Two years of life as an expat coder in middle-of-nowhere Japan

I was living in Finland and about to fulfill my ultimate anime geek dream of living in Japan for good. I had already made shorter visits, such as a two year exchange program at the International Christian University. I was liking this lifestyle and wanted to go back to it ASAP even after returning to Finland. Normally students in Finland take a Master's degree. Only taking Bachelor's is almost unheard of, but I did just that, with the hope that internationally it would be not be considered so strange.

As a student in Finland with an interest in Japan, I tried to meet as many Japanese exchange students as possible. One of these students was a girl called Nachi. We met at the university cafeteria. Not terribly romantic perhaps, eating shabby university food. We were both very awkward. I would journey to visit her "dorm" in freezing cold, or she would come over and we'd talk about stuff in life that happened to concern us at any moment. 

As time passed we gradually went from being friends to being a couple. Eventually the time for her to return to her own university in Japan was coming near. Well, I also applied to that very same university. And got in! So now we could continue our shared student life, only this time from Japan. 

I was very very serious about studying Japanese during this period. It's actually one my major regrets that I didn't take it more easy and join more of the excellent parties that the american students were throwing. I spent almost all of my time in the classroom, studying or for fun playing some computer games. Sometimes I studied so hard for the morning Japanese character test that I slept through the test instead of acing it. Looking back to that I feel a slight sense of regret. Why didn't I just party more? I could have made more Japanese friends. 

After studying as an exchange student in Tokyo, we yet again managed to hack the system such that we ended up going back to the same country and city. Nachi went to study environmental technology. I went back to my classes to complete the requirements to get bachelor's in science. All during this life we both had a nagging feeling that we would rather be living in Japan.

At this point I took a life-changing holiday with my best friend Bolozna. We went to Thailand, to see what kind of crazy stuff is going on there. And yes, a lot of crazy stuff really does take place. But for me the significance of this trip was the understanding that a long-term expat lifestyle is possible. Coming back from the trip, I married Nachi and then went to Japan with her with the idea of doing just that expat lifestyle I'd be dreaming about. Oh, also during this trip we had the idea that was to eventually become Candy Japan.

I took a first test trip to Tokushima, our new home, to see how it would be. Actually, based on my first trip I hated it. It seemed like there is nothing here, only rice fields. But I love my wife, I can't imagine being without her. So Tokushima it is. At least I can fully concentrate on development, as there won't be any pesky friends to interrupt my flow (not serious here). The goal I set for myself for my time in Tokushima is to come up with several different income sources. I decided to build three things. One would be for Facebook. One would depend on PayPal subscriptions. Yet another would depend on ad revenue. This plan I managed to execute very well, as now in deed I have a service on Facebook (Fan of the Week for Pages) where I am being paid income monthly through the ad network Lifestreet. I also have one depending on PayPal, called Candy Japan, a bimonthly candy subscription service. And finally I even have some sites that are making money with AdSense.

So things are good? Well, turns out daily life here hasn't been as awesome as could be hoped. It's great that every day I can wake up, take a shower and without any commute I can just sit at my desk and start working on the next most important item in my todo list. But the flip side is: you are alone at home, working on stuff, little feedback from anyone unless stuff breaks. No amusing coworkers to keep you motivated. No feeling of being challenged by your peers to do better. Nothing. It's just you. Your only escape is hanging around at the balcony briefly, breathing in the clear sea air, or perhaps if you are in a crazy mood even take a bike trip to the beach or the mall, then going back to sitting alone at your desk. Somehow trying to muster the energy to do the next task in the never-ending list of tasks.

That is now my expat reality here. I have gone to a lot of effort to try to connect to the local developer community here, but turns out there simply is none. The closest community is a 3 hour bus ride away. In my work I mostly use Python, AS3, Objective-C and Javascript. The 3 hour bus ride away -communities mostly use Perl, Ruby, PHP (WordPress). I feel some temptation to change my language, just so I could participate in these rare events and perhaps find a useful sparring partner again.

When I was a kid, there was a guy living nearby. We were both programming in a Basic variant for the Amiga called "AMOS". It was incredible in that it allowed for very easy access to sprites and even 3D stuff. So every week I would go over to his place, or he would come over to my place. We would show off the programs we had developed during that time. It was incredibly motivational, and something I've been trying to replicate here. And even simpler things, such as just having a bunch of guys over to play a game of Left 4 Dead now have changed from a normal occurrence to an impossible dream.

There is nothing except coding, coding, coding, eating, sleeping, coding, coding. No-one to tell me this code sucks. Or that I should be doing this instead. My only friends are YouTube tutorials. My confidence would be restored if I could find another hit. Something that makes enough revenue that it is clearly a success, even without confirmation from my here non-existent peers. 

Well. If you are considering expating over somewhere to continue your freelance career there, these were just some of the emotions I've gone through. Obviously I have good days and bad days here. Sometimes it's awesome, being secluded with your code and the person you love, far away from everything! But as I just explained there is a flip side too. 

Oh and if you'd allow for a little shameless plug at the end: If you would like to try new Japanese candies twice a month that might not be available at all (unique!) in your home country, check out Thank you!

A DIY kit we sent where mixing different ingredients in a mold results in this gummy bug-shaped candy.