Travel Magazine

Two Years in Japan

By Cubiclethrowdown

It’s been the longest and shortest two years of my life. (

Two Years in Japan

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been living here FOREVER. And sometimes I still feel like I just arrived.

August 2018 marked two years of living in Japan, and it’s been quite the ride. I never expected that at the ripe old age of 33 that I’d be going into my third year of teaching English here and going on almost eight years of living abroad… but here I am.

Two Years in Japan

What I’ve Done

So much. I’ve done so much since I’ve been here! I’ve also spent a lot of time sitting at home watching Netflix, which sometimes makes me forget about all the cool shit I’ve done since I got here.

I’ve worked really hard at my job. I had no idea how to be an ALT (assistant language teacher) when I got here. The JET Programme provides next to no training and my town didn’t provide any either. In Japan you’re kind of expected to learn the ropes from your sempai, or senior staff, but on this program the person before us leaves and we replace them with little to no overlap. So you kind of just have to wing it. I was lucky that I had great Japanese teachers and other ALTs in my town to help me, and that I have enough work and life experience to figure out the rest myself.

I’ve consistently gotten stellar reviews and even did a demonstration lesson in front of hundreds of people last year. I love my students, and while the English education system in Japan leaves a lot to be desired, I’ve still been able to connect with them. I know they’ll always have a piece of my heart. I am always working to improve things for the current ALTs in my town and for ALTs to come. I hope to leave this place better than I found it.

Two Years in Japan

I’ve made it through several scary earthquakes and typhoons. Here’s hoping I get out of here before the Nankai Earthquake strikes. I know that’s going to break my heart when it happens, because this country is always going to be very special to me and it will be absolutely awful to see destruction on that scale. But I don’t want to be here in the epicenter when that happens.

I’ve formed friendships with Japanese people and reconnected with my Japanese friends from Vancouver 10 years ago. It’s surprised me how many Japanese people have reached out and tried their best to communicate with me and hang out with me. I never knew when I arrived here that I would be BFFs with the lady who does my lash perms or going out and getting drunk with my elementary school teachers in a beach bar, but here we are.

Two Years in Japan

I’ve finally, finally finished getting my apartment the way I want it. When I moved in, my apartment was dirty, filled with junk, and had furniture that was broken and moldy. I had to throw everything out and start from scratch. It’s taken thousands of dollars and two years to slowly get everything that I wanted, but I love my apartment now and am planning to cherish the last year that I get to spend in it! Definitely gonna miss the $180 rent…

I always feel like I haven’t made any progress on my Japanese, but every time I go to a different country where I’m 100% illiterate and then come back to Japan, I realize how far I’ve come. I spent about 10 months last year with a private tutor online once a week, and self-study and I’m hovering somewhere between N5-N4, with my speaking and listening skills waaaay above reading and writing.

I’ve since decided to enjoy my remaining time here and if I pick up more, great, but I’m not going to spend my free time studying Japanese. In the future it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever need anything more than basic convo skills, so I’m not interested in further study at this time. I’d rather spend my time with my Japanese friends or visiting new places in Japan and trying new restaurants and cafes, or at home working on things that are related to my future goals.

Two Years in Japan

This year I really got a handle on my health, which was out of control for the first year and a half that I was here. I was officially diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at the start of 2018 and had to make some pretty big adjustments. While I know some of my diet and lifestyle changes can be a bit annoying for people around me (trust me, they’re annoying for me too), I have lost almost 20lbs and am feeling better than ever.

I also achieved my Japan bucket list goal of dancing in Awa Odori, my prefecture’s famous dance festival and the second largest dance festival in the world. I saw it during my first week in Japan and wanted to do it ever since. This August, after 10 months of practice and hard work, I finally did it!

Two Years in Japan

Where I’ve Been

I’ve traveled to 16 prefectures (Tokushima, Kagawa, Tokyo, Chiba, Gunma, Osaka, Kyoto, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Okayama, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Shizuoka, Aichi, Hyogo and Ehime) with four more to come before Christmas (Nagasaki, Oita, Wakayama, and Nara). Most Japanese people I know have been to five or less, so I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job exploring. I’d love to get to 24 prefectures, so that I can say I’ve visited over half of Japan! I have realized I won’t make it to all 47 before I leave next summer, but my aim now is to at least visit all 8 regions. So far I’ve got 6/8. I need to get up north!

I’ve visited beautiful islands, shrines, mountains, the sea, big cities, tiny villages, and festivals galore.

I’ve traveled internationally to South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand (with a vacation back to Roatan thrown in for good measure). I’m hoping to get to Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Taiwan this year before I leave.

What I Loved

I loved my students, my apartment (in its complete state), my travels, and making so many new friends. I loved (almost all) my Japanese coworkers, who often show me kindness in small but sweet ways. I loved getting to know the ALTs in my town, all of whom are very young and not people I probably would have been friends with otherwise but some of them have become my closest confidants. I’m glad I gave everyone a chance and got to make some amazing friends.

Food is my favorite, so I enjoyed trying so many new restaurants and new foods.

I was thrilled to be able to reconnect with my Japanese friends that I hadn’t seen for 10 years since I was living in Vancouver back in the day!

And I can’t forget, my month-long vacation back to my beloved Roatan, where I surprised all my friends and spent four weeks diving and having sunset drinks every day with people I love.

What I Didn’t Love

Things I’m not a fan of: constant casual racism/xenophobia, being stared at like a zoo animal, mold, extreme summer temperatures + 100% humidity, earthquakes, typhoons, feeling pressure to dress moderately outside of work hours, literally the entire English education system, my board of education making unilateral changes that affect ALTs directly without asking us or giving a shit about it, poisonous centipedes in my house, annoying oblivious coworkers, having to keep my garbage inside until the right day, being functionally illiterate, missing festivals and other things I wanted to attend because my schools won’t let me take one damn day off, and having to sit around in the ALT room during all the school breaks with nothing to do.

Overall, not a huge list. But for prospective ALTs reading this, just know that Japan is not Disneyland. It’s not some fairytale place where everything is an anime. This is a real place where people work and live their lives like everywhere else in the world. Your life here will not be magical every day. You’ll go to school, come home, make dinner, watch Netflix, go to bed, and do it all again. But there will magical moments sprinkled in here and there, just like any other place in the world.

What I’ve Taken From This

I am adaptable. I am tougher than I thought. I can still learn new things and succeed at them. Even though I’ve had a really random assortment of jobs in my life, I’ve been good at all of them including this one. I can be more patient than I was before (note the “can be”, not “am” – it’s selective haha!). I can travel by myself and have a good time. Even if I can’t read or speak the language, people will still help me if I need help. I should always give people a chance – some of my best friends here are people I would have never otherwise crossed paths with.

And I really,  really like living somewhere with Amazon and regular mail service.

What’s Next

In my final year I have a few goals:

  • start getting rid of my “stuff” in preparation for a new ALT to move in next year and to take my things wherever I’m going next (note to self: STOP BUYING SHIT ON AMAZON). I will not leave my apartment the way I found it! I intend to be a great predecessor for my replacement and to provide her with all the info I wish I had when I arrived.
  • travel bucket list before leaving: Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan (international) and hit the remaining two regions of Japan that I’ve yet to visit: Hokkaido and Tohoku (plus Okinawa because I don’t consider it part of Kyushu!) I really want to scuba dive in Japan before I leave. (
  • I need to decide on my next move. I’m almost certain that going back to Canada and “getting a real job” is not in the cards for me next year. My goal is to start gearing up for working remotely full-time. I want to be location independent, which means I need to ramp up my online business and explore more options for that. If the work falls into place that’s perfect, but I need to also think about where I want to live!
  • make more time for my Japanese friends. After I leave next summer, I probably won’t be back here for a few years at least. I want to make the effort to spend time with them here.

So, that’s two years in the books. Bring on year 3!

Two Years in Japan

Want more Cubicle Throwdown in your life? Of course you do, you rockstar. You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, G+ and Pinterest, if you like. You can also add me to your Bloglovin’ feed, or email me! If social media is not your jam and you just want my posts straight to your inbox, check out the sidebar and put your email address in the “Never Miss A Post” box. No newsletters or spam, just my posts – scouts honor. xo!


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