Ichigo ichie

In Japanese there are many beautiful, and sometimes funny, proverbs, phrases, and words that don’t directly translate to English. For example, there is a Japanese proverb, chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru, meaning “even dust, if piled, can become a mountain”. Or the Japanese word, komorebi, that means “sunlight filtering through trees” and yugen, which roughly translates to “an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and powerful for words”, and ageotori, which means “to look worse after a haircut”. The first time I heard ichigo ichie was on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and I’ve continued to come across it as I study Japanese. The literal translation is “one time, one meeting”, the idea being that you will never experience the exact same encounter twice; therefore, you should cherish every encounter as if it were the first and last.

I found this phrase especially relevant to me as I visited with several friends in the Bay Area one last time before heading off to Japan. Of course it was fun to spend time with my close friends, but I found that I was really making an effort to take a mental step back and cherish these encounters as a whole, particularly because I am moving to a place where I don’t yet have any friends. Even as I was stuck in the tunnel between Duboce Park and Van Ness on the N Judah Muni train for 20+ minutes I thought, I should cherish this moment because I’ll probably never be on a delayed train in Japan 🙂 . I hope to maintain this perspective and sense of awareness as I begin to have countless new encounters, both good and bad, in Japan.


It is now less than a week before I head off to Tokyo. I keep finding myself referring to it as a “trip” before I remember I am moving to Japan. When I think about it too much I start to freak myself out, so I’ve been trying to keep the enormity of it at a safe distance. Hopefully it won’t all surface at the airport like last time…

Before my last big “trip” I made a list of things I was excited and nervous about and found it fun and interesting to look back on it towards the end, so here we go again. This list is by no means exhaustive, I just wanted to highlight the things that are maybe not so obvious (like the food!). Here are some things I’m excited about:

  1. Having my own place again. For 11 months I moved from hostel to hostel (with the occasional SPG hotel mixed in). After returning to the US I lived in the office at my brother and sister-in-law’s new home in Henderson, NV for five months until my parents new home (also in Henderson) was completed. In between I’ve made couch-surfing trips around the country to visit various friends and family. While I’ve been made to feel incredibly welcome by family, friends, and neighbors, it’s been about 18 months since I’ve had my own room in my own place, and I can’t wait to unpack and make it my own.

    Everything I brought on my first trip. I’ve packed a few more things this time around…
  2. Getting paid! Starting a job means I will start receiving a paycheck again! While it is a fraction of what I am used to…it is enough to live comfortably in Tokyo and it will be nice to have a steady stream of income again. The realization that I haven’t had a paycheck in over a year also reminds me of how privileged I am to not only have had the ability to travel for a year but to live at home for six months rent free. While I did what I could to earn my keep (a lot of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children), I recognize how lucky I was to continue to enjoy time off while taking my TEFL course and looking for jobs free of most expenses. In other words, thank you to everyone for being so gracious with your homes, especially my parents, brother, and sister-in-law.❤️
  3. Meeting my coworkers. I was at my previous company for about seven years and some of my old coworkers are still some of my closest friends. Given how many hours a day you spend at work, I found it so valuable to have such close friends around me to lean on, grab lunch with, and vent to. Being in a foreign country, my coworkers will be my most immediate access to fellow English speakers and I’m sure I’ll need to lean on them for help with every aspect of my new life. I am excited (and anxious) to meet them!

    At an old coworker’s wedding in Ireland in 2014.
  4. Developing a routine amidst the adventure. My direction in life has felt a bit up in the air for the last 18 months. This time has been an experience in every sense of the word. I’ve gained confidence, perspective, and learned so much about myself while continuously surprising myself. While I loved my adventure, I can’t wait to establish a routine – to be responsible for being in a certain place at a certain time, making my own meals in my own kitchen, and having a weekend to look forward to. Even better is that establishing a routine in a foreign country will also be an adventure. Even the most mundane tasks will be learning experiences, often frustrating ones, but I’m excited for the challenge.

And some things I’m nervous about:

  1. The initial overwhelmingness of it all. The start of my solo trip was really hard. It was a big adjustment in every way, from the sleeping conditions to my daily routine to missing my family and friends. As you know, I eventually adjusted and had an amazing experience, but it was not an easy start. Even though I’ve sort of done this before, my experience tells me it will still be really hard to leave my family and friends behind, especially as this is not a “trip” but an actual move.4F52DB3A-BBC0-4CA2-8F69-BF364E862DBD
  2. Adjusting to a work schedule. I haven’t had a job since August 2017 😮 and I know it will be hard to give up my freedom and live my life around a work schedule again. This work schedule will be a bit different than what I was used to. I believe my work week is Tuesday to Saturday and as many of my students have jobs or school during the day, my hours are generally 1 – 9 pm. I’m worried that with such a late start to the day it will be tempting to have lazy mornings. I think it will be really important to get into some sort of morning routine that gets me out and about so that when I get home late after work I won’t feel like I never got out.
  3. My apartment. Picture a shoebox apartment in Manhattan. Cut it in half. I think that might be the size of my apartment! I actually haven’t seen any useful pictures, but I know Tokyo apartments run small and my kitchen in particular is going to leave a lot to be desired. My neighborhood is called Koganei and is located in Western Tokyo. While it is quite a bit farther from Tokyo’s main attractions than I was hoping to be, it is just a ten minute metro ride from a really cool neighborhood called Kichijōji. I’m a bit nervous about the neighborhood but I do see some good looking restaurants and it’s near a huge park, so I’m trying to go in with an open mind and positive attitude.2E6DAA97-536A-4D6C-AB3F-4DF03F3E3765
  4. Making friends. While traveling solo for nearly a year boosted my confidence and constantly pushed me to make “friends” with complete strangers, my recent visit to the Bay Area made me realize how important it is to have close friends. I have no doubt that I’ll meet plenty of people in Japan, but as many of you know I’m “picky” about my people, so I’m nervous about meeting people that I can form meaningful relationships with. Making close friends takes time and investment. The friends that I made the effort to see while being home have known me for a range of about 7-13 years. I don’t expect to find them right away, but I am prepared to put in the effort and I’m hopeful that eventually I’ll find my people.

I find it fitting that I’ll be starting my new job almost exactly a year after my first English teaching volunteer gig in Cambodia. It’s crazy to think about all that has happened in between and I am so excited about where my adventures have taken me.

Teaching in Cambodia in February 2018

Thank you for continuing to follow me (this is my 50th post!) and for all of the kind words of encouragement! You can look forward to my instagram account including more than Las Vegas sunsets and my niece and nephew (though they are SO CUTE!).

My niece and nephew.

14 thoughts on “Ichigo ichie

  1. Karen Corburn

    Emily, Thank you for sharing your adventures and so much of yourself. Your really an inspiration to me. I can remember my first trip to Asia on business and with colleagues and how frightened I was. One trip to Tokyo (before any English signs) I stood on the train platform very confused. A young woman came up to me and asked if she could help. She knew just enough English to get me to the right train to my office. You’ve done so much by being fearless, curious, and determined. Success and happiness will continue to be yours. Best wishes. I think of you often.
    Karen Corburnn

    1. Thanks so much Karen! It seems like anyone who has traveled to Tokyo has a story about a local helping them with the trains 🙂 I’m glad you are enjoying the blog!

      1. Barbara Wittrock

        We traveled quite a bit in 2017, but after the purchase of our condo in Hayes Valley a year ago, we have stayed in the city more. We did make a trip to Sicily and Italy in May, and have a trip planned to New Zealand this coming May. Our younger son has moved back to the city from the East coast and lives just a few blocks from us, so the whole family is in the bay area again. It is nice to be a bit more settled, but I always enjoy the adventure of exploring a new place. We look forward to hearing from you again.

  2. jordyn51200

    Hi Em,
    What a beautiful reflective post. I’m so excited to watch from the sidelines this new chapter in your life. I hope Uncle Brian and I can visit you in Japan. I’m so proud of your ambitious spirit and also your insight to the scary parts of moving to a foreign place with numerous unknowns.
    I love you and look forward to FT’ing you next week. Hopefully your Aunt Debbie will get the times right and not wake you up!
    You’re AWESOME!
    Aunt Debbie

  3. gail Biben

    Good luck Emily. I wish you safe and amazing adventures. I really do enjoy reading your blog.
    Let us know if there are any Raider fans there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s