Next month I’ll be moving to London. Here’s why.
In a few weeks’ time I’ll be living in London. I’m trying not to think about the future. Trying to stay in the present. I want to soak up and savour every Tokyo experience while I can still enjoy this city.
Also, I don’t want to overthink this move, because there is a lot to think about, and I could waste these precious weeks on useless speculation.
I’d love to spin a story for you and say there is some brave creative decision behind this. Maybe a deep love of London’s art scene, for instance. But there isn’t. Neither is there a desire to return to a place of past successes, to relive the glory days, complete some unfinished business, or reconnect with old friends.
I’m doing it for love.
My wife was offered a job in London a couple of years back, one of those defining opportunities that some people get once or twice in an entire career. What I did, as always, was not stand in the way.
Our daughter was well into high school and already attending her fifth school. To change again – another country, another system – felt untenable. She was at a good school, had made friends, and was enjoying a great environment in a safe and familiar city. So we decided to keep our family home in Tokyo.
That’s meant, for the last couple of years, I was basically a single parent, seeing my daughter through to the end of her schooling, with my wife flying back when she could, usually for a few days every other month.
Family holidays were precious. As was a good internet connection.
I spent most weekends alone, and many nights as well, as my daughter’s increasing school workload took hold and her more independent social life blossomed.
Now that’s ended, I have no interest in further testing my tolerance for loneliness. So I’m going to London.
I’ll miss Asia. It’s often felt like I’m living in the future here. More than half the world’s population lives in Asia and there’s an incredible vibrancy to life in Asia’a big cities, especially Tokyo.
I’m sure there’ll be loads of culture shock. British culture – art, food, film, music, and TV – have appealed to me less and less in the 16 years since I left London. By contrast, Japan feels on the cusp of having another global moment, not just because of the upcoming Olympics, but because trends in design, hospitality, retail, tourism, and more could see the world increasingly turn to Japan for inspiration.
I’m also weary to my bones of the shadow of the British Empire, with all the heavy colonial gloom I saw when living in India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and of course, growing up in Australia.
I have no friends left in the UK. The people I knew, those friendships went cold long ago, and I’m not looking to rekindle them. There’s an immeasurable value in sustaining long-term friendships. But when they die a natural death it’s usually best to just thankfully accept it and move on, rather than try to resuscitate a relational relic.
London has things I’ll enjoy. A season ticket at Chelsea FC, exhibitions and events at the Tate Modern and V&A Museum, a reading card at the British Library, and a plethora of food markets will all soften the blow of finding myself in a city that feels slow, outdated, and expensive.
Maybe I’m being too harsh? After all, London is one of the world’s great cities for learning, and I’ve always been hungry to learn. Tokyo was always a frustration for me because the cool learning opportunities, of which there are many, were of course offered in Japanese, and my language skills never got close to being able to take courses in art history or fine art photography.
London will be different in this regard. I’ve already seen courses in book binding and silk screen printing, for example. But, of course, the courses are not the most important thing. The opportunity to meet and talk to more creative professionals is the real attraction.
I’ll be living in Hackney, in the vibrant east end of London. Apparently Hackney recorded the third highest ‘remain’ vote in the Brexit referendum (78.5%). There’s a chance I might meet like-minded people, since they say the cultural energy of London is in the east now. We’ll see.
With my daughter going off to college I’m reverting to a two-adult household without the daily parenting duties that have defined me for so many years. When she was born I was a full-time PhD student. I put those studies on hold for two years to be the stay-at-home parent. Then in India I had to give up the PhD in order to make the family work. I was a stay-at-home parent, or parent on call, for the rest of her school life. For 15 years I’ve lived my professional life within the time left over between 8.30am and 3pm, with plenty of natural interruptions for school visits, sick days and so on.
I built my life around being interruptible and flexible.
The extra time I’ll have now is both daunting and a little sad as well. There’s an emptiness I’m not sure anything will ever fill.
This has also been a slow move. Usually the changes of country have been sudden, with very little time to plan. The kind of thing that happens in weeks and months. But this has been nearly three years in the making. I’ve had a lot of time to think about how to make it work. But also, a lot of time to worry about what could go wrong.
Now I feel tired. Every day. I’m sure that will pass but I don’t know when.
My default is to try to focus on the positives, to be hopeful, to embrace the opportunities. But, more than any other move, it’s hard to see the bright side this time. I’m just living through it. Staying in the present. Savouring the good moments in every day.