“I grew up in Baker. I lived here through high school and then went off to college and ended up getting a Master’s in accounting from University of Oregon. I also took Master’s level Japanese language courses because I was always interested in Japanese culture. Once I started studying it, Japanese became more than a hobby. I could study eight hours a day and it felt like nothing. The university had a sister school in Tokyo so I decided to study abroad there and really enjoyed the culture.
When I graduated, I took a job with a global accounting firm in Honolulu as a financial auditor. I picked Hawaii to have a different experience and have some connection to Japanese culture in Hawaii, and I worked there for a year. Then I transferred to my firm’s office in Boise and gained experience auditing larger companies such as Boise Cascade, Supervalu (who owned Albertsons at the time), and Simplot. After four years I went to work for Micron, the global semiconductor manufacturer. They had just entered into an agreement to buy a Japanese company with offices in Hiroshima, Tokyo, and Akita. I went over to Japan for various projects and after a year I moved to Tokyo with my wife and two kids. Japan is very clean and safe. We lived in downtown Tokyo in a place called Roppongi, which is a popular community for expatriates (people living abroad). While most of Japan is 98 to 99% Japanese, and then 1 to 2% foreigner; Roppongi is 18 to 19% foreigner. We didn’t own a car so we took the trains everywhere and when we went on vacation, we took the bullet train down to Kyoto and Hiroshima.
My kids were three and one at the time and they struggled a bit with the food, but then started to like rice balls and Japanese style ramen. There’s a Netflix documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi about a sushi chef. We actually lived in an apartment right above the restaurant owned by Jiro’s son that is featured in the documentary. It was the best sushi I’ve ever had. The tenderness and flavor is incredible! They’ll massage an octopus for eight hours prior to serving it and the person who’s making the rice has spent ten years just learning about rice. It’s hard to compete with that level of dedication. It kind of ruined having sushi at other places back in the U.S., but it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
My daughter was three and she went to preschool. One interesting story was that there was a Japanese kid in her class that she got to know pretty well and our family started to hang out with her friend’s family. We would go to Costco (the one place in Japan you can get cheap Western food), and on trips to the beach. My wife wasn’t working at the time so she was hanging out with them quite a bit. Two or three months later, we found out that the husband’s dad was one of the most popular and famous TV personalities in the country! He’s like the Regis Philbin of Japan and has the most on-air TV hours of anybody there. We had no idea! I mentioned the guy’s name to some of the people I was working with and they wouldn’t believe me.
Living in Japan was interesting. To a certain extent you get preferential treatment for being a foreigner. Just by looking at you, they know that you’re not Japanese. People are very nice and accommodating, but to develop deeper relationships and to be seen as one of them is very hard and it takes a long time. It’s almost like you have to go to school with them or share a common goal or work with them to really have strong friendships. Japanese people in general tried to be accommodating and they would speak English to me. But, as a foreigner, I wanted to practice my Japanese! I really enjoyed being outside of Tokyo, because most people don’t speak English in remote areas so if they communicate with you it will be in Japanese, even if they don’t think you understand. So for me it was a balance. I want to be viewed like a resident, somebody who lives here and is working here. And I don’t really want preferential treatment. Once they know you and see that you understand their language and have taken the time to learn about their culture, they have a huge respect for you. Since I speak the language, it feels like a second home to me, and taking my family around Japan was very fun. It was definitely good for me and my family to have our worldview expanded a bit by living outside the U.S.”