In November of 2008, Jon Gorham packed his bags and left sunny San Diego for Tokyo, Japan. Jon still lives in Tokyo, and was kind enough to share his experiences with me.
Eric Murtaugh: What brought you to Tokyo?
Jon Gorham: The job opportunities in San Diego were pretty crappy. I love Southern California, but I hated being broke all of the time. My brother has lived in Japan for 12 years and called me out of the blue and mentioned a job opening at an English conversation school in Tokyo.
EM: What do you do for work? Was it difficult as a foreigner to find a job?
JG: I’m an English teacher at a private high school and a co-owner of an English conversation school.
English conversation schools (Eikaiwa) are very easy to come by. I started off working at an Eikaiwa. After a year of experience, I got a job at a proper school.
EM: Do you travel often in Japan? If so, tell me about a few of your favorite places.
JG: I travel every chance I get. Kamakura is one of my favorite places. It’s about an hour train ride from my house and it’s got decent breaks in fall and winter and excellent hiking spots year round.
EM: Describe what was going through your mind and what you were doing during the recent earthquake and tsunami.
JG: “Ahhh shit, I’m gonna die at work!?” The earthquake was pretty gnarly and it lasted for what seemed like forever at the time.
It shut down the city for a few days, but it was nowhere near any of the devastation that happened to the north of Tokyo.
EM: What was it like in Tokyo after the earthquake?
JG: It was a really eerie feeling of “what’s gonna happen next?” The news stations I was watching (ABC, CBS, and CNN) all gave no useful information in dealing with the situation.
I couldn’t fully understand the news in Japanese, so it was difficult to know what actions I should take in regards to staying in Japan or going back to America. I checked the US Embassy website daily and if the American embassy said that Tokyo was unsafe, I would be back in Southern California now.
It wasn’t the initial earthquake and the following aftershocks that freaked me out, it was the radiation from the nuclear power plants 150 miles to the north that was the real threat. Everything has, however, gotten back to normal since March 11.
EM: You recently got married in Japan. What was that like?
JG: I used to be an assistant wedding photographer after graduating college. I got annoyed by how much planning and stress went into most weddings.
Fortunately my wife feels the same way as I do about wedding ceremonies, so we took the non-traditional route and went to the courthouse and got a marriage certificate.
Our “ceremony” will be at a Yaki Niku restaurant this weekend with our friends. No dressing up, no clergy, and no stress!
EM: How do you stay in touch with friends and family back home?
JG: Skype, Facebook, and e-mail keeps me connected.
EM: How’s the surf?
JG: Kamakura is hit or miss, but Shimoda (Shirahama Beach) and Niijima are equivalent to Blacks and The Sinkhole (my favorite spots in San Diego). Nowadays, I ride my Sector 9 in the city way more than I surf.
EM: Would you recommend visiting Japan at this time?
JG: I’d recommend coming to Japan anytime. If you like surfing, there are some world class breaks at the end of the Izu Peninsula and if you like snowboarding, there’s some of the best slopes you can imagine in Hokkaido.
If you’re not into outdoorsy things, Tokyo is known for fashion and shopping districts as well. Also, the food is great and the people are friendly.
EM: Give us an idea of what it takes to live like a local in Tokyo.
JG: I commute for about 30 minutes by train every day to the city. With blonde hair and blue eyes, it’s kind of difficult to blend in, but I rock my longboard every day in a suit and tie with my checkered vans. I guess I’m a local but I certainly standout in a crowd.
EM: How did you overcome the language barrier? How’s your Japanese coming along?
JG: I’m an English teacher and my wife is a translator for a major university so I don’t need to speak much Japanese to get by. Plus, most of my friends are from the States, Canada, England, and Australia. I can get by, but my Japanese is nowhere near perfect.
EM: Any tips for someone who is considering living overseas?
JG: Take it with a grain of salt. It’s difficult for the first month, but after you get used to your surroundings and make new friends, you’ll have a great time.
On The Road With: is an ongoing series where I chat with a fellow wanderer about life on the road. If you are interested in participating, please contact me here.