Have you ever arrived somewhere, only to realise that you have some place else to be? A doctors appointment, a friend’s birthday drinks or a child you were meant to pick up from school half an hour ago (oops). For the last two years in Sydney, this was my everyday. Every day, I’d wake up in the same bed that I always have, and for the first few seconds, not realise where I am. I’d place my feet on carpeted floor, look out through the window that sees my corner of the city of Sydney in all of its high rise glory, and stare at the morning sky. At night I went to bed oftentimes satisfied with the day, but I could never shake the feeling that there was something missing.

Bagai pungguk merindukan bulan

  1. Seseorang yang membayangkan atau menginginkan sesuatu yang tidak mungkin dicapai
  2. Seseorang yang jatuh cinta pada orang lain yang tidak mungkin akan membalas cintanya

I’m not there right now but when I close my eyes, I can still see the mixed paints of vermillion and fuschia of the day, and the depth to which sometimes a single glowing orb would hang from in the night. I’m not there right now because I’m where I never thought I would be, indefinitely, in Tokyo.

I’ve always loved Japan and I’ve always loved Tokyo. But it wasn’t until I had my first foray into a local’s life, that I dared to wonder if this might be an actual possibility. As a tourist, you exist in the same physical space as a local, but you’re on a different plane, like ghosts. There is little interaction and zero immersion. I met a wonderful variety of people on that trip and saw the city as more than just an expression of Japanese culture. For a city that had such a strong sense of self, of its own identity, it still has room for you.

After that trip, I returned home a different person. And in my head, I tried many ways to make it work. My family will tell you that I became obsessed with the idea, planning the swiftest route to get there. Not many people know that I actually received job offer in 2017 that I ended up declining because it didn’t align with what I wanted to achieve, both personally and professionally. It was a tedious and painful exercise, but one that made me realise that swift didn’t necessarily mean best. And that as much as I wanted to move to be in Tokyo, I didn’t want to lose who I am or who I will be.

Fast forward to April 2018, when I made my yearly pilgrimage, this time completely alone and with the aim of studying Japanese and training Muay Thai. Many people thought I was crazy to spend three whole weeks in a single city, and to be sacrificing my annual leave towards activities that were not typically considered ‘relaxing’ or ‘holiday appropriate’. Once again my mind was blown, at the infinite possibilities that this city had. School doesn’t feel like school when you are doing something you love and working towards a life goal of Japanese fluency. The gym I eventually committed to became like family to me. And despite the rigid schedule, I still had plenty of free time to explore, from city to mountain and beyond. The three weeks flew by and I left feeling like I had barely scratched the surface of Tokyo.

Each time I leave Tokyo, a part of me stays with it. Returning to Australia once again, I truly felt like this time, I had left too much of myself behind. I went back to the drawing board, charting my path again, now with a worst case scenario to simply just move there with or without a job, and figure out the rest. Chasing your dreams is never easy, but this for me, was the hardest part. The part that had to put aside ego, job security and career progression, and all of the comforts that I had been so privileged to receive in my nine years in Australia, in favour of a big question mark.

At the same time, a tiny, microscopic, opportunity came up within my current organisation. Sparing the details, a staggering number of e-mails and presentations was involved, plus managing a 150% workload for several months, all of this without knowing if there would be an end in sight or not. I was able to stay sane throughout this process, thanks to a combination of Muay Thai, running and ongoing support from friends and family. Running, which I previously hated, actually became my greatest aide. I managed to run about 20 km consistently every week, not really caring about average pace, but focusing on consistency. I would start long before the sun was up, and it became my own space where I could visualise the life I wanted in Japan. The glimmer of hope to live in Tokyo on my own terms was there, and no matter how ever so slightly it glittered, I pursued it relentlessly. Somehow I made it, but I don’t think I would have been able to if I did not pick up running.

I arrived in Tokyo for the second time in 2018, on October 13th. It was shorts weather then, but we’ve since rocketed into winter and I haven’t been this cold since I lived in Stockholm. I’ve gone from living out of suitcase in a hotel for month, to having a small but cosy apartment. I was sick for almost three weeks, with what was likely the worst cold and fever I have had in the last ten years. Thanks to Japanese bureaucracy, it took me one and a half months to open a bank account and in the process, I actually managed to open an account with the wrong bank. Many people warned me that the work would be harder, the long hours also a given. And they were right. I still order the wrong thing at restaurants and can barely operate my appliances at home. I’m alone here, for the most part. Yet, each an every mistake and inconvenience would have been many times worse, had I not had the support of my small network of friends here, and colleagues who have been ever ready to help. Yet, I love my job. Yet, each moment that I am here, I am completely fulfilled like I have never been before.

For two years, I was the owl who sat on a branch, longing for the unattainable moon. I was Jay Gatsby, as he stretched out his arms towards the dark water at a single green light that no one else saw, but me.

If my life was a movie, then maybe this would be the happy ending and the credits can start rolling now. But it’s not a movie and this is not the end. I’m going to turn up to work tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and the day after that. I’ll train as much as I can at the gym and look forward to plans for the weekend. Life in Tokyo is honestly not too different to the life I led in Sydney. But the string that gripped itself so tightly around my heart, no longer tugs. My mind is quiet. And I wake up each morning knowing that this is exactly where I am meant to be.

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  1. Thanks for sharing Sam. I had a similar feeling moving to US!

    1. Thanks for reading Matt! 100% sure you could relate with the US, knowing how invested you are in the startup scene and product management. Hope you are well.

  2. […] write about Tokyo only for the rest of my life and never feel that I’ve exhausted the topic. Each new day here seems to add an extra layer to the experience, like Doraemon’s 4D pocket, it just keeps giving, […]

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