My Work Buddy

Natsuko Watai


My work buddy, a pair of elegant black leather shoes, always remind me of who I was as a professional working woman in Japan. Since I came to Canada, my life has completely changed. As a wife and a mother, I felt I lost a part of my identity as a working woman for the past ten years. I have been clinging to hope to return to the work world. Now, the time has finally come to contribute to society in the workforce.


My shoes are very elegant, made of late evening gray and beautiful matte black leather. A tiny ribbon charm on the front makes me stand strong as a professional working woman.  The straps around my ankles hold my heels comfortably and securely like a cocoon.

I worked at a tour company as a VIP customer representative in Tokyo, Japan, for four years.  At this time, this pair of shoes was my work buddy. I wore these shoes most days in my office and when I visited my customers. That’s why this pair has scuffs and wrinkles, showing how much they were loved. In 2007, I moved to Canada, directly to the Bow Valley, to live with my husband. Then right after I came here, I gave birth to two beautiful daughters.

Although I brought my favourite work buddies here, I have never found the opportunity to wear them. As a busy mother of two active daughters, when would I? There was no reason to keep them in my shoe closet, and therefore I kept them in the basement storage. Ironically, at the same time, I stored them, I was longing to be back in working society like the days when I was in Japan.

For the last eleven years, my role has been that of a mother and a wife more than myself. It has been very rewarding.  However, my longing to have a career remained strong inside me. This past year, when my youngest daughter began Grade 1, I knew the time had finally come to create a new identity for myself in the Bow Valley.

My career throughout my life has been in customer service. I love to make people happy and assist them in reaching their goals.  Inspired by my work experience in Japan, I began to plan how I could contribute to the community. First, I had to update my communication and language skills. There are many resources I could reach easily to update these. I squeezed myself into these opportunities as much as I possibly could in my tight schedule.  I joined a community conversation class, took online courses for English and learned communication skills from the local college as well as volunteered at my daughters’ classrooms.

Although I could feel my inner confidence building after these experiences, it took time before I felt ready to step into the office-work world. I knew that if I didn’t move forward, nothing would change. Someone said, “Fake it till you make it.” Therefore, I pretended I was ready and told myself this. After a few tries and fails, the thought became true. I have been working as an optometric assistant since this May.

At last, I got back to the world that I had been longing to be a part of. Finally, I got the chance to wear my pair of shoes, my work buddy, again. How proud I felt when I slipped them on again at work!  

However, I gave up wearing my shoes after I wore them only one time. My buddy was not a good fit anymore.  I thought they might fit me again like before if I kept wearing them, but I have different feelings now. Today’s me is not the one I was in Japan. I’m not clinging to the past anymore. Today’s me is made up of many aspects: a mother, a wife, and a woman in society.  I am not going to look back again, only forward. Even if I don’t wear my work buddy like before, I will keep them a part of my life history. 

Natsuko Watai arrived in Banff from Japan in 2007. She put down her roots in Canmore with her husband and two daughters in 2014. Her work experience in Japan as a VIP customer desk in the tourism industry inspired her to continue working in customer service. She’s currently working as an optometric assistant in Canmore.

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