Expat Life

Moving Out and Moving On…

Photo by Jam343

Sakura is dying, my job is now hiring someone to replace me and last Monday, I moved out of the Foreigner’s Ghetto. And it’s now becoming increasingly more difficult to pretend that I’m not leaving Japan.

I started packing around midnight on Sunday night…and finished about five hours later. And then at 9:45 the next morning, I awoke to find a Japanese man in my room.

Yes, you read that correctly. I heard the key turn in the lock just in time to sit up in bed and shout out “Hello?” before a man in a pastel purple dress shirt appeared in my doorway.

As we blinked at each other in confusion and shock (him) and half-asleep hazy fog (me), two thoughts occurred:

1. Thank God I slept in my clothes
2. And Oh my God, a good good-looking guy is going to see my pile of dirty laundry

I’d picked up the habit of sleeping in my clothes since moving in with eight men, some of whom came from conservative cultures, some of whom were married, and some of whom just plain creeped me out, (hi Phantom White Dude). I didn’t want to have to stumble through the living towards the bathroom at three in the morning to find one of them sitting on the sofa watching BBC and have to endure the whole awkward scenario of ‘I see Paris, I see France, I see Reannon’s…well, whatever.’

But I guess that on some level I knew Pastel Purple Shirt Man was coming.

I mean, there was the fact that the landlord had emailed and phoned me the night before to verify that I’d be ready to have my room inspected at 10am the next day. Then there was the sound of the front door being noisily slammed shut followed by boisterous, repetitive shouts of “ohayo gozaimasu!”.

But honestly, I just thought it was one of my two, (‘sometimes three’)Indian roommates. You see, when the more outgoing of the three wasn’t wandering around the apartment naked (except for a towel) or loudly singing to himself while he cooked, he was knocking on my door and asking me if I wanted to go to the department store. Like every other day.

I make fun of the guy, but really, he was very sweet. He’d often make me chai and we’d regularly chat about his wife and kid in India and about the dismal odds of me ever being a wife or having a kid and then we’d reminisce about how everything is better in India (it’s true).

I’d actually waited until the night before to tell him and the other roommates that I was leaving. I’d have almost preferred to not have told them at all, but as my mom said: “You just can’t leave Japan like a thief in the night. You’ve got to do the right thing and properly say goodbye.” They were pretty shocked, the Taiwanese girl took it the hardest (“No! Now I’ll be the only girl again!”) and the two, (‘sometimes three’) Indians kindly offered me a spot on their floor.

I was too embarrassed to admit that I was quitting Japan so I lied and said that I was leaving because I couldn’t afford the rent. It’s just that my roommates had left behind spouses and newborn babies in order to work slave-hour jobs in Tokyo. All with the selfless desire to provide a better life for their families. In comparison, my reasons for coming to Japan (“I want to experience a radically different culture”, “I’m bored in America”) seemed like the selfish, self-centered whims of a spoiled princess. How could I tell them that the only reason I’m leaving is because I just don’t like Japan anymore?

So after I’d hastily stuffed handfuls of mismatched socks into my bag, and the Pastel Purple Shirt Man had thoroughly examined the vents in my heater and the molding around my window for any visible damage, I penned a goodbye letter in English and JapanGlish.

It included the requisite lies, “I know that we’ll keep in touch”, “If I ever visit (insert random country name), I’ll be sure to call you!” as well as “See you soon!”.

And then I taped it to the wall, next to the other farewell letters from Foreign Ghetto Roommates Past. I know that just like the others, my letter will remain after all of the current residents have long since moved on. Years later, the paper will be yellowed with age, and the red ink will be water-marked and faded, like the engravings of a weathered tombstone. Future ESL teachers will read my words and fleetingly wonder who I was and what had happened to me.

My Chinese roommate helped carry my bags to the curb as I hailed a cab.

“Well…bye.” I said, as I tossed my last bag into the trunk. He smiled and half-nodded, half-bowed and I turned away so he wouldn’t see me cry. Oh, how I hate goodbyes. No matter how many times I’ve moved, it never seems to get any easier.

It’s people like my roommates that I will grieve the most, because they are the people that I know I’ll never see again. We aren’t close enough to warrant making the effort to visit and even if we successfully keep in touch over the next few months, by the time either of us are in the vicinity again, years will have passed and we won’t even remember one another. I’d say that the majority of my friends here fit into that category. So by leaving Japan, I’m not only leaving a country and a chapter of my life, but I’m also leaving about 100 friends…with the painful knowledge that I will never see them. Ever again.

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8 thoughts on “Moving Out and Moving On…

  1. I heard tickling the roof of your mouth with your tongue stops tears from flowing… I often try to do this in times of sadness. Your goodbye story reminded me of that.
    P.s. it was your kindergarten story in metropolis this week yeah?

  2. Forgive me a moment of cheesiness, but I like to think of friendships like this:

    There is a garden of life, in which there are flowers, those are our friends. Some friends stay in the garden year after year, some, like annuals, only stay around for a little while.

    There is nothing wrong with either friendship, they are just different.

    So maybe it would be more comforting to think of your friends that you made in Japan as the cherry blossoms in your life: beautiful but brief.

    And you know what else? There isn’t one doubt in my mind that you will get married and have a child or two some day. Really, I mean that- not one doubt.

    Good luck in your next city, I can’t wait to read about it!

  3. Hey Poppy! Thanks for that tip…I’ll try it next time.
    And yeah, that was my article. I tried to publish it somewhat anonymously and figured that people wouldn’t recognize me from the distorted photo and by only using my last name…but all of my friends knew it was me right away. Guess I shouldn’t have said that I was from Hawaii. So much for that plan. ; )

    Tokyo Cowgirl…I’m glad you have hope that I’ll get married one day, because I’m not really so sure. I’m not even sure that I believe in marriage, but then everyone says that and almost everyone gets married anyway. We’ll see…

    I like that flower analogy! It’s tough though, don’t you think? Letting go of people, saying goodbye. I hate it…But I guess not enough to stay to make me want to stay in one spot and never move again.

  4. So that was your story! I thought that drawing kind of looked like your pictures. Truthfully, I thought of your teaching stories when I read it…it’s your style of writing.

  5. Hi, bummed I found your blog just as you’re leaving.

    I have a mild obsession with those yellow subway posters and I love your profile pic with one! Why didn’t I think of that? Anyway, good luck, wherever you’re off to next.

  6. Hey Erin,

    Haha, that’s funny you thought that picture looked like me! I didn’t think it did at all!

    Hi Sandra,

    Aw, that IS a bummer. I really like your blog! I added it to my blog list.

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