Last month while I was still toiling away at the daycare, I applied for a plethora of jobs in Tokyo. I went to interviews for all of them and got rejected for each one, with the exception of a Girls Bar in Ginza which pays a cash salary every week. The customers — Japanese salarymen and businessmen — were the most polite out of any I’d ever encountered during my whole eight years in the nightlife industry. However, the two managers — one girl from Lithuania and a blackanese chick — were horrible. They did nothing but talk shit about every employee working there. They began sending me home after one or two hours. Of course, transportation wasn’t provided so it seemed as though I had went to work for free. Finally, I’d had enough and quit. Thinking that I had a real shot at working for GABA, I decided to go on a trip to Osaka to clear my head while I still had time.
While in Osaka, I got diagnosed with an incurable disease and received a rejection email from GABA after a month-long application process. Though I felt I had no reason to return to Tokyo, I had to go back to get my stuff and continue the job search. The doctor in Tokyo decided to put me on injections to make my body heal up faster than taking tablets alone. Altogether, I got stuck spending about $300 on medical bills and of course, I spent way too much on the Osaka trip between the Shinkansen and the Grey Goose shots at the bar.
I came in on Monday evening to get my salary and the bitch from Lithuania said they didn’t have it and told me to come back on Friday. When I went back yesterday, they tried to say they forgot to bring it. Pissed as hell, I told those cunts if they didn’t cough up my money I would call the police. That got them moving for the bills right quick. It was only a hundred dollars but that means a lot when you’re unemployed and dealing with medical expenses, immigration, and other issues. I felt proud for standing up for myself. I’m not a naturally aggressive person. I come off as shy and unthreatening so people often underestimate me. I’m not proud of calling them bitches and cunts and threatening them but honestly, I’m tired of being cheated out here and I don’t play when it comes to my money.
On the advice of a friend, I found a smaller website than GaijinPot and started mass-applying for adult eikawas. I have to keep the faith, even though times are dark. I’m gonna need a miracle because like everyone else in Tokyo, I’m just trying to make it. Ganbarimasu!
I’ve gone to several interviews during the past two weeks. The old dusty suit, my faithful companion, and a pair of painfully uncomfortable knock off stilettos from Amazon.jp accompanied me to each glass-walled corporate office, where I sat, patiently, trying to fake a smile and an upbeat attitude.
The first interview, for a large restaurant company, only took ten minutes. However, a second interview for the specific location in Ginza that I’ve requested takes place tomorrow afternoon. The second interview from last week, with a bar in Ginza, was a success merely because I got lucky enough to be hired on the spot due to the absence of another staff member.
There were five girls in the bar that day. I was surprised and happy to see another half-black girl, or maybe a quarter black, working behind the bar. She couldn’t speak a lick of English and her blue eyes and bright white smile lit up the place from the inside-out. There are many foreign-looking people in Tokyo just like her. They look black or white on the outside, but culturally, they are Japanese. They must’ve been born in or raised in Japan. She covered her mouth as she giggled and poured champagne. Images of Rihanna flashed across the TV screen behind her. I couldn’t help but feel incredibly jealous, that my mix of black didn’t turn out quite like hers and that I had no opportunity to come to Japan until I was already twenty-six years old.
The second day, I was placed outside on promotion with an Iranian girl. We stood there with our umbrellas, holding a sign for the bar and greeting passing strangers with a friendly “konbanwa”. Later, we realized that our marketing was more effective if we spoke English to potential customers. So, we made the switch about half-way through, and pulled some into the bar.
The manager, a young woman from Lithuania, runs a tight shift. She doesn’t like the Iranian girl and is always watching her. I think I get along with her so well because unlike other people here, she’s refreshingly honest and hasn’t lost her sense of self. She can appreciate Japan without trying to pretend to be Japanese; a very rare thing for long-term foreigners. We laughed about American depictions of Iran as this super conservative country. She showed the customer pictures of her blonde-haired, blue-eyed, hijab-less friends from back home. Her Instagram boasted pictures of boats sailing on sunny horizons, bottomless cocktails, and girls dancing in the wilderness.
Outside on promotion for the last time, we met two Japanese gentlemen passing through. They chatted us up a bit and didn’t come across as weird or creepy at all. I gave them my Line and we made a group chat for an eventual double-date night. I gave up looking for anything serious at the moment but I’m keeping my eyes open and I’m grateful for any small opportunities that come my way.
I’ve been in Japan for three months and it’s certainly been one hell of a ride. Gone are my China visa run days and the ever-present uncertainty of where I would live or what I would do next. The dirty looks, “laowai” comments from old peasants, and cheap, yet delicious street food have almost faded from recent memory.
The company I work for got me a three-year work visa. However, I knew I wouldn’t last long teaching little kids in a training center. I had done this work before in China but I found it so exhausting, depressing, and awful that I ended up in a KTV. I kept telling myself that Japan would be different, but ultimately I find this line of work completely unsuitable for me. Thankfully, unlike China, once a company sponsors your work visa, you aren’t stuck with that company if you don’t like your job. The visa is yours and you are free to pursue any job that falls under the rules of whatever they gave you. This is probably why many Japanese companies are reluctant to sponsor visas or hire foreigners outside of Japan. Every foreigner starts with the “visa job” which is usually awful and motivates you to hit the pavement in search of greener pastures.
As is the usual practice of fake language schools in Asia, they accept children who are just way too fucking young and should be in a nursery. Why? Because of the money. I absolutely cannot stand being around toddlers for a long time. It was only after I started working here that I realized we were more daycare than English school.
On the first day of work, I met Yui face-to-face, the lovely middle-aged Japanese woman who hired me. When we returned to the office, a super macho, dude-bro-looking guy greeted me near the front desk. He positioned himself in the chair like a pit bull, leaning over the table as if to sniff out any of my potential weaknesses.
“So how are you at teaching kids?” He asked, “Do you suck at it?”
I was a bit taken aback by the rudeness, but brushed it off and simply didn’t reply with anything but a nervous laugh.
“Don’t worry,” He said in a tone reminiscent of the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. “We’re gonna train you to not suck.”
“Where are you from, by the way?” He asked.
“I’m from Chicago,” I replied.
“Cool. My name’s Jake. I’m from the UK.”
“What?” I said, my mouth hanging wide open. “Why do you have an American accent?”
This question, regrettably, spurred him into a long, tedious monologue about how it’s better to teach American English to kids in Japan, that he trained himself super hard to walk around with a fake accent, and how sometimes his Britishness slips out.
From that moment, it became abundantly clear to me that I needed to be careful of this guy because he would make my time even more miserable if I got on his bad side. I’ve never been fond of macho guys. My entire life I’ve avoided them. Jake was literally, a walking, talking caricature of everything I disliked about American frat boys.
During training, I was placed next to a girl from Peru who’d spent a long time living in Australia and came to Japan because her mom is a permanent resident here. She wouldn’t be the first non-native speaker in the company, which led me to believe that they were incredibly desperate for workers. Native speakers can easily find better jobs in Tokyo.
The girl reminded me of a pastor’s daughter I’d went to school with in Upstate New York; pure, a bit shy, and sensitive. She explained that she had no teaching experience but that she was tired of doing cosmetic sales. She talked about how she cried every day in her old job, how she learned Japanese through her work, and her willingness to try something new. She was living far, far in the countryside and lamented her two-and-a-half-hour commute.
When they showed us the uniform, I almost fainted. The ugliest orange shirt I’d ever seen sat on the table before us.
“Change your clothes,” He said. “The bathroom is over there.”
Throughout the following days, we were bombarded with lots of company information and told to observe classes. I stood in the back on the first observation day with a notebook. After five minutes, a girl from the front desk ran up to me with a phone in her hand.
“Hello?” I said, throat closing up from anxiety.
“Hey! It’s me, Jake!”
“I’m watching you on the cameras. Don’t just stand in the back of the class. You need to interact with the kids.” He barked.
“But they’re in class. I don’t wanna be distracting.”
“Just go sit by them at least.” I heard before the hang-up click echoed in my ears.
I sat by the kids, said hello to them, and furiously took notes in the reading class. This was my process every day for the first week. After the training, I was placed in the school branch nearest to my house. Everyone had warned me about how that branch was the most miserable, the busiest, and the hardest to work at. It also happened to house all the bosses who would watch us non-stop so they could criticize us later for not knowing everything from day one.
The senior teacher at that school definitely had some form of a mental deficiency. When he asked me how the first day was, and I answered honestly that it was exhausting, he just said: “Why?”
I believe this is a problem with many long-term foreigners in Asian countries. They lose touch with what it’s like to first arrive at a new destination, doing an unfamiliar job. They expect you to know everything right away, are unwilling to help, and generally, you get the feeling that they just don’t care; especially, English teachers. They’re usually teachers because they can’t do anything else. I mean, who on earth would wanna be a preschool teacher? I have never had a job so demanding, low-paying, and stressful. Anyone who actually likes this job is bound to have a few screws loose.
The day was structured in three-and-a-half hour blocks. The first hour is essentially just babysitting. You have to chat with the kids, play with them, blah, blah, blah. The second part was something called “phonics fun” which lasts for about a half hour. Then there’s snack time, exercise time, reading time, English class, and this thing where we have to look up pictures on Google for a half hour. Of course, after the official program is over, some kids will stay until 7 or 8 o clock. More babysitting. Those long periods of watching the kids started wearing down on me after a couple of weeks. I never even had to do that in China and I certainly never taught kids so young that they couldn’t eat or go to the bathroom by themselves. Some were even still in diapers and required being fed by hand. The managers of the school don’t care if these kids learn English or not. They only wanna line their own pockets. Hence, why some kids who have been there for several months still can’t even form a single English sentence.
Of course, after the official program is over, some kids will stay until 7 or 8 o clock. More babysitting. When I complained about a lack of a bilingual assistant to help me teach certain content to the older kids that couldn’t be explained with gestures and funny faces, they made me feel like a pariah. All this, despite the fact that by their own rules, a bilingual staff member should always be present in the room. The foreign manager yelled at me multiple times for saying “I don’t know what to do”.
“Just pretend! Stop complaining!” Shouted Jake.
The environment became more and more hostile as time went on. I was only two weeks into OJT when they threw me in preschool by myself. I couldn’t deal with kids crying, wetting themselves, and saying “mommy” every five seconds. I’d never gotten headaches in my entire life but I started developing debilitating migraines from the constant loud noise and stress.
On the first day of summer school, a nightmare where kids are there the entire day so things like basic cleaning can’t get done, I was in charge of this ninja-themed event. I decided to ask the kids to make paper shurikens. The older kids could do it with instruction. The preschoolers, of course, couldn’t. Ten minutes before the end of my activity, Jake comes in to interrupt. He’s the type that likes to have you and the kids running around all day. God forbid, we ever do arts and crafts or anything even remotely calm. He asked them to throw paper shurikens at me and then took them to lunch.
Later in the day, he took me aside for a meeting.
“There’s some things you need to change about yourself, quickly.” He said. “You complain a lot. I need you to stop doing that.”
“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t realize every off-hand comment I made was gonna be analyzed to death. I’m new here and I don’t have anyone available to help me because one of the bilingual staff was sent to another school. We don’t have enough time to finish our tasks because kids are here all day and I always have to watch them.”
“Shin,” He asked my coworker. “Do you think complaining is a problem?”
I couldn’t believe this meathead was trying to turn my only comrade against me. She was always saying the same things as me and yet, I was the only one being talked to about it. I sure as hell was not getting paid enough to deal with the enormous mountain of shit that had been placed on me.
A few days later, I went home, tears welled up in my eyes, and flipped through my desk drawer to find my contract. I would have to give the company 30 days notice, but there was indeed a way out. I emailed my boss the next day.
The following week a interviewed for a language school in Chiba that was teaching in English, Chinese, and Japanese. Unfortunately, the school hadn’t yet opened and the owner wasn’t sure about how many hours he could give me. Also, the pay was low but he was offering free Japanese classes which I desperately needed. In the end, I told him to contact me again in September.
I did another interview yesterday at a large company in central Tokyo. They’d just opened a bar downstairs and needed foreigners. Japanese language was not a requirement. The shacho (boss), was a lovely woman who worked her way up from a simple flower shop owner to the leader of an international company in the heart of Tokyo. She smiled at me and told me I could also teach English in their adult lounge for employees. I was thrilled. I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. No more toddlers, no more macho Jake, and a chance to do something besides teaching English for a change.
It’s a busy week up ahead! For those following my journey:
Tuesday 4/25 – Shenzhen, China
Wednesday 4/26 – Guangzhou, China
4/27 – Tattoo cover up consultation with Tattoo Stani$lav
4/28 – Box braids at African Beauty Coiffure Esthetique in Xiaobei
4/29 – Tea with Victor, the eccentric GZ philanthropist with a taste for foreign culture
Stay tuned! Don’t forget to check me out on Instagram @angelic_warrior
When I took my trip to Japan in late December, I had no idea what would happen next. All I knew was that despite other people in China trying to discourage me from going, I had to do it or I’d never feel satisfied.
I landed in Haneda airport the early morning of the 30th. A quietness filled the air. Various men in suits could be found sleeping next to open containers of beer; some homeless, others exhausted business men stuck waiting until the metro opened. The first thing I noted upon going to the bathroom were the toilets; all equipped with warming seats, bum washers, and other buttons I didn’t know how to operate. Two women standing at the sink counter next to me held a conversation in Mandarin. That’s when I realized that despite my lack of Japanese ability, hanging out in China for two years would prove incredibly useful in Japan.
I arrived at Iribashi Hostel near Shinjuku around 8 in the morning. The front desk informed that the check-in time was at 4PM. So, I dropped off my luggage and tried to find a way to occupy myself for several hours. Upon walking outside, I noticed that all of the shops were closed and the streets empty for blocks. Only 7-11 was open. Unlike the 7-11 in China, where absolutely nothing tastes like the junk food back home, this one had corn dogs and cheese popcorn which I eagerly devoured back at the hostel. I had genuinely missed real American-tasting junk food so much that my first two days were spent scouring the city, munching on the likes of Denny’s, Cinnabon, and 7-11 corn dogs. By day three, my body wanted to kill me. I decided it was time to taste some real Japanese food; after all, what kind of loser spends their foreign holiday eating the same crap they can get in their own country?
The Iribashi hostel had an unwelcoming atmosphere. It wasn’t like other hostels in large cities. The staff were uninformative and a bit rude, the beds were expensive, and it felt impossible to meet other travelers. Fortunately, I met Greg*, a friendly German guy, while sitting in the lobby and he taught me how to order a traditional Japanese breakfast from the hostel for 500 yen.
That same day, we decided to explore the city together. At Akihabara, we walked around a bunch of electronics shops. I’ve never been a DBZ fan, but it was cool to get a dragon ball from one of the machines. In the comic store, there was only one other girl and it sort of confirmed just how large of a role gender still plays in Japanese society.
Then we went to a sex shop. At first I wanted to buy a dirty manga but found it hard to justify blowing 1500 yen on such a thing. The dildos were everything you’d expect from the Japanese: all colors, shapes, sizes, price ranges, and models. Every floor had dildos, including the 4th floor, which we found out rather embarrassingly is off-limits to women after being accosted by a flustered clerk. Eventually, I settled on a pair of black cat ears, clipped them to my braids and continued walking around Akihabara.
That night, Greg invited me to a local New Year’s Eve celebration at another hostel. We went with two locals, a Singaporean, and a Korean guy. There were food vendors everywhere, a large temple crowded by tourists, and musicians playing in the streets.
As we walked, the Korean guy spoke to me in perfect English. “Can you speak Japanese?” He asked.
I shook my head and told him I’d studied before but the language proved really difficult. He told me all about how he watched videos on Youtube to learn it and how the food wasn’t as good as in Korea. Then he disappeared from the group for twenty minutes.
The Singaporean girl, Rina*, carried on with Greg about law school and Asian society. Rina was studying in Korea and absolutely hated it the same way I can’t stand living in China. I couldn’t keep up with the conversation about law school so I kept an eye on the environment.
Everything you say that sucks about China also exists in Korea. The people are very judgemental and fake. They are not even a little bit kind. Japan is so much better. -Rina
We’d roamed to the middle of some crowded street when I began to hear the countdown:
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2…
My Tokyo dream has come true.
The day after, Greg and I went out for sushi. For both us, eating sushi in Tokyo was a life-long aspiration. He talked about about his work in law school and how he’d make it his mission to settle in Japan. I was considering the same thing.
“What are you gonna do when you get older and you can’t work in clubs anymore?” He asked.
“I don’t know.” I replied. “I don’t want to think about it. It scares me.”
The truth is that I’m a creative soul in a world that’s working very hard to make us obsolete. I’m not gifted in math or science. I haven’t got anyone in my family who could help me pay for the cost of going back to school and after how hard it was to get through my Bachelor’s degree with crippling depression and no meds the first time, I’d rather not do it again. At 26 years old, I know what I can do and what I can’t. I’m a storyteller and I’ll need to work damn hard to figure out how to make a living doing it before I get too old for my current job.
After sushi and beer, my German friend mentioned he’s unaccustomed to drinking during the day. I informed him that everyone day-drinks in New York and it’s totally cool, but he insisted I’m some sort of alcoholic. I laughed it off as we walked towards the subway.
Later in the day, we went to Ueno Park. Swarms of gulls, crows, and other assorted birds gathered near a crowd of people throwing bread.
“Wow, Japanese people are so kind and in tune with nature.” I said. “You’d never see this in China. They’d probably just kill these poor creatures for sport.”
He nodded as we stood there watching the birds, fluttering through the air and settling on peoples’ hands. A trust existed in this place between humans and the natural world in a way I hadn’t witnessed anywhere else on earth. A long-haired man with a pointed beard came to Greg, giving him several pieces of bread. The birds settled on him immediately. I snatched a few pieces and stood patiently with my hands out. No birds came. Perhaps, they could sense something unsettling within me. The residual energies on me hadn’t dissipated yet. I knew it wasn’t my time so I didn’t force it.
On our way home, Greg joked about finding a love hotel. You know, for the novelty of doing it in one while in Japan. I laughed until I realized he was serious. I just wanted to be friends. I felt insecure because he was younger and more successful than me. After a bit of drink, he kissed me in the elevator. I made an excuse about needing to do something, hurried back to my room, and laid down to stare at the ceiling for hours.
The next day he told me he’d be leaving for Kobe soon and we should probably go to a love hotel before he goes. I told him I just wanted to be friends. I was on holiday. I didn’t want to be pressured into random sex.
I’ve reached the point where I feel there’s absolutely no benefit to random casual encounters. I always feel awful and dehumanized afterwards; like I was just a plaything for some guy, a footnote in the chapters of his conquests. I’ve been used by so many bad people in my life that I’ve reached a point where I won’t do anything with or for anyone unless I can personally benefit from it in some tangible way. No, an orgasm is not enough. Vibrators can give me an orgasm. I need an effort. I want a real relationship and I absolutely will not settle for anything less anymore.
The day after he left, I couldn’t find anyone else in the hostel to hang out with. They’d all come in tight-knit groups, left early, and came back late. So, I decided to do some things by myself. First, I went to Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens.
After the gardens, I explored a music street and bought a harmonica.
Later, I went to a sauna with a girl I’d met in a hostel in Taipei. She’d been studying tea culture in Tokyo for years. Unfortunately, Japanese hot springs and saunas don’t allow people with tattoos to enter so we had to get creative with covering the three big ones on my upper back, outer thigh, and upper arm. We stopped at a pharmacy to buy large bandages and put them on in the bathroom.
Inside the hot spring, I’d never seen so many naked women in one place. Honestly, most of them looked fabulous. Me and my friend made a quiet joke about a girl on the other side with huge, buoyant breasts that seemed to float in the water like life rafts. After the sauna, we went to the changing room where we met a Chinese family who chatted with us until we got to the metro station. I got to meet this cute little mixed girl:
Because I’d been cheated out of my salary in China the month before, I needed to be careful with my money. This meant only buying a few small souvenirs, skipping Disney Land, and using a Chinese app to find guys to take me out for dinner some nights.
Enter the MoMo equation. I couldn’t afford to go out every day so some days were spent in my room texting guys on this app out of boredom. Eventually, I ran into a Japanese guy. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Due to Tokyo’s large Chinese population and it’s proximity to the mainland, many people in the city can speak and understand Mandarin. It was nearing the end of my trip and I felt drawn to this guy. There was something about him that seemed really special. I told him that I’d done everything I wanted to do in Tokyo. The only thing left was a night out in Roppongi.
That Saturday I stood nervously near the exit. My phone had no 4G so I needed to bum WiFi from a cafe nearby. I got a notification on Line. Looking up, I saw this tall, smiling, handsome Japanese guy. His first word was “wow”. I tried not to act flustered as I adrenaline-spat several sentences in Chinese. Then I realized his spoken Mandarin wasn’t quite as good as mine, but it was enough.
A Japanese guy and an American girl walk into a bar. They order drinks in English and speak to each other in Chinese.
We ordered several shots of vodka and talked about what a fucking stressful chaotic mess China is. I told him my dream of moving to Tokyo, showed him the harmonica I’d bought at a music store on Day 4, and some pictures of the food I missed cooking.
We decided one bar wasn’t enough so going to a dance club was the next mission. The first one wouldn’t let him in because of his shoes and their dress code policy. The second place let us in because the bouncer liked my hair. In the club, I got drunk as hell and introduced him to twerking. Then I puked.
At our hotel, I told him I was so embarrassed but he seemed fascinated by me. We made dirty jokes, laughed, listened to music, and cuddled. Then I realized that I genuinely liked this guy. He got me in a way no American or Chinese guy ever could. Chinese guys would often call me fat because they only like anorexic, stick-figure looking women with translucent skin. Japanese dudes are real men and appreciate curves and a bit of tan. He told me my body was perfect. It was the first time I felt good about myself in years. No one had ever told me that before.
Slightly hung over, we went to a pet shop to stare at over-priced cats and dogs, then we got sushi. While we sat down, a few strange glances came our way as some people wondered why a black girl and a Japanese man were speaking in Mandarin.
“My name is Akira.” He said.
I told him my full name, which I never do for anyone and then asked him to call me “Dee”. He smiled and addressed me as I liked without hesitation, question, or argument. It was really nice, for once in my life, to be treated with actual respect.
My flight to Taipei was that evening but I vowed to come back; not just for him but for myself. After seeing how wonderful life could be, I no longer felt like I wanted to die. I no longer felt the rage, frustration, and pain that I felt so often in China and back in the States. Tokyo is the place on earth I’m meant to be and I knew it from that moment on.
After a month of searching and a coincidental Skype interview on Valentine’s Day, I received a job offer directly from a school in Tokyo. I hope to be there before the cherry blossoms stop falling. That’s the final part of my dream.
Growing old is for people who have a reason to, for people with a real purpose in their lives and enough luck and opportunity. As for me, I wouldn’t mind not growing old. I accept the fact that as a sojourner, living pretty harsh and randomly, I probably won’t make it to 40. And that’s fine. Like a dog, I live in the moment and sometimes I sleep outside. Sometimes strangers feed or groom me, sometimes I go without. At least I always have something to talk about. I’m living my biggest dream: to travel the world. That’s all that matters now.
While most people associate capsule hotels with space-conscious Japan, cities in China and Taiwan also enjoy the style. This is the first capsule hotel I’ve stayed in and it does not disappoint.
The capsule comes equipped with everything you need for a good night’s sleep including a TV, fan, heated blanket, light, charging port, mirror and multiple shelves and hooks to store your essentials.My only gripe about this set up is that there is only one outlet so if you’re a techno geek like me, you’re gonna have to plug stuff in one at a time.
I booked the hostel using the English version of Ctrip and selected the “pay at hotel” option. The owner, a local in his early 30s, is incredibly friendly and offered me a discount of 150 RMB. In total, I paid about 600 RMB for a 10-day stay; definitely a bargain compared to Japan.
Sidenote: For some strange reason, many Japanese capsule hotels won’t allow female guests. For all my gripes about China, I give them credit for being light years ahead of Japan in terms of gender equality.
One caveat is that finding this place is like going through a hidden maze. It’s tucked away in an alley just off of a sidestreet. I had to stop and ask for directions several times in Chinese. If you can’t speak Chinese, ask a friend for help as the owner also can’t speak English. If you find yourself in Guiyang during your China travels, don’t miss out on this amazing gem. Guiyang Capsule Youth Hostel 贵阳太空舱青年旅舍