“I’ve quit my job to go for a round the world trip with my husband. We finally have enough time and money to go around the world, which was our dream when we started dating 6 years ago!”
Before this, Kumi and her husband Hajime seemed to have a relatively typical Japanese life. They both worked during the day and Kumi would cook when she got home. Over the weekend, they would go for drinks, indulge themselves in their favourite sushi places (Kumi is a huge foodie) and meet up with their friends.
I met Kumi 5 years ago during a trip to Tokyo. She’d brought a few of us out for strawberry daiquiris, and I remember her bringing along her overnight bag as she giggled about staying over at her boyfriend’s place (who has now been upgraded to a husband). When I moved to Tokyo, Kumi was incredibly welcoming – always inviting me for dinner at her place, or outings she would arrange. When she first told me she was quitting her job to travel the world, I was speechless.
“We’ve thought about it from time to time, but not very deeply. We said to each other, oh, maybe we should go for a trip after we retire. Then, last November, one of our friends went for a trip around the world. We were at his place, watching his videos and pictures, and we realized we should just do it! We’ve always loved travelling because we love getting to know other cultures. So we started planning seriously. By January, we calculated how much money we needed and started thinking about tickets and the logistics of it.”
Kumi and Hajime started their trip adventurously by trekking up to the Everest base camp. I laughed very hard when I received two messages from her. The “I would like to divorce my husband for dragging me up this mountain!” and then “I am officially sick of the cold! May I have the names of some nice resorts in Malaysia?”
After the Everest base camp, the couple headed to Bhutan, Malaysia and are now in Singapore. After they conquer South East Asia, they will make the long trip over to Europe and the United States. For this year long jaunt, they’re budgeting 20-25K USD per person.
“Did you know that travelling abroad is actually cheaper than us living in Tokyo, as the cost of living in Tokyo is very high?”
I asked Kumi how her parents reacted when she told them about the trip. She laughs, a familiar, warm sound I’ve grown accustomed to and already miss.
“My parents were really worried! The first thing they said to me was, “Are you insane? You’re quitting your job, what are you going to do when you come back?” But at the same time, they understood. 2.5 years ago, I had a miscarriage when I was 5 months pregnant. I think they understood we needed a fresh start. Every day, we think about our baby. we needed to change our environment to try new things. While they were very surprised at the beginning, after a while they became very positive and said that perhaps this was a good thing. “You quit your job, you change your mentality, and then maybe you will have a new family.” My mother said when she first heard of this, was so shocked she said she couldn’t get out of bed for three days. But then she changed her mind and told me, “If I were your age, I think I would go. So I’m really going to have to let you go.” So in the end, my parents ended up being really supportive.”
Kumi has always a taste for other cultures since young. When she was 15, she did an exchange program in Argentina for 6 months.
“I was initially meant to go to France, not Argentina. But the person in charge of my trip ran away because his company went bankrupt, so he didn’t submit my application. It was a month before I was supposed to head to France when the exchange organization realized there wasn’t an application. They told me I had a few options – Thailand, Philippines or Argentina. Now, I wanted to go somewhere where people didn’t know about Japan. In Southeast Asia, I know a lot of people there already love Japan, so I decided to go to Argentina. I didn’t think they were interested in Japanese people or knew much about Japan. I couldn’t speak any Spanish when I first arrived. All I could say was “Evita” or “Maradona”. It was the first time I flew to a different country by myself, and my plane was delayed by a typhoon. I ended up missing my transit flight in the US, and somehow I ended up in Santiago instead of Buenos Aires. At the time, I had no idea where Santiago was. I remember crying in the airport, and a Chinese guy came up to me and translated my English into Spanish. I don’t know how he did it but he somehow managed to get me a free ticket to Argentina. When I finally arrived in Argentina, it was 12 hours later and my host mother had been waiting there for 12 hours! I was so, so, so scared, but when she saw me she hugged me really tightly and kissed me, and that was a huge relief.
My Argentinian mom had four boys, so I became kind of like her daughter with four older brothers. I couldn’t speak any Spanish, but she always helped me with Spanish, and I was surrounded by locals so I began to learn little by little. For the first 3-4 months, I was very quiet but after that I began to start speaking the language.”
Kumi is very fluent in Spanish now and speaks perfect Spanish to her Argentinian mom when she catches up with her on the phone. Despite being more than 10 years apart, they retain a close bond.
One of my favourite questions to ask my Japanese friends is to ask what their ikigai is, and what their understanding of it is.
“Ikigai? That means the things you cannot live without. My ikigai is love, my family, my friends and my husband. These are the most important things for me. And of course, to eat and drink well!”
When Kumi and her husband, Hajime are together, there is a loose, relaxed, quiet bond surrounding them. It is evident they have an immense devotion for one another. She cannot pick a favourite quality when I ask, instead, she raves about many.
“I have so many favourite qualities of Hajime. He’s a very fearless person and is very free minded. He was the one that said, “Let’s quit our jobs and go! We don’t have kids, and enough money for now.” People think I’m the one who initiated this round the world idea, but it’s really his. He’s also a great cook and treats the people around him very well. He’s very calm and balanced, and good with stubborn people. He’s also very patient, which is what I need in a husband! He’s also very positive. He’s saved me a lot of times, when I’ve been sad. No matter how negative a situation is, he always finds something positive. He makes my life so much easier.”
I’ve seen a lot of these qualities in Hajime when I hang out with Kumi. Hajime doesn’t speak much English, while I don’t speak much Japanese. This usually means there’s a lot of silence, or hand gestures. What warms me is how patient Hajime is, which I see when he hangs out with Kumi and me. He listens to us speak while never looking bored or distracted.
I ask Kumi about the hardest thing she has gone through in life.
“Losing my baby. I had never imagined something like that would happen to me. I lost the baby in my stomach, and then I gave birth naturally. We could see the baby’s little eyes, mouth and fingers. I’m sure this is also the hardest thing for Hajime. We had a little funeral for our baby. Hajime went alone, because I was still in the hospital, and we didn’t want our parents to know we were suffering. So what we’re trying to do is override this sad memory with happy memories. We cannot and never will forget about this, but we are working on making this smaller and smaller by having better memories.”
I found what Kumi said very inspiring. I have never thought of overriding, or decreasing the weight of bad memories by increasing your happy memories.
She continued, “The doctor told us that the baby wasn’t strong enough and that’s why he or she died, but I felt that the baby passed away because at that time, we were fighting a lot and we were not in a good relationship. So after that happened, we started to treat life with more importance. We learned a lot from it. We became closer, and Hajime became very, very patient. We are still recovering from it and I don’t think we can ever recover fully, but sometimes, I think about a poem my Argentinian mom gave me when she came for my wedding. She told me there is no recipe for marriage, but it’s like a building. You build, brick by brick and if you misplace a brick in a wrong place, the building will collapse easily. But if you place these bricks really carefully and nicely, your total life together will be very solid. So I think what we need to do is build the bricks really carefully and with love. We’re still on our way, and we have a long way to go still. Losing the baby was hard, but it made us realize we should do the things we do not regret. So if you feel like doing something, do it. That’s our life philosophy now.”
Follow Kumi’s year round travel here. I am so impressed with the courage they have to both quit their jobs and begin this amazing journey, and I’m sure their trip around the world is going to be filled with amazing memories and experiences and the Kumi and Hajime building is going to get stronger and stronger every single day.
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