Everyone’s always told that when my time came to leave Japan, I’d intuitively know. As if I’d wake up one morning and start to make myself a breakfast of curry and rice and the realization would just hit me that I’ve had enough. And that I’d realize that I want to go back to the land of pancakes and bacon and Eggo waffles.
I guess for me, the realization was two months in the making and sort of came to head with a conversation with my mom last Saturday night.
“Come home for a few days,” was my mom’s suggestion, after I mentioned that I had a vacation coming up at the end of the month. My family lives outside of San Francisco, and under normal circumstances, flying 6,000 miles for a four-day weekend would be a ludicrous idea. But one of the perks of having a mom who works for an airline is that I can fly at the last minute, and for free.
“I can’t, I moaned woefully. “If I go back home, I won’t want to leave. It’d be too difficult to make myself come back to Japan,” I believe were my exact words. I could see my mom frown through the Skype camera’s video feed on my computer screen.
“If that’s how you feel Reannon, then why are you living in Japan?”
Everyone asks me this…all the time. And I never know how to answer that. It’s second only to the more popular “What do you like about Japan?” question, which is something else I never know how to answer.
It’s not that I don’t like Japan. It’s just that I find existing here to be a tremendous struggle. In the last two months, I’ve been laid off from my job and evicted from my apartment. I’ve started a new job (whose teaching philosophies I don’t agree with) and moved into a ghetto apartment which (at 80,000 yen per month) I can’t even begin to afford with my part-time job.
My mom suggested that this might mean that the Universe is trying to tell me something. Maybe Japan isn’t where I should be right now.
And while I’d hate to be one to argue with the Universe, how do I really know that it’s correct? How much of what I’m experiencing is just a part of normal life struggles? As in, “maybe if I work a little harder or wait a little longer, things will get better?”
And who’s to say that my unhappiness has anything to do with Japan? Maybe it’s just me. And maybe I’ll find that moving to California will just make things worse. I’ve never lived there. Besides my parents and my little brother, I won’t know anyone. And I’ll have to face the shame of being 26 and sleeping on my parent’s couch while I look for work at…where? Starbucks? Safeway?
But even though I cried through the whole thing, and regretted it minutes later, I told my boss on Monday that I was quitting. I officially gave my two months notice.
My co-workers and boss took me out to dinner afterwards and tried to convince me to stay.
“Every foreigner has a bad day and then decides they’re going to leave Japan. It’ll pass.” Was the general consensus. They sited stories of friends who’ve claimed to be “moving to Hong Kong next summer” for the last 12 years. One of my co-workers has quit twice, declaring to everyone she knew that she was returning home to Scotland, but then she’s always changed her mind.
I know these stories were meant to be uplifting; to give me hope. But they all just scared the crap out of me. I don’t want to be that “Japan Lifer” who gets stuck here, swallowed up in their dead-end teaching jobs and who finds themselves at the age of 45, singing the Alphabet Song to a class of ungrateful seven year olds…and hating life.
But then I have these happy “God, I love Tokyo” moments. Like yesterday, when I was walking through the sunshine along the Sumida River. Sometimes this city just seems so magical, like it’s pulsing with exciting possibilities. And as I stood on a bridge, I examined the view around me: a rushing river, a cherry blossom tree, a neon flashing Mitsubishi billboard the size of a building and a barefoot homeless man cooking vegetable stir-fry over a gas-powered stove.
And I found myself thinking: Am I really ready to leave this all behind?
I think so, was my reply.
I guess that’s as certain as I’ll ever be.