A few months ago I went on vacation to Tokyo. A few weeks I actually moved my human presence to Tokyo.

A few people have asked me why I made the decision. A few also expressed interest in leaving the SF Bay Area as well. I figured I’d share a bit of my thought process in case it helps anyone in a similar situation. Also, maybe it’ll help answer some common questions I get from Bay Area tech folks.

Quick facts

I:

  • Moved to the SF Bay Area in 2016
  • Am Canadian
  • Lived in the San Jose/Campbell area the entire time
  • Was satisfied with work, liked my coworkers, and only have positive things to say about my former team
  • Did not get my driver’s license until 2021 (and still strongly preferred to walk/bus after getting it)
  • Enjoy walking and taking public transit

Also my job at Apple in the Bay Area was my first job out of college.

My partner:

  • Does not have a driver’s license
  • Is also Canadian
  • Knows Japanese

The South Bay Area is:

  • Extremely car-centric with very limited transit in many areas
  • Extremely expensive
  • Sprawly (not very walkable)
  • Sleepy (many things close between 6 PM and 9 PM)

If you don’t want to drive on the daily, the typical Bay Area move is to live in SF. My partner didn’t want to live there, so that was out.

Downsides of daily life in the South Bay (for tech people who moved in around when I did)

We tried living in a “cheap” apartment (the one I first moved into in 2016) and an absurdly expensive apartment, and found that they basically had exactly the same problems (constant road noise, paper thin walls, etc.)

We considered buying a house but:

  • There was no financially responsible way for us to own one
  • We’d still have to live in American suburbia, or in an exurb (which is pretty impractical without 2 driver’s licences and 2 cars and all the expenses that come with that)
  • All the places we could potentially afford had tons of problems which would be very expensive to fix

Commutes are generally long and unpleasant. For me:

  • Pre-pandemic: 1.5 hrs on employer’s commuter bus 2x daily
  • RTO: 45 mins on public transit 2x daily

Although my RTO commute was shorter than my pre-pandemic commute, I just kind of dreaded sitting in traffic bound for Cupertino daily. I became increasingly frustrated that the Bay Area didn’t have any reasonable public transit, and that the people in political power really didn’t have any interest in improving the situation. (I tried cycling but found that drivers were way too aggressive and I just felt totally unsafe.)

Tokyo

I went on vacation to Tokyo for 2 weeks and really enjoyed it. Tokyo has fantastic public transit, is very comfortable to walk around, and has a significantly lower cost of living than the Bay Area. I found there were lots of interesting businesses, more artists and other creative folks, and a decent amount of greenery within the city.

Although Japan has a reputation for lower wages than the USA, if you work at a US or “international” tech company in Tokyo, you can make a comparable salary to the the Bay Area. In addition, work at these companies is typically in English.

So, I’m working on compilers in English, and my partner will be working at Game Freak on graphics stuff in Japanese. We’ll be living in a house in a central part of Tokyo, and we have a path forward to permanent residency if we decide we like it here long-term. I’m actively learning Japanese, and my new employer has many resources to help English-speaking employees learn.

What about your career?

I left Apple to make this move and joined Woven by Toyota.

Some folks ask me if this move is a wise career move. I think it is!

  • I’m working on new stuff from a fresh perspective, which broadens my view of compiler engineering and software
  • I still get to work with top-tier industry professionals that I can learn a ton from
  • I have more opportunities to work with the broader C and C++ communities

How do I know if I should leave ?

I mean, that’s up to you, but if you’re asking that question, then maybe you’re unhappy? For me, I asked myself questions like:

  • If I moved now, would I regret the move in 5 years? (Nope, but I’d probably regret not taking the opportunity if I stayed in the Bay Area)
  • Would this be a financially catastrophic move? (Nope!)
  • Would this damage my career? (Nope!)

I also asked myself lifestyle questions like:

  • What do I want my boring days in life to look like? (Easily catching transit to wherever I want without having to wait, being able to spontaneously discover new shops and parks…)
  • What kinds of things to I want to have happen in my daily life? (Randomly bumping into people I know, having friends over for dinner without having to plan for a week in advance…)
  • What do I want to be able to do without much planning? (Trips to different cities, conventions, meetups with friends, random art classes, hikes…)

And thought of whether or not I’d be more likely to achieve those things in the structure offered by the place I was considering going (in my case, Tokyo). So far, the answer has been yes.

Is it hard to do something like this?

If you’re in tech, you probably have more freedom than you think you have. For me, this is my second international move. If you can find someone to sponsor you a work visa, then you can pretty much go wherever you want. This is especially true for folks that have worked at big tech companies.

If you’re not in tech, I’m not sure since I don’t have any experience with that.

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