Globe Trotter: Thoughts on Leaving Japanland

Photo by Diabolo-Spinner

Every day I’m finding it harder and harder to leave Japan.

It’s not just that my boss has offered me more hours, more pay, and a chance to design and run my own weekend art courses. It’s not just that my friends question my sanity and guilt trip me with “Everyone is always leaving me!” It’s also that well, Japan is a tough place to leave.

Just ask all the people who came here for “just a year”, 15 years ago.

I think my friend described it best when she compared living abroad to her daily running routine. She hates to run and yet she does it because she knows it’s good for her, just like she may hate living in Japan at times, she still knows that she’ll be a better person because of it. I like that analogy.

If living abroad can be compared to a morning jog, then I’d say that living in Japan is like a marathon run up Mt. Fuji. It’s agonizing, exhausting and a giant pain in your side, yet it’s one of those things that when it’s all said and done, you’re glad you did it.

Even though it’s been the most difficult past 10 months of my life to date, part of me is afraid if I leave, I’ll miss the constant challenge. I’ll long for that ‘runner’s high’ you get after accomplishing some small feat that anywhere else would be considered mundane and trivial. Like that first time you place in order in a restaurant without having to point at the pictures, for example, or that first time you watch a TV commercial and find that you’re able to understand every word of it. Every-day activities like trips to the bank or the supermarket become these huge, all consuming events, extra-curricular activities even.

Take grocery shopping, for example. I dread it at home and often live off of plain bread or canned olives, just so that I don’t have to trek to the store. But when I travel or live in a foreign country, it becomes one of my favorite things to do. I could (and do), peruse the ailes of Peacock (Japan’s version of Safeway or Stop and Shop) for hours, examining food labels and snacking on sushi or wasabi-flavored potato chips.

Sometimes the process can be irritating, like today when I mistakenly bought vinegar thinking that it was vegetable oil. But I guess that’s one of the things I love best about Japan: It can be really mind-numbingly difficult. But difficult is interesting. Difficult is an adventure. Difficult is definitely not life back in the US.

I tried to explain this to my mother today, but I don’t think she fully understood what I meant. A trip to the dry cleaners doesn’t have to become a four-hour saga in order for life to be interesting, she pointed out. “That’s what hobbies are for,” she said. “Take a yoga class if you’re bored.”

But it’s not the same. Comparing the mental and emotion stimulation you get from living abroad with a yoga class or a book club meeting, is like comparing a two week vacation at a resort on St. Lucia with a weekend at the Ramada Inn in Albany. There’s just no comparison.

I think the hardest part is knowing when to call it quits. Where do you draw the line between a healthy amount of ‘difficult’, a healthy amount of pain and struggle and just plain, ‘beat your head against the wall’ insanity?

I just can’t tell anymore if the pain I’m experiencing means I’m getting into shape or if it means that it’s time to, you know, climb off the treadmill.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Comments ( 6 )

  1. koala

    I could say the same about my time in USA. We hated living there but now it's precious memories we wont shut up about. Maybe you just need a new chalenge somewhere completly new?

  2. Anonymous

    WIth all due respect, I think part of the problem (it is definitely a blessing too!!) is your mother's job! Because you can fly anywhere for free, you can decide to change direction so much more easily. Airfare is one of the biggest costs involved in moving to another country!
    I know what you mean about life's everyday objects being like extra curricular activities, and they are so different to yoga. There is no triumph in ordering a cup of coffee in a country where you can speak the language. :)
    It's often the love-hate relationships that are the most difficult to let go of.
    It is awesome that your boss is giving you incentives to stay! Whether you choose to take it or not. You'll survive anywhere!!!!
    Your "running friend" :) xo
    PS. My parents are arriving in Tokyo on April 7th, so I am sorry I can't offer our spare bed!

  3. Reannon

    Heya "running friend". I hope you don't mind that I stole your analogy! I really liked it. Let me know and I'll give you credit on the blog if you want it...Never sure how poeple feel about getting quoted on a public website.

    Anyways, yeah I'm totally spoiled having a relative in the airline business. It's awesome. Although there are a lot lay-offs happening right now. I hope she's not next!

    Awww thanks for offering me somewhere to stay! No worries, another friend has volunteered her floor. : )

  4. Anonymous

    Hey Reannon, I don't mind, I think it's great that you liked my analogy :) Yeah, hope she's not next *fingers crossed*

  5. Julie

    Reading other people's blogs makes me feel really weird. I have never had even a moment of homesickness or of wanting to move back to my home country. I wonder why not...

  6. Reannon

    Hi Julie!

    Really? You've never been homesick here? That's pretty amazing. Maybe Japan is your 'soul place'. Here's an interesting article about that...about how people feel this instantaneous connection with a certain country or city. It feels familiar; like they've been there before (maybe in a past life?)

    http://www.bravenewtraveler.com/2008/08/11/have-you-found-your-soul-place/

    I felt that way about Paris and London. But not Tokyo...

    I can't say I'm homesick exactly. I don't really have anywhere to call 'home' anymore so there isn't a particular place I miss...just more of a general feeling of wishing I was somewhere else.