I’m Leaving Japan

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?”

Why, indeed.

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.

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12 thoughts on “I’m Leaving Japan

  1. I encourage you to follow your strongest notion. Sometimes that’s all we’ve got.

    I, too, am toying with the thought of leaving Taiwan “early”, but even if I don’t, I only have 6 months left. The thought of moving back to (southern) California is relieving/exciting/terrifying. I refuse to work at Starbucks or the mall… but I have to work, right? And I certainly don’t have a California teaching credential yet.

    But you know what, all that is a part of life, too.

    Your post reminded me of a saying I was thinking about just yesterday: “Wherever I go, there I am.” Life is always going to have problems. Sometimes our best notion is all we have to work off of… then it’s up to us to make the most of our choice.

    Blessings in your choices,

  2. Wow, Chase, what a nicely-worded response. Thank you.

    Why are you thinking about leaving Taiwan?

    I think that it’s interesting that you said that you “only have six months left.” That’s quite a long time in my book. If that doesn’t seem like a long time to you, then maybe you aren’t ready to leave?

    My visa runs out in July and I thought about just staying here until then and then just not renewing it…but even three months feels like an eternity.

  3. Wow, didn't expect this with the new job & apartment. I was kinda hoping on some stories on that international flatmates situation. But I guess it's better to be out of place, at mom's couch now then in your 30's. Expatriation is supposedly making people feel not at home in both places. Just keep up the blog cause I need to know there's other lost 26 year olds out there.

  4. It sounds like you made the right choice. I think when you’re not sure where you want to be, the best idea is to start moving. And god, no, you do not want to fall into the Japan-lifer trap, do you? The fact that it’s been so hard for you to leave even when you can’t find a reason to stay is proof of how very real that danger is! I’ve only been here for 5 months and I’m already scared of it.

    Congratulations on making such a difficult decision. You’re gonna be totally fine.

  5. I think it’s good that you’re leaving Japan before you get to a point (potentially) where you wind up totally hating it. At least now you’ll be able to leave Japan with pleasant memories mixed in with the not so pleasant ones. Whereas if you forced yourself to stay and ended up hating it, you’d leave Japan feeling like it was a big waste of time.

    I agree with your mom about the Universe trying to tell you something. I recently left Athens, GA to come back to Boston after I had toughed it out for a year and half. I was so miserable there and was only staying b/c my boyfriend is in grad school at UGA. I coulldn’t be happier that I made the decision to come home. I feel that if you’re trying to hard to like a certain city, country, etc. then maybe that city, country, etc. just isn’t the place for you to be at that particular point in your life.

    Goodluck job hunting in Cali and please keep the blog! Your entries are great!!

  6. I think that there are other places in the world that will give you that “pulsing with possibilities” feeling. Some of them might even make you happy.

    Where you live is like a relationship – you should never just stick it out because you’re afraid you’ll never find something better. Maybe you just need to hunker down with your family and detox a little, figure out where you want to go and what you want to do.

    And I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of!

  7. Hahahaaa!!! I didn’t realise I’d spook you into leaving the country, yo! But jokes aside, I’d have to agree with the previous comment – go with your gut. I always go with my gut. I keep trying crunches and running, but my gut never leaves me…

    🙂 🙂 🙂 I’m sure of 2 things:
    a. You’ll be glad you’re back home
    b. You’ll soon be itching to leave

    Hope you keep writing though.

  8. Thank you all for such positive words of encouragement! Everyone else in my life is trying to convince me to stay here…and it’s totally messing with my head. I’m glad you think I’ve made the right decision.

    It’s really hard to leave somewhere that’s become so familiar, comfortable and routine though…even if it’s somewhere that I know that I don’t particularly like all that much. Change (even a positive one) is just so hard!

  9. Ha. No one scared me into leaving…I’ve been on the fence about it for a while.

    But email me if you still want advice on where to stay or what to do while in Japan. My email is:


    I’m sure you’re right, I’m already planning on where I want to go next…and it won’t be my parents house! At least not for long…There are too many places in the World that I’ve yet to see.

  10. Wow sux that you’re leaving, because I totally love your blog. But it’s also good that you are making steps to a change–which is probably what you need. I’m not worried cause I know you’ll soon be traveling off to someplace else and blogging about that.
    Peace and good luck,

  11. Your friend "koala" is right. Here I am, a 26 year old in Taiwan, torn in half over whether to go home or not.

    Even though your friends did not lead you (or me) to any direct answer, your post made me feel less alone. Thank you for that.

  12. Hi Laurel,

    It's always nice to hear that what I've written has helped someone.

    Thanks for commenting. Sometimes I find it tough to write about my personal life online, but it's comments like yours that keep me going. I hope you keep reading! : )

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