I’m a native Californian who’s called Japan home since 1998. Before moving to Kyoto, I spent a couple years living in other places here on Honshu, Japan’s main island. When I visited a friend in Kyoto, I instantly knew that this is where I wanted to be. It was a struggle at first, without much money, no job, and no place of my own to live, but things fell into place, thanks to friends and a little persistence and flexibility.
Like many native English speakers who want to live in Japan, teaching was my passport to a life here, both in terms of income and that precious work visa. I learned on the job and got along well with students and staff. I knew I wanted to stay in Japan, so I decided to enroll in graduate school to get my Master of Arts degree in teaching, which would increase my job prospects and helped me feel more confident about what I had to offer my students.
Going back to school for my advanced degree, along with coming to Kyoto, are two of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I felt like a true professional for the first time in my life, and the communicative, student centered teaching style that I studied at grad school built on my natural teaching style. This increased my work satisfaction exponentially and gave me the chance to teach in many settings — university, elementary and junior high, small groups of adults at conversation schools, and privately.
I’ve always been an entrepreneur as well. Whether in Japan or back home, I was bound to strike out on my own. The obvious outlet for that sort of autonomy here is to start an English conversation school, and I in fact did own a school for a while. As my fascination with Japanese culture grew, I also developed a business selling vintage kimono and other traditional fabrics to people outside Japan.
After ten years in Japan, I applied for and got my permanent resident visa, which allowed me to quit teaching and devote time to other projects. I was particularly interested in looking for locally made crafts to offer (in addition to the textiles) to customers abroad.
I also created another website, www.kyotocollection.com, where I explore various aspects of Japanese culture as well as share in depth, practical information on techniques for teaching English in Japan that I developed over the years and refined in the classroom.
So this is where I am now, living my entrepreneurial dream in The Old Capital — a world that brings me in contact with kind, interesting people every day and lets me learn more about the culture and language of Japan naturally, in the context of my daily life. I wake up every day wondering what new discoveries await me.
Even when I explore online paths seemingly divergent from my everyday life in Japan such as goattreedesigns.com where I design western style wedding invitations with a good friend, Japanese motifs such as cherry blossoms almost inevitably make an appearance now and then!
In 2020 I started focusing my energy on a coffee grounds recycling project here in Kyoto called mame-eco which gets me out and about on my mountain bike collecting grounds to give to local farmers. Used coffee grounds recycling in Japan is relatively rare, and I want to see if I change that, even just a little.
I also make more time now to study the language, though it has always been a focus of mine. I study with a private teacher but have also tried a few Japanese language schools, with mixed results. The main drawback, for me, is the contrast between the teacher-centered approach to education that often prevails here and the student-centered methods I learned at graduate school. I much prefer the latter, which empowers the students to be active partners in their learning.
Nihongo Navigator is a convergence of all these experiences. I approach each post with language learners’ needs in mind, based on my own experiences as a student. I follow the principles I learned at grad school and through my years teaching here. In addition to the language learning component of this blog, I offer my perspective as an expat in Kyoto and my love for this city as reflected in my photos and descriptions.
Whether you’re studying Japanese or not, I hope you’ll find something enlightening or entertaining here, such that you might be persuaded to hop on a plane and come to see Kyoto for yourself, if you haven’t already!