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From Japan with Love

Do you ever wonder what you would miss about Detroit or Michigan if you moved abroad? Having lived in the UK, I know that homesickness and food cravings can be overwhelming.

Of course, living in an English speaking country is a bit easier than say, Japan.

Over the past year or so, I’ve made friends with two former Michiganders who are now living in Japan. I wanted to get their take on what they missed about Detroit and Michigan. 

Angela ShetlerAngela Shetler (@ashetler) is originally from Houghton Lake, Michigan and she also spent time living in Lansing after graduating from MSU. She currently lives in Koriyama, Japan, which is 1.5 hours north of Tokyo by bullet train.

Mark Williams and his wife, Hiroko.Mark Williams (@markmatsusaka) is originally from Toledo but we won’t hold that against him. He spent 10 years living in Detroit and wears his love of the Motor City proudly. Williams lives in Tokyo with his wife and daughter.


On food

I missed Mexican food while living in the UK. What food do you crave?

AS: The first thing I say when asked what I miss about home is "food." Mexican food is my favorite and it's nearly impossible to find here.

MW: We also miss Mexicantown! We were regular customers at El Zocalo. You cannot find decent Mexican Food in Tokyo, period. Before my father passed away in 2003 (just 2 weeks after my daughter was born) we took my mom and dad to El Zocalo. We ordered the margaritas and my dad noticed we had a wobbly table. He asked a waiter if we could do something about it and the waiter said, "If you drink that margarita, the table won't wobble any more." Needless to say, that waiter got a great tip from my dad.

AS: Navigating a grocery store in Japan also takes a while to get used to, and it's next to impossible to get ingredients that are foreign or out of season. I also love books and movies (and the incredibly-bad-for-you popcorn), so I miss the many bookstores and option to catch a movie at the last minute. The selection of English books here is small unless you order online, and movie release dates are often several months later than those in the States.

Favorite restaurants?

MW: In Farmington Hills we used to always head to Green's Burgers for the sliders and my wife's favorite, chili cheese fries. Also in Farmington Hills we loved going to Priya on Grand River for the amazing Indian Buffet there.

Also, I need to put a final note about the Coney's in Detroit. I loved them for breakfast. Here in Japan you just plain can't go out for breakfast. I really miss the country omelets you could get. They were huge. You just don't see portions like that here in Tokyo.

What do ask your family or friends to send you in care packages?

AS: My requests are usually food related. This ranges from junk food (Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Cheetos, Butterfingers, seasonal or holiday candy) to baking supplies (spices, chocolate chips, mixes). I often just say "surprise me", and have gotten wonderful books, DVDs, mementos, etc.

My friends and family have been really great about putting together packages that capture a sense of home. Donuts from Quality Dairy. Graham crackers, Hershey bars, and marshmallows so I could make s'mores in the summer. Spartan gear and Biggby coffee. They really are packages of care, and that helps a lot when living far from home.

On Detroit and Michigan

What specifically do you miss about Detroit or Michigan?

AS: I miss the friendliness and the diversity of Michiganders. I miss being able to go to the gardens at MSU in fall and spring. I miss being able to drive to a cider mill, or the lakes, or Bronner's.

MW: I miss going to see the Tigers. When my daughter was born, during the slow parts of the game I used to love to take her to the merry-go-round to ride the tigers and the baseball Ferris wheel. When Paws came over she was beside herself. Here in Japan she still loves the big characters in suits. Japan seems to have a monopoly of those for sure.

AS: I miss the people. Being active online helps me stay in touch with everyone back home. It's also a way for me to support and promote the creative energy coming out of the state, such as Handmade Detroit and TEDxDetroit.

Detroit has a global image problem. Do you see much of that in Japan?

MW: All around the world you will hear folks bad mouth the city of Detroit. Truth is that they never lived there and they have no idea what they are talking about. The disturbing trend of piling on Detroit just has to stop. Hopefully with Twitter, Facebook, and other venues, I can do my part to change that trend with some positive stuff that I always liked about the city.

How do people react when you mention Detroit or Michigan?

AS: The majority of the reactions have been very positive. Usually one of the first connections to be made is President Obama's "Yes we can" slogan. Michigan doesn't always ring a bell for people, but they often know the Great Lakes.

Many thanks to Angela and Mark for sharing their experiences. My husband and I hope to visit Japan one day and I'd love to meet my new friends in person.

Photo credit: luckygun on Flickr.

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Reader Comments (2)

Hey! That's my brother!!! While I miss him dearly I'm sure proud of the life he's made for himself and his family. He is living his dream. Great article!

November 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Thanks Melissa! I've got to know your brother through Twitter and he is pretty awesome. I love that the internet and social media has the power to bring people together from all over the world.

Also, I should say that Mark included a shout-out to Tony Packo's in Toledo. I kept it in until the final edit but had to cut it because of length. Many of my friends have raved about Tony Packo's, including Dominique of I promise to take a road trip soon and experience it for myself.

November 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

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