1st Japanniversary

May 27, 2024 • Louie Mantia

It’s been one full year since I moved to Tokyo, and my life has changed in so many ways since. I thought I might reflect on the answers to questions people asked me over a year ago about why I decided to move here, to see how I feel now.

§ New Opportunities

So far, my work life hasn’t changed too dramatically. I’ve worked with some people here, but most of my work still comes from the Western world. I’d like for more of my work to be local, but that may just take time to build a network.

Even if some things feel familiar, they still may be quite different. I’m picking up on a lot of little things, like how people act around each other, what they share, and what clothes they wear. I know I will never fit in or blend in, but some of these things are worth adopting. Others, I might prefer to leave as they are.

I’ve made a bunch of new friends, some from neighborhood festivals, others from restaurants and cafes, or by way of mutual appreciation for the Disney parks in Tokyo. I’m really grateful for everyone around me who shows me kindness, especially their patience. Everyone feels like they’re on my side, which makes me feel like I belong here.

§ Tourism & Travel

In the past, I visited Japan on three occasions totaling five weeks. That’s very different from living here for one year. In five weeks, I’d spend a little time somewhere and be whisked off to the next place. But in one year, I can more deeply appreciate places I visit, and be less concerned about trivial things like my phone’s battery life or the weight of items in my bag I might need for the day. I know my way around and how to navigate train stations.

Though I’m not a tourist anymore, that doesn’t mean I don’t play tourist. I love how casually I can travel. Taking the Shinkansen is easy and normal now, whereas traveling by air feels very complicated in comparison. I am very comfortable in train stations, but I think airports still stress me out. With trains this good, it’s hard for me to justify taking a car or taxi anywhere either.

I’ve visited Kyoto and Osaka a few times more. As far as new places go, I went to Yamanashi for a summer trip last year. We stayed at a pension, which is a kind of house with only a few rooms for guests, where they can socialize with each other in a common area. I don’t usually go out into more remote areas, but it was kinda refreshing to just sit on a porch across from a field with some horses for a few days.

§ 私は日本語を話せますか?


It should go without saying, the Japanese language is very different from English. I know how to read hiragana and katakana for the most part, but it takes me a little while. And while I can read some kanji (and type them), I don’t know how to say them aloud. I don’t expect to be conversational for a while. Even when I feel confident about the vocabulary I do know, I mostly chicken out from speaking.

I don’t know how to describe the feeling. It’s scary. Not that people wouldn’t forgive my errors, but I don’t like wasting their time while I stumble through a sentence. So I mostly stick to pleasantries and greetings.

The amount of Japanese I hear has gone up considerably, of course. I listen a lot, and I try to recognize words quicker, even if I don’t feel confident enough to reply. And though speaking feels more important to me, I am more interested in the written language than the spoken language. Not sure how to wrangle that quite yet.

§ Hanafuda

Making new hanafuda is moving a little slower than I had hoped, but I did produce my first karuta-size deck with my friend Marcus. I think it’s not too far away from larger-scale production, but I still have more questions that need answered before I get there, like packaging.

However, we did set up a little booth to sell our hanafuda at Game Market at the Tokyo Big Sight, which was scary but rewarding. It was great to meet other people who thought what Marcus and I were doing was interesting.

I hope to have more to share soon.

§ Friends & Family

It really is great to have Nob so close. We get lunch together most days. Sometimes we just look at each other and think about how unreal it feels to be sitting across from each other as often as we do. Ayumi has always kept me in mind when she prepares art classes for kids, thinking of which activities would be good for me, like 書道 (shodō, Japanese calligraphy).

I’ve known their son, Daikichi, ever since he was a toddler, when we bonded during my vacations to Japan and Hawaii. When I arrived in Japan, Daikichi was extremely excited, and I cherish being around him. I admire his enthusiasm and his passion for juggling and magic. I hope he never loses that.

Nikki, on the other hand, didn’t remember me at all when I got here. So she was pretty shy at first. But after a couple months, I went from stranger, to friend, to family. She’s so quick to learn new things and is always excited to share what she’s learned with me.

What’s really charming about these kids is how they make me a part of their lives. Daikichi will take a selfie with me at the end of any day we spend together, and Nikki will drag me into family photos and beg me to carry her at Disneyland.

Living in the same country as Airi is also great. I can zip down to Osaka or she can come to Tokyo for Disneyland and DisneySea, which—unbelievably—we’ve never done together until I moved here. While we’ve been to Hong Kong, Anaheim, and Paris, we somehow never timed the Tokyo parks right.

I recently met two new friends spontaneously at DisneySea. One from Canada, and the other, Australia. While I haven’t explicitly avoided foreigners, I’ve not sought out foreigners because I don’t want my only friends to be foreigners. But I’ve learned since that I relate more with people who aren’t from here. I might relax that rule a little to see what kinds of people I’m missing out on being friends with.

§ Expense

I live in the more traditional east side of Tokyo rather than the more cosmopolitan west side. My rent is cheaper than in Portland. Food is cheaper than in America, not to mention there are no tips at restaurants here. The weak Yen works in my favor at the moment, but in general I think the value I get for the money I spend has never been better.

§ Chief

My cat moved here too, and he seems comfortable. Daikichi is allergic to him, but Nikki loves to visit, play with, and feed Chief, which is cute.

As of this writing, Chief is 19 years old. That’s pretty old for a cat, and almost every cat who lives to this age will likely have chronic kidney disease. That’s Chief.

His CKD has progressed a bit and it got a little scary there for a moment. Thankfully, the nearest vet is only a 1-minute walk from my apartment. (It might be less, actually.) He and I could not be luckier about that. We have to go every week for a little IV drip situation, and he absolutely hates it.

I worry about him, but he’s receiving good, frequent care. The treatment isn’t expensive, and though it’s a weekly occurrence, I’m more-than-happy to pay it.

§ Japanese Food

Non-update: I still don’t like seafood, including anything that has even a little seafood in it. People still wonder why I live here if I don’t like seafood, but I’ve met a few others here who don’t, and it’s validating to know I’m not the only one.

I try to match the rough cuisine frequency I am used to, but the truth is I eat much more Japanese, Korean, and Thai food than I used to. Also a lot more yoshoku, as a stand-in for some Western cuisine. My Japanese friends just don’t want to eat Mexican and Italian food as much as I do.

Even when going to foreign restaurants in Japan, they are still a little Japanese. Things are sweeter and softer to cater to the Japanese palate. I’m trying to get used to that. Also, people here use chopsticks to pick up prosciutto, which may never feel OK to me. (I’d prefer to just use my fingers.)

§ Disneyland

Only 40 minutes away. Thirty-five if I’m lucky enough catch trains at the right time. I go twice a month. At maximum, I went five times in one month, and that was definitely too much. It’s a shame they don’t offer annual passes anymore, but the ticket price is about half what the US parks are, so I don’t want to complain.

I’m fully on auto-pilot when I go there. It’s so familiar to me; I can get there and navigate without even looking. Also, most new people I meet in Japan have a shared appreciation for Disneyland and DisneySea.

As a side note, no one here seems to judge adults for going to Disneyland like they do in the US, probably because guests at the Tokyo parks are overwhelmingly adults. Nice!

§ Parakeet

Parakeet’s work schedule had to adapt to the difference in time zones, but we’ve figured it out. My mornings, Luka’s evenings. Meetings with clients tend to be at 7am my time.

As a reminder, Parakeet makes app icons, icon sets, logos, and even concept work for the visual design of your app. If any of that sounds interesting to you, send us an email!

My daily life is so different now. But at the same time, it hasn’t changed a bit. I still spend most of my time making things at my desk and going out to cafes for little breaks. Alright, maybe my personal vending machine and convenience store usage is up (about 1000%).

Mostly, I don’t feel rushed. I don’t feel like I have to travel as much as I previously wanted to, because I don’t have to fly to Japan or to Disneyland anymore. Everything I used to travel for is right here. I’m really happy to be here.

If you’re interested in photos from my life in Japan, you can check out the Photos section of my blog.

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