From 2004-2017 I was a resident of Tokyo. In many ways, my transition to Dallas was both swift and drawn out. Tokyo was my home for 13 years until they pulled the rug out from under me and ejected me. All it took were 2 funerals, a broadway show, a backpack, and fate.
This is my story.
I was traveling back and forth from LA to Tokyo a few times throughout the years. We were staying with the family in LA, and doing everything we could to make him comfortable. The battle with cancer had been going on for about 2 years and the end was growing near. One final bucket list trip to Vegas and it was almost the dreaded end of the line.
On Thanksgiving eve-eve, my ex-girlfriend’s father passed away after a grueling battle with cancer. The funeral was a long waited out few weeks later.
We were all heartbroken, but happy to know he was at peace and no longer suffering. Leading into a somber Christmas we decorated his grave to let him know we were still thinking of him and missed his larger-than-life presence. The man was a pillar to his family and community. I counted myself lucky to be in his good graces and served as a pallbearer.
My Father’s birthday was 12/24 and little did I know, that Christmas would be the last time we would speak. He asked how I was doing, and I told him it’s been tough. He had experienced death on both sides, the quick lights-out version and the long drawn-out battle we went through with his father, my grandfather, a war veteran whose metal plate eventually caused a brain tumor. I asked my Dad, is it easier when it’s quick? The LA battle with cancer gave us extra time together, but watching someone whittle away and lose bodily function was brutal. He simply replied they are both the same. The grief will come in waves after they pass and each time it will feel as fresh as the day it happened, but the waves will become less frequent with time.
After the burial in LA, I returned to Tokyo. All things in LA were somewhat settled. I was ready to try and process what we all had been through. It was not easy and my lack of grief-processing tools was apparent.
Then on January 24th, 2 months from the death date, I got the call that my own father was gone. It happened suddenly. Heart attack. He had just said goodbye to my Mom, sent her off to work, and was sitting on their front porch. I heard he had a myocardial infarction, and then fell forward off his chair.
I was inevitably thrust back into the cycle of death and so many questions were looming. How could this have happened to MY Father? Why wasn’t I there to catch him?
I flew to FL to say the biggest goodbye to date. He was gone, and I was devastated. I sat on that porch next to where he should have been and wished I could’ve been there to catch him. I should’ve been there… but as my Dad always said, I had to be out conquering the world. I was riding my star and needed to continue.
Once back in Tokyo I was in a haze. My relationship immediately began to disintegrate under the weight of both our grieving. Work was always a welcome distraction from all the things I needed to process. The emotional grieving process was simply more than I was equipped to handle and my body started to let me know. I began having panic attacks that I misconstrued as an oncoming heart attack. I believed I was manifesting my Fathers sudden condition, possibly trying to connect. The doctors told me my heart was healthy and I should consider these symptoms to be psychological side effects from all the grief.
5 months in I felt the pull to travel and just become anonymous when I recalled one of my favorite authors’ stories. Neil Peart, one of my drumming heroes, had endured something similar. The sudden loss of his daughter and the long drawn-out loss of his wife in a short span of time sent him on an endless motorcycle adventure to escape and then eventually find himself. Travel therapy. Maybe that’s what I needed?
So I thought, alright… I could either pick up a cruise ship gig or what I’d really like to do is rejoin the broadway touring show, Blast.
FATE & A BROADWAY SHOW
The next day I received a call.
My good friend said he heard Blast was about to kick off an all-Japan tour and suddenly needed a drum set player. They were already in Japan, about 2.5 hours by Shinkansen, and 2.5 weeks from the tour when their drum set guy had some issues. They were scrambling to get a plan together and I quickly threw my name in the hat.
Although I had a short run with Blast back in 2002, it had been 15 years since they heard my name. Zak who? Oh, he’s in Japan? Sure, have him come audition. I was nervous as hell. This was the place I needed to be and exactly what I asked for. I did a 3-hour round of due diligence to prepare while juggling gigs for Lupicia, headed to northern Japan, and went right into the audition.
Now I am self-admittedly horrible at auditions. I’ve done a handful, but it’s usually word of mouth and opportunity that simply lands me a gig. I tend to be good enough to get in the door, but it’s my work ethic that really helps me own the spot. Thankfully it went well enough, they chose me, and I had 2 weeks to learn and nail the show.
On a side note, I recall the timpanist, Adrian, snuck into my audition to grab something, and I felt a tinge of something when I saw her. Through the tour, she grew to be one of my best friends and eventually became my wife after I proposed on the 2019 Japan tour.
Back to the tour… The show was on, and we absolutely killed it. I was in heaven up there on the 12ft percussion bridge, throwing down with the badest staff and cast on the planet. Every one of those MFs could play their ass off and expected no less from the guy driving the bus upstairs. I lived and breathed that show all tour long, through every prefecture in Japan. It was no coincidence this door had opened.
As the 5-month tour came to a close, it was time to renew my visa. All necessary paperwork was submitted and I was waiting for the big appointment postcard to tell me when I could pick up my new visa and whether they had accepted my permanent residency application. I have a son there from my previous marriage, my whole life was there, and I had paid my dues. It was time to switch over to permanent residency.
The card came… approved! I was about to earn the rarest foreigner visa they offered. I was elated. No more yearly, or bi-yearly trips to immigration hoping for an extension.
When the day came, I left our tour bubble to float down to the office in Chiba, and they suddenly pulled me into an interview room. I thought this was the final interview for my permanent, but they blindsided me. They said we can not approve your permanent residency, the card was a mistake, and since you don’t have time, you can’t reapply for your current visa. Suddenly, I was in a spot.
I returned to our tour bubble feeling defeated and in fear of losing a dream gig. After speaking with the tour management company, they began an amazing amount of support by putting together a plan. The school I worked for could possibly sponsor me, and that would shift me to a humanities visa. In the meantime, to finish out the tour we could request an extension.
The extension was approved while everyone was scrambling to get the humanities visa info submitted. This was a monumental undertaking and I could see it took a level of cultural business I did not have access to as a foreigner.
The tour was a huge success. We wrapped up after a 2-week extension, and I went back to Tokyo.
The timpanist and I had grown really close and we knew we wanted to see each other more, so we were planning on visiting each other. I bought a ticket to come to visit her in Texas in November.
Soon after, I was eagerly awaiting my new visa appointment postcard, and when I received an interview request instead, I was nervous.
Back to immigration I went…
The interview was actually another ambush. They gave me a disembarkation 30-day extension and said you are done here. Go back to America. I tried to reason, asked about getting a lawyer, to which they retorted, you can try, but this is settled and it won’t change a thing.
I had 30 days to pack up 13 years of life, settle my apartment, and say goodbye to my son and Tokyo life. That’s too short an amount of time…
After a few lengthy discussions with my inner circle and some soul-searching, I accepted my fate with one caveat.
I wanted to roll the dice, and my game plan was to pack for the 30 days, transfer my Texas airline ticket to a flight to Guam for 24 hours, then attempt to reenter Japan under a tourist visa granting me 90 extra days. I would use a portion of the 90 days to finalize my life and then move to Texas.
We took action immediately. Adrian began apartment hunting while I sent her money to furnish and finalize things stateside.
GUAM to JAPAN to TEXAS
The 24 hours of beach time in Guam was a nice breather. I was wound too tight by then. The reentry process to Japan however was nerve-racking. It was up to their discretion. Either they would let me through since it was legal, or they’d say hell no and I’d be on a plane to America immediately.
Adrian was on standby as I gave her the play-by-play.
I landed in Narita.
I’m at immigration.
Now they’ve pulled me into a room.
And I’m through! All clear. -whew-
Thankfully they said okay, so long as I wasn’t there to find a wife and try to get married. lol
I wrapped up my life there, said my goodbyes, sold everything I owned down to a backpack, and arrived at my new home in Dallas, Texas, on December 26th, 2017.
Growing up in Jersey and Florida, winters were magical. As an adult, especially since 2016, they have simply lost some of their luster. I’ll take the warm summer and those Guam beaches anytime thank you very much. Although there is too much death, pain, and goodbyes associated with the cold winter for me now, I’ve at least found peace and the tools to grieve in a more proactive way. I see life as life. It is not fair or unfair, rather it is what you chose to make of it. At least that’s how I choose to live. Of course, the concept of spirituality has entered into my equation a handful of times and I recognize and acknowledge the significance of my karma and fate opening doors for me to choose to jump through. I’m grateful for my path and, for better and worse, own it at every curve.
In the end, though, long Decembers are not my cup of tea. I’ll be grinding until the sun warms things up again, thank you very much.
Maybe I’m a slightly jaded hooman at this point, but that’s okay with me.