Hello 2010. Hello new decade!*
Looking back at my 2000s, I’m very happy with what I accomplished. In a way, the millennium celebrations don’t seem all that long ago, but then, if I think of where I was and what I was doing, and how young I was in 2000 (22/23), it seems like another lifetime.

King of the lens-placers

This time ten years ago I was working at Nortel in Paignton, UK. The internet was really taking off, and the Canadian company was experiencing a boom in demand for its network devices. Within a couple of years of moving into the seaside town the workforce had increased to well over 5,000, bringing a much needed boost to the local economy. These weren’t consumer products being manufactured, but rather the kinds of things used in undersea cables.

My job was to glue lenses into devices that converted electronic data signals into light signals. Working in a cleanroom, I’d be sat at a rig all day, applying glue to the underside of tiny little (4mm) lenses, before lowering them into position using a miniature clamp. I’d then attach some electrodes to the device – this produced the red pin-prick of light which I then had to align with a mark on the side of my rig by making minute adjustments to the position of the lens.

I was one of the most productive staff there, breaking the all-time record of producing 50 devices in a single day. When I announced that I was leaving I was called into the managers office, and begged to reconsider my decision. They asked me how much of a raise they could give me to make me stay. I went home and thought about it, calculating the impact that staying so would have upon my life. Due to difficulties with my partner at the time, doing so would result in a not insignificant increase in living costs, so I went back to my manager and told him I’d stay in return for a 100% increase.

The following day my resignation was accepted. I still have the pen and pencil I was given as a leaving present.

Only a year or so later effects of the bursting of the dot.com bubble had filtered through to Nortel; they closed overnight, leaving thousands without jobs.

The first big break-up

Having bought a house, I became DIY man. Here I am with my sander.

My reason for leaving was basically a failed relationship. I’d been with my first serious girlfriend for a couple of years, following our meeting in the USA in 1997 where I’d been working as a counsellor on a summer camp for disabled adults. Looking back on it now, I see the relationship as having begun due to my then recent discovery of sex, and, well, all the excitement of a relationship. The odds were stacked against us though. Her father was a bishop of the mormon church in the north of England, and naturally completely against our relationship. I was referred to as ‘That boy’, and on the one occasion I did stay overnight at the family home was woken by a CD of Moses lecturing about no sex before marriage booming out from the kitchen downstairs. In the end we actually ran away – to a caravan on a farm in France. That was pretty tough, very cold, and the work wasn’t all that pleasant. During that time I nearly ran over the owner with a tractor, and all the rabbits that my girlfriend was looking after, died.

Thus, it was inevitable that we’d eventually go our separate ways. I was too fearful of the consequences to make that decision myself, so left it to her to make the move.

To complicate matters we’d bought a house together. It was decided that she would stay there – I’d sell my half to her for 1 pound. It took me 6 months to get her to pay up…

Back to Switzerland

I couldn’t bear the thought of staying in those familiar surroundings without her, so made the decision to move to Switzerland. I’d worked there before (in 1996/1997), had family there, and felt that working on a Swiss dairy farm would be good therapy.

And it was. I spent long days making hay, chopping wood, feeding and mucking out the cows, driving 24-gear  mountain tractors. I was also seduced by a local girl who also worked on the farm. It happened at a bus stop, and then again in the workshop. I felt bad about that.

First trip to Japan

Later that year (following my returning to work at the same Swiss hotel I’d worked at before) I made my first trip to Japan. My first stop was a community centre north of kuchiro, where we used to dress up in devilish costumes with a doll called louise, and then drown her in a local hot spring. It was a memorable 6 week holiday, and when during that time I met a special someone in a youth hostel in Kyoto, my connection with Japan was cemented.

It was then back to Switzerland, where I soon broke my collarbone in a skiing accident. With 6 weeks paid leave ahead of me, I decided to travel Europe by train. It was a pretty fun adventure…

About a year later I returned to Tokyo with a working holiday visa. I lived with my partner in Koenji. Those were happy days. I was in that gaijin bubble. I had few friends, content to spend all of my time (when not at work at the company I’ve actually just left for a second time!) with her. I spoke virtually no Japanese, and was very dependent, but it didn’t matter at all. It was a carefree lifestyle.

The second big break-up

My own fear of commitment then led to me to leave her and move to Hokkaido. I worked on a pension (Bed and Breakfast). I made breakfast, I made beds. I taught traditional English country dancing, as in the photo). I broke the gearbox on the mini digger. I lived in a dungeon. I grew increasingly lonely… and so began the most difficult year in my decade. I’d made (what I perceived at the time to be) a huge mistake in splitting up with her – but it was too late, the damage had been done.

I went to crazy lengths to get her back. I won’t detail what I did here, but a year later I had spent just under 18,000 pounds (US$30,000) on trying to save the relationship. Looking back now I see that actually, I was just trying to apologise for all the pain I had carelessly caused her – once I had been forgiven, I was able to let go.

Whilst I am very sorry to have hurt someone else so badly, thinking about the horrific pain that I also felt (it really was like an unending nightmare at times, especially when we lived in Italy) I now feel that that was one of the most valuable experiences of my decade. The same goes for my split with my first girlfriend. Those two periods taught me more than entire years of happiness.


Soon after we first met in Sheffield

The desperation with which I wanted to stay in Japan drove me to do something that I had, until that time, swore I wouldn’t do – apply for university. Thus, having declared bankruptcy, half of my decade (2003 – 2008) was then to be dominated by education. Having dropped out of my ‘A’ levels halfway through, I had to complete an Access to Higher Education course before entering the School of East Asian Studies in Sheffield.
This was perhaps the best decision I made in the entire decade. University provided me with so many opportunities to develop various skills, come to be happy with who I was as a young adult, learn Japanese and of course, meet *Twinkle*, who turned out to be the biggest blessing of the decade.

It was just before I met Twinkle that I spent a summer in Japan, working on organic mikan farm in Shikoku and a charcoal farm in Tochigi.

A Year in Japan

The Blisters, the Long Legs and support team at the finish

As a part of my course, I spent a year in Japan as an exchange student at Rikkyo University, Tokyo.  That served as a fantastic break from the hard slog that my course had begun. The curriculum in Japan was comparatively easy, whilst a government scholarship meant that I didn’t have to worry about money.

During that year I did a fair bit of voluntary work for Oxfam Japan – including organising two teams for the Oxfam Japan Trailwalker – 100km non-stop from Odawara to Yamanakako, the lake at the foot of Mt. Fuji.

That challenge also happened to lead to the discovery that I could actually control my epilepsy with organic vitamins and stress management, thus finally allowing me to stop taking the prescription drugs I’d been on since the age of 17. I remain fit-free.

Spiritual growth

It was during my university years that I started reading ‘success literature’. Well that’s how it started. Somehow Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad led onto Wayne Dyer’s There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, which had a profound effect upon me. I started to make a big effort to live in accordance with what my spirit / inner voice said was the right way to live. I decided to trust in the universe, to appreciate that we are not acting in isolation from one another or the world around us, that we’re all a part of a greater energy. Whatever happens, happens at the right time and for the right reasons (even if we never come to know what they are).
The thing was, the older I got, the more I saw this truth played out in my own life. Relationship breakdowns, visa application denials, illness …they all had what was ultimately a positive role to play.

This belief system has continued to develop over the past couple of years. These days, I can much more easily accept a ‘surprise’ change of circumstance as something only to be expected. Indeed, I attach such trust to things working out for the best that in some circumstances I find myself almost predicting the future. A very simple example would be the following the situation.
I’m in the office in which I worked until recently. I notice a report on my desk that I should have processed by the end of the previous month (a few days ago). In order to process it I have to walk across the office and get some forms out a drawer. But if my manager, who popped out somewhere and is due back any moment, sees me open that drawer she will know that I forgot to process a report by the end-of-month deadline, and will give me hell.

But it’s OK. Because I have this strong feeling that if I do it now, she won’t walk in. I have this feeling that she’ll only walk in once I’m back at my desk, because that’s what I need to happen.

I cross the room, open the drawer, take the documents out, return to my chair. Five seconds later, my manager comes in, right on cue.

Call it whatever you will, these kinds of situations occur on a regular basis, further strengthening my trust in things happening for positive reasons.

Halfway Around the world in 28 Days

When it came to returning to the UK following my year as an exchange student at a Japanese university, I decided to take the overland route. My journey from Tokyo to Hereford, which took 28 days, saw me cover more than 9,000 miles by ferry, train, bus, car, horse and bicycle.

By doing this I was able to get a feel for the connection between Japan and the UK. By always having taken the plane, I had been unable to place the two in the context of the world as a whole. Travelling across the East China Sea, then over land through Shanghai and Beijing, Mongolia, Russia and north-Eastern Europe, I was able to experience just how diverse the planet is, and how beautiful it is in areas where populations are low.

2008~09: Graduation, marriage and return to Tokyo

2008 was a real highlight. Graduation, marriage, return to Japan to live with *Twinkle*. The job I needed soon materialised thanks to this blog and friend / reader Orchid64. The job was sufficiently frustrating to drive me, in early 2009, to create Pokya.jp, something I’m quite proud of (mainly due to the success of Japan Podshow).

Also in February 2009 I decided to do something I’d never done in Japan before: actively seek a social life. Ten months later and I feel blessed to have such a wonderful network of friends, many of whom I interact with on a daily basis via Twitter and facebook, and often meet in the flesh.

When the time was right, my manager did something to really piss me off at work, which led me to actively seek another job (something I’d been avoiding doing). My online activity and the reputation I’d gained amongst the Tokyo community helped me to secure my new job, which I’m loving.
So that brings us up to the here and now. Our marriage is a blessing, I have the challenges I need in my day job, and am part of a large community of good folks in Tokyo. My family in the UK are well. Things are very good. I’m happy with life’s progress.

If I could do all that in the past ten years, it’s pretty exciting to imagine what I could do in the next ten.
Anyway, I’d best sign off for now.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support over the past ten years.


*(It always struck me as a bit odd that some people start their decades with the ‘1s’ and opposed to the ‘0s’. It’s ten years since we welcomed the new millenium, ten years since the start of the 2000’s, so in my book it’s the start of a new decade!)

15 Responses

  1. Life has interesting rhythms and one thing you learn is that the decade or so that passes from your 20’s to your 30’s often brings about a great deal more change than later years. I think from your 30’s to 40’s (around about there), you pass fewer goalposts because that’s when you tend to dig in and secure your life’s situation more. It’s as if you brace yourself for your 50’s starting around your mid 30’s.

    It doesn’t really matter how much change anyone experiences, but only that they are happy with the progress of their lives. It’s good that you’re satisfied because the only person you need to please is yourself.:-) Happy New Year!

    P.S. The reason the decade starts at the “1” is because there was no year 0. I don’t care where people start them as it’s all pretty much arbitrary (as not even everyone counts years the same way we do around the world), but this is the reason.

  2. Wow, that was epic. I found many parallels to my own experience in some places, and in other places, found myself thinking “what the Hell?!” – you have been blessed to have had such an interesting life.

    Meeting other long term gaijins in Japan and the stories we all have, I’ve always felt that one of us, one day, needs to make a movie. I think we all have stories far better than the schlock that passes for Japan-related cinema. Problem is of course that generally, we happen to be in Japan…

    Anyway, really enjoyed that, and a happy 2010 to you and your lovely wife.


    1. Thanks Simon, really appreciate that. I remember when we met to record an interview in marunouchi thinking how our paths had been similar in some ways. Life really is a fascinationg journey!

      And I agree about a film – It’s been on the cards for a long time (and has even affected my decision making in come cases!) Would be great to interweave the stories of a number of us.

      1. Re: A movie

        There was a movie made quite awhile ago called “Tokyo Pop” which captured a lot of the gaijin experience in a fairly entertaining way. It focused on the music scene, but still portrayed a lot of the aspects that we live with (like being valued for how we look, being marginalized, and the initial vs. long-term emotional reactions to living in Japan). It was never released on DVD, but it’s worth trying to find in some other form. (It was released on VHS back in the day.)

  3. What a treat to discover your blog at the start of a crisp year! Will be a dedicated follower that’s for sure 🙂

  4. Hi Joseph,

    Just wanted to say how much i have enjoyed this post, your other writings and parts of the Japan podshow i have listened to or watched!

    I’m sure others have said same, but many of the same Japan experiences in some form have been had by yours truly as well, and helped me to remember times over the last decade.

    Really interesting to see all the places that you’ve been and I’m looking forward to catching more of the tamegoeswild adventures here in Japan. Hope to meet up with all in the near future at one of those beer events!


    1. Thanks Benno!

      It does seem that many of us go through similar stuff. I’m happy to hear that you enjoy what I put out there. This year there’ll be a fair bit less than last as my focus is on work, but nonetheless, I shall do my best to update!

      And yes, look forward to meeting you too!

  5. What a life! I echo the comments saying you should make a film, or write a book. Glad it’s all worked out for you in the end. That’s all one can hope for, enjoy this period of your life!

    And it’s inspirational to see people who had a goal achieve it in such fashion, especially as a gaijin in Japan. I’m grinding through 4th year here at Shef, and I’m making arrangements to be back in Japan and get on the career ladder ASAP.

  6. Joseph, Thank you for sharing your fascinating story. I’ve had this page open in my tabs for a while and am glad that I have now taken the time to read it. All the best for the years ahead to you and *Twinkle*.
    Andrew J