A life of courage, joy and independence.
Don’t you love it when you are given the chance to seat yourself at a restaurant? To have a chance to look over the landscape of the place and select the optimal table from those which are available. I usually try to find a booth near a window, preferably out-of-the-way of pedestrian traffic and near the salad bar though nowhere close to the toilets. Where we sit in a restaurant can make a big difference to the overall dining experience. And whenever I score a premium table I’ve a tendency to linger long over multiple refills of coffee, either in the happy company of friends or with a good book and a little nourishing solitude. As with a nice booth at a restaurant, so too with the place and community we choose to call home.
So when my wife Yumiko and I began talking a few years back about moving our family from our current home in Japan to the USA, one of the first things we considered was just where we’d like to live. Our first thought was Seattle Washington, though this idea soon passed away when we realized that it would be better to live closer to our American family in Southern California. So when I began pursuing the serious opportunity of a job in the greater Los Angeles area, we started to investigate the many and various communities of LA to see if we could find someplace we might like to live. This wasn’t a new process for us as we’d done this exact search several decades before in the early 90’s. We were living in Japan at that time and we’d decided to move back to the USA. In essence we were in the exact situation we’re now in, though at that earlier time our lives were much simpler as we had few responsibilities and had not yet stated to grow our family. Yumiko and I then selected the idyllic community of Santa Barbara to be our new home. We essentially picked Santa Barbara off a map while examining the many towns and cities along the California coast. Our aim was to find someplace close to the ocean and convenient to Los Angeles, yet somewhat distant from the big city bustle. We’d both driven through Santa Barbara and we were familiar with the basic character of the place, though neither of us had any idea about the real lifestyle there or just how exclusive and expensive the cost of life in paradise. If we had known these things we might have considered going somewhere else since our budget to jump-start our new life venture then was only a few thousand dollars.
The plan was for me to fly to LA first, secure a job and a place to live and then send for Yumiko to join me when things were established. When I first arrived I stayed at my father’s home in LA for roughly a week, which time allowed me to purchase a vehicle (a cool little red Ford Ranger pickup which I drove for many years after) as well as some simple camping gear which would help facilitate my initial beachhead in Santa Barbara. With wheels, sleeping bag, a camp stove and can opener I departed for Santa Barbara where I would begin my job search in earnest. Sleeping on the beach each night I arose at dawn to purchase a newspaper in order to search the help wanted section. I had resolved to take the very first offer which came my way, and though I almost got an offer to become the assistant of an insurance industry expert witness I instead took a more immediate offer to become an instructor for the developmentally disabled. Once I had a job I was able to then soon find a really nice apartment in a quaint and quiet little building on Anapamu street, very near the famous Santa Barbara County Bowl open air performance venue and within walking distance of downtown. Though the apartment was small it was a perfect fit for our needs at the time and came outfitted with two of the nicest next door neighbors who soon became our first and closest friends in Santa Barbara. Except for the drive to work we had little need of a car during these early years in Santa Barbara, as almost everything was within pleasant walking distance along the tree-lined avenue which connected our neighborhood with the downtown shopping district. Yumiko and I were very happy with our choice to settle in Santa Barbara, and though it was certainly a very expensive place to live, the natural amenities of a mild climate, the interesting and diverse social atmosphere as well as the wonderful qualities of community which close association with several nearby colleges as well as a major California university provide, added to make our new hometown one of the most pleasant and interesting places we had yet known in life.
So as we now prepare to reenact our earlier adventure of crossing continents to establishing a new home, we have a little experience to help guide our steps. Like before, we first had to pick a place to live. Our 1992 return to the USA predated the public availability of the Internet and our search was therefore limited to maps and memory. In 2013 we’ve a powerful resource at our fingertips with resources such as Google, YouTube and Wikipedia, which Yumiko and I have heavily leveraged in trying to narrow down our options. From the start we agreed on two primary criteria which we’d use to help us narrow the options: the first is the welfare of our daughter Emily and the second is the quality of the community.
Emily has just turned thirteen years old and she’s now in her first year of middle school here in Japan. Her ability to speak and understand English is certainly behind, though for practical purposes she’s a functional English speaker for her age level and we don’t expect she’ll have too much trouble coming up-to-speed once she’s settled and immersed in American culture. However, her English reading and writing levels are far below what they should be at her age, and we know that she’ll need help to function academically in the USA. After doing a little research we discovered that Torrance, California has the second largest Japanese-American and Japanese immigrant population in the USA (the first is Honolulu). This interesting fact caused us to linger long in researching this community in order to see how the large Japanese demographic might influence the overall community, particularly the schools in the area.
We began researching Torrance in early 2013 and I even visited the area in August (while pursuing a job lead) to walk around with my video camera and size things up. What we found was fascinating, and the facts we uncovered about the school system alone, essentially made up our minds in selecting Torrance to be our new home. It turns out that the pubic schools in Torrance are some of the best in the state, with most schools scoring an 8 or 9 (out of 10) in the California Great Schools ranking. Many of these schools are also California Distinguished schools. Furthermore, the Asian population in these schools is very high (often more than 40%) with a high proportion of Japanese. In addition, a good number of these Asian students had the experience of spending their first years of childhood in Asia before coming to the USA to then face the same challenges our daughter might soon encounter. Still better, many of the schools we are looking at have special summer and extracurricular programs to help foreign-raised kids get ready for school in America, as well as to help them to be placed in classes which are appropriate for their English language level and ability. A few months back I reached out to one of the area high school’s student advisers, who assured me that the school system in Torrance was familiar with the challenges faced by children such as Emily, and that Emily would not be alone and will be helped to assimilate into her new education environment. That pretty much sold Yumiko and me on Torrance with the rest of our researching simply focusing on learning more about the place we would likely call home should the opportunity arise.
Our second criteria was community. After our happy years in Santa Barbara my wife and I were convinced we wanted to live in a beach community, and hopefully one which enjoyed the influence of local institutes of higher learning. We also wanted Japanese amenities, as our decades together in both the USA and Japan had taught us that one of the hardest things for the expat spouse is the long separation from not only their friends and family back home, but also the creature comforts, foods and other familiar things they might have grown up with and which make adult life all the more pleasant to have. Torrance is one of the three “Beach Cities” of the South Bay district of greater Los Angeles, and thus amply delivers on our wish to live somewhere where we can smell the sea air in the morning and enjoy the mild beach climate year ’round. Torrance also delivers well on the Japanese side of things with more and better Japanese restaurants, stores and markets than nearly any other city in the United States. In short, it’s just what we were looking for.
In summary then, it looks like if I can secure employment in the greater Los Angeles area then our family will be settling in Torrance. This is not without some challenges as the community is notoriously expensive and the daily commute one of the worst in the nation. Nevertheless, these are a few of the prices we are willing to pay in an effort to establish and experience life in a place where we hope our daughter might benefit and thrive, and where our family can settle into a lifestyle we’ve known in the past and are eager to experience again.