Where the Canals Lead

Sunrise in historical Amsterdam

Sunrise in historical Amsterdam

My home is a small country where most tourists conjure images of windmills, tulip fields and clogs. Or, if you are a different kind of tourist, you may know the country for its red light district, drug tolerance and bachelor/bachelorette parties. Unbeknownst to me and perhaps others, it is also a place where the tallest mountain is only 322m above sea level and where the average male is 182.5cm tall.

Netherlands, home to its giant inhabitants, seemed like an interesting pit-stop where I could continue my adventures. After completing my MBA in France I was not ready to leave Europe quite yet.

Life in the Low-Lands

During the last year and a half, I have ridden bikes and partied on boats more than EVER in my life. I can now make a phone call, text and open Google maps on my bike, all while dodging other bikers, trams and bachelor parties without falling into a canal.

Besides the occasional road stress, there is something inherently relaxed in the European lifestyle. Nowhere is this more true than in Amsterdam during the summer. With events every weekend at a bike-able distance, impromptu boat rides on rare, clear days, and biertje (literally a small beer, but here this is synonymous with a Heineken) on the canals, my first summer here was magical.

Now in March, the weather is turning for the better, again. After a long, grey winter typical of northern Europe, it is finally warm enough for me to go running in the nearby Vondelpaark. The sun is starting to bathe a six-story, historical building where I work well into the evening and cast the Westerkerk church next door in a mesmerizing silhouette – all taking place right outside my office window.

All this beautifully contrasts my life growing up in a stimulating, dense city like Tokyo attending an American school.

XXX Amsterdam

The population of Amsterdam is about 800,000 with nearly half of its residents from outside the country. Compare this with Tokyo, a city of 14 million with mostly homogenous people. Even as a vertically challenged outsider in Amsterdam, I learned that it is possible to feel a part of a city, something I had never fully felt in my mammoth city back home. Here are a few reasons why.

First, the city is a perfectly manageable size. It has roughly the same landmass as Nagasaki with events and perpetual novelty that rival many major metropolitan cities. I often begin at a restaurant on the West side of town where I live with one group of friends and end at an up-and-coming bar on the East side with a different crowd. I also discovered the feeling of making my own list of the best eateries without the assistance of a third party website like tablelog and being confident recommending them to my many visitors. All of this adds to the sense of really knowing and loving this place.

Secondly, the comfortable pace of Amsterdam is a relaxing change from an intense Asian city like Tokyo. Work-life balance is not just a company objective on paper, but a reality and right. I generally end my days at 6pm, while many Dutchies efficiently finish even earlier. For the first time in my life, I see people bike passed me smiling or singing on their way to work in the morning. This balanced approach to work only goes to show a healthy attitude towards life in general, which is not to say people here are lazy or blazé. Quite the opposite. Amsterdam is one the best run and most efficient cities I have lived in, on par with Tokyo.

Euro Gay Pride Parade in 2016

Euro Gay Pride Parade in 2016

Most of all, Amsterdam is not shackled by norms or archaic rules, but has come to stand for tolerance and acceptance. I was lucky to be in the city last year when it hosted EuroPride. The Prinsengracht canal filled with a procession of over one hundred sponsored boats themed in rainbow and hot pink, all pumping to dance music. There are no expectations or categories to conform to, as is often the case in Japanese society. I like to believe that many Amsterdammers share this open spirit and that the city will always remain welcoming to people of all types, shades and backgrounds.

Chasing Rainbows

Admittedly, it is not easy to break into the Dutch circle, although everyone is friendly and speaks impeccable English. It is understandable considering they rightfully suspect many of us expats are transient beings here.

And, this is true for me as I am now looking for my own next steps. Not out of boredom of the city, but to seek new challenges and discover new places to call my own.

Because of my time in the Netherlands, I will forever prefer pedal breaks on my bike, appreciate every single sunny day and know where to find my best music festival buddies. Even when I do not live here any longer, Amsterdam will forever remain my home because home is where the heart is.


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