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From Honolulu to Yokosuka: With Aloha from Japan

16 April, 2012 10:48  Erin Erin

With Aloha from Japan couple Hi there!  My name is Shannon E. and I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii.  After high school, I lived in Washington State for five years, Northern California for eight years, Hawaii again for another three years and now I have the amazing privilege of calling Yokosuka, Japan my home. 

1. Why did you move abroad?
My husband and I had long discussed moving to Japan in order to advance his career (he is a civilian with the U.S. Navy), to allow me to take a break from mine (I was an employment attorney), and just to start our lives as husband and wife together on our own, without too many outside influences.  So when my husband got the job here in Japan, it was really a no brainer for us and he accepted immediately.  Shortly after he accepted the job, the earthquake/tsunami hit Japan and for a little bit we were unsure what was going to happen, but once the U.S. State Department gave the all clear, we stuck with our plan to move and I think it was the best decision we ever made!

2. How do you make a living?
Initially, when we made the decision to move abroad, it was with the intention of me not working.  At that point I had been practicing law for almost 8 years and had reached the point that many attorneys reach where they ask themselves “is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life?” so I thought a break would be good.  Luckily I have a supportive husband that still allows me to add to (on a regular basis) my collection of Coach purses despite the fact that I am no longer bringing in a substantial income like I was before.  However, since we’ve been here for a few months, I figured I should probably get off my butt and do something, so I recently started teaching English (privately, not through a school).  It’s actually been more challenging (and rewarding) than I initially thought because the students are at such drastically different levels so I have to put a lot of thought into the lessons – what might be appropriate/relevant for one student might not be for another.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?

As often as possible!  I talk to my mom on the phone (we use Vonage) at least once a week and we email/text (Viber and/or Voxer) several times a week. I also use FaceTime and/or Skype to talk to my niece/nephew, friends and other family.  I try to email or use Facebook on a weekly basis to keep in touch with my friends as well.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Japan?
Hmm…there are so many great things about Japan.  My short list would be:  no tipping; excellent public transportation; delicious food; the abundance of amazing pastries, desserts and other baked goods.  I also love the people and the culture of Japan.  Others might disagree with me, but in my experience, the Japanese people I’ve come in contact with have been nothing but pleasant and polite, which has made living here a real joy.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Japan?

The worst thing about living in Japan is the weather in the summer (approximately July through September).  Seriously, if I could, I wouldn’t leave my house (which thankfully has air condition) for the whole summer.  Yes, Hawaii has a tropical climate and is humid at times, but Hawaii humidity is nothing compared to the humidity here during the summer (think instant sweat as soon as you step outside).  As you can see, since weather is the only thing I have to complain about, life must be pretty good here!

6. What do you miss most?
Without a doubt, family and friends are what I miss the most, especially my niece and nephew (3 years old and 2 years old, respectively).  Although FaceTime and Skype (and other forms of technology) are great, they simply can’t replace real hugs/kisses from my two little monsters.  My husband, who doesn’t show much emotion very often, expressed to me one night on our recent trip to Las Vegas with some of our friends from Hawaii (in a very thoughtful and serious manner, I might add) that seeing our friends from home made him realize that that’s really the only thing that’s lacking from our life in Japan (i.e., our friends and family).  I was comforted to know that I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. 

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
Luckily we knew some people that already lived here, so I have been fortunate in that respect and have simply built upon that foundation.  Being affiliated with a very large military base and military community has also helped with meeting people.  In terms of integrating into our new home, we try to eat in local restaurants as much as possible (i.e., not U.S. chains with Japanese locations), I shop in the Japanese grocery store near our house, and I try to speak Japanese as much as possible.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
The lack of insulation in modern Japanese homes completely baffles me.  The Japanese winters can be particularly brutal and I’m totally confused as to why, even today, Japanese homes aren’t built with more insulation.  Sometimes when I’m in my bathroom during the winter, I swear it’s colder inside the house than it is outside. 

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
Japanese people don’t understand English.  Now granted, they may not speak it very well, but the reality is that Japanese are required to study English in school and so they have some understanding of English.  In my experience, most people can read and write English pretty well but speaking is where they have difficulty and so they just act like they can’t speak or understand it.  Interestingly, if you are out at a restaurant (store or other establishment) with someone that speaks Japanese, once your server finds out that someone in the party speaks Japanese, that’s the end of any attempts at English on the part of your server. 

10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Unfortunately, the cost of living in Japan is much, much higher than in the U.S. (it is even higher than Hawaii which has one of the highest costs of living in the U.S.) and that has made a huge difference for us.  Although we do get some cost of living compensation from the government, it still does not adequately offset the higher costs here.  As a result, we probably don’t eat out AS much (as we normally would) and we haven’t taken as many trips around Japan and other parts of Asia (as I would have liked to at this point).  Luckily there are tons of 100 Yen stores (should be the equivalent of the U.S. Dollar Store, but they are way better) around where you can get everything from kitchen/tableware to garbage bags.

11. What advice would you give other expats?
Be open to new experiences, get out and explore your new home, and treat the locals with respect since that is their home.  Always keep in mind that your actions will be considered a reflection on expatriates in general, but also on your native country. 

12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog in January of this year at the urging of one of my best friends who wanted a way to keep up with my new life in Japan.  It took me awhile to finally decide to With Aloha from Japanstart it because I didn’t think I would be a good blogger and I thought it would be difficult to maintain – so far I have been wrong about both (at least I like to think).  Although it started as a means to keep my friends and family updated with our life here, my blog has become so much more – it has become a way for me to meet people, to express myself, to explore a different form of writing (other than boring legal briefs), and to learn more about Japan and other expatriates….and I am so happy that I decided to take the plunge and start With Aloha From Japan!

Blog LinkShannon's blog, With Aloha from Japan

Guide for expatriates in Tokyo, Japan



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