The Journey across the Pacific
Seiji Ito’s 1987 expedition to an unfamiliar land in search of a better life
essay written by Kanta Ito
Ito never predicted his dream career in the programming business to change his life as drastically as influencing him to cross the Pacific Ocean into a new territory, the United States of America. Not even thinking about moving here until his company contemplated the idea, Ito wanted to try something new in his life with nothing to lose. Living in America was easier for Ito in many ways. “The Journey Across the Pacific” is an exhilarating story about one man’s dream becoming a reality.
Seiji Ito’s experience of transitioning from the lifestyle in Japan to that in the United States of America altered his life. For Ito, it was an easy and smooth transition because he came for his job and the adventure; he was almost too willing to welcome the change. He had no real difficulties at all moving here except a setback of three years to get his permanent green card residence. Ito explained “[that] there was a long line. Now it takes longer depending on the case.”1 Ito never thought about moving to the United States during his childhood, but events that occurred in his adulthood later changed his mind.
Seiji Ito was born on June 8, 1959, about fourteen years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan’s surrender to the United States in World War II. Ito was raised along with his older brother, Akito, by his hard-working parents, Yoshiko and Kiyotora, who worked as elementary school teachers in the beautiful suburb of Niihama, Japan located on the northern coast of the Shikoku Islands in the Ehime Prefecture. During his childhood he went to Kiinyei Elementary School, Niihama Southern Middle School, and Niihama West High School, all in the city of Niihama. Ever since he was little, Ito aspired to be a programmer. His favorite toy to play with was his transistor kit—the substitution for the nonexistent computers during his childhood days. Since he was still too young to buy it on his own, and he expressed much interest in the transistor kit, “[his] mom [bought] it for [him].”2 He lived in a relatively large house. The TV show he loved to watch during his childhood was called “Obake-no-Kyutaro,” which was an anime show in the 1960’s about a ghost that went on interesting adventures.
His favorite hobbies besides playing with the transistor kit were playing basketball and volleyball. He played sports like basketball and volleyball to make friends, communicate more efficiently, and learn teamwork, a necessity for his future adulthood life. In fact, he was on the volleyball team for his high school. Although he wasn’t a really talented volleyball player, he had a memorable moment once. During a game, his friend that was on the team got injured, and Ito substituted for him. He went into the game and pulled off a number of digs and aces, leading them to an unexpected victory. Furthermore, he and his friends organized a school club called “Ham Radio.” It was an amateur radio station that allowed communication with others using transceivers, kind of like a better version of the walkie-talkie. Ito and his club members were able to communicate through Morse signals. The Morse signals were so strong that Ham Radio was even able to reach people out of the country every once in a while. It was an extremely popular club, partially because “there were a lot of girls in it.”3 The club was also successful since the school was able to fund it. Ito learned from his brother Akito that a more modernized “Ham Radio” club is still active today. Ito was an honor student at Niihama West High School, and graduated from a university in Tokyo, majoring in computer engineering.
Ito mainly worked as a programmer for a company called “Aruyume” in Tokyo, Japan, starting from 1982. He had a relatively rigorous daily routine. He usually woke up at around 7 a.m. and then took a five-minute walk to the subway station at about 7:30 a.m. It was a major hassle because of the rush hour in Tokyo, which was impossible to avoid. As a result, Ito would usually have to wait on the station platform for about twenty minutes. After sitting in the train for twenty-five minutes, he arrived at work at around 9:00 a.m. His business hours were from 9:00 to 6:00 p.m., but Ito stated “nine to six work hours usually never followed. If work or projects didn’t go well, you had to stay there longer.”4 Although he earned a really good wage, the work itself was tough, as he usually didn’t get off the job until sometime between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. He usually ate with his friends after work, then went home and slept immediately at around midnight. Because it was such an intense routine for Ito, he always stayed home and slept during rest days, which was every Sunday and occasionally Saturdays. The increased domestic demand during the 80’s in Japan contributed to Ito’s high salary wage while working for Aruyume. However, Ito disliked the job, so he set his eyes on becoming a freelance programmer about a year before he moved to the United States, affiliating himself with five different programming companies and their projects. It was extremely beneficial since he was able to do the majority of his work within the comfort of his own home while retaining a rather flexible schedule for himself. He could work on the projects whenever and however he wanted to as long as he was able to finish the projects on time.
In December of 1986, Lifeboat—a company that distributed American software—contemplated sending somebody to the United States. This was the starting point for Ito’s thoughts about moving to America. According to Ito, “Lifeboat was one of [his] clients while [he] was working as [a] freelance programmer.”5 Lifeboat wanted to send somebody to the United States as a first-time experimental project to trial its potential success while in association with the world’s current leading nation in gross national product. Speculation was that since there was no internet, Lifeboat wanted to gather market research about businesses in America and be able to influence their companies. In February of 1987, Ito was sent on a short business trip to the United States by Lifeboat. Ito thought that he could be the one that would move to America after the successful business. SSI, Systems and Software Incorporated, was a company that had plans to make new versions of debuggers, which required more programmers. Lifeboat sent Ito to SSI to work for that project in Orange County. In the United States, Ito worked for both SSI and Lifeboat at the same time. Then in April of 1988, Ito switched to work directly for SSI. He ended up living in America permanently. Ito was the only person sent by Lifeboat to the United States; the company went bankrupt in the early 1990’s after running out of software to sell.
Ito was not forced to leave his own country due to unfortunate complications; life was already comfortable and pleasant enough. However, he realized that America better suited his desired lifestyle of freedom, and that was why he decided to come. His parents were very tolerant of his decision. Ito described their reactions as having, “No complaint, but no compliment….”6 Since Ito already took one business trip to the United States about half a year before he actually moved, he already knew that America was more casual and had more freedom than Japan did.
Coming to America required a few tough choices that Ito had to make. Ito barely brought any luggage to America. He said it was, “Because it was really expensive. [He] threw almost everything away.”7 He took the Northwest Airline flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles without any fear at all. Since he had a minimal amount of luggage, Ito basically started from scratch, buying almost everything in the United States, including computers, clothing, TV, etc. Fortunately for Ito, there were cheaper clothes that better suited him, so he bought a lot of clothing as soon as he arrived in the United States.
This was not Ito’s first time coming to America. Ito already had made a short business trip to America for programming-related activities in February of 1987. His impression of America was pretty much what he expected since he watched a lot of shows and movies—which were filmed in America—back in Japan. What surprised him though, was the common usage of guns in America. He got this impression particularly when he saw a gun show at the O.C. Fairgrounds. Ito knows “They’re still there. And [he] was surprised by it. [His] friend took [him] there.”8
Ito didn’t really have any new impressions of America since he already learned a lot about the country back in Japan. Concerning the weather and environment, Ito really didn’t have much to say but that he came for work rather than for atmosphere. However, he did mention that “weather was nicer, street[s] [were] bigger, more refreshing, it didn’t rain here as much, [and cities were] more beautiful.”9 Ito also found it ironic and surprising that Japanese beers and other essentials to his personal enjoyments were much cheaper in the United States than back in Japan. Although it wasn’t the reason Ito moved to the United States, it was a minor contribution to his decision to stay rather than move back to Japan.
A fellow employer at SSI named Julie helped Ito settle in America. When he arrived at Los Angeles Airport, Julie greeted him, and guided him through the basic life in the United States. Julie helped Ito buy a Toyota Corolla and an apartment at Newport Beach, which was really close to Newport Harbor High School. Ito appreciated her work, saying Julie “helped [him] with taking care of rental cars and apartments and did all the work for [him].”10 He was generally surprised at the way people in America acted and lived, which was much more different from Japan. He stayed at the Newport Beach apartment for about three months before he moved into an apartment in Costa Mesa that was closer to his workplace.
For Ito, there were very few obstacles that he had to overcome at all. It took Ito about three years to get his permanent residency (green card), so he lived here with an H1 Visa, a temporary working visa that SSI supplied him with, until he was able to gain permanent residence. Since he was only able to speak a minimal amount of English, he had some difficulty when communicating with others. However, he was able to overcome the problem easily. Since Ito was able to read English, “If something was important, [he] had him or her write it for [him] so [he] could understand it.”11 Another difference he needed to adjust to was the absence of subway trains, at least in Orange County, so he had to be sober after drinking alcohol with his friends. He had to drive back home by car instead of take the train like he had always done in Japan. Transportation then, seemed more convenient in Japan, especially in cities like Tokyo and Osaka.
Otherwise, Ito stated there was absolutely nothing hard or difficult to overcome, and this was one reason he decided to move to America. He said adjustment was “Not difficult at all, in fact it was too easy.”12 Ito claimed that it honestly took him only about one day to get used to life in America. The location was a main key in Ito’s quick adjustment. Ito was pleased that “A lot of Japanese people were here already. Japanese software and stores were already here like Ebisu in Fountain Valley. [He doesn’t] always go, but if [he] feel[s] like going there, [he] just [goes].”13 He had much freedom where he lived. Ito was also really excited that “there were a lot of basketball hoops, so [he] could practice here... [He] could go wherever [he] want[ed] so [he] could shoot as long as [he] [brought] a ball.”14 He found it interesting that it was more spacious, and he was able to do independent activities whenever he wanted to. In Tokyo, there were sports centers where he could play different kinds of sports, but he was only allowed to enter once per week, so he couldn’t go exercise and play basketball whenever he liked. He was happier that he was able to exercise freely in America at his own time, so he would be able to live life healthy and happily. He was young and eager to try new things, so adjustment to American lifestyle was actually quite enjoyable and thrilling.
Ito had a much less rigorous daily work schedule working for SSI. He woke up at around 8:00 a.m., ate a quick breakfast, and then drove to work for ten minutes. Ito’s work schedule was from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., which included a one-hour lunch break. Ito describes work in the United States as much more relaxed compared to Japan: “…here in America, if you have trouble with a project, even though there wasn’t much… and if you can’t turn it in on time, you can tell them the reason why, that [information] goes [to the supervisor]... so you don’t have to stay late. [Staying late] doesn’t happen at all [here]. Well, maybe once per year. But compared to Japan, it was nothing at all.”15 After work, he usually watched basketball and comedy shows on TV, exercised by swimming in his apartment swimming complex and playing basketball across the street, and hung out with friends at night at places like Ebisu. Since there were many Japanese people, Ito was able to easily communicate with them and make new friends.
For Ito, it was an easy task to make choices about the assimilation of American culture and retention of traditional culture for his children. Part of it was due to the absence of major conflicts between Japan and the United States ever since World War II. Unworried about the possibility for culture-clash conflicts to arise when raising his two children, he “taught [his children] Japanese, kanjis, that’s all. There [were] no conflicts at all.”16 There might have been conflicts back in the 1940’s, but now, there is really no problem with combining Japanese culture with the American lifestyle.
Now, up to 2009, Ito has nothing but positive feelings about moving here and having a great family. His only regret is “not being able to bring stuff that [he] cherished a lot and having to leave [them] there.”17 Furthermore, Ito hasn’t lost any touch with his own country; he has gone back to Japan to see his family and friends very often without any difficulties in Niihama and Tokyo. Ito thinks it would generally be idiotic and a waste for an immigrant wanting to move back to Japan, since he thinks America is a better place to live. For his children though, he states that “… it’s [their] decision. [One has] a choice. A lot of people in Japan who cannot come here want to come here but unfortunately can’t. In that case, I think [people] that live here are really lucky.”18 Although Ito admits that he would consider moving back to Japan after he retires from programming, it is unlikely for him to leave the United Sates because it’s much easier for him to live here than overseas in Japan. Ito was one of the countless immigrants from Asia during the 1980’s who had a dream to live a better life in the United States of America, and succeeded in living that dream.
1. Ito, Seiji. Personal interview. 23 May 2009, 4.
2. Ito, 23 May 2009, 15.
3. Ito, 23 May 2009, 14.
4. Ito, 23 May 2009, 6.
5. Ito, 23 May 2009, 4.
6. Ito, 23 May 2009, 13.
7. Ito, 23 May 2009, 8.
8. Ito, 23 May 2009, 3.
9. Ito, 23 May 2009, 3.
10. Ito, 23 May 2009, 3.
11. Ito, 23 May 2009, 3.
12. Ito, 23 May 2009, 3.
13. Ito, 23 May 2009, 3.
14. Ito, 23 May 2009, 9.
15. Ito, 23 May 2009, 10.
16. Ito, 23 May 2009, 11.
17. Ito, 23 May 2009, 12.
18. Ito, 23 May 2009, 12.