- Guest Expat -
Welcome to an interview conducted with an Australian expat living in Japan - Chris Ryall. Although born in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia, his family moved to Darwin when he was four years old. At the age of seven, he moved with his family to the Gold Coast in Queensland. At this young age, he first saw Japanese ‘anime’ (cartoons) by the celebrated comic writer Osamu Tezuka, and an interest in Japan was born.
Welcome, Chris ...
In What Country Were You Born?
Australia. I was born in Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, in 1964.
Tell Us a Little About Yourself and Your Journey Overseas.
I grew up on the Gold Coast, in the ‘Sunshine State’ of Queensland, with its pristine beaches and laid-back lifestyle. In the late 70s and all through the 80s there were lots of Japanese tourists, and I developed an interest in Japan.
When I was a boy I saw Japanese ‘anime’ or cartoons on TV, and later I saw Samurai movies by the late, famed director, Kurosawa Akira, on SBS. Hence, when I was studying Education at Griffith University (Gold Coast Campus), I chose to study Japanese language as my elective.
Upon graduating with a Bachelor of Teaching, I was offered a scholarship to study for one year as an exchange student in Tokyo. In 1992, I traveled to Musashino city in Tokyo and furthered my Japanese studies at Seikei University.
At the time, my girlfriend was living in Osaka, having also graduated from Griffith University with a mutual interest in Japan. Instead of returning home after completing my year in Tokyo, I moved to Osaka and quickly got a job there.
I had to spend a few days in Seoul, in South Korea in order to change my Japanese visa over from a student visa to a work visa, and I enjoyed my time there. It was especially nostalgic to see the same snow-dusted mountains that I had seen in my youth on the popular TV show, M.A.S.H.
My girlfriend and I married, and spent a month traveling around the west side of the United States on our honeymoon. We visited California, Nevada, and Arizona and also crossed the border into Mexico to spend a day in Tijuana. We were living in Australia at that time, but we eventually found our way back to Japan.
When and How Did You Become an Expat?
My wife and I loved our time in Tokyo and Osaka before returning to Australia. After I taught Japanese for four years in Australia, we decided to head back to Japan. We lived in Gifu prefecture for three years, and in Shizuoka prefecture for three years, before returning to Australia.
However, after a year and a half back on the Gold Coast, we found that we missed Japan. So we made the decision to move back, and lived in Toyota (where the world famous car company began) in Aichi prefecture for a year. Then we moved to Matsusaka city in Mie Prefecture where we have lived ever since. My wife and I became permanent residents of Japan in 2010.
Was It An Easy Decision?
No. Not at first. But times had changed, and the cost of living in Australia had skyrocketed while we were away. We could barely afford to move back there. At the same time, our life in a traditional, rural mountain village was idyllic, and the cost of living was fairly low. We loved our life in Japan, and were surrounded by a very warm and welcoming community, which had embraced us so very kindly. We speak Japanese, and are entrenched in the Japanese culture, so it seemed like a natural decision in the end.
What Do You Enjoy Most About Living Outside Your Own Country?
Learning a foreign language and experiencing different customs is fascinating, to say the least. Spending time exploring new places and discovering how life is viewed by other cultures is also enthralling. It widens one’s horizons, as the cliché goes, and also alters one’s previous perspective of the world, and life.
What Is The Hardest Thing About Being An Expat?
Missing family and Australian food is sometimes difficult. The feeling of ‘being a local’ was something we missed as well, although after seven years here in our small community, we have gradually been made to feel like ‘locals’ again by our kind neighbors. Easy access to cinemas (our nearest cinema is an hour and a half away) and recent foreign movies (only the huge Hollywood blockbusters make it to our local cinema) is also something we miss. Also, access to a bookshop with a good range of English language books and magazines requires a half day trip to one of the major cities. We tend to use the Internet and Amazon a lot these days.
What Do You Love About Japan?
My wife and I love Japanese food, and all the exciting festivals that take place in Japan throughout the year. We have experienced many adventures here, including climbing Fuji-san, skiing for the first time, traveling around Okinawa, visiting historical feudal castles, learning karate, watching live Sumo matches, participating in traditional tea ceremonies and enjoying the natural hot springs and baths that are so popular in Japan.
Do You Speak Japanese?
Yes. I taught Japanese in Australia for four years before moving back to Japan. My wife and I have lived here for seventeen years now, and so we are acquiring some fluency in the language. In the larger cities, one can find English-speaking Japanese people, but in the countryside where we live, proficiency in Japanese language is absolutely necessary. Very few people speak English in these parts.
What Are You Involved In Now?
I am currently a stay-at-home writer, finishing the third and final edit of my debut novel. To help pay the bills, I also work as a wedding celebrant on the weekends, and teach a couple of private English lessons during the week.
Have You Always Done That? Explain.
My life has been a mixed bag when it comes to careers. As many high school graduates choose to do, I took a year off before entering university. I got a job as a bank clerk, was promoted to teller, and one year turned into seven. Finally, I decided to go back to university and achieve my goal of becoming a teacher.
After graduating from both Griffith University on the Gold Coast, and Seikei University in Tokyo, I taught at a ‘yobikou’ – a preparatory school for local universities. I then taught Japanese for four years in Queensland, Australia.
Upon my return to Japan, I became an instructor, then assistant trainer, and finally a trainer, within the English conversation school industry. Wanting to get back to ‘real teaching’, I took a job in a local Junior High School in Shizuoka prefecture where I taught for three years. I continued in this capacity for a year in Toyota, in Aichi prefecture, and then taught for six years in Junior High Schools in Matsusaka city, Mie Prefecture. This included two years visiting elementary schools once a week as well.
My life was getting away from me, and I wanted to realize my dream of being a full time writer. So I stepped away from teaching in 2011, wrote poetry and finished writing my novel. Since then, I have been editing my book and preparing it for publication. Also, my wife and I have created a website to act as my author blog, and to promote my novel once it is published. You can see it at:
What Inspires You Most?
Success. Seeing or reading about accounts of people’s dreams coming true, watching people live their dream (especially actors, authors and musicians, but also people in various occupations and vocations) inspires me to also go after my dreams. For that reason, I love watching movies and/or documentaries, reading books and positive articles and news stories, and listening to music.
Is It Challenging Being a Foreigner in Japan?
I believe it’s challenging to be a foreigner in any country. Developing my listening skills and level of Japanese as well as the reading and writing of ‘kanji’ (Chinese characters) was a considerable challenge. Getting my drivers license in Japan not to mention my ‘permanent residency’ visa was quite a challenge.
There have been incidents of racism towards me (although it’s much worse for foreigners who are not Caucasian, it would seem, in my experience), and times when I have wanted to throw in the towel and head home. However, on the whole, I have mostly found Japanese people to be exceedingly polite, friendly and generous. My wife and I have received hospitality that we could never repay.
Who Is Your Favorite Author and Why?
While I like some classical and literary authors and poets, I would have to choose a contemporary author as my favorite: Stephen King. Why? The reasons are numerous. Firstly, Stephen King is the reason I wanted to become a writer. Reading his books made me want to write my own. His stories inspired me.
Secondly, Stephen King is a great ‘storyteller’. Some people complain that his writing style is not of high quality, when compared to noted literary authors and so forth. But that’s not his style, nor his genre. While I enjoyed the way authors such as Emily Bronte, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and so on wrote their books, simply for the love of writing in itself, I am highly entertained by the stories Stephen King tells, and the way he tells them.
Thirdly, I admire the way Stephen King creates his characters. The boys growing up in ‘IT’ felt like my friends while I was reading that book. His characters are people that you can relate to, who inspire you, and are often very memorable.
Fourthly, I respect the amazing success that Stephen King has had in his career. His books appeal to a large and varied range of people, and many of his novels have been made into movies and TV serials. He has won awards for his writing.
Other authors that I like include Matthew Reilly, Clive Cussler, John Grisham, Dan Brown, Barry Eisler, JK Rowling, CS Lewis and so on. Japanese authors include Haruki Murakami, Natsume Souseki and Yoshimoto Banana.
Have You Won Any Prizes Or Awards? What Did They Mean To You?
The first award I ever received was for acting – in my final year of high school. I was awarded a ‘certificate of merit’ for my studies at university, and I was given an award for my teaching while in Australia. I also won a small award for one of my first published poems, Autumn Leaves.
My first award, for best actor, came as a thrill of course, and our school won the acting competition that year. I was pleased and motivated to receive the award for my studies at university, and it spurred me on to finish my degree. The teaching award was greatly appreciated, in what has since become quite a thankless job, in my opinion. I was both surprised and elated to have won the poetry award, as I consider myself a rather amateur poet at best.
Other Than Work and Family, What Else Do You Love?
Although I love writing, it hasn’t become my ‘paid work’ yet. Family is very special, of course. I have come to love our cat, Yuki, which I bought for Mandy on her 40th birthday. I love playing the guitar, but I don’t get much time for practice these days. I love social networking and surfing the Internet; the Internet has become my only link with family, friends, Australia, and worldwide news. I also love cooking (Italian food and beef dishes) and travel when I get the chance.
If You Had An Opportunity To Speak To The Entire World, What Would You Say?
I would be reluctant to speak at all, to be honest. But if pushed, I would admit that what my parents told me a long time ago was true: ‘you can’t put an old head on young shoulders’. I consider myself a late maturer in that respect. It’s taken me a long time to learn some of life’s most valuable lessons. And often the only way to learn those things is through hard and challenging life experiences.
At the risk of sounding cliché, one thing I would say to others is to chase your dream. What is the purpose of living if you don’t love what you’re doing? What is the point of attaining success at the cost of unhappiness, perhaps a broken marriage, or sickness? Why spend your whole life trying to afford a house or a boat if you’re only going to pass them onto someone else in the end?
Do what makes you happy, now. Hopefully, doing what you love will bring success. On Facebook, I wrote a quote of mine: ‘Life is so short, that by the time most people die, they haven’t yet learned how to live.’ The older I get, the more I realize how important, how powerful, and how precious love is. So my advice would be to live your life, and learn to love. “Love is all you need.” (The Beatles)
Describe Your Perfect Day.
Enjoying a sleep-in with my wife would start my perfect day, as I normally wake up at 5:30 am. It would be mid-spring, warm, and the sky would be clear and blue. After breakfast and a cup of fine coffee, we would view some cherry blossoms, before enjoying a ride on our mountain bikes or going on a hike.
A picnic lunch in nature would be wonderful, or if possible (either in Japan or Australia) a BBQ with my family and/or friends would be magnificent. Some exercise, maybe a swim in the river if it were warm enough, would be a lot of fun.
If not talking with family or friends, reading a book outside under a tree would be really pleasant, or watching a good movie at the cinema. Dinner would be at a great Italian restaurant, with a classic bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, and some delicious dessert. Afterwards, going to a bar/nightclub where they play classic rock from the 60s, 70s and 80s, and dancing the night away would be fantastic.
Are You Concerned About The Environment?
I do have concern for the environment, and ‘recycling’ and environmental waste disposal has been part of our daily routine here in Japan for many years. With regard to the larger issues, such as global warming and climate change, I’m never sure whom to believe. I thought the book, ‘State of Fear’ by the late and great Dr Michael Crichton covered this issue well. There seem to be so many experts and scientists on both sides of most arguments, usually siding with one government party or another due to their environmental policies. It is my opinion that environmentalism has become too politicized, and I’m often cynical about why certain environmental decisions are made.
What Are Your Plans For The Future?
Obviously I would like to be a full time writer, and be able to earn a comfortable living from that. My wife and I are happy to remain in Japan for the rest of our lives, as we now consider this country to be home. We will teach for as long as we can, and retire as soon as we are able. We wish to help others, develop relationships, travel and continue to follow our heart and soul in all matters.
Will You Return To Live In Australia At Some Stage?
My wife, Mandy, and I are not ruling that out, but at this stage it appears that we will only be visiting when we can. When my book is published, I would love to do a book tour at home if possible. During that time I would also like to catch up with family and friends, play some golf, and explore the Great Barrier Reef.
Anything You’d Like To Add?
Living in Japan, I have met people from many other countries and cultures. Despite different customs, most people seem to be the same at heart. It saddens me then that there is so much conflict in this world. No, I’m not some model in a beauty pageant demanding ‘world peace’. This world and its people hold such beauty. Most of the conflict seems to be caused by greed (drug wars, disputes over land, oil and resources, etc), politics or religion. I believe God is spiritual, but that ‘religion’ (institutionalized religion) is man-made. As naïve as this may sound, I would love to see a world where education and understanding replaced discrimination, and a need for religion, a world where love and wisdom reign.
Oh yeah, and I’d like for there to be ‘world peace’! (^o^)
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