I read a lot of blogs, but Project Me is one of my very favourites. It’s author, Kathryn, writes about her new life inJapan, with a witty, conversational style that I just love. Kathryn’s also a money-saving ninja, seems to have a will of steel when it comes to impulse spending. Her blog is a mixture of anecdotes, outfit pictures, money advice and titbits about Japanese culture. I picked Kathryn’s brain about blogging, shopping and culture shock:
Late last year, you moved from Australia to Japan. What made you decide to make such a huge change in your life?
Long story! I’d wanted to go toJapanfrom the time I was a kid. I think because I always used to do school projects onJapanbecause it had the easiest flag to draw! For some reason, I had the idea that it would be prohibitively expensive to visit though.
Then a couple of years ago I was at a bar, drunk and ended up talking to a guy for hours about travel. He told me to go toJapanbecause it wasn’t as expensive as I thought and you could actually travel cheaply.
That idea grew in my head. At the same time I started watching lots of Japanese movies and dramas and got really drawn by the cute Japanese idols.
Then Jetstar announced super-dooper cheapo flights toJapanand my sister and I booked them. I started studying Japanese for travel and getting really obsessed with Japanese idols.
We came for a 3 week holiday and loved it.
After that, I applied for a job teaching English. At the end of the year, I was informed that I would need to reapply. I was pretty devastated but it made me think hard about what I wanted to do. I wanted to come toJapanand I wanted to study Japanese more but the teaching was not a career plan, just a means of getting in the country.
Mid last year, my Japanese school inMelbourneheld an information night about studying inJapan. I went along, very interested in finding out my options.
One of the schools inTokyoreally sounded fantastic and offered just what I wanted. The only problem was I’d just passed the deadline to apply for the October semester. I really wanted to time it so I could finish my contract at work and head straight to Japan to study – avoiding being out of work in Australia for any length of time.
A student visa takes months to get approved and I had a long period of waiting. During that time I saved like a crazy person, figuring if my visa got rejected, at least I’d have a decent nest egg for plan B (which included the Trans-Serbian railway and other adventures).
What prompted you to start writing your blog?
I’ve been blogging for many years. Even back before blogs really existed, I had a personal web site. I created my blog in its present form because my old blog was focused on weight loss and the focus in my life had changed so I wanted something that reflected my life better.
In your opinion, what is the best thing about blogging?
Definitely the people you meet. So many of my friends started as people I met online then met up with in real life. I think it’s a fantastic way to connect with people with the same interests and passions that you might not have met in your ‘real life’ otherwise.
What is your least favorite thing about being a blogger?
When you meet up with a blogger friend and start telling a story and they say “yeah I read that on your blog” so you start telling them something that that happens and same thing… Makes you wonder if you have anything left to give.
I absolutely loved all the posts that you wrote about saving money and managing your funds. What is your number one money-saving tip?
Stay away from the shops. Working inMelbournein the CBD, I’d often go for a wander around the shops in my lunch hour or if I had time to kill before an after-work appointment. Even if you have no intention to spend, it’s too easy to see an absolute bargain you can’t live without.
If you don’t go near temptation, it’s so much easier to resist!
I think having a huge goal to work towards helps too.
Can you name a couple of your personal heroes and tell us a bit about why they inspire you?
Even before I moved toTokyo, I loved Japanese idol band Arashi. They really inspire me because they obviously work insane schedules – they do three TV shows a week as well as their music and each of the members is involved in personal projects as well as doing crazy things like trying to sail a boat made of cardboard across Tokyo Bay. Still they always manage to look not just pretty but be so full of energy and like they are really having fun.
Sometimes when I have a big case of the ‘can’t be arseds’ I think about how they have to keep going no matter what and it gives me energy. It’s all too easy to sit around bitching about being tired and how much your life sucks but that doesn’t help you and it just drags everyone else down.
Also, this isn’t really a personal hero, but I guess it’s still an inspiration – when I decided to move toTokyo, some days I’d have complete ‘omg I’m moving to a foreign country where I don’t know the language or anything’ freakout. But just walking down the street inMelbourneyou see so many people from countries all over the world who have done just that. I’d think well if they can do, surely I can.
What is your idea of the ‘perfect day’?
Again with my Arashi obsession, I think I had close to the perfect day the first time I saw them in concert. We (my sister and I) started out hitting the shops in Koenji (suburb ofTokyoknown for its cool, vintage shops) then heading to Tokyo Dome.
The whole of Tokyo Dome was a buzz of energy and I hadn’t realised how much effort fans make with their outfits. Not just dressing up but buying merchandise then adding all manner of bling and sequins and other decoration.
Because you have to be a fan club member to even get tickets to the concert (we’d bought very expensive scalped ones), I had a horrible fear that I’d be turfed out on my ear. When you are the only two white girls in a crowd of over 40,000 you really stand out.
When I got inside and the lights went out and I saw my boys flying in on wires from the roof of Tokyo Dome, I knew no one could kick me out. It was the most incredible experience of my life. The songs were fantastic, I had an amazing seat and the whole show was beyond anything I’d ever seen as far as costumes and staging.
But, more than that, when you are a fan of a band that few people inAustraliahave ever heard of, it just is such an awesome experience to be in amongst a crowd of people who understand.
Afterwards, we headed to Shinjuku and wandered around. We couldn’t find anywhere to have a drink (Shinjuku after midnight is full of drunken businessmen – not good when you are sober yourself) and were about to head back to the hotel when we stumbled on a tiny little bar.
We went in for one drink and ended up staying until nearly dawn – talking bad drunken Japanese to the very cute barman and the other two patrons who were very sweet and could even understand our bad, drunken Japanese.
That was pretty much the most perfect day of my life. Of course, if it’s a fantasy perfect day, I’d add in some coffee from 65 degrees inMelbournebecause, if there is one thingTokyolacks, it’s good coffee. Oh, and a goodMelbournebrunch too with the Big Breakfast.
Actually, if it’s a total fantasy, I’d throw in some fangirl fantasy ala Courtney Cox in Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark video – being picked out of the crowd and dragged on stage to dance with your hero – that’s got to be perfect.
And a foot massage. There has to be a foot massage in my perfect day.
Over the past few months, your blog has chronicled your move to Japan and your adventures as you try to assimilate to Japanese life. What are some of the biggest differences between life in Japan and life in Australia?
There are so many, many differences. I really got a shock when I started going to the supermarket. It’s fun to walk around foreign supermarkets when you are on holidays but when you have to go every day for your basic requirements, it becomes tough. Things like cereal, take up a whole aisle inAustraliabut here there are one or two types hidden away on a bottom shelf. You really have to hunt for them.
Cheese is virtually non-existent here. There is stuff in the supermarket that looks like cheese and is called cheese but it sure as hell doesn’t taste like cheese. And if cheese doesn’t have any taste, what’s the point?
People talk aboutTokyofashion but in many ways the fashion you see isn’t as interesting or diverse as you’d see inMelbourne. So many ugly Louis Vuitton bags!
It also took me a while to adjust to the fact that there are no water restrictions here. After living inAustraliafor so long, I freaked every time I saw someone wasting water.
Oh and everyone rides bikes here. It’s so safe when you don’t have crazy drivers who resent cyclists.
Are there any surprising similarities between Japanese life and life in Australia?
I think once you get out of the main areas like Shinjuku and Shibuya and explore some of the areas that are perhaps lesser known to tourists, you find all the little shops with funky indie designer stuff. They remind me of shops you find around Fitzroy and Northcote. So much fun to explore and full of wonderful hand made stuff.
Kit kats – they are the same here. Sure there are a heap of wacky flavours but the standard kit kat is exactly the same. It’s reassuring when I need a familiar chocolate hit.
Finally, if you had unlimited funds to spend on items for your wardrobe, what five dream purchases would you make?
This is really hard. I feel like I should want to buy stuff that is really luxurious and over the top but mostly, when it comes to clothes, I’d much prefer stuff from etsy or from smaller shops, not expensive designer clothes.
The weather inTokyois freezing, especially once it hits 5 o’clock and the sun goes down, very quickly. If I had unlimited funds, I’d buy a really fabulous, luxurious warm coat.
I’ve been really wanting a pair of boots recently too. I own a few pairs but I have an idea in my head of the exact boots I want – nothing fancy, just knee high with a mid height chunky heel. You’d think that would be easy to find but every pair I see is just not quite right. I’d love to find a shoe maker to make me the perfect pair of wonderfully well fitting boots that would last a lifetime.
I’d also love a tailored blazer. Something that would look very corporate and sophisticated but also could be adapted to some really fun looks.
I’d totally love aCambridgeleather satchel too. I’m not a big handbag person and I’d rather have one really good bag I can take most places. That way I don’t forget stuff.
Funnily enough, I’m looking at this list now and realise most of these things aren’t that expensive. Why don’t I just buy them? I guess you get so tied up in the habit of saving money, you forget to treat yourself sometimes.
A great big ‘thankyou’ to Kathryn for taking the time to do this interview. I had an awesome time reading through her answers, and I hope you guys enjoy it too.