On the 7th of November 2003 — ten years ago today — I arrived at Narita, bag in hand, for a one-year research project at a lab in south Kyoto. The idea was to do a small project, return to Sweden, then look for work. Things did not turn out according to plan.
|To the left we're at a restaurant in Kobe in the summer of 2004. To the right we're having coffee in Hanoi in autumn 2013. Both pictures by Ritsuko.|
A lot of things can change in ten years. When I came here I was 34 years old, single and staying in a one-room short-term rental unit out in nowhere. Now I'm 44, married to Ritsuko, and we're living in a spacious apartment in central Osaka.
I came to Japan holding a six-month Cultural Activities visa — the researcher visa application was late, so the embassy in Stockholm issued this to let me leave for Japan in time. Of course, calling robotics research "cultural activities" was probably stretching the rules well past their breaking point. Now I have a permanent residency permit that doesn't expire and lets me do almost any work I'd like.
At 34 I weighed about 90kg, had a dark beard and a receding hairline. Now I weigh 68kg, the beard is turning white, and my hairline is nowhere to be seen.
When I stepped off the plane at Narita in 2003, I didn't know more than a few words of Japanese. Today I can read newspapers and novels with some effort, and I can make myself understood in most situations.
My first job here was a project-based post-doc on a yearly contract. Ten years on, my current job is ...well, a project-based post-doc on a yearly contract. So not everything changes, I guess.
The next ten years? You never know of course — I wouldn't have guessed at my current life ten years ago — but I think we'll still live in Osaka. I'll be 54, probably white-haired, and hopefully nearly fluent in Japanese. What I'll work with is anybody's guess, but I'm getting too old for post-docs and I don't have the language skills for teaching. Whatever I do, though, I'm probably enjoying it. Time will tell.