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Ep. 225: How this Japanese Digital Nomad is changing the way we see life on the road with Akina Shu

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In this episode, I speak with Akina who is a Japanese Digital Nomad. 

She is super special because she is one of my podcasting students and will be launching her own show called Nomad University.  

Where she will be interviewing nomads around the world, learning from their experiences from the good to the ridiculous, and not only that, she will also be talking about how to find partners in business and love while on the road. 

So, listen on to find out more about Akina and her new show Nomad University!

Listen Below:

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Transcription:

Debbie:

Hey everyone. Thank you so much for being here. I am really excited to speak with my guest today. I’m here with Akina.

Hey, Akina, how are you? 

Akina:

Hi, Debbie, I’m doing very great – from Japan. 

Debbie:

I love it. Yes, I’m interviewing Akina today. She’s in Japan and she’s actually one of my students and she’s about to start her own podcast about digital nomadism. So, I’m so excited for you to come out with that, Akina.

Can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life? 

Akina:

So, I’m Akina from Japan and I just became a digital nomad in 2020, which is just a year ago when I visited Bali. And there I met tons of digital nomads working with laptops and then traveling wherever they want. 

So after meeting them, I was so impressed and then I really wanted to be like them. So that’s how my digital nomad started.

Debbie:

Amazing. I love when you meet people during your travels and they really inspire you to do something else with your life. 

So when you finally decided that you wanted to do this digital nomad lifestyle, Akina, how did you prepare for that journey and make the big change? 

Akina:

Actually, before becoming a digital nomad, I had 9 to 5 work for 8 years. And after then, I realized I really want to travel around the world while working. So I quit my work and then I actually traveled around the world with my dad, with a shipping program. 

And after then I was kind of wondering what I really want to do in my life. At that time, I met this guy. Actually, I met him for the first time and I was talking to him about what kind of life I want or, like, what kind of thing that I would like to do and he recommended that I go to Bali with him. 

So I was like, “Okay, I’ll just go with him and see how it goes.” Then I met lots of digital nomads over there and then that’s the very first journey for me to be a digital nomad. 

Debbie:

That is incredible. And I love these little talks that you have with complete strangers and they just change your life forever. It’s pretty amazing when that happens and Akina is a type of person like she’s just so happy all the time. So I’m sure that’s a lot of good vibes you’re throwing around there too. 

Akina:

Yeah, it’s really awkward. I mean, every time people ask me how I became a digital nomad and then I tell the story to everyone, right? And then people are like, “You’re so crazy. You just followed the stranger.” Yeah, that’s how I became a digital nomad so yeah, everybody loves that story. 

Debbie:

I also do want to talk about this because when Akina and I did our coaching calls together and we were trying to figure out what her theme was because we wanted to make it unique, one of the things that you love talking about was romance while you’re abroad. 

Akina:

Yeah, yeah, for sure. I realized, as a digital nomad, it’s very hard to find a partner, especially a romantic partner because you keep moving around and you keep traveling. So, I realized after meeting a lot of Japanese digital nomads in Japan, their pain points are also exactly the same: finding a partner is a very tough one. 

So yeah, that’s actually one of my favorite topics to find out more about. 

Debbie:

I love that. You know why? A lot of people talk about digital nomadism and most of the things that we talked about are our financial stuff and what do you need to do to be acclimated to a new country but we don’t talk enough about romance and relationships. 

I mean, we do talk about loneliness especially if you’re traveling solo but not romantic type of loneliness so what do you say about that, Akina? Like, where have you found when you did the interviews and even yourself? Like, how do you actually find romantic relationships when you’re always on the go? 

Akina:

Well, I haven’t found the one for myself yet so I can’t really talk about it. But after interviewing several digital nomad couples, I just realized one of the couples told me that the lady contacted the husband through a blog, like, email.

At first, she was reading his blog, and then she really liked his traveling blog and then that’s how they met and they became digital nomads, and then traveled around the East part of Asia together for five years. 

So, probably, I’ll be finding some travel bloggers and contact him to find the right one to travel together or I don’t know. 

Debbie:

Well, that’s a good inspiration for you, Akina. And I did listen to that episode, that was a really great episode. I love how they met. It’s so interesting. And yeah, I guess finding somebody who has a similar interest to you, what you do, especially if that person is a travel blogger maybe you are one too, that’s really interesting. 

Akina:

Yeah.

Debbie:

Have you made any plans about meeting people in person when we can start traveling again, ’cause I feel like more people are, like, more nervous when it’s in person than just emailing somebody? 

Akina:

Yeah. True. 

Actually, I’m currently staying in Akita, the northern part of Japan, and then there is a digital nomad from the United States and he’s already staying here for a year. And the very first day we met, I just shared all these digital nomad stories with him, and finding a partner is very difficult.

And then I’m actually looking for Asian American digital nomad to travel together with. And then the first thing he said to me was like, “Are you racist?” I’m like, “Why?” He was, like, “Why are you only focusing on Asian-American?”

Debbie:

You’re like, “That’s my type. I like Asian men.”

Akina:

Yeah. That was hilarious.

Like, he was actually kind enough for me. He was trying to introduce some of his digital nomad friends to me. But like, whenever he comes up with someone’s name, he was like, “Oh, wait. Probably, he already has a partner,” or, “Actually, he’s married.”

And then after that, like, even the owner of the co-living place, and then he and then I, three of us, are talking about random things and then some guy’s name came up and he’s like, “Oh, he’s married. Oh, he’s single,” like that so he’s very helping me out. 

Debbie:

I love that. You have a digital nomad matchmaker. Love that. Yeah, that is a good business idea, digital nomad match-maker, because it’s very hard to find love on the road.

Akina:

Exactly. It’s very hard for me, especially in Asia, they’re not as many digital nomads as in the West. I was thinking of moving to Hawaii or Bali or LA or Estonia, wherever these digital nomads gather.

So, my friends just keep telling me that I should go abroad and find the one, not in Japan. 

Debbie:

They’re saying, “Akina, you’re going to have better chances when you’re not here.”

Akina:

Yeah. Exactly.

Debbie:

Love that. Well, at least they have your back. They’re telling you what you need to do, so love it. Love talking about this love, talking about romance abroad, and we’re definitely going to follow your journey along with that romance while you’re abroad, Akina. 

I mean, I can’t tell you all how much fun I had talking to Akina about things like romance, possibilities. And she definitely talks a lot about this on her podcast as well, which we are so excited for you to finally publish, Akina, and to share all of that. 

So when you finally decided to leave your nine-to-five, Akia, did you have a what now moment? Because for me, it definitely happened like, “Oh my gosh, I finally did this, I took the leap. What now? What do I do?” What was yours like? 

Akina:

So before leaving the company, I actually had three main reasons to quit. 

So the first was because I had this huge surgery twice with my left thigh, the second reason is my mom passed away, and the third reason was that I was transferred to a different department which I wasn’t really willing to do all those jobs.

So all these three things came at the one time, and then I realized that life is too short and that I don’t want to regret my life. So when I took the first step to leave the company, I just traveled around the world with my dad and I didn’t really think about what to do later on. 

Suddenly this stranger came into my life and then invited me to go to Bali so I don’t know. I’m not sure if it’s called what now moment but yeah, that’s my journey, I guess.

Debbie:

That’s a lot of different things that happened at once and I think that’s the type of moment where you really start analyzing what you’re doing with your life, right?

A death of a really close, loved one, your mom, and then the job changes, that’s a lot. So sometimes, unfortunately, it takes tragic things or really big changes in our lives to finally get to that point. But however it is, as long as it leads you on the right path, that’s always good to do. 

So, I’m glad it led you here. And now, how has your life changed? Like what has the lifestyle change been like for you? 

Akina:

So definitely my lifestyle has been dramatically changed. And the one thing for sure that I can say is that freedom. But I would say freedom takes responsibility and freedom means that you have the right to choose what you want to.

Sometimes it’s very hard for me to control myself, especially self-management ’cause you are allowed to work anytime and anywhere, which means you don’t probably need to work but if you don’t work you will not make enough money to support your life. 

So it’s very hard for me to keep balance but at the same time, I’m enjoying it and I don’t think I can go back to the employee lifestyle again. 

Debbie:

And that is a really good point. Having more freedom, although we all want it, right? It does take a lot more responsibility than when you were just working in your nine-to-five. A lot of other people share the responsibility but when you’re an entrepreneur, when you’re a digital nomad, you are given all of this freedom that you don’t know what to do with most of the time. 

And it takes a long period of time to actually adjust to that. So, that’s one of the things that most people who are starting to work from home, who are starting to become digital nomads don’t actually realize until they’re put in that position. 

It’s great but it also, you’re right, it takes a lot of responsibility.

Akina:

Yeah. I think, especially Japanese are quite bad at adjusting ourselves into the name of freedom. Because once we are told, “Okay, you’re free to go. You are allowed to do anything.” Then we kind of freeze and don’t know what to do. 

Probably just 20% of us are able to enjoy the freedom and 80% of them probably need some direction on what to do. So yeah, enjoying your freedom is kind of, oh, so hard sometimes.

Debbie:

Yeah. It’s great but then there are also definitely pros and cons to that. So it’s just a matter of figuring out where you fit in. And there’s nothing wrong with you having a position and it’s remote. 

There’s a lot of people that would rather prefer having a job but still working remotely than somebody who’s an online entrepreneur. So you just have to decide whatever fits you and where you work best at. 

So there’s nothing wrong with either one of those or some people just really love their nine-to-dive, that’s okay too.

Speaking of freedom and managing your own time, how do you do that, Akina? How do you manage your time as a remote worker to make sure that you’re still being productive as well as having fun too, especially if you’re in a different place?

Akina:

So, I try to finish the work that I don’t really like in the morning because I can focus on more in the morning time especially right after I wake up. I’m still, like, half asleep so I don’t have enough consciousness to think that this is the work that I don’t like.

I’m doing all the work in the morning and in the afternoon usually, especially after lunch, I get sleepy. So I try to go explore the new city with new local friends. After that, I’ll come home and at night time, I will try to work again. 

So, when I was an employee, I had to work from 9 to 5, even though after lunch, I was still sleepy. I felt very sleepy. I just go to the bathroom and then take out, like, very short sleep and then come back to work.

But as an entrepreneur here in Japan, I can just decide which time that I can work and at which time that I can enjoy with my friends. So, that’s the best for me to control myself.

Debbie:

Yeah. Again, it’s really deciding what works for you, how you want your day to go, really creating your ideal lifestyle once you do have it. And sometimes especially when you’re just starting, it seems really overwhelming because you’re like, “Oh my gosh. What do I do with all this time now?” 

And then you start panicking ’cause you’re like, “Oh my gosh, there is so much time but then I don’t know what to do with it. Am I productive enough?” Then you kind of have this guilty feeling like, “Am I not hustling right? Am I not doing enough work? Am I doing too much work? Am I resting too much?” 

Yeah, that definitely happened to me.

Akina:

Yeah. Exactly the same. I mean, like, I feel very overwhelmed and at the same time, another part of me is telling me to rest a bit because you deserve to rest after the hard work you’ve done. But when I rest, another part of me started telling me, “Akina, you should work because you still have a lot to do.” 

So I’m always in between but I try to have like 15 minutes of meditation every morning to calm down and clear my mind. And yeah, I think it’s all about how you think and how you have a mindset. 

Debbie:

Yeah, it’s so good. Like, I need to do more meditations. I feel like I don’t do that enough but what I do actually do for myself is create a set schedule that I know I’ll follow every single day and that has really helped a lot and it made me feel so much more productive.

Because sometimes like, well, at least for me, when my day is just all over the place and I do tend to forget to do a certain thing. So it’s kind of funny that we leave a  9-to-5 because we don’t kind of like the routine but then when we do leave our 9-to-5, we create another routine but it’s actually a routine that we like. So I guess as long as it’s what you want, that’s okay. 

Akina:

True. I mean, yeah, exactly. ‘Cause, for example, today, I am in a new city, so my new friends took me to this new place. It was a famous train in Japan and we spent probably two hours there. Before then I woke up a little bit earlier to work for 1 hour and then after enjoying the sightseeing at the shrine, I came back to the coworking place, and then I was working for the whole afternoon. 

But after that, another new friend picked me up and then brought me to her place, and then we are having this Japanese local dinner with the Olympic ceremony. So it’s a very exciting experience for me. 

If I was working 9-to-5, definitely, I wouldn’t be able to go out in the morning and then have dinner with local people at night. So all this flexibility is definitely because I took the first step to leave the company so I could gain. 

Debbie:

Yeah, absolutely. And again, it’s creating your own ideal lifestyle once you do have that freedom. So it does take responsibility but once you actually know how to deal with it, it is an ideal life that you’re creating for yourself, and that’s why we all love this because of that freedom. 

So, let’s talk about how you create income now as a digital nomad, Akina, and what is it like for you and how do you budget your money so that it actually lasts when you’re on the road?

Akina:

For me, I’m 50% investment and 50% business is my ideal income. So I bought a house before I quit my work because when I was an employee I had this social credibility so then I could borrow money from the bank. And then I bought two houses before leaving the company. 

So even after I put in my work I still get some stable passive income from this real estate, so that actually helps me to move anywhere in Japan right now. So that’s the very biggest investment for me and the second on the business, I actually get some jobs from my previous workplace. 

I used to work at a publisher, so they asked me to make some books or help them to publish. So that writing work allowed me to work anywhere. I have several jobs at the same time. Right now, I work as a brand ambassador for Coliving Platform Service. Also, Japan Workation Association and I will be giving some lectures about this show, Nomadism to Japanese. 

So that kind of new work is also starting to get me some money. So kind of keeping balance and then having a previous work but at the same time trying to create new income.

Debbie:

That is incredible. There are different streams of income that you’re creating in terms of passive and active. And that’s always good to do. And that makes it so much more stable for you in order to travel around and continue with the lifestyle that you have. And that was such a smart thing that you did, Akina, buying those properties before you left your nine-to-five. 

Because now you have residual income, you have passive income from real estate and it gives you again more freedom to do what you want while you’re trying to create different sources of income as well. 

Alright, Akina, so, let’s fast forward to about 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for? 

Akina:

Well, I mean, definitely, I could find my ideal husband and then have some kids and then could do life together and that will be totally my legacy. And also, I can still travel around the world with my family even after I get married and I will be able to find our favorite places based on the season.

So for example, spring and autumn will be in Tokyo, Japan and summertime, wintertime, we will go somewhere dry and nice weather, or enjoy the cultural food or nature. So that’s definitely my legacy.

Debbie:

Love that and I love that romance is still one of the most important things in Akina’s legacy in life, which it should all be in ours as well. Love that. 

So, Akian,  before we say goodbye I have five rapid questions for you. Are you ready? 

Alright, first question: what has been the best money you’ve ever spent while you were abroad and why? 

Akina:

Definitely, the Sunset Cruise that I took with my dad and mom like 10 years ago. That was a very long time ago. It wasn’t like an investment for myself, when I invested on it, I used all the money to bring my parents to make them happy. So that was a very good investment for me. 

Debbie:

That’s nice. I love that. 

All right, next: describe what your ideal day would look like. 

Akina:

So my ideal day would be waking up and doing some meditation and exercise with a dog and husband near the ocean. And after that, reading a book in the afternoon and then do some little work. Yeah, I still want to do some little work in a day but still like having quality time with my family and living near the sea or mountain to enjoy nature. 

Debbie:

That sounds amazing. We all love that.

Akina:

Also food, good food. 

Debbie:

Always, that should always be on everybody’s list for their ideal day – is good food. That’s in mine too.

Now, where is the best location to live in, in your opinion, as a remote worker? 

Akina:

Good question. Actually, I want to say that Japan is a good location for remote workers because after traveling around the world for hundred days, I realized Japanese food is the best and it’s very healthy and the service even though we don’t pay for the tip or service fee, Japan gives us the best service. 

So if you go to Coworking Place, the community builder is trying to introduce a lot of interesting people to you so that you get to meet a lot of interesting people. And sometimes we kind of decide to do a new business together. So in a way of finding a new business partner or enjoying Japanese food and hospitality, yeah, Japan is actually a good location for remote workers.

Debbie:

Love that. My dad has traveled around the world probably several times over and he still says that Japan is his favorite country. So yeah, I have to visit one day. We need to meet up in person.

Akina:

Yeah. Indeed. I mean, like, Japan is one of the cleanest countries and we have a lot of coliving spaces.

Debbie:

Good food.

Akina:

Yes, food comes first.

Debbie:

Love it. Yes, will definitely do that. 

Now if you could have a superpower, what would it be? 

Akina:

I’m not sure if it’s going to be my superpower but I don’t know how to call it in English but in Japan, we have this TV program called Doraemon. Do you know what that is? 

Debbie:

No, what is it? 

Akina:

Okay, so, in Japan the comic books or Manga are very famous and Doraemon is one of them and he has a lot of tools to help people. So one of the useful tools is called a door to lead anywhere you want. 

So, there is a door and then if you wish to go to, for example, Bali or Malta right away, you just say it out and then open it, and then you will just be there. So I’m not sure it’s going to be my superpower but I’m hoping that one day that door will be developed and then we can go anywhere right away. 

Debbie:

That would be amazing. Yeah. That would be something really cool ’cause you could literally open the door to anywhere. Amazing. Love that. That could be like a door with a superpower.

Akina:

Yeah.

Debbie:

So, lastly, Akina, what’s the one thing you wish you did sooner?

Akina:

Buying a house? Yeah, ’cause I decided to buy properties right before I decided to quit my work. But actually, before then, I had some opportunities to learn about real estate investment but at that time I was very afraid of doing that because it’s a huge amount of money.

But I wish I could’ve bought more properties when I was an employee. So yeah that’s one of the things that I wish I could’ve done earlier. 

Debbie:

Love it. Yeah. Well at least now you have more opportunities and there’s going to be more to go.

Thank you so much, Akina. If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?

Akina:

So I’m going to launch a podcast called Nomad University and also will be launching online media called Nomad University World. So you will be able to find me there.

Debbie:

Perfect. Thank you so much, Akina, for sharing all of your knowledge with us. And also, make sure to check out our extended interview together because we’re going to talk more about podcasting and business. Love it. Thanks so much, Akina, for being here. We really appreciate you.

Akina:

Thank you, Debbie.


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Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith

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