My Summarized Life

A Little History

Carterville, IL, USA
The singular main road of Carterville, IL (pop. 4000~)

I was born and raised in small towns across various states in the American Midwest, but spent my college years in South Florida. I studied Visual Arts at Broward Community College and Philosophy and Japanese Studies at Florida International University. I graduated in Winter 2004 and immediately prepared to move to Japan and teach English on the JET Programme (語学指導等を行う外国青年招致事業).

Hello, Japan!

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Kochi City night view as seen from the Panorama Cafe atop Mt. Godai

Through a stroke of luck I was accepted and asked to move to Kochi in Summer 2005. It was my first time in Japan, and I quickly fell in love with Kochi and its people. I also realized that while  I very much enjoyed teaching, I wasn’t a good match for Japanese public education system, nor the idea that my over-inflated salary was coming from public taxes.

After two years, I moved back to the United States in Summer 2007, but rural Alabama gave me such a severe case of reverse culture shock that I returned to Kochi after only 6 months.

This time I attempted teaching English at a small English conversation school. It was a better system, and they were very accommodating, but more often than not I found the people I was teaching (mostly elderly retirees) lacked the motivation or goals necessary to really progress. Similar to my JET experience, I felt less like an instructor and more like an entertainer.

This lasted another two years, until…

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I married my lovely wife, Kaoru Tokuno (徳能薫), in Fall 2009. Our wedding caught local media attention due to our unprecedented use of streaming internet video to broadcast the event live around the world to friends and family who were unable to attend.

With the new-found freedom acquired with my Spousal Visa, I was no longer dependent on my employer for a visa. I was 100% responsible for my own occupational fulfillment. But I had no idea what kind of work I really wanted to do. I had some soul searching to do.

A Million Steps

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Henro pilgrim atop the summit of Mt. Ichizuchi

I quit teaching English in August 2010 and  began the Shikoku 88 Temple Henro Pilgrimage (四国八十八箇所) — a 1200km walk around the perimeter of Shikoku Island.

I spent 2 whole months walking alone for about 10 hours a day and sleeping outdoors wherever I could find shelter. It was a life changing experience, to say the least. I completed the pilgrimage in late September 2010, and while I may not have been much closer to knowing what my life’s work should be, the experience had instilled an unshakable courage and confidence.

Diving into Worldly Pleasures

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Sanctuary Bar before opening for a big event during peak in Summer 2012

Two week after completing  the pilgrimage, I was looking for employment I could enjoy. I heard a rumor about an open position at ‘Sanctuary‘, a downtown cocktail bar I’d been to a couple of times. Upon talking to the owner I was brought on board immediately, and after a couple of months of learning the ropes I was handed the reigns as manager.

The nights were long and the parties never-ending. Sanctuary quickly became the central hub of the Kochi expat social scene. I was the go-to guy for club event information and bar recommendations.

It was a hugely rewarding experience, but looking back I’m not sure how my body kept up with the pace!

Fatherhood and Our First Home

Noa Tokuno (June 2014)
Noa Tokuno (June 2014)

My son, Noa (希天), was born in April 2013. After a year of stretching myself between work obligations at night, and family obligations in the daylight hours, I came to realize that it wouldn’t be feasible in the long-term.

We’d also just bought and renovated a new home, and I was eager to spend more time in the daylight hours on DIY projects.

DIY Enthusiast

Ultimately, I decided that it was time for a career change, once again.

Summons from the Ocean Depths

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Oxblood Coral, a little-known Kochi specialty

Connections I made while managing Sanctuary led me to be introduced to several key members of Japan’s precious coral industry, which, unbeknownst to most people, is centered in Kochi prefecture.

Truth be told, I’d been receiving invitations from Kawamura Coral, one of the largest players in the industry, since 2012 to join as part of their international team. But it wasn’t until Fall 2014 that the stars aligned to make such a change in trajectory a desirable one.

Since joining in September 2014, I’ve been on a crash course to learn all I can about the precious coral and high-end jewelry industries.

The change in scenery, the international trade shows, and the headiness of being in the same playing field as some of the most famous luxury brands in the world ( Cartier, Harry Winston, Van Cleef and Arpels, for example) – it’s all absolutely exhilarating.