Letters from Japan – Spring 2023

Light shining on mountains in Milford Track

Good morning,

This is the Spring 2023 edition of my sporadic letters from Japan. It would probably be more appropriate to title this seasonal spring letter as a letter from Turkey or Oceania as opposed to Japan. I was gone for most of the spring season. First physically in New Zealand for about a month and then not physically but mentally very much back in Turkey due to the upcoming elections.

The New Zealand trip was likely my last long trip for a while as I will soon be starting a full time job here in Tokyo, Japan while also trying to finish the last year of my PhD (which will probably get a little delayed honestly). After a long six year break during which I did only remote and part time law related work, an invitation for a job interview came from the people whom I already know at the very right time. It was about time that it would be prudent to start thinking about my long term plans (but I was not really doing that) and whether I was going to stay in Japan for a little longer. I feel very fortunate to have found a job in Tokyo where I will still be able to use my legal experience in a non-law firm setting under more reasonable work hours and with occasional travels to Asia and Pacific. The job requires a very “intimate” relation with contractual and legislative frameworks governing the infrastructure projects jointly developed by private parties and administrative bodies, a field where Turkey has a lot of experience (that sure helped during the interview). I am currently waiting to receive my work visa and I will start my new job in June. I feel very happy that I will not have to worry about my Japan residence permit for the coming years and I still very much enjoy my life here in Japan. But I also know that, along the way, I will start itching to move back to Turkey or somewhere a little closer to Turkey if we manage to vote our current president out on 14 May 2023. If that happens, May 15th will be the happiest day of my life and hopefully of many other Turks.

Turkish elections: hopefully a happier country

As the polls open early for those living abroad, I already voted yesterday in Tokyo at the Turkish Embassy. The voter turnout in Turkish elections is historically very high (above 80% on average since 1950) but I think there may be a new record in this election. You can check the comparative data for OECD countries here.

I have always felt very proud about the high voter turnout in Turkey (and how many of us have been raised to appreciate that nothing matters more than exercising your right to vote in a well-functioning democracy), even though the results have almost always devastated me. Since I turned 18, I voted in every single general/local/presidential election but never experienced a win by the party/person that I voted for except for my first election when I was 19. I am now 42.

The same party/person has been ruling Turkey since 2002. A lot has changed in Turkey since then (obviously not in a good way when people in charge refer to the upcoming elections as a coup if it does not go their way and anyone not voting for the ruling party is called a terrorist, traitor and many other insulting adjectives not appropriate for Facebook/Instagram). I never thought that we would witness a regime change in my lifetime but that also happened. Our current governance regime almost entirely disregards the principle of separation of powers and a dangerous level of authority is in the hands of one person only.

I chatted with fellow voters while waiting in line to vote, it is clear that May will be another month of crippling anxiety for many of us Turks. I of course envy the citizens of countries where the elections matter so little in terms of their overall lifestyle, rule of law, and fundamental human rights that they often do not even bother to vote. So I voted in the hope of a country where the results of the elections will no longer matter in terms of these fundamental aspects of a decent life but even then I will still keep voting. And the elections do not matter only until that one day when they suddenly do.

Long trip to Kiwi Land

Moving on to a little less anxiety triggering things, in March I visited New Zealand to hike three of the country’s famous Great Walks, Milford, Kepler and Routeburn. Even though I had already experienced the landscape beauty of New Zealand, the beauty of the multi-day trails exceeded all my expectations. I was also very much moved by New Zealand’s approach to conservation of nature. They almost magically manage to make the visitors and hikers feel like partners in the quest for protection of nature and not like potential destroyers of nature who need to be lectured at all times. This approach just changes everything and adds so much to the whole experience and as evident in the case of New Zealand, it actually works for reaching higher conservation standards.

I have been using my free days during this visa process to update my blog as much as I can. In addition to four new New Zealand posts, I also have some Japan related posts – one about my tips on how to reduce your Japan travel costs (read at your own risk as I am notoriously not a budget conscious person) and the other one listing my favorite Japanese Islands.

As always I would like to hear back from you, I am awful with phone calls but I read every single email that comes my way. And if the Turkish election results in a new government respecting the rule of law, willing to re-implement the parliamentary regime and simply appreciating the fact that the Ottoman Empire is long gone and we have long been a republic, look for me dancing mindlessly in the streets of Tokyo and terrorizing the apolitical Japanese people.

Until next time,