Discovering Japan

“I remember seeing my grandfather, who I met for the first time when I was 24 years old, roll his sleeve to reveal a tattoo of a geisha. That concreted an unexplainable long distance relationship with East Asia that had been there since I was a child, way before I ever set foot outside my hamlet in SW Scotland.

“In the beginning, Japan was a form of escapism—my early childhood was spent living in caravans surrounded by rainy farmland. A tiny color TV and SEGA Mega Drive were my portal dotted with Japanese characters and cultural references. As a teenager, I used to plug into my parents’ 56k dial-up Internet connection for hours on end, painstakingly absorbing whatever knowledge I could find. In those days, you had to really want information before it came your way. Games, animation and manga stacked up in the house, irrespective of genre, mail ordered from obscure websites. By the time I was in university, I was organizing Japanese cultural events in Edinburgh and juggling a mathematics degree.

“I first arrived in Japan on an international internship program called The Saltire Foundation and found myself deep in the research laboratories of Toshiba. Needless to say, the Japan I discovered there was nothing like the childish one in my head. It was all black suits and commuter trains, business cards and noncommittal forms of speech. It could have been a catastrophe, but somehow under this very different guise I found the same enchanting qualities that had drawn me to the country to begin with. I skipped my graduation ceremony and flew back to Japan after my last university exam—no job offer, no concrete plan, just an inexplicable confidence that that was the right path to follow.”

At Yurakucho’s Yakitori Alley

“Over the seven years I lived in Japan, it became a second home in ways I am still discovering. It is no longer about the pop culture, the wonderful food, the instagrammable bits. There is a certain ambience, a way of life with a calm surface but complex undercurrents that can take a lifetime to understand. In Tokyo, you can be anonymous and step out the door each day to discover something new, reinvent yourself a hundred times over in different distinct circles. So I was not just a country boy discovering the big city, it became my new paradigm of thinking and living.

“Around a year ago I moved to Singapore to take a new job overseeing data technologies. I now hop between the other major financial hubs of the region like Hong Kong and Shanghai. My lifestyle has become increasingly nomadic, and this both excites and concerns me. When you leave home for another culture and make it a part of your life, you simultaneously broaden your horizons and lose the intimate connection with your home. Scotland has recently been through Indy Ref and Brexit and although I keep in touch, I’m really a distant observer. In a similar way, the Great East Japan Earthquake left a lasting impression on me, changing my perception of stability, but this is not something my family can truly understand.”

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Finding diversity and inclusion. Breaking down barriers one post at a time. Stories and snapshots of foreigners making their way in Japan.

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