The sound of 2019 is the voice of one of my Thai trainers as he shrieks “我慢!” at me from within the ring. He does this in a way that is both serious and jovial, and often when I complain about the pain of being hit. 我慢 or “Gaman”, to endure with patience and dignity. I hear his voice so often in my head, when I’m at work, when I’m emotional over things I cannot control, when my thoughts take me to space to go for a long walk.
I went back to some of my previous posts about life in Japan and I’m proud of the optimism I had. I’m glad for it, because I needed it in spades and in droves, to combat the challenges and savor the moments of this year.
Birthday and Chinese New Year
My birthday is usually pretty uneventful but this year marks the second year I’ve spent the day itself tackling a mountain. I climbed Mt Takao with Megumi, an experience I cherish which also brought renewed admiration for our 10-year long friendship and now, eventual culmination to both be living in Tokyo. But I couldn’t shake the loneliness of not really having anyone, close friends or family, with me and for the first time since leaving home ten years ago for boarding school, I felt homesick.
Chinese New Year in Japan is even more lackluster than it is in Australia, I found myself clinging to whatever remnants I could find or create for myself. A 90s and 00s Chinese music playlist on Spotify, calling my immediate and extended family to wish them and pulling up photos of my last celebration in Malaysia. After-work fatigue and inertia fought hard but I’m glad I made the decision to go to Yokohama, the closest city with a Chinatown, on the first day of Chinese New Year. You know you’re Chinese New Year-sick when the boisterous drumming, clanging of cymbals and ostentatious colours from watching the only lion dance troupe in Yokohama perform, are like visual and audio ASMR to you.
Back to nature and ascending Mt Fuji
An appreciation for the changing of seasons and the desire to immerse oneself in nature might have come to me fairly late in life, but I’ve definitely been making up for lost time. I enjoyed the hikes that I was able to do around Australia, but if there’s a country or culture to truly embrace it, Japan is it. I love the plethora of peaks available within an hour of Tokyo, how different the terrain can be, and the odd yet comforting pitstops of kakigori, udon and mountain vegetable tempura, scattered across the ranges. And in a highlight of highlights, I was able to climb to the summit of Mt Fuji for the very first time this year, 3,776m above sea level and infinity levels above what my soul could ever fathom. I’m so thankful for the abundance of green here but also for finding such fantastic company, in both my work and personal life, to be tackling such great heights.
Hello, nice to meet you and goodbye
Approximately six months into Tokyo life, a colleague who I really enjoyed working with and his wife, told me they were moving to Bangkok. This sprawling metropolis has given me the most Gatsby manor-esque within and without sensation, and despite knowing Tokyo’s transient reputation, I wasn’t quite prepared for the feelings that followed. So many people are here for a good time, a challenging time, or any time but a long time. And their subsequent behaviours exhibited are mirrored and the actions echo, coming and going, falling hard and running away. In some ways, it’s more isolating than your best friend moving away, it’s someone who could have been your best friend, given the time and the opportunity, but what’s left is the lingering “what if”, of a friendship that would never reach maturity. Optimistically though, this does bring a more carpe diem mentality to life here, which forces me to act with a lot more urgency than I would have in the past, and to also completely sit in that moment before it becomes a memory.
2018 was not the best year for health for me and I was determined for 2019 to not be a repeat of it. I was also conscious that the fast-paced nature of Tokyo might be exciting when you want to play, but it is absolutely unforgiving when you want to work. For the most part, I think I stayed as true as possible to eating healthy and giving myself mental and physical breaks where I needed them. There were significant gaps and moments of being ill due to prioritizing work or just being stubborn about wanting to go for runs in the rain (idiot). But towards the tail end of the year, I was able to find a better balance and I hope to take this with me into 2020.
Sydney, Hakone, Sydney Ishigaki, Sydney, Sapporo…
This year’s travel was mostly about returning to my familiar stomping ground, Sydney, to witness friends getting married plus a smattering of travel within Japan. I’m thankful I was able to make those trips back as I can now comfortably put the Sydney arc of my life behind me. Travelling within Japan has been as fulfilling as I hoped and I am excited to see, hear, taste and touch so much more of this land. By the time this is published, I’ll have ticked off two more locations in this beautiful country.
- Jervis Bay
Work and Rugby World Cup
This month marks three years with the same organization, with roles across 5 different arms of the business. Here in Japan, it continues to be much more of a maze to navigate, except a year and a bit later, I’m finally starting to piece together a map. I’ve gained so much from everyone, from both good and bad people as well as, positive and negative experiences.
The apex of work in 2019 is undoubtedly the role that my company played in Rugby World Cup. I’m happy, proud and relieved that it’s over and that I can tick this ginormous career milestone off. I never planned for this and never expected work to take me this far and I feel incredibly lucky that it did. If there was a coming of age moment for my career, I think this year was it.
This is my second, going into third year of practicing Muay Thai and I am comfortable in the discomfort of this martial art now. After hundreds of hours spent grinding against this one particular sport, it’s starting to feel like I’m dancing with an old rival. I’m familiar with the pain points, with the frustration of a plateau, with the silent satisfaction when there is steady progress. Some of the movements feel strongly second nature while others that I’ve opened myself up to (those more kickboxing inclined) are alien and exciting.
This year I participated in my first exhibition match amongst people from my gym and one other gym, which resulted in two draws. I was also lucky enough to receive tickets to an amazing Rise promotion and see some top global fighters as well as Nasukawa Tenshin fight before my eyes. I’ve become enamoured with the teachings of my trainers, especially Atsuko san who has developed her own brand of martial arts-based cardio, Thai Kick Rhythm and it has inspired me to improve my overall fitness. Tangentially related, I also got to witness a karate competition in Yokohama, expanding my exposure to other martial arts while also chalking up another one for the precious memory archives.
Living in Tokyo
Even though I’ve written extensively about living in Tokyo this past year, I could likely 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, whether good, terrible or plain bizarre.
A lot of things have really happened this year. And even though surviving was my main objective, I’m happily surprised at how fruitful it has all been, thanks to the company of so many phenomenal people that I have met. If I have met you while on this path, no matter how brief and even if we are no longer connected, thank you for your time.
My wishes for 2020 are for more perseverance in health for myself, my family and the people I love. I hope my second year in Japan is as challenging as it is kind. I want my career to keep progressing while I become more proficient at balancing it against the truly important things in life. I hope to maintain good habits of cooking at home and getting enough sleep. Now that I am more confident in my skills, I hope to make my Muay Thai training more purposeful and to decide which path I would like to follow. I’d like to carve out much, much more time to read and write this year and to continue to work on my Japanese language ability.
I like the way my trainer says gaman because of its meaning, because it’s about continuous progress and because of its reminder to endure hardship, but to also play along the way. I like that although neither of us is Japanese, the language is how we communicate and the city we both live in connects us. It’s my life in Tokyo in one phrase, spoken in one moment, scattered throughout my time here.