"When I was twenty-one years old I decided it was time to visit Japan. By this time I was fascinated by Miyamoto Musashi's (Musashi was a Samurai who died in 1645) "Go Rin No Sho." I studied this book daily and applied it to my training. I had never been to Japan before and knew no one in the country. All I knew was that I had studied Miyamoto Musashi's book and his life for several years and I wanted to see the country where he came from. I knew he was twenty-one years old, the same age as I, when he first visited the capital of Kyoto to test and refine his skills. So, being twenty-one at the time, I decided to go to Kyoto as well."
-excerpt from "A Story of Life, Fate, and Finding the Lost Art of Koka Ninjutsu in Japan."
"Airplane ticket and yen in hand, I was ready for my journey. I would visit Japan. I didn't care that I knew no one in the country and that no one would be waiting for me when I arrived. I hopped on a plane alone and flew to Japan."
-excerpt from "Finding the Real Japan, Stories from the Land of the Rising Sun"
"This trip was a wonderful experience for me. I had set out to do what I had planned all along. I visited the same area as Musashi at the same age he was at the time (twenty-one years old). I studied his work while sitting on a mountain overlooking Kyoto. I had visited many ancient Japanese temples and shrines and experienced Japanese culture first-hand. I was satisfied with what I had done."
"Still, I realized that what I had done only scratched the surface of Japanese culture. The historic part of Kyoto is very important to the Japanese and is a wonderful place to visit. To the Japanese, it is a top tourist destination. My primary interest was historic Japan, but now I had an interest in "modern" Japan as well. I knew that modern Japanese life was a far-cry from what I had seen in the historic parts of Kyoto. I had heard and read many things about the Japanese work ethic and way of life. In the future I knew I would return to explore Japan further."
"Sagamihara, Tokyo, and Yokohama had a much different feel than Kyoto. The people were even different. It was crowded and busy. The houses and apartment buildings were literally stacked on top of one another with very, very little room separating them. Everywhere you looked there was pavement and concrete. The literal definition of a concrete-jungle stared me in the face."
"People scurried about everywhere. You couldn't really drive anywhere, at least anywhere that wasn't close to your home. The traffic was so bad, and the roads were so tiny, it made driving difficult. Everything seemed miniature-sized; the houses, the cars, the stores. People packed into trains to get to work or anywhere else. If there was no room on a train a station attendant literally pushed them in like sardines. It was like one giant, never-ending city on steroids."
"Yet, through all this madness, I saw a strange tranquility. I saw it in the meticulously kept miniature plants that everyone had outside their houses. It was evident in the faces of the countless elderly people walking up and down the small streets. It was apparent in the manners of the everyday Japanese as they politely went through their day trying not to offend anyone. In the apparent chaos I caught a glimpse of tranquility."
"I visited the beautiful island of Enoshima. I looked out over the water at Mt. Fuji while the sun set. I ate fresh clams doused in soy sauce hot off the vendor's grill while hiking up the steep pathway heading to the top of Enoshima island. I saw the shrines and temples at Enoshima and Kamakura. I explored the caves whittled away by the strong wind and ocean waters over the countless years that housed carvings in the rock from Budhhist monks of long ago. I visited Nikko tucked away in the mountains. I went to Tokyo tower, the tallest self-supporting steel structure in the world and looked out over the skyline of Tokyo."
"During this trip I learned quite a bit more about Japan. The cities in Japan are massive concrete-jungles with huge populations of people packed tightly into small homes and apartments. Most importantly, I learned that Japan is a very busy and hectic urban environment with a gentle undercurrent of tranquility. Old temples stand side-by-side with new buildings that house some of the latest technological advances on earth."
"I continued visiting Japan over the years. Yet, to visit Japan as a tourist only fleetingly touches the surface of what Japan really is. A tourist can always leave. A tourist is treated much differently than someone who must actually live and work in the environment. A person who must live and work in a certain place for an extended period of time will have experiences far different from any tourist. This person would have the chance to see beyond the polite exterior of a society."
"I should tell you that I was a little uneasy and skeptical about the whole situation. I knew about the horror stories of working and living in Japan. I had read many accounts of foreigners flying to Japan only to get screwed over by their so-called "company." I had heard of non-stop work with no sleep, horrible housing accomodations (or no housing accommodations at all), overtime work with no pay, and actually working for weeks or months on end without ever seeing a pay check."
"Most of the people I taught there were from the upper echelon of Japanese society. I taught lawyers, judges, doctors, and business owners. I also taught their children. Most of these people had traveled the world and lived overseas before. I stayed with this company for some time but found the same problems associated with many companies operating English schools in Japan- horrible hours, low pay, no sick days, little vacation, and worst of all..missing salaries (some companies would actually refuse to pay you). Not to say that all English schools are bad, there are some that are respectable and legitimate. I myself quickly learned that I could open and operate my own business because of my previous work experience and business knowledge."
"When I first moved into my prison cell of an apartment the first thing that came to my mind was, "I hope they don't find me here dead one day. What would my parents think?" I know it was morbid, but you had to see the place. Filthy walls and the bathroom/shower was something out of a nightmare. The toilet and shower were literally right next to each other. The whole thing was one big piece of encapsulated plastic, from the floor of the bathroom all the way to the ceiling. This plastic was covered in several layers of dark black and green mold. The bathtub was completely black- covered with mold as well as the toilet seat and the entire inside and outside of the toilet bowl."
"This is what I had to deal with when leasing an apartment. I had no other choice. There were no other options for a foreigner. I had no co-signer and I wasn't Japanese, so I had to take what I could get. I got some cleaning products from my favorite store, the local Daiso (dollar store). I put a protective mask over my mouth and nose, slipped on some rubber gloves, and went to war with the mold inside my bathroom. It was a process that took many days but I got the bathroom looking somewhat normal over time."
-excerpts from "Finding the Real Japan, Stories from the Land of the Rising Sun"
"My accommodations in Japan were, to put it mildly, meager. My apartment was about the size of an American prison cell. For a long time I had no chair or table. For the first year I had no T.V. All I had was a futon that I had to roll out to sleep on each night and roll back up in the morning so I would have room to move in the apartment."
"I remember one of the first nights I was there. I saw a large object move on my wall out of the corner of my eye. At first, I thought a bird had gotten into the apartment. When I turned to look at it, I realized it was a very large black insect. I grabbed a kitchen knife I had bought at the Daiso (dollar store) to train with, and cut its head off. I got it on the first try....an interesting way to train, I amusingly thought. The large body fell to the ground and proceeded to run around my small, empty apartment, headless. I cut the body to make it stop moving and tried to get rid of it the best I could. I had no vacuum at the time."
"The next morning I woke up on the ground after sleeping on my futon. I realized I didn't clean it up as well as I thought. Sitting on the carpet near my head were several large, hairy insect legs that I had apparently missed while cleaning up."
"Life was rough for quite awhile. I barely had any money. Many days all I had was tap water to drink and a piece of bread or a little bit of food to eat. Determined, I made it through these tough times to see brighter days."
-excerpts from "A Story of Life, Fate, and Finding the Lost Art of Koka Ninjutsu in Japan"
"The Problem with starting a business that most foreigners run into in Japan is getting people to trust you. I had known a few other foreigners who attempted to start their own English schools. They just couldn't get students and failed very quickly. In fact, most of them never had enough students to even quit their day job. The Japanese are what you would call a "silent" culture. They are very wary of outsiders. This makes it difficult to find new students."
"This was an area where I seemed to have an advantage. I had quickly made strong connections with many of the Japanese students I met and taught both at my day job and at my own school. I actually became friends with many of them. I also saw them outside the classroom. Once I left my day job, I no longer saw foreigners. I was completely immersed in Japanese society. On a daily basis, I saw only Japanese people. I didn't talk to or see other foreign people. Every once in a great while I would see a foreigner walking down a street in Tokyo or somewhere but I had no contact with them. While in Japan, I had no foreign friends. I only had Japanese friends."
"The Japanese are very polite and friendly. They are usually very warm to foreigners and love showing them their country. However, they are also a very private people. It can be quite difficult to get past the customs and formalities to understand what the person is really like. In Japanese culture much is implied and little is said."
"I did manage to gain many people through my advertising but the real way I came upon most of my students was word of mouth. For most Japanese people to contact me to teach them, or especially their children, they had to already know someone who knew me. There was no way around this. They had to have a personal recommendation from a friend of theirs before they would contact me."
"My life in Japan became routine. My business had done better than I expected. Within a few months of opening my school doors I could pay my rent, bills, and all the necessities I needed for life. The number of students I had steadily increased, and things were looking good. I was my own boss and I was free to live and explore Japan as I saw fit."
"My life became a routine of teaching my students, spending time with my girlfriend, and training at the dojo. Over time, my environment became ingrained in me. What once looked exotic to me was now commonplace. As the weeks, months, and years passed, something amazing happened. Nothing about Japan surprised me anymore. The things I once deemed exotic and strange seemed extremely common and normal. I had melted into the fabric of everday Japanese life. No matter where I went or what I saw, it just seemed commonplace. The people looked normal to me now, even the way they dressed and carried themselves. The buildings, streets, temples, festivals, and food were just another part of everday life. I felt right at home, extremely content."
"I even became accustomed to the earthquakes. I would often wake up in my apartment to the building shaking. I would look up and my clothes that were on hangers would be swaying back and forth. I just went right back to sleep. I figured if it was a bad earthquake, I would hear people yelling. I would also know by how much my building shook. At the first school I worked at in Japan, I was given some good advice. If the kids looked scared when an earthquake happened, then you should be scared as well. If the kids go on playing like it is nothing, usually it is fine."
"I can remember teaching in the classroom when an earthquake literally shook the building from side-to-side, along with the desk a student and I were sitting at. The student, a thirteen year-old, looked petrified. That earthquake I did pay attention to. I checked with the staff to make sure everything was ok. This was a reminder for me not to get too cocky. Sure, I had experienced numerous earthquakes and typhoons, but the environment in Japan is not something to be taken lightly."
"Many foreigners who visit Japan view the country through rose-colored glasses. This is also true of many foreigners who live there or have lived there in the past. Oftentimes this comes about when a person only sees things on the surface, or doesn't truly immerse themselves into a society. Every place, every country, has their positive and negative sides. Japan is no different. My intent in writing this book was to tell the story of what I experienced, without the rose-colored glasses. I have made no effort to make Japan look better or worse than what my experiences were. And they are just that, my experiences. Take it or leave it, I have been as bluntly honest as possible."
"My experiences in Japan have ranged from amazing to horrifying. Japan is truly an astounding place. It possesses beautiful nature as well as compact, overcrowded urban-jungles. The people I have met there are some of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met in my life. Their kindness and manners are second to none."
"I met so many wonderful people while living and working in Japan. They were truly amazing. I felt a connection with many of them and they became close friends. Some of them even became just like family. I moved to Japan to experience the culture. I found that the culture was just the tip of the iceberg. What makes Japan special is its wonderful people. They are the culture. They are the the country. They are Japan. Their ancestors are the ones responsible for the wonderful and beautiful history that Japan possesses.
"As for me, no matter where life takes me, Japan will always have a special place in my heart. A piece of me will always be there, whether I live there or not. I've lived a nomadic lifestyle. I could have secured a job that paid well after college. I could have settled down with a new house and car. I could have had an easy life. But, I didn't. I struggled. I decided to role the dice in Japan. It was a rough ride but I came out on top. I had some of the best and worst times of my life in the land of the rising sun. And for that, I will always be grateful."
-excerpts from "Finding the Real Japan, Stories from the Land of the Rising Sun"