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Tuesday, 5 August - link

Japan Career Question from Comments

In a thread about Anne's work, Jim Katta asks: "did living in Japan for two years hurt, improve, or totally not matter in terms of your career prospects/development?"

I was laid off of my last job in January 2001. I was active as a freelance writer/speaker in the months following. I coaxed up a few writing assignments as an excuse to go to the Tokyo Game Show in April 2001. It was a blast.

A friend from my old college Ben (BoldRobot.com) contacted me that spring, because he would be in the Bay Area taking summer classes at UC Berkeley. He mentioned he was going to be taking intensive Japanese.

I did a mental calculation at that time - I'm a freelance writer, which is roughly a stationary treadmill. Yes, you build up a portfolio of clips over time. But graduating to better and better publications is hard without some work above and beyond turning in stories. I figured that a foreign language would be a good skill for me to have, especially a foreign language that complemented my interest in electronic entertainment. I reasoned that I would not be sorry if I took three months to pack my brain with new information.

The class was hard, time-wise (about 6-8 hours a day, with much homework). I didn't do well, but I learned some Japanese. And my Uncle Jim asked me, mid-summer - aren't you going to go to Japan after you spent all that time learning Japanese?

I did another mental calculation - I'm a young writer, working solo. I live alone. I don't have too many commitments. I might as well try something different. So by September I was packing up to move to Tokyo for at least one year.

I think I wanted a challenge. I had been in the Bay Area for a few years by then, and the Bay Area was in a kind of deep post-coital funk. There were a lot of broke people who hadn't yet discovered that unemployment can be a kind of creative liberation.

When I got to Japan, I joined the Foreign Correspondents' Club. There I discovered a number of nice folks, who usually weren't Japan scholars, or even all that interested in Japan specifically - they'd just found a place to land, a good gig: being the man in Japan.

Japan is the second largest economy in the world. Isn't that amazing? A small dense island on the other side of the world. All that monetary might requires worldwide translation. Japan's consumer electronics, animation culture, game culture, fashion forward thinking - all these things are of interest to foreign people, foreign media. You can make a good living just being the person who tells people back home what's happening in Japan. Japan is expensive, and kind of uncomfortable, that's why you're valued as being the weirdo who manages to live there, hold it all together and share what you see in a sensible way.

I looked at the project of moving to Japan as a communications challenge. I once asked Howard what he does for a living - he said, "I'm a communicator." Losing the ability to read and write and communicate verbally, and then having to relearn it - I figured that would be good exercise for my young communications skills.

Today, my Japanese is weak, and weakening as I continue living in California. I have some additional context and depth on the world, having seen how another culture parses life on earth. I experienced the beauty of tiny igloos lit by candles and hot steam rising from my rump in a snow throne. I spent weeks living in plastic tubes, I saw a fish slaughterhouse and I got in a barfight with a Brazilian. All those are experiences that color this writer's writings.

As my brother, an expert optimist, puts it, "You'll never regret 'that year you spent living in another country'." As long as you're participating and paying attention I think time spent anywhere can be valuable. Japan in particular? If you can figure out why you want to be in Japan, and you can tell other people, that should brighten your communications career prospects.

Posted on 5 August 2003 : 16:36 (TrackBack)
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Justin's Links, by Justin Hall.