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Goodbye, America-Hello, Japan-1999 (55)

World-changing decision: moving to Japan


Visiting Japan for the first time

In May of 1999, I visited Tokyo for two weeks. It was my third time on holiday in Japan. My first experience of Japan, in Sapporo, was in the summer of 1995 when I joined my wife Yuko and her son Lucas when they were visiting Yuko’s mother Tsuta. Japan was also my first country to visit in Asia.

Diving deep into the soul of Japan and the Japanese people

In 1996 I separated from Yuko.


Taking several months to plan my holiday, contacting about 40 homestay families in Japan, in the summer of 1997, I took a 40-day holiday in Japan, staying with 18 homestay families in 18 different cities, from Yokohama to Nagasaki. I started and ended this sojourn in Kyoto. A fascinating experience and adventure.

When I returned to Phoenix, I gave a photo-and-sharing presentation of my immersion into the Japanese culture to about 20 friends, including a few Japanese who lived in Phoenix at that time. One of these Japanese friends shared with me after my presentation, "In those 40 days you learned more about the true nature of the Japanese people than other Americans learn even after living in Japan for five years."

I must go back again

In the summer of 1997, I rented a house in Hiroshima for three months. During those three months, I met and fell in love with a 27-year-old Hiroshima girl named Hitomi. We tried to maintain a long-distance relationship and she visited me two times in the USA, the first time in Scottsdale, Arizona, the second in Hermosa Beach, California. I was partially motivated to move to Hermosa Beach, near Los Angeles, from Arizona because we were talking about her coming to live with me in the USA. But she was unwilling to live in Arizona both because of the heat and because she was a musician and she wanted to be where the music was. In the end, our relationship didn’t work out.

Doing the Landmark Forum in Japan

I had already done the Landmark Forum three times by the beginning of 1999, the first time being in Arizona when it was introduced in 1984, as an "upgrade" to the est training. I thought it would be a blast to review the Forum again in Tokyo with a bunch of Japanese. In the three-day Forum, people typically share themselves more deeply and openly than they've ever done before.

In just a few minutes, I made a decision that changed my life forever

It was May of 1999. There were ninety-nine Japanese in the room...and then me. The Forum leader led the Forum in English and it was interpreted into Japanese real-time by an animated Japanese woman who would follow behind him as he paced around the room, even mimicking his gesticulations.

Several times I found myself laughing out loud when no one else was laughing because what the Forum leader said had not yet been interpreted into Japanese, who would then end up laughing right after me.

I had thought about moving to Japan previously but never followed up on that idea. On the second day of the Forum, after only a few minutes of consideration, I stood up and declared to everyone, “I’m moving to Japan.” The Forum leader asked me, “By when?” I declared, “By the end of the year.” My flight landed in Tokyo, my new home, on November 5, 1999.

The biggest change in my life, then or since

While living my regular life in Hermosa Beach, it took me six months to make the move. I tend to overpack. I pre-shipped 27 boxes ahead of me to three different friends I had made in Tokyo who agreed to hold them for me until I arrived myself. Each box was maxed out at 70 pounds, the maximum the post office would let me ship. On my November 5th flight to Japan, I had seven pieces of luggage checked through, each at the maximum limit of 70 pounds. I paid more for the extra luggage, five more than the two allowed for free than I had paid for the flight ticket itself. I had to ship, sell, give away, or throw away everything I owned, including my 1972 Oldsmobile, a classic. 

Even though I liked my car, I was so happy to sell it. I thought, "I'll never need a car again! So great!" I still feel that way today. 

Doing business in Japan with customers in America

The one issue that had stymied me before when thinking about living in Japan was how to continue to work as a life coach. Even though with an interpreter I had successfully coached a few Japanese people, I did not have enough confidence in getting enough Japanese clients to maintain a viable coaching practice. 

But I solved this problem by realizing that my clients and potential clients in the USA could buy a calling card and call me in Japan, costing only about 10 cents a minute at that time. The cost of calling me, which would be their expense, would be quite small compared to what they paid me as a coach. 

I gave myself six weeks, with my USA clients using stand-in coaches during this time, to find myself a place to live in Tokyo and prepare everything to resume coaching my clients. It worked as planned. A side benefit became that I was more prestigious with my clients and potential clients. They could say to their friends, "I need to call my coach in Japan now."

Not a fluke

Since that day in November 1999, I’ve always lived in Asia, first a year in Tokyo, then nine years in Shanghai, and finally twelve years in Kunming, China (as of December, 2021).

In the 22 years since, in Japan and China, I have seen so many ex-pats come and go. I feel so at home here...actually I think it's easy for me to feel at home in any city in the world that I might choose to live in. I never have culture shock. I can always make friends quickly wherever I go, much faster than I can in the USA. It doesn't matter that I don't know the language. It just makes it more adventurous getting around. 

Thinking about that Forum in Tokyo in 1999

I wish I could remember the name of that Forum leader in Tokyo in 1999. I do remember the name of another Forum leader who worked out of that center. His name was Jerome Downes. Later, when I lived in Shanghai, I reviewed the Forum again in Hong Kong. Jerome Downs led that Forum. Several years later, I learned Jerome had died.

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