9,594.48 km or 5,961.73 miles. That’s how far from home I am right now. I was born in Germany, but at the age of 24, I grabbed all my belongings, bid my parents farewell and moved to Japan. Not for a fancy job. Not to visit an acclaimed Japanese university. But for love.
And if you take the time to read my full story, you’ll most likely agree that I must have been stupid, or at the least astoundingly naive. I agree.
I was working night shifts as a professional truck driver in Germany. My last job consisted of post and parcel deliveries from a distribution center to various post offices in the vicinity. I’d get the truck at around midnight, pull it up to the ramp and get loaded with countless cages on wheels, filled to the brim with parcels. Then I’d take them to their destinations, so the people can receive their packages the next day. A regular job. Just from midnight to around 9 AM.
I’d come home to a rising sun, which was weird. Feeling the first beams of sunlight on my skin charged my batteries. Instead of the usual exhaustion that comes with a full-time job, I felt like my day was just beginning. And one day, a stupid idea was born.
“Let’s learn Japanese!”
Yes, I was a fan of Japanese Anime. I loved Dragonball when I was around 12 or 13 years old. And I would watch many more over the years. If you are a fan like me, I could talk for hours about my favorite ones. Though I must admit, I’m not up to date. Ironically, I haven’t watched much Anime since I came to Japan. Weird, right?
How love found me at the one moment I didn’t expect it
So out of a hobby, I had the crazy idea to learn a language that I’d probably never really use. I wasn’t earning enough to plan fancy vacation trips to Japan for one. It was as spontaneous as the thought of spending the cash in your wallet for a fancy guitar and becoming a rock star. Since I didn’t want to spend money on this crazy venture, I started looking around for free sources. One of them is called Busuu.com, sort of a language exchange site. Pretty much like Duolingo.
After registering, I got started with memory pairs, simple phrases, the first of the three alphabets used in Japanese and all that stuff. I’d come home after work, start up my computer and get to learning. But what led me to where I am right now was not the learning provided by the site. It was another function.
People from all over the world are shown as possible learning partners for the respective language pair. “This person might help you learn Spanish and you could teach him/her French in return!” etc.
Hesitant first contact
One day, a Japanese girl popped up in my feed. She’s trying to learn English and could help me with Japanese in return. She looked stunning in her profile picture. I always felt shy around girls, and this wasn’t any different. But I’m not looking for a girlfriend. I just want to learn Japanese. And talking to an actual Japanese person would be a fun way to go past the usual reciting of common phrases like “How are you?”.
So I grabbed a heart, bit my lips and tried to write her a message in the little Japanese I learned.
“すみません ください。” (Sumimasen kudasai)
Sumimasen means as much as “excuse me”, while kudasai means “please”. At the time, I didn’t know that those two never go together. So my first message to her was as wrong as I could make it.
But she replied (also in Japanese) and from then on I just texted her, using the mighty help of Google Translator to decipher her replies and trying to come up with somewhat coherent sentences of my own.
We started talking daily, learning more about each other with every new conversation. Sometimes I’d throw in stuff in English when the Japanese got too complex. Then she’d be the one trying to decipher its meaning. I slowly learned to talk more and more Japanese. I’d memorize phrases she often uses, understands the context and meaning. Slow but steady progress.
I just made a Japanese friend. And I did never expect that it would become anything more than that. I was wrong.
Feelings bloom like cherry blossoms
With each day, I felt more and more drawn towards her. We started skyping. Now it wasn’t chatting anymore, but talking to each other, looking into each other’s eyes. And I can’t even remember the exact moment. But at some point, I fell deeply and hopelessly in love with that woman on the other side of the world.
But she was so far away. Unreachable. It could never work. We’re from two different worlds. To worsen the already deep pain of longing, I found the wrong song to listen to.
The Japanese band “Ikimono Gakari” has a song called “Sakura” (Cherry blossom) and the more I learned to understand the lyrics, the deeper the cut into my heart. I reflected on my feelings while listening to that beautiful voice. The opening alone would bring tears into my eyes.
さくら ひらひら 舞い降りて落ちて
The cherry blossoms fell, fluttering down
揺れる 想いのたけを 抱きしめた
Embracing every bit of my fluttering love
君と 春に 願いし あの夢は
The dream I prayed for with you that spring
Even now I’m dreaming it
The cherry blossoms scatter
I was a sob. Deeply in love. With a person, I thought I could never be with. And even if; past relationships all slowly died or sank like a ship in a relentless storm. Why would this time be any different?
But every time I saw her face on the screen of my computer, I just longed to hug her. I felt like I was caught in a Limbo, a void between worlds. Unable to move. Complete stasis keeping me right here.
I couldn’t bear it any longer. I told her how I feel. I want to meet her. She felt the same. The distance was killing us both. I needed to meet her. Whatever it takes. Sink or swim.
Time to boldly go
After feeling blue for weeks, I decided that I need to risk something if I ever want to find closure. Yes, it’s stupid. Yes, I’m dreaming and hoping again in my usual, naive way. Sue me.
I booked a round trip flight from Germany to Japan for about 500 dollars, which was pretty cheap (well, on average, not in my personal opinion). I’d be able to spend 2 weeks with her. I talked to my boss about my unused vacation and was set to board a plane to Japan.
In May 2014, I arrived in Japan. And I can’t emphasize enough how freaking nervous I got then. My heart was pounding through my chest. What if she expects someone differently? I was hoping to see her before she sees me, but she was quicker. She poked me in the back and just turning around got me almost shaking.
There she stood, right in front of me. This wasn’t some wishful thinking or a dream. It was real. Weeks of hoping and dreaming about it turned to reality.
Two weeks in heaven
Although it was the first time we ever met eye to eye, it felt like we knew each other for ages. I hugged her and we even kissed. Not like strangers, but like lovers. Time stood still. She was still living with her mother (her mother was living with her, to be precise) so she booked a hotel for 2 weeks so we’d have some privacy.
We’d spend days traveling around, she’d show me her way of life. In the evenings, we’d sit in the hotel room or outside on the balcony, drinking booze and eating Japanese snacks and sweets, cuddled close to each other. Each day she had something else planned. Going to an Izakaya (a Japanese type bar/restaurant hybrid). I’d meet her mother, her brother and her divorced father (who she doesn’t really like, but that’s another story).
Every day felt like a dream. As a wish, I didn’t know I had. I was in a completely different world, far from everything I ever knew. Strangely, this felt like the place I truly belong to.
But of course, two weeks aren’t much time. And on the last morning, where I’d have to board the flight back at around 1 PM local time, I felt shattered. I cried like I never cried before. She didn’t. She kept her composure. Until we got to the airport and the time to say goodbye came. I was dry already. Now her eyes filled with tears. She was acting tough, but this moment was too much, even for her.
I wished I could just skip the flight and stay. But I still had my own life in Germany. A job. The journey back was dull and grey. I was only thinking of her. Drowning in sorrow. Uncertain about what would happen next. It was a dream after all. And right now, I’m slowly awakening.
I won’t give up. I won’t give in.
We kept talking on the phone, skyping, chatting. All the time. We didn’t let go of each other for a moment. It felt like if we did, we’d lose each other. Back in Germany, I talked to my parents about it. I also started opening up about my feelings, something I never did before with my parents.
If you think it was a crazy trip up until here, hold your horses. It’s getting worse. I did mention that I am quite naive, didn’t I?
Back to skyping, staring at her on the screen. Out of reach. I’d get back to work, my boss — a great guy I’d like to add — asked me about my trip and told me that he’d always make room for another vacation if I’d like to go again. I thanked him. But in reality, I already quit my job in my head.
I started raking up money. Saving every bit for my ultimate goal: Going all-in!
My feelings for her never changed, they never faded. We’d end every call with “愛してる” (Ai shiteru — I love you).
Now’s the moment where I tell you about my most stupid idea to date — remember, we only spend 2 weeks together in person — I’d propose to her!
I wanted to do it in person, but the waiting was killing me. So I told her during one of our Skype sessions, that I’d have a big plan. A stupid plan. A naive plan. And I’d fully understand if she’d disagree with it.
With incredible fear for what answer she’d give me, I mustered all my strength to ask her the one question: “Will you marry me?”
Tears filled both our eyes. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I thought this was way too soon and a really stupid idea. So it was set. I want to be with her, till death do us part. And she does want the same.
So how would the odds be that this will work out? I forgot to tell you a detail: Before I met her, I was in a relationship for 7 years; during the last 2, it slowly started to crumble and rust, until we broke up. If experience is a benchmark, marrying a woman I just spent 2 weeks with in person would be more than crazy.
Moving to Japan
Let’s see how crazy that idea was. I moved to her in August of the same year. I gave my car to my little brother, sold my gaming PC to a lucky fellow for a cheap price, moved out of my apartment and spent the last weeks crushing the living room couch of my parents.
I’d drive to the Japanese embassy, get the paperwork done, get traveling insurance and all that.
Then I’d embark on my biggest journey ever. I saved up enough to carry us for a few months before I’d need to get a job. And neither one of us wanted to think about the hardships for the moment. Being apart from each other was enough hardship for now.
Finally, I arrived. Again. The sweet relief of seeing her again, eye to eye. Now it was official. We’d live together. I left all I knew to be with her, in a world that still feels so strange to me. My Japanese still wasn’t good enough. She understood me, but other people were often confused, so she had to translate my Japanese into proper Japanese for them.
So, how did it work out?
Fast forward to 2020: We’re still together. We’re married since 2015. And we’re proud parents of a wonderful baby girl since November 30th, 2018.
I never expected to leave Germany behind. Much less for Japan. And especially not for something like love. Not after my past experiences. But it happened.
I always looked for a possible relationship. I saw “the one” in many girls I met. I always searched for love. It always ended in disaster. Then I decided that I won’t find it and kept focusing on myself. I didn’t want a girlfriend anymore. I didn’t want to have to deal with tears and breakups and being cheated on and all that.
And just at that moment, where I gave up on love, where I tried not to look for someone just to build another relationship that would fail eventually, that’s when she came into my life.
Kevin Buddaeus is a German freelance writer and translator since 2016, living in Japan with a wonderful wife and the most beautiful daughter I could have asked for.