looks good short I must admit, but I do miss having my long black locks.
- Continue to write, and publish an article!
Volunteer! Find an organization in Shanghai or the USA, sign up, and go help others!(volunteered on Thanksgiving and have joined a volunteer Meetup group in my neighborhood).
- Practice J-E interpreting 3 times a week, C-E once a week
Learn how to properly, and effectively, invest money(I purchased my first stocks this year)
Travel somewhere new (have plans of Thailand in March, so this one’s definitely going to happen!)(Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore–you were amazing!)
Alright, Time for 2015 Resolutions:
- Lose 20 pounds–and more importantly, lead a healthier life. I know. It’s a typical resolution, but this year it means even more. I gained a lot of weight since moving back to the United States. I want to blame the unhealthy food, the portion sizes and the lack of physical activity (I used to walk everywhere in Shanghai–now, I drive). But still, I can’t just blame America. I already downloaded MyFitnessPal and I have a plan set in motion. If this doesn’t work, I’ll join weight watchers. Either way, I need to take control of my weight, my health, and my life.
- Learn Italian and Sign up for an Italian Class. I tried to learn French and my god, it just didn’t stick. Since most of my friends are Italian, I’ll take this as a divine sign from heaven and just learn what I love: Italian.
- Publish an Article (or ten). While I did continue to write (as this blog so clearly showcases), I have yet to publish my work. I want 2015 to be that year.
- Update this Blog Once a Week and Really Commit to The Ruby Ronin. I love this blog. It’s my baby. I love the people I meet through this blog, and I love writing. I didn’t start to really invest time in this thing until 2014, and I want to go even further in 2015. I know life gets in the way and sometimes I only update once a month–but that’s just ridiculous. I need to show this blog, and my readers, that I’m serious about this thing.
- Become an Irish Citizen. I know, random. I’ll write a post about how to apply for Irish Citizenship later, but for the time being, I just want to make this happen in 2015.
- Pay Off My Student Loans. After almost ten years of paying my stupid loans, this year will finally be the year where I write my final paycheck to the Federal Government.
- Visit at Least One National Park. Here’s lookin at you, Yosemite.
- Run a 5k. While this isn’t #1 priority, I’d really like to make it happen!
Realizations from 2014 to Push me Forward in 2015
I will forever remember 2014 as the year of great change. I moved back to the United States from my wonderful life in Shanghai and experienced some of the worst reverse culture shock to ever grace an American. It was truly a painful and difficult experience. Even a year later, I cannot say with confidence that I have fully adjusted.
For the first time in five years, I’m spending Christmas at home. I’m not flying in on a 13 hour flight from Tokyo or Shanghai. I’m not spending Christmas in China and Lunar New Years in the states. I’m actually home during the holidays, and it’s a wonderful feeling.
I flew into Salt Lake City on Christmas eve and was greeted to a white blanket of snow on Christmas morning. It was the perfect Christmas present to my morning.
Although I’m spending the holidays in the United States, the month of December hasn’t felt much like Christmas because of Los Angeles.
As I was doing some random internet searching on average salaries across the world, I found a link for data on Japan. While the average, annual earnings of a 24-27 year old for your average Tokyo salaryman was alarming (27,000 USD/year), what shocked me even more was this:
For those that can’t read Japanese, the men’s salaries are listed in blue and the women’s are in pink.
While the pay increases for men as they age, the salary for women actually decreases. In Japan, women don’t even come close to earning as much as their male counterparts—in their entire lives. I knew the pay gap was quite atrocious in Japan, I had lived there and read enough research, but this bar graph was like being splashed with cold water. It’s that bad?
When living abroad, it’s very easy to feel alone and isolated. Living in a new environment, being surrounded by a new language and living in a place where you know no one—it’s something few people sign up for voluntarily.
When I moved to Japan, I underwent some of the loneliest months of my life. The Japanese countryside was the ultimate test to enduring loneliness.
Surprisingly, I also felt loneliness upon returning to the United States. Although the U.S. was my ‘home,’ most of my friends from high school and college had already moved to other states and cities. The combination of reverse culture shock and being in a new environment (Los Angeles) had me feel more alone than I had ever felt in Shanghai.
Winter is Coming
November whizzed by in the blink of an eye, and it’s already the third day of December. It may be a little too late to talk about fall foliage in Japan, but after seeing all the amazing fall photos posted by my friends in Japan on Facebook, I just had to get in on the action.
I’d also like to mention that seeing fall foliage in Japan was, quite frankly, one of the highlights of my life. There are some things that are best done in Japan, such as eating fresh sushi or viewing cherry blossoms, and I have to say seeing the fall leaves should rank at the top of that list.
I’ve dated men all across Asia—Korea, Japan, China, and even Vietnam. Although I was told that western women weren’t the rage in Asia, I proved the non-believers wrong. With just three easy steps, I was able to score a slew of dates, a few boyfriends and even two proposals.
A Little Background…
I was living abroad for the first time ever in Japan at the ripe age of 22, newly single and ready to try the dating scene in Asia. The appeal of dating a local not only for the cultural and language benefits, but also for the novelty, was exciting. What would my friends and family say if I dated a Japanese person—or, better yet, married one?