Since January 2010, I have called Japan my home. My wife and I took a risk and decided to take a job out in Tokyo with very little knowledge of the country or its language. A lot of our marriage was defined by this experience, and the new horizons that followed transformed us as human beings.
Our children called Japan home, and it was all they ever knew. Knew being the key word here.
I decided to quit my job in Japan for a slew of reasons late in 2019, and we felt staying in Japan until our kids finished their school year was the best choice. This happened to coincide with the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and just like our initial journey in 2010, March 2020 is the start of a new journey for my family.
New Horizons for both me and Animal Crossing.
The man who created Animal Crossing faced similar things. As you can read in our piece about Animal Crossing’s history, Katsuya Eguchi moved from Chiba to Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto, so he left the comfort of his home to start a new journey elsewhere. Everything he ever knew was gone in a flash. He had no family and friends in Kyoto, so he had to start over. And he was not familiar with the layout of the city or what it had to offer, so he had to learn.
When we initially moved to Japan in 2010, we faced the exact same stresses, and it was incredibly difficult. Yet, it defined us, and we were able to learn about the culture of Japan well during that time thanks to the many friends we were able to make. Hanging out with them and talking to them always helped us, and when we got to see our kids make friends and develop their relationships, it warmed our hearts in ways I cannot describe.
But like Tom Nook says in the beginning of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the first step to putting down some real roots is to choose a spot of my own.
As I played the beginning of New Horizons, I recognized quickly the reality of how difficult choosing a spot can be. When my wife and I first moved to Japan, finding our place was so hard. But once we did, we were truly a part of the community and began contributing in big ways.
Now that we have officially left Japan and are now living in the United States, the stress of finding our spot again is causing me the same kind of panic I had while playing the beginning of New Horizons. The major difficulty this time around is that we are equipped with third-culture kids who need a lot of love, patience, and kindness as they transition and learn American culture for the first time.
Even something as simple as a bathroom can be shocking, as displayed by my son’s reaction when he yelled, “Why is the toilet next to the shower?!” For his entire life, the toilet and the shower were separate rooms in Japan. In America, however, they are most often in the same room.
We tend to forget how hard moving can be until you have to do it (again), especially cross-cultural ones. When we visit new areas, we try to be culturally appropriate for the sake of politeness or kindness, but if you move to and live in a place, you must abide by their cultural norms and ways. It is an unspoken rule, but it is a strict one.
In Animal Crossing, no one island is the same, and the people who run these islands can create polarizing cultures depending on the individual. I have visited places that were perfectly organized and operated on a tight ship, and I have visited hodgepodges where I could not make sense of anything. Learning to love and appreciate both styles (and more) requires a lot of understanding, and that can be quite difficult.
I am that person visiting someone else’s island right now, and that is what is making things so difficult. It just does not feel like my own.
This move back to America feels eerily similar to the start of Animal Crossing: New Horizon, because it is a reminder that I am starting over from scratch again. I have to find my footing, find a place to stay, and find something to do.
It will initially feel isolating, but it will eventually feel like home again.
And like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I know my initial stresses and fears will dissipate over time, because I will be able to design my experience to my liking. And the more I start to add my own little personality to my island and customize things, the more comfortable I will become with the cards that I have been dealt.
To make matters even more sentimental, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was my last personal purchase in Japan, too, truly marking the beginning of my new journey. It may be one of my most meaningful purchases I have ever made, because it will forever be a reminder of my last days in Japan and my new start in the US.
To New Horizons! May they continue to shape and mold us as we move forward.
But first, I need to find a spot of my own again.