As my time here in Japan nears its end, I wanted to reflect on my experience of living in Tokyo as a gay man, and more importantly, as a gay expat housewife.
Exactly one year ago, after having lived my entire life in Vancouver, I moved to Tokyo with my husband, who had accepted an offer for a year-long assignment. I had never spent such a substantial amount of time abroad, and the thought of doing so was both exciting and daunting.
To most people, being a housewife would be a dream vocation, and on the outset, I would simply have to agree. Financially, I would have nothing to worry about, and a glitzy, glamorous international city like Tokyo would be enough to entice anyone to drop everything and go.
But being the insecure person that I am, as elated as I was to start my new life, I wasn’t completely enthusiastic about having to quit my comfortable job back home and leave my family behind to move to a new country. Being unable to speak Japanese also meant that most employment opportunities wouldn’t be within my reach.
Being a gay man also brought about other issues I had not planned for, even before I had even set foot in my new home. The biggest of these was my visa eligibility. My marriage to my husband in Canada has no legal recognition here - in the eyes of Japanese law, I am not eligible for the spousal visa that any other heterosexual married man or woman would have qualified for, under the same circumstances. With only three weeks to find a way into Japan, I was forced to quickly put together a rather lengthy application for a Working Holiday Visa (which thankfully, still being under 30, I was able to qualify for), which, given its limitations when it comes to employment, is essentially a mere permit for an extended vacation.
While I fit every definition of an expat housewife, I could not find my place among the other "real" expat housewives, who have created a seamless support group and carved out their own niche within the expat community. My first month in Tokyo was probably the loneliest time of my life, but things would soon begin to change, and gradually I filled the vacancies in my timetable by teaching piano, becoming a freelance proofreader, learning Japanese, connecting with local musicians, and hosting my visiting friends.
My initial reservations and struggle in finding my place in a foreign land gradually faded from view and I eventually grew accustomed to life in the wondrous and sometimes crazy city that is Tokyo.
Life as a gay man in Japan is largely a comfortable existence. Although I sometimes find myself in awkward situations when dealing with the concierge, who, despite knowing there is only one bed in our suite, continue to refer to my husband as my “roommate,” my private life is generally neither questioned nor mentionned in casual exchanges. Personal safety and security is also a non-issue. Even late at night, I never feel unsafe walking the streets. Although I am aware that the Japanese tend to have misunderstandings and misgivings about homosexuality, none of their preconceived notions ever reach the surface of polite society, so I am always spared from any outward hostility or prejudice. Those who like to live their lives loudly and proudly may find the Japanese culture of conformity somewhat stifling, however.
I am going to miss Tokyo and all the uniqueness and quirkiness the city has to offer – the food, the gorgeous Christmas illuminations, the bidet toilets (arguably the best thing about Japan), and perhaps even seeing the summer cockroaches. I will always look back on my short time here with a tremendous sense of happiness and fulfillment, and remember how fortunate I was to have had such an amazing opportunity to experience what can only be a dream to some.