Japan 2018

Being stuck inside for these past few weeks has gotten me thinking that I should revive this journal. Knowing me I will probably make a bunch of posts in quick succession and then fizzle off into nothing again but ehh.. it’s worth a shot.

Lately i’ve been getting a bunch of reminder posts on Facebook and Google photos about a trip I took 2 years ago. It’s making me feel very nostalgic so I thought it would be a good thing to write about.

Back in 2017, I was working a cushy job as a project engineer and, despite the comfortable hours and good pay, I was very unhappy. When the time rolled around to renew my contract, I realized that it just wasn’t the right fit for me. Not just that particular job but civil engineering as a whole. Scripting and coding had always been hobbies of mine and I finally came to the long-overdue realization that I wanted a career related to computer science. Knowing that my civil degree was entirely unrelated, this seemed like a daunting goal. I knew it would be a long journey and I was scared of making such a big life change, but I was more scared of waking up 50 years later still working a job I didn’t enjoy. So I made the difficult decision to quit and found myself unemployed, without any prospects.

My sister had gone to the Philippines to teach English for a few months but during her first couple weeks there, she got pretty sick and had to be hospitalized. This freaked her out and made her want to come home early but I struck a deal with her that if she stuck it out and finished her teaching gig, we could meet in Japan and spend a month there during cherry blossom season. We are very lucky because we have an amazing aunt who lives there so we didn’t need to worry about accommodations. When chatting about our plans with our other aunt from the UK, she decided to tag along too and suggested that we also spend a week in Singapore. I was unemployed with nowhere to be so when I stumbled upon some cheap direct flights through JAL, I was sold. 5 weeks in Japan and a week in Singapore… I couldn’t wait.

In the weeks leading up to the trip, I spent most of my time studying Java, C#, and Python, trying to learn as much as I could on my own. I got accepted to a second degree program in comp sci and had planned to go back to school in September when, low and behold, I managed to land an interview at a triple A game studio as a technical artist. The date of the interview was less than a week before I was scheduled to leave for Japan and I knew that they wanted someone who could start as soon as possible so I wasn’t optimistic about my chances (not to mention the fact that I had zero education or experience related to that industry). I spent the day before I flew out scrambling to get my references submitted. I have no recollection of the flight there, probably because I was so exhausted from all the nervousness and excitement of the week before, but I remember landing in Japan totally jet-lagged lugging around a backpack, a purse, and two large roller luggages (one entirely full of souvenirs for my cousins, courtesy of my mom). It took 3 train rides to get to my aunt’s place in Hamamatsu and I spent the time desperately fighting the urge to sleep because it was nearing last train so if I missed my stop, I might not be able to get back. By the time I arrived at Hamamatsu station, it was pretty late and my phone had died. I began to worry “what if this isn’t actually the right station?” or “what if my aunt is waiting at another exit and i’m not able to find her?”. I’ll never forget the relief I felt when I turned the corner and heard my sister call out to me “Sarah! We’re in Japan together!!!”. My uncle loaded all my luggage into their SUV and off we went to their favourite yakiniku place, where I promptly ate then fell asleep in the corner. When we finally got back to their place, I was so tired that I passed out on the tatami mats without even pulling out the bedding or changing my clothes.

I woke up early the next morning and the first thing I did was check my email; there it was waiting for me, my letter of offer. Now I could enjoy my trip guilt-free, knowing that there was a job waiting for me when I got back.

I had been to Japan a few times before but this was my first real time traveling with my sister. Growing up, it wasn’t unusual for us to butt heads, so I was a bit nervous about what it would be like spending so much time together. As it turns out, it was amazing. We had such a great time and I learned so much from her. She has always been very outgoing and extroverted with no hesitation to meet new people and make friends. I, on the other hand, am introverted and used to be so shy that I couldn’t even interact with cashiers at stores; I would have to give money to my friends and get them to do the transaction for me. “Social anxiety” wasn’t a term at the time, but I definitely grew up with it. I had the same group of friends for most of my childhood so I never really had to learn how to interact with people I didn’t know well. If someone I didn’t know well ever invited me to anything, I would come up with a reason not to go. If I ever did somehow get roped in, I would feel sick to my stomach in the hours leading up to the event because I was so anxious. When around new people, I would think too hard about what to say and psyche myself out until the moment would pass and i’d lose my opportunity to say whatever it was. One day I decided that I was fed up with living like that so I forced myself to accept invitations to things and talk to people. At first it was awful and I would count the minutes until I could leave but eventually I started to actually have fun. After years of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I finally got to the point where I could easily meet new people and carry on conversations with people I didn’t know… but I was still very quiet; I had figured out how to not be awkward when someone spoke to me first but I still had trouble being the one to initiate an interaction. This trip is what changed all of that for me.

Anyone who didn’t know me before this trip thinks that i’m an extrovert. People don’t believe me when I say i’m introverted and it’s all because of my sister. Between the two of us, we have quite a few friends in Japan. We spent most of our time visiting them and it was just amazing seeing how she interacts with people, whether she’s known them for ages or is just meeting them for the first time. I’ve never seen her more in her element, cool as a cucumber, able to talk to anyone as if she’s known them for years. She has an incredible ability to diffuse awkwardness in any situation and she’s very perceptive to social cues; there were a few times i’d want to communicate something to her but couldn’t say it out loud in front of others so i’d shoot her a look and she never missed a beat. One thing that particularly stood out to me was how freely she would ask questions about things that she didn’t know. I had always been far too concerned about looking stupid that I would heavily overthink my questions to make sure they were reasonable. What I learned from her is that no matter what she asked, I never thought she looked stupid and, if anything, I respected her more for her ability to so fearlessly admit what she didn’t know. I finished this trip with so much more confidence than what I had before; I used to worry so much about what people would think of me but now my attitude is that i’ll just be myself and ask whatever questions I have. It’s like that Dr. Seuss Quote: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Much of my current success at work is thanks to the network that I built within my first couple months, which I can confidently say would not have happened with the me that I was prior to this trip.

I’d like to write more details about all the wonderful things we saw and lovely people we visited during this trip but nearly 2 years has passed so there’s no way I could do it justice. Instead here are lots and I mean lots of photos with some captions about the trip.

on the train after arriving in Japan

yakiniku on the first night

the view from my aunt and uncle’s balcony

aunt and uncle’s house


two of my favs: shio dare cabbage and green apple sour



homemade sukiyaki

Tomonoura, the town that inspired Ponyo

taken at the Ponyo hotel

eating monja

kichijoji park

just chillin’


wandering Shinjuku


homemade monja

our friend’s mom makes the best pudding


sister’s flight we early morning so we stayed in Narita’s capsule hotel


I miss being able to get this at any convenience store

a couple photos of yours truly

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