May 14th, 2017. I've been in Japan for exactly a year today.
Throwback to waiting to board a plane at Heathrow at stupid'o'clock:
At times, it feels like I spent the whole year worrying. Even longer than that - first, I thought I wouldn't get a Working Holiday Visa. Then Brexit happened, and I thought I'd go broke. Then I convinced myself that getting a copywriting-related job here was impossible.
But here we are. A year later. I got the visa. I'm not bankrupt. And that's mainly because I have a pretty cool job. "It'll all work out in the end," as my Mum loves to say.
This has been the craziest, most action-packed, most taxing, most confusing, most rewarding, most successful year of my life. I'm not the same woman who landed here a year ago.
Wherever you go, there you are
Before I arrived in Japan, I was adamant I wouldn't fall into the 'gaijin bubble'.
It wasn't exactly that I only wanted Japanese friends. More that I didn't want to only surround myself with not-Japanese friends. I was scared I'd rely too much on using English.
I didn't want to be that person who can't even order their own lunch.
As soon as I started meeting people and making friends, that plan went out the window. It fell out of that window, hit the ground, smashed into a bazillion pieces, and never came back.
I've met over 100 people in the past year. They come from a bunch of different countries. Most of them aren't Japanese, and I speak a lot of English around them. Oops.
But they're great folks. I'm really glad I met them.
If I'm honest, I am pretty bummed that I haven't learned as much Japanese as I wanted to by now. I default to English in conversation a lot (except when drunk). Could've been miles ahead with my studying by now if I'd stuck to my guns.
But that's all on me.
Plus, the work I do now is 99% in English as well. Can't be helped, as the Japanese love to say. If I fail N2 when I take the next JLPT this summer, it's nobody's fault but my own.
I think I've learned how to network
Besides, having friends has opened so many doors here. It's led to event invites, art galleries, backyard pool parties, hammock cafes, the beach, new restaurants, and amazing memories.
As you do when you're a tourist, I made a list of stuff I wanted to visit. A long list, but I had a lot of time. I planned to do all of it solo.
There were definitely experiences I was better off having alone. Like going to Universal Studios Japan - standing in the Single Rider queue speeded things up.
On other days, with people around I had a lot more fun. Spending my birthday alone would've been kinda crappy. Even if my family did post me an entire birthday cake...
I've never had such a big social circle or such an active schedule before. Even in London, I spent most weekends by myself. Sometimes, that's a good thing for me. I tend to do/see stuff other people aren't so interested in. Or maybe I just didn't know enough people.
That's just the way things work around here
My original plan was to have fun for the first 6 months, and then start looking for a job.
After the Brexit vote back in June 2016, the value of the pound against the yen was awful. It wiped out part of my savings overnight. I started looking for a job after 3 months instead.
Jobhunting in Japan is an exercise in polite restraint. It trains you not to claw your own face off.
I visited a recruiter in Osaka. We spent 25-30 minutes talking positively (I thought) about my work and experience. At the end, she said "Have you considered moving to Tokyo? "
I tell a lie. That happened with 3 different recruiters.
So I went to Tokyo, for 2 months. After 2 weeks, I woke up ready to pack everything and get on a plane. But I couldn't, because half my stuff was still in Kansai.
I came back to Osaka for good on a Thursday. I had an interview on the Friday morning. The company offered me the job on the following Monday.
Even though I'd just accepted a great job, for some reason I still wanted to punch something.
It's a big country and a small world
The job search bit was kinda depressing, so I should clarify - I'm not depressed right now.
Up until I felt like I should get some more CVs printed, I was having a lot of fun. And now that I don't have to fill in any more application forms, I've started having even more fun.
Osaka's a fun city with good people. It's paradise for a foodie like me. Packed to the rafters with stuff to do, and fairly easy to get around. Just being in Osaka for most of the last 12 months has shaped me. (In more than the 'oops, put on 3 kilos' way.)
I spent a long time deciding whether to come to Japan or stay in London. I wasn't happy, but I didn't know what would fix that. I thought I'd regret either choice I made.
On my first day in Osaka, I knew I'd made the right decision. I went to Tokyo reluctantly, because the alternative was going 'home' home. I near enough ran back into Osaka's open arms. And now this IS home. The UK's changed so much in my absence that I wouldn't be going back to anything close to what I left behind.
My life's very different. It would've been if I'd landed in any other city, for sure. Except this time, I don't dwell on the 'what ifs'. Right now, I can't imagine living anywhere else.
This is the bit at the end where I'm meant to vaguely predict the next year. The biggest thing I've learned is that I can't. I can set my own goals, but right now life is taking me places instead. I just hope I can make another post like this one this time next year.