2017 was quite a big year for me. I know politically and whatnot, it kind of sucked for a lot of people. But personally it was on the positive – especially when weighed against how I was coming in.
So, let’s go back to 2016 for a bit. I had been told by USJ they weren’t going to offer me a second year-long contract. This came after I did everything in my power to kick ass at my job. I was late only one time (by <5 minutes), never missed a show, never called in sick. I delivered a quality show within the time frame asked, and stuck to script and other guidelines. So I was floored when they said I was done.
Part of the shock was because I basically went all-in on Japan. My car: sold. My apartment: what apartment? My wife: waiting for divorce to be finalized (which took way longer than it should have). So yeah, that last part was a big thing as well, of course.
With nothing for me in America, and a President I loathed in the White House, I had no intention of returning “home.” So what else to do but pack up and move to Tokyo to try fulfilling my longtime goal of becoming a foreign actor?
Moving to Tokyo was no easy task, especially emerging from the all-inclusive fishbowl that was USJ. I had to get a phone contract, my own bank account, consult with Japan immigration, find an apartment, sign with talent agencies, and get my stuff from Osaka to Tokyo. Somehow, all of that happened. I was blessed with good fortune and some very helpful people. And now I’m here, since April 17.
I closed out my Osaka time to the best of my ability; I don’t know how to “phone it in.” I made a lot of friends there, including some I still talk to on a weekly basis. In July, I went back to reaudition – both for my old role, for a similar role, and for my initial “want” back in 2015 of Terminator. I’ve yet to hear back; something tells me the same force that deemed me nonrenewable despite kicking ass is the same force that hasn’t deemed me worthy despite nailing the audition(s). That’s cool; it was more a cover-the-bases move than anything, especially the way things are turning out here.
So, professionally. I am an actor. Or a talent, as they call it here because they don’t think acting is really much of a thing. I have been in a big drama, done a few commercials, motion-captured for a couple video games, lots of educational programming, and some other weird stuff that kind of defies categorization (no porn!). Most of that stuff hasn’t come out to show off, but it will. And several projects are gigantic and awesome and I would love to talk about, but I cannot.
By and large, it’s been great! Most Japanese productions are organized and crewed by wonderful people. My goal has been to get those people to like me and want to hire me again. The talent pool is obviously less crowded than in Los Angeles, and I’ve befriended some very skilled individuals swimming in it.
I’ve been riding a decent wave of momentum lately. It’s dipped a little lately, but I’m still booking quite a bit. I try not to get too amped, nor too low. Being an actor, like most things for me, is about sustainability. As long as I can make enough to pay my bills and keep the country of Japan happy, that’s cool. They say work spawns more work; this is proving true and I must focus and stay calm and never take it for granted.
It’s funny: Here, I’m kind of a “big guy,” despite being a “smedium” by most American standards. However, my body has put on some significant muscle. I’ve worked out 181 times (so far) in 2017, or about 3.5 times a week. I weigh 77kg, or 170lbs. I’m pushing some big weight in the gym, lots of bodyweight stuff, and have taken things like squats, deadlifts and bench rather seriously.
Another thing, fitness-wise, is I’ve been off the veggie cart for about 2 1/2 months. Yes, after 5 years as a vegetarian, I decided to reincorporate fish and chicken back into my diet. I found myself consuming a lot of carbs and sugars, especially when dining out. When the only choice is a margherita pizza, that’s what you eat. But I can have some chicken for lean protein. Or I can eat sushi, which I missed immensely. I’ve even eaten some other meats during lunch on set, for example. I just don’t sweat over it now. And I think my body has gotten stronger and leaner at the same time. Will I return to my vegetarian ways? Perhaps. All the ethical and environmental reasons to be vegetarian still stand, of course.
I’ve really embraced the Tokyo underground idol scene. It started when I met Ladybeard and began going to his Deadlift Lolita shows. There, I’d get turned onto other acts, and go to their lives. From there, I’d find other artists I dig. Unlike Morning Musume – which I still adore – underground idols are more approachable. At the shows, this tall, jacked gaijin obviously stands out. And I try to support the groups by buying pictures and CDs,– allowing an opportunity to chat. I also engage on Twitter often. The fans are super friendly and accommodating.
I’m now in a spot where there are so many shows I want to go to, but I have to limit myself – in part due to money (acting gigs pay less here, and it takes a LONG time to receive payment for them). I also hit the karaoke joints (rooms, not bars) at least once a month and reignited my love of darts.
I still game, but less frequently. I beat only 12 games this year: Persona 4 Golden, Salt & Sanctuary, Superhot, Inside, Metal Gear Solid V, and Dark Souls 3 among them. But many games I was pumped about didn’t get a lot of play-time from me: Horizon: Zero Dawn, Undertale, and Metroid: Samus Returns all failed to hold my interest. Also, I bought Persona 5, Nier: Automata and Yakuza 0 but they sit unplayed. Currently I’m playing Steamworld Dig 2 on my Vita. I did play a bunch of Super Mario Odyssey on a friend’s Switch, and love it. Also, I have both the American and Japanese SNES Classic mini; I’ve played several hours each of Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and Super Punch-Out. But honestly, the most-played game for me is likely Angry Birds Match. Yes, I’ve become someone who constantly plays an f2p match-3 on his iPhone. But for less embarrassing games I play, my Top 100 Games List I made this year is easily accessible on this very blog!
So, now I’m a divorced, meat-eating, relatively-buff 39-year-old gaijin actor living in Tokyo. Honestly, this is where I want to be, doing what I want to be doing. I pray every day that I can remain here for the long-term. I don’t know when I’ll get back to the States; there are still people I love there and would enjoy visiting with (Dan, Kristen, my mom and Granny). Part of me worries that if I leave, even for a few days, this dream will end and I’ll be forced to start back up from nothing. Maybe that’s irrational, but lots of fears are. Thanks for reading.
~ Justin Leeper. 23:37, 12.24.17