Morrison Cole

One Year in Japan

April 29, 2020
5 min read

As Instagram so helpfully reminded me this morning: today marks the 1st anniversary of my arrival in Japan. I arrived stereotypically — with a backpack and my favourite guitar — intending to spend the next 365 days learning the language and seeing as many new places as possible. I had very little idea what would come after that.

Along the way, I found love (more than once), ate more「アイスの実」 than any other living human, and become somewhat accustomed to the regular shakes of the earth as the tectonic plates scrape and halt beneath us. Surprisingly, I've also failed to navigate life as a human being with a middle name.

I: Kansai

Kobe Skyline

When I arrived in Kobe, I had just finished around 6 months of making YouTube videos with my band in London.

I had no plans to stop making them. In fact, I had been planning to go back to London for at least a month to get some recording done. By making videos, I'd be able to stay busy in-between return trips.

I soon discovered that:

  1. Even when I was exhausted, I was drawn outside to the people, places, events, and language learning. I couldn't stay put long enough to even begin writing.
  2. Remote collaboration on songs is tricky at best and nigh impossible at worst.

Writing from the future, COVID has changed all that (remote collaboration has been normalized, yay!). At the time though, there weren't many tools for doing so.

I didn't intend it to, but my creative habit died a quick death, and nothing of value was created for the entire year. Maybe I just needed a break.

II: A Second Language

To be lost without a map generally seems like a bad idea. While hiking here, I quickly realised that by just 'having a map', I could not entirely avoid the problem. More than once, I found myself lost in the mountains of Kansai clutching nothing but a guide book written in Japanese. A love for the language and willingness to learn are relatively useless things when you're out of phone signal and the nearest advisor is a wild boar.

Once, I arrived sweatily to a small shrine near the peak of a mountain where I discovered a guest book stored in a small box (pen helpfully included). After signing my name, I read through some of the older comments. One from a French visitor read: "it's beautiful, but please translate your signs into English".

Dear visitor: let's keep the linguistic imperialism off the mountains, please.

Tori Gates

III: Life With a Middle Name

I haven't always been completely taken with my middle name. When I tell people it is 'Field', they are sometimes confused as to what I said. Often, while repeating it to a still-confused listener, I make some excuse about just how my parents were hippies and I have no idea what they were thinking. Then, I remember that my sisters have similar middle names and that I do kind of love it, and want to take it back.

Coming here took my middle name from the sidelines straight to the spotlight. It is now a source of endless pain, frustration, and even financial difficulty.


Well, simply put, most people don't have middle names, so systems are not built to support them. I suppose that's the case in a lot of places, but I never really thought about it until I was struggling to open a bank account. Official forms tend to require that your name matches the one printed on your passport, and mine (unfortunately) has mine written in capital letters.

City hall staff, bank tellers, immigration officials, and countless others have regularly been baffled by the strange word between my first and last names. The conversations typically go something like this (although feature more broken Japanese and far less sarcasm):

"Yes, that's my middle name".

"Yes, that's right - it's not on that other document".

"Why? Because their system didn't allow it, that's why".

"...I don't think I can change it if I couldn't add it in the first place".

And so on.

You can forget online forms. Mostly, there is nowhere to even enter a middle name. If there is, sometimes you can't add a space in the right place. Or your name is too long.

I would have never guessed that something so inconspicuous could be the catalyst for so many troubles, but there it is. Field.

There is so much to say about my time here. Some of these topics deserve entire posts, and those I'm most passionate about don't really even get a mention. I'll try to write more about the things that have meaning to me some other time, but for now my random thoughts lead me here, so it is where we will end.

I doubt you made it this far, but if you did, I sometimes post about things on Twitter @MorrisonCole - I'd love to see you there!

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