To Tokyo, for New Challenges

At the end of August, I will be transferring to my firm’s Tokyo office.

The change is dramatic and spontaneous.

I’m really psyched.

I arrived in the United States on May 12, 1990.  It’s been 21 years, but I remember the days and months that followed surprisingly vividly.  The original plan to stay five years turned into ten, then college, then law school, then a career.

But I’m finally going back.

Life is funny.  Until high school, I never thought I’d go back.  Perhaps more importantly, I never wanted to go back.  I grew up in New Jersey surrounded by Americans with very little contact with Japanese people or culture.  I attended juku mostly because my parents viewed me as a lazy bum, not because I was expected to return to Japan to attend college.   It was understood that I was to graduate from an American college like my parents–and I was perfectly fine with that.

That hasn’t been true the last ten years.  I think most people who knew me from my days in Oakland, NJ will agree that I haven’t changed much in 20 years–I’m still immature, obsessed with markets and tall–but I do think I’ve changed in one significant way:  I’ve become more Japanese, or rather, have wanted to become more Japanese.  It’s ironic.  When I was still Japanese, I didn’t care to be.  When I became completely Americanized, I wanted to reconnect–or perhaps connect for the first time.  Wanting what you don’t have–perhaps that’s just part of life.

Now I get to go back to Japan and live like a Japanese.  While I have hopes of what that would be like, I’ve also got enough sense not to be delusional.  The move to Japan won’t be easy; everything will be familiar yet will be very different.  I know the language, but not how to catch the subtleties.  I know business cards are important, but not how to exchange them.  I know that the nail that stands gets hammered, but want to stand out.  I know, but I really don’t understand.

This will be the greatest challenge of my as of yet short life.

Why I’m doing this now is an easy question to answer:  because it feels right.  As the new year turned, I realized I wanted a major change.  Part of it was that I’ve become settled at my current position and had an urge for a new challenge.  But there was also something bigger at work.  I’ve had major events in my life before–going to college, deciding to go to law school, starting work–but they all seemed like a natural progression.  All challenges up to now were, in a way, predictable.  Going to Japan is not another stop in the course laid out, not for a graduate of American high school, college and law school.  This is not just a new challenge.  It’s a new life.

The question I don’t have an answer to is the one that everyone asks:  “For how long?”   The truth is that it’s this uncertainly that makes this change so exciting.  I’ve never experienced going into a true unknown.  I don’t know what’s in the future for me there.  Will I be seen as Japanese, American or neither?  Will I surround myself with foreigners or Japanese?  Will I enjoy living in the culture?  Will I miss America?  I could imagine myself just settling down there or wanting back what I left behind.

I have a little over six months left in my life in New York.  The decision I made a month ago is just beginning to sink in.  As it gets closer to when I actually have to go, I no doubt  feel sadness for leaving my closest friends behind and anxiety for venturing away from the familiar.  But for now, I’m euphoric.

Wish me luck.


2 Responses to “To Tokyo, for New Challenges”

  1. 1 Chris February 14, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Joe, the United States will miss you, but I have no doubt that you’ll accomplish some great things in Japan.

    I’ll always look back fondly at our college years, between the late night pizza, the Mario Tennis, and the lively political discussions we had a great time. You were there, and very involved, in one of the most memorable days of my life, September 11, 2001. I was groggy and getting out of bed and you were watching the news as you did every morning. I remember you called me in to see the coverage and my first instinct was to ignore you and get in the shower. At some point you said “you really need to see this,” and then as we watched the 2nd plane hit the tower.

    I’ve neglected getting up to New York to see you. Sara and I are actually coming up in late March, and hopefully we can drag you away from your desk to have dinner or something.

    The other day I stumbled across an article on “Datsusara”, a concept which I had never heard of, but it reminded me of how you used to say that you wanted to retire early and start a farm. I hope that wherever your interests take you follow them and they make you happy.

    All the best of wishes to you in Japan. If I’m ever in Tokyo (I hope to go some time) I’ll make sure to look you up.

    • 2 joesas February 23, 2011 at 11:35 pm


      I shall miss you tremendously as well. In fact, since we haven’t seen each other at all since your wedding, I’d say that I’ve already missed you. When you come up, we’ll definitely hang out. An “urgent” deal be damned.

      I miss the college years tremendously. Playing tennis with Boo. Watching you make our beloved Eagles be #1 in college football. And that day. We shall always remember.

      I’m still planning on retiring real soon. I actually went to Kansas on a business trip and retirement there seems just fine. I may become a Datsusara yet.

      Here’s to hoping we can get together before I go…

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