This exact line has been the response of me telling people I am leaving Amazon and moving to Tokyo. It has been a very interesting question because no one asked me why Seattle when I left Bangalore. In fact I have been pondering over this quite a bit and I don’t think I have a great answer.
I wonder if part of the question is implicitly asking: Why leave US? And why leave Amazon? If I have to answer the question of why Tokyo, I probably need to answer these questions.
I love Seattle in all fairness. Yes, it has its problems but then what part of the world does not. I have not known a city so green, so beautiful and so fresh. I love Seattle weather. So I did not want to leave Seattle as such. But what I did not like was the uncertainty in US immigration and visas. I had a green card application filed which might come through in 10 years perhaps. Till that point I am not really a citizen, I am dependent on my visa which also has to be renewed every 3 years. Then for my spouse to work there are other rules and regulations. I did not want that thing. I did not want to file paperwork every 3 years until an unknown point to make sure I can remain in this country as a valuable member. Even though I file more taxes than perhaps a lot of Americans do. And then each time you enter the country you feel awkward as though you shouldn’t be here but the CBP is doing you a favor and letting you in.
At the same time, Amazon has become a much bigger company than when I started. Its probably 6x of the size from 2011 and that changes things. It also grows on you like cob-webs accumulating. I just wanted to do something smaller. So that was one reason of deciding to leave. The other reason is my love for Amazon. Its just a big innovation power house. When you love something you need to sometimes let it go. If you really loved it you will return or maybe you were just in blind love. I am moving out of Amazon to see a different world and be able to contrast what I liked and didn’t like. In short I want to experience another company and culture and see what values and corporate culture do I fit best into and the ones that I like the most.
That being said, there was definitely an appeal to move to Tokyo and luckily I found a job offer in that city. The first part of that appeal was that arrived at Tokyo by a process of elimination. I wanted to move to a different city. The following country / regions are the ones that have big tech presence: Canada, Europe, Ireland, India, China, Rest of asia.
Since I had lived in the western world, I found that I wanted to experience a different way of life. That kind of eliminated Europe, Ireland and Canada. Following that I knew I couldn’t stay in India or China due to the pollution. That left me with rest of asia. Most asian cities outside of china and india have limited tech presence. There is Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo which are big hubs comparative to rest of the cities. Luckily I got a job in one of the cities which made it easy to decide.
Now that I had decided to move to Tokyo there were definitely quite a number of favorable qualities. The first was that my favorite author and director come from Japan. I love reading Murakami books and watching Miyazaki movies. I love anime and Japan is the anime capital. You realize that the emphasis in Asian (perhaps Japanese) art is on the subtle feelings and emotions while the western art captures actions and events a lot more.
Then there was the idea of smaller spaces, more compact living. The next thing was pollution: Given its size and population, Tokyo is still spotlessly clean and has air pollution metrics within normal. Delhi and Beijing are 10x more polluted than Tokyo. Another thing was safety: People tell me that Tokyo is an order of magnitude safer than anywhere in the world. Kids less than 10 year old ride subway alone. People leave their cellphones to reserve their seats on trains. You can be hanging out with $1000 at 2AM and you are probably going to be okay. As long as you are not stupid, you are safe. Finally I love the idea of public transit: yes it seems inconvenient but I appreciate a city with good public transit. Tokyo perhaps has the best in the world!
I had been able to convince myself fairly easily on Tokyo and my wife, Gayatri, is quite invested into the ideas as well. One other thing that was on our minds was that since we were changing cities and jobs, why not just push ourselves into a drastic change. To go to a place where you do not know the language, the culture, the food or people. Every day would be a day to learn and understand. No other opportunity would allow us to do that like with Tokyo. You basically reset your life and get a chance to do things differently.
I think the last deciding factor was regret minimization. When I am 80 (and if I live to be that old) would I look back at the decision to go to Tokyo with regret? No! Would I regret not having tried? Definitely! And with that we kind of packed up, wrapped everything and moved out of Seattle.