Starting New Space Events in Tokyo

I write this, about two years into a journey that started bearing fruit two months ago. The best-organized events look effortless and operate like clockwork, but rarely is the scene behind the curtain so perfect. Back in late 2014, I had approached the existing ISU Space Cafe – DC lead, Angela Peura, about two things: (1) the event was begging for a website (and a Facebook page) and (2) I was moving to Tokyo and wanted to take the Space Cafe idea with me. She agreed to both and as I started preparing for the move to Tokyo, I assumed the Tokyo version of Space Cafe would be up and running within three months of my August 2015 arrival. Haha.

When I got to Tokyo, several elements of the landscape became clear.
(1) I had no concept of what events looked like in Tokyo
(2) I didn’t know which bars or venues would be friendly to our idea
(3) I didn’t know anyone in the space community who lived in Tokyo

Whoops.

The first year in Tokyo was filled with all the newness and confusion that comes with moving to the literal other side of the planet and attempting to decipher kanji. I started attending comedy and storytelling events put on by the expat community. Not a whole lot happened with Space Cafe, but I did manage to start SEDS UTokyo (another story…) and meet some cool people. Around my one year mark, two events started and popped on my radar: Nerd Nite and Perfect Liars Club. Things picked up steam as I approached the owner of a delightful British pub in Shimokitazawa about having our event there.

Venue done, now to find speakers…

As it turns out, the founders of Perfect Liars Club had been transplants from DC themselves, and (sympathetically) they introduced me to our first speaker, Elizabeth. The rest, as they say, is history and we picked up momentum once people started hearing about us.

From our first night, we had a good size crowd of a healthy mix of space enthusiasts and professionals. It turns out that there was a real desire in the Tokyo space community for an event like this, which is amazing and gratifying. We (now there’s a team!) even started a meetup.com group to help consolidate space-related events in Tokyo and are planning to expand from (slightly structured) Space Cafes to (even more informal) discussion happy hours in the coming months.

So to anyone who is interested in starting their own STEAM/outreach events – do it!

…but be patient. These things take way more time than you might think.


Finding Your Tribe

Since beginning a graduate program in Tokyo, I have gotten countless questions and comments that are some flavor of “how are you adjusting to Japan?” and “I would never pack up and move halfway around the world.” The truth, as always, is complicated. Going to new places where you don’t know anyone is always a challenge, and there is always an adjustment period. Whether that is a week, month, year, or decade depends on the specific factors of the country, your personality, language barriers, and whether you have found fulfillment in the new location.

In Japan, I sometimes talk to prospective undergraduate students who want to study in the US, and the same question comes up each time: do you have any advice for adjusting to America? Having gone through my own adjustment over the last year and a half, I found this question initially hilarious but absolutely true. Any big culture shift is going to be a challenge.

The most important bit of advice I could impart is FIND YOUR TRIBE.

This could mean finding local people who speak your language. It could be people who share a passion or sport. It could be people who like to sit together while reading in coffee shops. Take your time, try a variety of events and settings. These things do not usually come together overnight. When nothing seems to be fitting, try starting your own event or group. You may find that there is a need for community that you can fill, and you may find that the tribe was there all along.

One lesson I learned over and over was that the information was out there, but I hadn’t found it yet. Want a group that does machine learning together? There’s a meetup.com group for that. Want to nerd out over beer? There’s a monthly event. Sometimes there are barriers in group dynamics – need for a promoter, need for a graphics designer, need for a photographer – so don’t be shy. You may be able to enable someone else to create something.

The new normal will be different and may require effort. It may take an hour each way to get there on very crowded trains, but when you find your tribe, you’ll know.