InterNations Featured Blog
Joanna: Origami Living
To westerners, there is hardly a more drastical change of scenery and culture than moving to Japan. Joanna is a South African expat who has made the move there, started her family, and has not looked back since, even when times got as hard as they did in March 2011. She blogs at Origami Living.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Japan, etc.
I moved to Japan with my husband in August 2009. We met while I was working in London. I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and after completing my Masters in Marketing Management I went to Taiwan to teach English. For some reason I have always been interested in the Far East, but little did I know that I would end up living here permanently one day. I am married to a wonderful Japanese man and have a son who was born in July 2011, the same year Japan suffered a major earthquake and Tsunami.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I blog mostly for myself, I think. I kept journals as a kid, then once the digital age hit, so did my journaling! Started in 2009 as a window into my life here for family to keep up to date, but started building a network of fellow Japan bloggers and my passion grew from there. Comments are fun, i like the interaction, but even if i didn't get comments i'd keep blogging, because i like to go back and reread and reminisce.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Tell us about the ways your new life in Japan differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
It is becoming increasingly hard to compare my life before and after Japan with each life change: getting married, having a baby, the death of in-laws, the tsunami etc... But I believe that the "culture shock" I experienced while teaching in Taiwan prepared me somewhat for a life living in a different culture. For me, the greatest obstacle has to be the language. Oh how I wish I had known I would fall in love with a Japanese man and follow him around the world to Japan. The flight so South Africa is a little over 20 hours with a stop-over! On a day to day basis, as with any place I have lived, you get into a routine that sometimes it is hard to differentiate one country's routine from another. I do eat a lot of tofu now that I live in Japan though - ha!
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Japan? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I would seriously have considered a language course. I briefly started Japanese lessons in London but with a hectic work load I was too quick to slack off. I have never been particularly tied to certain food or cosmetic products so have made an easy transition into the Japanese lifestyle. In many cases I prefer the food here. The preparations that are hard to make until you get here are the customary differences. Most of which are unspoken, but these I learn about in time and from friends and family. If I had it again I would still have followed my then boyfriend to Japan, no question.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I still marvel over the deft manner in which Japanese people can remove their shoes coming in and out of homes and temples. I am updating all my shoes to be of the slip-on variety because the bottom-up duck pose is just getting embarrassing.
Also nobody believes me when I tell them I am South African. Surely I'm German, Russian, American...
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Japan?
Learn the language, be mindful of others, take blunders in your stride.
How is the expat community in Japan? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community is a thriving one and depending your life situation or interests it is easy to find others to have fun with. Join clubs societies and make Facebook your friend.
How would you summarize your expat life in Japan in a single, catchy sentence?
My life became prettier the minute I stepped foot in Japan.