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The dark side of Tokyo


“You live in Japan now?”
“Yeah, I work and live in Tokyo at the moment.”
“OMG, that is SO awesome! How is it? You can eat sushi and ramen every day! That must be heaven!”
“Yeah, I’m very very lucky.”

I’m, indeed, the luckiest person in town. Japan has sent me a love letter and all I have to do is to claim the prize at the immigration office. The only place in Tokyo that I sincerely hate with every fibre in my body. It is a space where negativity is flowing in the atmosphere and also a place where I have seen so much diversity and shared emotions at the same time. It’s either happiness or deep grievance. There is nothing in between, and it is solely black and white. Right or wrong. Yes or no. Everyone wants the same thing: To stay in Japan. We all have different reasons and motivations to stay in the country, but unfortunately inequality has divided the room. Some people has more rights to celebrate whereas the others keep being denied or left in uncertainty. Fortunately, my luck has fallen to the right side of this story and I got to apply for a work visa. End of January my boss had applied the Certificate of Eligibility for me – the first step in this whole visa process. It’s basically a form where the government confirmed that you have passed the test, that they want you in their country, that you don’t have any criminal records. This process can take up to 3 months. So when your 90 days’ tourist visa expires and you still haven’t received the Certificate, then it’s a bye bye for you. You are forced to leave the country and reapply once you’ve reentered. This vicious circle has no mercy and holds everyone prisoners. So why did I get the Certificate? There’s neither rhyme nor reason to it; I just won the lottery.


I can’t even put in words how much stress I have endured in these couple of weeks. I had to leave the country in January due to my visa expiration and I couldn’t imagine doing it again since I had an apartment and commitments in this Japanese capital. Tears were streaming down my face when my boss dangled this Certificate thing in front of my face. All the stress for that piece of paper. And, of course, I knew how privileged I was with a EU passport. A Master’s degree or not, as long as you are holding the right passport, you are safe. I don’t want to know how much longer I must have waited with another passport.

“You’ll be fine. You are from a Western country, you have a Master’s degree and you have lived in so many different countries. Yeah, you’ll receive [the Certificate of Eligibility] soon. Really.”

I don’t like to believe in luck. I’ve been taught to create my opportunities, force people to notice me with my talents and motivation and most of all, never have an average day. Mum taught us to work hard and take pride in everything what we do. “You either don’t do it, but if you do, you have to give it your 110%”. It makes perfect sense, because when I’m having a bad day, I can still give my 100%. And, now, I see that I’m not special, because whole Tokyo gives her 110%. Not only the people, but also the machines, the traffic lights, the public transport; everyone and everything dedicate their lives to serve the crowd. The vehicles are trying hard to push their way through the city by carrying thousand of passengers per minute, the escalators that are carrying tons of people per day, the check-in and out machines that are registering our journeys per second, and the vending machines that are running 24/7 in order to serve us on every corner of the streets. The whole mentality of Tokyo is to serve. Quality service is expected and the one on the receiving end should pass this virtue to the next person. It’s a never ending loop in the society that creates a system where we have to be thankful every day. Even though I am thankful for these people, I don’t like the ingenuine part of the aspect in this whole social phenomenon. IMG_20190223_161433_033

The other thing that pops up is the repetition in everyday’s lives. The repeating lines of the sales workers, the monotone robotic voices in the malls, the daily routines. Practice makes perfect and by doing the same thing throughout the years is the only way to master your craft. And that is something I cannot grasp. I don’t like repetition and I despise routine. As a vivid traveler I can’t stand the sameness every minute of my everyday. It’s driving me crazy and I’m afraid that it’s slipping into my life. Unfortunately, it’s the only way to manage my life here. I have always despised my friends in Amsterdam who kept moaning that they are tired and too busy after working full time. Look at me now, complaining that I’m tired of the whole week and not getting things done.

“If you can make it in Tokyo, you can make it anywhere, Felicia. You are one tough woman.”

Coming back to the conversation I had with my friend, that I was so lucky: Yes, I do feel lucky in the broadest sense of the word. I don’t face an urgent situation where I must stay in the country. I’m the bored immigrant who needed a new purpose in life. I would love to show my affection to the country and its people. but it’s the adventure that I’m attracted to. I am building a strong foundation, my own empire, with my persistence and determination. It’s extremely tough when there is no one to fully share with. I don’t feel lonely, because I don’t believe in drowning in self-sympathy and wait till someone cheers me up. So, by sharing the best moments on social media I feel trapped in my own guilt. It’s not as easy as it seems, and certainly not as fun as it is on paper. The long days I spent in the office and the short nights I spent at home are feeding my conscience; is this what I want? I came here for love, can I stay here for love? Love for the city, its people, and for him? Or am I just proving a point that I can survive in this mad jungle of neon lights with nothing but a pair of balls? I am claiming my prize at the dark side, I hope they will grant me with a visa, and I hope it comes with a bag full of positivity, because it’s time that I’m writing about unicorns and butterflies.

Or, simply about sushi and ramen.

Written by Felicia Mok