On Leaving Tokyo, The City I’ve Called Home For 7 Amazing Years

Long-time Tokyo Weekender Editor in Chief Annemarie Luck closes one door in Japan to open a new one in South Africa

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In mid-September, long-time editor in chief of Tokyo Weekender, Annemarie Luck, left Japan to return back to her home country, South Africa. In this editorial column, she bids farewell to the city — and Tokyo Weekender — both of which she called home for years. Annemarie will be succeeded by Nick Narigon, who will carry on publishing this editorial column on a monthly basis covering various topics of interest to our readers and community.  

There is one moment I keep thinking about. It wasn’t dramatic. It was after midnight and I was cycling through Shibuya’s river of cars, the surge of the city carrying me towards my Yutenji apartment. I had probably been in Tokyo for a couple of years at that point yet, still, I often found myself wondering why — in the grand scheme of things — I had ended up here. 

I’m not talking about the fact that I had moved here for love. That was the easy, romantic part of the story. I had followed my heart after meeting my now husband, readily jumping on a plane to be with him. Though I never questioned that motivation, there was always another question mark hanging over my head, and heart. 

Why Tokyo?

That time I was the TW cover star. Pic taken in Okinawa by a former colleague Yumi Idomoto.

Now, as I prepare to say farewell to the capital after seven years, that moonlit night, the wind at my side, comes to mind often. It was the first time I felt at one with the energy. The first time I felt like I was ready to return the city’s embrace. 

“What better time to make a drastic change than when everything around us is changing drastically?”

Tokyo and I have had a push-pull relationship, you see. I’m not inherently a big-city girl. I grew up in a coastal city called Port Elizabeth, not terribly far from the tip of Africa. There are herds of elephants 40 minutes from my childhood home. Yet even when I tried to turn my back on the concrete jungle of Tokyo, she has loved me, opened up to me and showered me with gifts. She wouldn’t let me go.

My first experience breaking a sake barrel. Kagami biraki ceremony at the TW relaunch party in May 2018 at Trunk Hotel.

Unexpectedly, my career flourished here. I achieved a long-held dream of becoming an editor-in-chief of a magazine. Not just any magazine, either. One that, in 2020, celebrates a 50-year-long legacy. Being able to leave just a small impact on the history of Tokyo Weekender is an honor I could never have predicted I would have when I first arrived in 2013.

Can you tell I’m nervous? There were 150 faces looking at me on this stage at the TW relaunch party in May 2018 at Trunk Hotel.

Something else I couldn’t have predicted is how differently 2020 would turn out to the glittering year we had all dreamed it would be. The year I arrived, Tokyo won the Olympic bid. And with my line of work in English media being inextricably linked with tourism, a large percentage of my job has been spent promoting and prepping for the Games (with a bit of Rugby World Cup thrown in). In 2013, I wasn’t certain I would even still be here by 2020. But then, as the anticipated year neared, I felt it was important that I stay here to experience this historical event around which so much of my work and life was revolving. 

I entered the ticket lottery. I was going to brave the tourist crowds. I imagined myself in my eighties telling friends around the Bingo table about “that time I was in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.”

We all know what happened next.  

2020 didn’t go as planned. Everything slowed down. We all had more time to think. To stop the relentless pace. To breathe. 

By now, Tokyo and I have become close friends. We still argue every now and then, but I am grateful for this parallel reality where I work with a team of at least 10 different nationalities, I understand the enigmatic ways of a Japanese business meeting (and Excel sheet), I have met two of Japan’s “three Murakamis” (I did attempt to interview Haruki, too), and I am confident enough to stand on a stage and give a speech in front of hundreds of strangers. I can gaze out of the window of Park Hyatt’s New York Bar and feel honest affection for the neverending cityscape. 

Career highlight: interviewing the acclaimed author Ryu Murakami in the Shinjuku hotel he calls his office.

Also, I am proud of the work we are doing at Tokyo Weekender; the way we have transformed the brand and readied it for the digital age. As I write, we have just sent our 50th anniversary issue off to print and it’s packed with some of the most relevant, empowering and visually exciting stories we’ve ever published. It features the winners of our inaugural TW Readers’ Choice Awards. It is filled with the type of inspiring people who create the drumbeat of this city. It will be an issue I will show those same friends at the Bingo table.

My little corner at Tokyo Weekender’s previous office, holding flowers for my birthday from colleagues. I loved this desk. I had hurt my wrist from slipping on ice while on a work trip to Hakuba.

So why am I choosing to leave now? 

Some have said to me, what better time to make a drastic change than when everything around us is changing drastically? Some have expressed concern that I’m giving up a safe, secure environment for something more uncertain. (Others put in early requests to inherit the ridiculous amount of plants I’ve collected over the years.)

But the truth is, I’m ready to keep things slowed down, beyond Covid-19. And, besides, leaving Tokyo is not nearly as terrifying as being dropped in the midst of its vertigo-inducing skyscrapers without a clue how to build a life in this wholly foreign world. 

During our July-August 2020 covershoot with former astronaut Naoko Yamazaki at Mori Building teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum. I love this museum! Snapped by the super-talented and all-round lovely photographer Allan Abani, who is usually the man behind our covershoots.

Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps somewhere in there is the answer to the question that was never quite answered. 

Why Tokyo? 

Because if I can make it in the city that never sleeps, surely I can make it anywhere. 

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