- Guest Expat -
Today I welcome my first guest expat - Chris Ashmore from Tokyo, Japan. I've known Chris for many years. He's an exceptional young man with a great future. I also took the photographs of his wedding, probably the last wedding to take place in the old Anglican church in Marysville which was destroyed during the Black Saturday bushfires. It was a magnificent wedding in sweltering heat.
Welcome, Chris ...
Welcome, Chris ...
IN WHAT COUNTRY WERE YOU BORN?
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR JOURNEY TO LIVE OVERSEAS.
I grew up in Taggerty, a small town in central Victoria. That part of the world and the rural community was important to my formative years – it shaped who I am today.
Like a lot of young Australians, I always had a travel bug. My first trip was to Canada in 1996. I lived and worked in a Rocky Mountain town called Canmore, 20 kilometres east of the famous tourist spot of Banff. The same year, I backpacked through Western Europe, including a town in the east of the Netherlands, where my grandparents were from. On separate trips I taught English in Taipei; and I travelled to Tibet and Western China, including Chengdu and Xi’an.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE JAPAN?
In 2001, after working for nearly 4 years at media production company as a producer, I had itchy feet – I felt life and career were not going anywhere. A friend of mine suggested teaching English in Japan for a while.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME AN EXPAT?
I thought I would stay twelve or eighteen months. But, I loved Japan, and Tokyo in particular, that I just kept extending my stay. I met my wife in 2006, we married in 2008, and our daughter was born in 2010.
WAS IT AN EASY DECISION?
Yes, I have been overseas before; it felt a natural decision to make.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT LIVING OUTSIDE YOUR OWN COUNTRY?
I love Australia; I think it’s the best country in the world. But, going overseas is a good challenge – it’s something different. I have made wonderful friends from many different parts of the world, and being here has given me a different perspective in life.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING AN EXPAT?
It used to be having limited access to Australian popular culture. I love Australian football, I love cricket and some TV shows. Keeping up with politics and contemporary issues was difficult. But nowadays media companies have really stepped up to deliver information and entertainment on the Internet, so I can now watch all the sport and read all the headlines from back home.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT JAPAN?
The food is incredible. I never before coming here appreciated how wonderful are simple, natural ingredients. Australians tend to pile on the sauces and salts to “enhance” the flavour. But, what Japan has taught me that something as simple as fresh ice-cold cabbage dipped in miso paste can be great. Japan also has a natural beauty once you get out of Tokyo.
WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT YOUR OWN COUNTRY?
DO YOU SPEAK JAPANESE?
Yes, but not as well as I should after all these years.
WHAT ARE YOU INVOLVED IN NOW?
I am an executive search consultant – a fancy word for a headhunter. I find legal professionals for multinational companies in Japan. Recently I have included doing searches for other parts of Asia, in particular China, Singapore and Taiwan. Currently I am assisting a French software company find a lawyer to work in Beijing.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS DONE THAT? EXPLAIN.
No, I haven’t. When I met my wife-to-be, I thought I had better start making some good money. I was contacted by a recruiting firm in Tokyo (they headhunted me), and after a series of interviews, it didn’t work out. But, it got me interested and I interviewed at my current firm. That was six years ago; now I am a partner of the firm.
Also, I am just starting my own website (MyBiz Japan) which is a podcast format of interviews with small business owners in Japan. Launch date is in mid-2013. See: www.mybizjapan.com
WHAT INSPIRES YOU MOST?
People who stand up for what they believe, even if that means they might be defeated. For example, I just finished reading Michael Woodford’s account of the Olympus scandal. In early 2011, Woodford was the first foreign president of the large and iconic Japanese company. Woodford uncovered some of the worst corruption of any Japanese company, which the previous president had tried to sweep under the carpet. Despite having his name and reputation dragged through the mud, Woodford continued with his crusade, ultimately paying the price by being fired by the all-Japanese board.
IS IT CHALLENGING BEING A FOREIGNER IN JAPAN?
Not really. I think Japan is an easy place to live. There is little to no crime; the people are extremely friendly; customer service is amazing; it has world-class entertainment; you can buy and have access to almost anything; and public transport is incredibly reliable. That’s obviously for foreigners and Japanese alike. For foreigners in particular, the challenge can be the language barrier when you first arrive. But many Japanese people can speak at least rudimentary English, so there will always be someone to help if you get into trouble.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
George Orwell, because not only of what he wrote (which was incredibly insightful and relevant today) but what he wrote about. Clive James once wrote that we shouldn’t think of Orwellian as a Big-Brother term; instead, Orwellian should be considered as a style of writing, because Orwell himself insisted prose should be succinct, clear and without superfluousness. Other (contemporary) authors include Kazuo Ishiguro and Peter Carey.
YOU WERE EDUCATED IN AUSTRALIA BUT ARE WELL TRAVELLED. DID YOUR TRAVELS INFLUENCE YOU PERSONALLY?
Yes, anything significant you do in life and places you go influences your life. Travelling per se is not highly influential; it is the people who stay and go in your life, it is the challenges you face, and the highs and the lows which really make a difference.
HAVE YOU WON ANY PRIZES OR AWARDS? WHAT DID THEY MEAN TO YOU?
I have received an Australian Defence Medal, which is given to those who have served in the military for at least four years. The medal represents a time in my life when I joined the Australian Army as a wide-eyed 18-year-old and learnt to overcome all kinds of challenges.
OTHER THAN WORK AND FAMILY, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Well, nothing is in the same league as family and friends. But, I do enjoy a good book, particularly one which makes me think about life and things afterwards.
IF YOU HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK TO THE ENTIRE WORLD, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
That is something I can’t answer without very serious and deep thought. In many ways the Internet has given us all a tool in which, theoretically, we can “talk” to anyone in the world. But, if I had the opportunity to speak to everyone, the first point is would everyone listen? The topic would be something along the lines of “Don’t rely on anyone or anything to do things – it’s all up to you.”
Chris, Takayo and Jasmine
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Waking up early and clear-headed, with no plan. Having breakfast with the most magnificent view while reading the newspaper. That would be the start of the day. As for the rest, if teleportation was possible, I would go to a different part of the world to “discover”; whether that be the streets of Venice, a village in Tibet, a mountain path in Switzerland – you know what I mean. Lunch would be with friends, again with a magnificent view. Afternoon would be something a bit more adventurous with some mates, like Fujikyu Highland (an incredible amusement park at the foot of Mount Fuji with amazing rollercoasters), rock climbing or bouldering, diving off a pier into deep water, body surfing in perfect waves. Dinner would be with my wife chatting about the day I’ve had with a magnificent sunset. Evening would either be a continuation of dinner or going to a nice bar for good quality red wine or craft beer; or – if I still had the energy – catching a movie.
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT?
As concerned as anyone else, but admittedly it doesn’t occupy my thoughts as some others.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I’m lucky to have such a wonderful wife and daughter, so all my thoughts and therefore plans have them both as front and centre.
Copyright Clancy Tucker (c)
WILL YOU RETURN TO LIVE IN AUSTRALIA AT SOME STAGE?
After 11 years in Japan, soon we will return to Australia. Nothing too more specific than that.
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Travelling has taught me that the overwhelming majority of people across the world are pretty much the same. They have the same desires, hopes, dreams, and are basically kind hearted. So, I think conflict in society occurs because the no-good tiny minority have too much power (on a large scale like a nation state) or too much influence (on a smaller scale like a workplace or classroom).
Clancy's comment: Many thanks for your time, Chris. I admire anyone who makes a new home in a foreign land. Australia has millions of them. My best wishes to Takayo and Jasmine.