That Time I Shoved My Life Into Three Suitcases and a Cat Carrier and Moved to JAPAN

Nothing is intuitive. Everything I do from buying toilet paper to riding the subway is a thought-out process full of preparation.
Publish date:
September 2, 2014
travel, marriage, moving, japan

By the way, did I mention I moved to Japan?

The Kanagawa prefecture of Yokohama, 20 minutes away from Tokyo to be exact. (That is, I think I'm being exact -- it took me 15 minutes and three text messages to my "Japan-acclimated" husband to figure out which prefecture I lived in just so I could order some sunscreen from Japanese Amazon yesterday.)

After weeks of whining and moaning all over social media, "Whoa is me, I'm moving! O! My stuff, my beautiful stuff!" my husband, my cat, and I finally made it to our teeny, tiny apartment in Yokohama.

I've shed over a dozen bags of Goodwill clothes and shoes, four bookshelves, two tables, one bed, and every little scrap of paper, knick knack, and memento that didn't immediately tug at my move-hardened heart strings. I kept waiting for the backlash of regret over something I tossed or gave away. Nothing. Nada. Zip. JAPAN BABY!

I kept the tattered, wrinkled, decaying love letter my best friend sent me in college, and I donated the "really important," really fancy, boots my ex bought me over a decade ago. The boots can make somebody else happy for a reasonable sum. (Hey! If you're in Honolulu, go to the Goodwill on Beretania across from The Dew Drop Inn, and snatch up my size nine, knee-high, camel-colored leather boots.) But that letter, and a small pile of other reminders of why I don't suck and am often lovable, will be the items which I lean on when I get inevitably lonely and/or freaked out here.

And I know I'll get lonely and/or freaked out. It's part of how I move to new places thousands of miles and time zones from the people I love. When I moved to Hawai'i I had a full on meltdown within five hours of getting off the plane. I sat on my bed in the dark, tears rolling down my face, saying to my poor, wide-eyed husband, "OH MY GOD, what have I done? Why am I here? Where is my life? WHERE IS MY LIFE?"

I did not do that on my first day in Japan. Or my second. Or my fifth, which is where I am now.

I may still meltdown at some point, in fact I really think it's part of how I do things -- it's purgative. And while I don't welcome it, I'm okay with it. I'm not going to lie -- I enjoy an occasional "My Snot Has Backed Up into My Cranial Cavity" kind of cry.

I don't know if I'm an older, wiser, more mentally stable Louise this time around, or if I knew more fully what I was getting into with this move than the LA-Hawai'i move. As soon as I made my decision, it felt right.

When I moved to LA, and I can say this now, the theme of the move was "giving things up." I gave up my job, I gave up my career, I gave up my friends -- whether these things were as dire as I made them out to be or not, it's all I could focus on. I was moving to beautiful Hawai'i, but all I could see was LA getting smaller and smaller in the distance. Sadly, those thoughts colored the way I thought about Hawai'i AKA "Not LA," up until my last year there.

I'm sorry Hawai'i, I hope I get to give you a second chance.

But Japan, from the moment I made my decision to go, felt like it was on my terms.

Some of you may remember when I started wrestling with the impending decision of "to move, or not to move" back in March. At the time I was pretty sure LA was the place I was supposed to be. Really, I had made up my mind. I was going to go back to LA and resume MY life. Sure, I'd miss my husband, but this was the right thing to do. FOR ME.

So my husband and I started figuring out the logistics of moving me back to LA and him to Japan. It was exhausting, heartbreaking, and lots of tears were shed. Financially, job-wise, finding a place to live that wouldn't result in the inexplicable disappearance of my future roommate -- figuring out my move back to LA was hard with a capital "I hate this."

I'd think about the job interviews I needed to go on, the amount of income I'd need to bring in almost IMMEDIATELY to survive, and the emotional hardship of being away from my husband, and I'd crumble. It was like the city of Los Angeles was perched on my back eating quinoa and beating me with an iPhone.

Now and then I'd allow myself to think about "What if I moved to Japan…" as some far-flung impossibility, and I'd get excited. A little part of me would imagine all the adventures, all the things I could do. And then one day, while I was eating string cheese on the balcony at Safeway (it's a really nice balcony), I realized why everything sucked so much: My heart wasn't in LA anymore.

At least not right now.

The reason moving to LA was so painful was because my heart wasn't in it. It was hard because I was resisting everything. MY life was in Japan with my husband, experiencing new things, and taking a big ol' scary chance. I felt light-headed when I made the honest realization that I wanted to move to Japan.

And suddenly everything became easy.

OK, no it didn't, but the difficulty of moving to Japan all felt okay. Even good sometimes. This chaos, though it sent my anxiety skyrocketing at times, always felt like just one more step toward a goal.

In regard to moving to Japan, I wrote in March: "I cannot escape the fact that I'd be there in fulfillment of my husband's dream, not mine."

I can honestly, 100%, swear on my cat, say I don't feel like that anymore. Yes, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my husband's PhD Geekery, but unlike the Hawai'i move, I don't feel like I'm giving anything up. I do feel like I'm in a dream, a good dream. And sure, I'll wake up but -- and I'm going to say this with absolutely no irony, and you may want to shield your eyes from the cheesiness -- I feel like I'M GAINING AN ADVENTURE.

I'm in a place where nothing is intuitive. Everything I do from buying toilet paper to riding the subway is a thought-out process full of preparation and the correct way to say "Arigato Gozaimasu!" Counting money takes me five full minutes of adding on my fingers and making sure I'm handing someone 500 yen instead of 50,000 yen.

I consistently shock people in public when it's my white guy, Jew-from-New York husband who speaks Japanese and I, the Asian gal with the bewildered expression, who does not.

I touched an apple at the grocery store, then selected a different one for purchase, thus garnering glares for my "dirtiness." (The apples were individually wrapped, by the way, how was I to know?)

But it's okay. It's flipping great, in fact.

The job and career I was so afraid of abandoning is actually better off in Japan. I got a great opportunity from an old boss working from abroad for her, thus giving me the freedom to write more. Our rent and cost of living is significantly lower in Japan (go figure, right?), so for the first time in my life, I'm free from the crushing pressure to just pay my bills then lather, rinse, repeat.

Japan is not easy, but I'm feeling so freakin' lucky right now, I could spit.

So here I am. I made my decision. For me, and my little Cat & Husband family.

I'll be transmitting from Yokohama for the next year, or maybe more. I'm sure I'll have LOTS of weird, embarrassing, curious things to report to you. The first of which is my frighteningly small "airplane bathroom-that-somehow-found-its-way-into-my-apartment" bathroom. Behold:

Yatta! (We did it!)

Have you ever made a giant move to another country or just somewhere totally new and "foreign"? How did you deal? I welcome any tips or tricks!