Japan through fresh eyes

Trinh loved Japan!

I was thrilled to see that Brandon’s friends were eager to get to know Trinh. Brandon’s Japanese friends made Trinh feel special. Usually people in Southeast Asia give me special attention because I’m white and don’t give Trinh much attention. In Japan, Brandon’s friends gave Trinh special attention as a visitor from Vietnam. I feel Japanese hospitality is truly splendid. After the trip, Trinh said that she would love to go back to Japan and travel across the whole country. This isn’t something she has ever said for any country in Southeast Asia. As proof of her interest in Japan, she eagerly learned a bunch of Japanese quickly and impressed us all with her willingness to speak Japanese. You can see from the photos how much Trinh loved Fukuoka.

Trinh didn’t understand Japanese

I enjoyed being able to speak Japanese without Trinh understanding what we were says. Not understanding what people are saying is my reality in Vietnam. I wanted Trinh to know what that is like. Trinh got to feel this light frustration while listening to us all making plans without her input.

There were two times I could show-off to Trinh what little Japanese I remember. One was an outdoor food stall where I talked with an older Japanese man, Hiroshi, about his life in Fukuoka. Then this video that Brandon, his friend Airi and I made while walking through a park.

“Time to go home”

While trinh and I were walking through a forsted island in the Bay of Fukuoka, we came across a sign warning us to beware of wild boars. I reminded Trinh of the time that we saw two pigs escape a butchers in Saigon and scamper down the street on their great escape.

When Trinh remembered the story, she started to impersonate those purposeful pigs. She stepped in front of me and then looked back at me and said, “time to go home” – snorted and began running through the forest road like those pigs on a mission. Instinctively, I pig snorted and followed her like a break away pig. Then among no one but the trees we laughed and looked at the beautiful view of the bay. We were thrilled to be nature and make our own jokes on this nearly empty island.

Everything is a dream

While in Japan I totally disconnected from work, wedding planning, and all the decisions to be made about our future. Everything going on in our lives in Vietnam melted into a forgotten dream. Disconnecting from that life, opened me up from the tunnel vision that has been our work, wedding and decisions. This mind melting is what I’ve loved about living overseas for years, and why vacations are so important. Japan was a precious time to take a wider view of life’s color spectrum.


I threw my arms up with joy and ran towards Brandon for a big hug. I was so excited to see him that five minutes before arriving at his office, I started singing opera to myself and crescendo’d as I saw him from afar. I was thrilled to be united with my dearest friend. I would spend the week stalking him and getting excited about the details of his day-to-day life.

How Brandon inspires me

Patience & Commitment

Brandon can commit to something and stick with it for 10,000++ hours until we all can see the awe-inspiring fruits of his dedication. Brandon is that one nerdy kid who said, “I want to translate Japanese video games when I grow up” and then achieved it. Who on Earth does that?

Who takes on such a mountainous challenge as learning Japanese, lives eight years in Japan, and then gets their dream job. Brandon didn’t accomplish this with that rapid Hollywood make-or-break pursuit of a dream, but through the patient and invisible development of real skill and persistence through what might bore or frustrate others.

I remember that when Brandon first came into our shared dorm room in 2008, he couldn’t speak much Japanese – but he was committed. I watched him grow into a real linguist through college, and then a motha’ fuck’n master recently.

Brandon has the same diligence to going to the gym. He transformed from a skinny dude into a macho man. Brandon committed to Daisuke for seven years and moved together across Japan to stay together. Brandon’s patient commitment to challenging and ultimately rewarding pursuits is inspiring.

A small birthday party at the restaurant where Daisuke cooks on the weekends.


Brandon and Daisuke have moved around Japan together for different jobs. In each city they lived in Brandon started a weekly meet-up group that met at a local pizza place for language exchange. His clubs grew to have social events and run without him. He is the founder of an ongoing club in Nagoya and Fukuoka. When we went to his club in Fukuoka, I could see how much the members appreciated what he had created for them. A place for people to make friends, exchange ideas, celebrate their birthdays, and go out. How often I’ve sulked because I didn’t have friends, and to think that when Brandon is faced with the same situation, he gets off his ass and starts a club that solves his and others need for companionship and learning.

Japan is a unique part of Asia

When I first visited Japan at fifteen years old, I had never been to Asia before. Back then, Japan was this wildly unique place on Earth where everything was different. After studying and teaching in Japan, I ventured on to other parts of Asia. While traveling in Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, and around Southeast Asia, I often said to myself, “Oh, this is like Japan”. This trip was my first time back to Japan since leaving. Observing Japan with more experienced eyes I said to myself, “oh, Japan is a unique part of Asia”. I’ve seen enough of the continent to pick-up somethings as regional that I used to see as “so Japanese”.

Another reason surface-level similarities to Japan are visible across Asia is that Japan influenced lifestyles and products in Asian cities. Cities all around Asia are dotted with convenience stores, toyotas, karaoke places, and sushi shops- even in landlocked and challenged Nepal. I realized that Japan is a unique shade in the gradient of Asian societies and that Japan has influenced the color palate of modern Asian cities with all its gadgets and entertainments.

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