lifestyle

Letters from Japan: ‘Am I missing out?’

33 Comments
By HILARY KEYES

Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to askhilary@savvytokyo.com.

Dear Hilary,

I’ve lived in Japan for seven years, ever since I graduated college. I’m single (since the pandemic started), child-free, live in my own apartment, have hobbies and friends I love, and otherwise am healthy. However, it’s my birthday soon and I’m starting to feel like I’m missing out on a lot. I’ve been talking to friends back home and they all have proper careers, some have homes and kids, some are getting married. I’m starting to feel like I’m missing out on having a real life. That the longer I stay in Japan, the less likely I am to get married, have kids, buy a house and so on. I liked my life before the pandemic, but now I feel deeply uncertain about my choice. What am I doing?

– Lost in Thought

Dear Lost in Thought, 

Happy birthday! That is a very familiar feeling, one that a lot of people who have stayed long term in Japan experience. The pandemic is probably not helping those feelings and could even be exasperating them.

If you’ve been spending more time on social media than you normally would and are taking your cues from what your friends are posting there, then I recommend you take a break. Nine times out of 10, what is being posted on social media is a filtered, enhanced and otherwise fictional version of reality. It’s been proven repeatedly that people only post their idealized selves online, after all. Remember, anyone can post anything online and claim it as fact. If all you see of someone’s life is how constantly amazing everything is, then you’re not getting the whole picture.

A good question to ask yourself is this: are you jealous of their life or of the control that they appear to have over their life? Knowing that will help you to understand your feelings and may make that unhappiness you feel at your life in Japan disappear.

Generally speaking, I don’t recommend making any major life decisions during a pandemic or when you’re experiencing emotional turmoil. Sometimes, that turmoil can cause irrational but seemingly rational reactions and lead to different issues later on. Uncertainty breeds uncertainty, and while I won’t even attempt to predict when life will be “normal” again, I will say that rushing to make decisions now can backfire on you.

Think about what you liked about your life in Japan prior to the pandemic. I assume from your email that you dated, went out regularly, saw your friends and engaged in hobbies. If the pandemic is the only thing that is holding you back from enjoying life in Japan, then there’s a good chance that no matter where you are in the world you’ll still feel the same level of dissatisfaction.

The world has changed and the so-called “new normal” is something to which everyone needs to adapt. The mental health of people the world over has taken sharp turns both up and down in terms of depression, anxiety and overall stress. It’s not unusual to want to make a dramatic change when things are really getting to you, but keep yourself as grounded in reality as possible.

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

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33 Comments
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Lost in Thought,

Japan is a lot of fun, isn’t it? In my case I got settled with a proper career before coming to Japan. If not, then decide the time frame - a year or three years then go back and pursue your career. You can always come back. If not you can easily wake up forty, still single, still paying rent and the contract extension fees every two years while the single family home your friends back home purchased has already gained enough equity for them to borrow and buy rental properties.

The wake up call might come when there are more empty seats next to you yet they go out if their way to avoid sitting next to you. Can you use chopsticks? Do you like natto? Your Japanese is perfect!

What’s your five year plan? There is nothing wrong with taking it a year at a time but it sounds like you find the grass greener on the other side of the Pacific.

-4 ( +7 / -11 )

Yes. I've completely wasted my life being a permanent foreigner in Asia, living in a place where I'll never have the vote, never be accepted as belonging. I'd go back home tomorrow if I could, but it's too late and too expensive. Sensible people do a year in Japan and then go home and get on with their real life.

1 ( +12 / -11 )

Nine times out of 10, what is being posted on social media is a filtered, enhanced and otherwise fictional version of reality. It’s been proven repeatedly that people only post their idealized selves online, after all.

Now THAT'S an eye-opener.

Advice for all you LIT's: Learn the lingo and the culture. You won't regret it.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

This article adds a new dimension to that TV show, "Why Did YOU Come to Japan?".

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Go home.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

I have no regrets about living in Japan for the last three decades. I have learnt the language and culture. Painted for the entire time and held many exhibitions. Formed relationships with hundreds of people from all over the country. Now living in a very nice seaside place.

If I wanted the vote, and I don't have my UK vote anymore, I could become a citizen but I feel that it is not enough for me to apply.

I have enjoyed many experiences I would not have had in my birth country Britain.

Most importantly, I have enjoyed my time with my Japanese wife. We are together 24/7.

3 ( +10 / -7 )

I straddle between two countries, love Japan, love the US more and I am fortunate enough to have the life I have and to have my wife and kids experience both lifestyles, came to Japan for the first time in the late '90s as an Aikido student and was just in awe at the time, decided to move here and watched this country change a lot, love the culture and the food, but when I go back, there are certain things I just can't live without, items I desperately need like: bacon, medicine, skin and hygiene products, and cereal, for the most part, I am good with everything else, even have my Sling TV. Both countries have their pros and cons.

2 ( +10 / -8 )

I’ve been talking to friends back home and they all have proper careers

This person thinks whatever they are currently doing is not a "proper career". You can have a proper career in Japan if you want one, but it'll need a commitment to something. In the private sector, it may also be subject to the usual Japanese constraints on moving between companies.

Living in another country in your twenties makes it easy to drift along in a situation you see as temporary and put off any decisions or preparations toward building a career.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I was transferred here. I stayed longer because my wife and I both ended up earning above average salaries with subsidized rent. She had enough of the place - it’s hard for western working women over here, and we are out soon. Anyway, saved quite a bit, paid off a house in the UK, didn’t kill myself at work and made some good friends.

All in all, a pretty good place to earn money but I never saw it as a place to settle down.

I remember hearing the perfect word to sum up Japan - joyless.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

I totally agree with @jimizo it's quite joyless here... Nice place, but only for a time. That's amazing to all the people that found their bliss here..

4 ( +8 / -4 )

I am overjoyed here- guess I got lucky.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

I totally agree with @jimizo it's quite joyless here... Nice place, but only for a time

I still think it’s a nice place but it’s just a bit flat. I remember coming back to Japan after a trip to the Mediterranean and seeing the contrast.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

In the zichi camp here.

Home is where you make it.

Travel is nice, but this is the place I want to come home to.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

zichiToday  01:09 pm JST

I am overjoyed here- guess I got lucky.

Me too, I love my life here. That's not to say it wasn't tough at times in my earlier years here but some hard work and marrying the right lady has made life pretty sweet.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Race realism is a bliss. You will never have a real life if you are the non-asian westerner. Understand your race and your place in the world. Dont be the forever racially confused guy complaining he will never be "accepted" in one of these East Asian countries after spending years and mastering the language. Especially if you are white, understand you will be the embassador for the West in these far-away asian countries, regardless of your nationality.

As a teenager, I've studied the language and culture of this place for 5 years before moving to Japan shortly after turning 20. But it really doesnt matters. Everyone leaves at some point. And the brave people who stay here longer, either lives in the foreign bubble or those who say they are happy among japanese people accept their fate of being the ethernal exotic guest/pet gaijin in a small/middle sized community outside of the big cities.

Japan is for Asians. Filipinos can live a very normal, fulfilling life here. Not the same for the Western ambassadors. Going home is not an option for many of us especially if you never had one.

Japan is truly wonderful, I have total peace of mind while I'm working, knowing my wife and son are just alright exploring some new places in the city, safety is not an issue. Japan is wonderful in many things, except personal relationship with locals. If you are fine without those, you will be fine.

2 ( +9 / -7 )

I don't understand why going home is "not an option".

If you live in Japan for five years and still teaching English, this is not an option, pack up and don't waste your life any further

4 ( +8 / -4 )

You will never have a real life if you are the non-asian westerner.

If what I have now - and have had for the past 40+ years - is not a real life, then I'm fine with unreality.

Understand your race

Race is just DNA. Means nothing unless you let it.

and your place in the world.

My place is wherever I decide it is.

Dont be the forever racially confused guy 

Not confused, definitely not a guy, never been mistaken for a guy.

the brave people who stay here longer,

Nothing brave in enjoying life.

either lives in the foreign bubble

My next-door neighbour is a Filipina who speaks little English; we exchange pleasantries, but we're not best buddies. No other non-Japanese that I know about for miles around. No bubble here.

or those who say they are happy among japanese people

Mmm, no, not 'happy among Japanese people', just happy. The DNA of the people around me means as little as my own DNA.

accept their fate of being the ethernal exotic guest/pet gaijin

'ethernal'? Do you mean ethereal, as in extremely delicate? No, that's not me.

Or is it 'eternal' as in for ever? Maybe people meeting me for the first time assume from my looks that I'm yer typical can't-use-chopsticks/can't-speak-Japanese/can't-eat-natto, fresh-off-the-boat gaijin. That impression doesn't last long, and once it's out of the way we can get down to the business of just being people. It isn't difficult.

The natto is and always will be a no-no, though. And the wasabi.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Interesting opinions, as usual more telling about the persons making them than about Japan.

I personally believe that in order to live for a long time in a foreign country with a decent standard of fulfillment, you need first a strong driving force, and second a safety net. Especially more if the country is geographically, culturally, linguistically, etc. very different from your own. For myself, the driving force was professional, and I was fortunate to build a rewarding career in Japan, so I will stay around a bit more (already 20 years). While being open to relocate, if an interesting offer comes. The safety net is my family and my friends, even if the pandemic made going out with with friends more difficult.

And wasabi is great, not only with sashimi, but especially with a nice steak.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

And wasabi is great, not only with sashimi, but especially with a nice steak.

The sashimi and steak are also off the menu!

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

If you live in Japan for five years and still teaching English, this is not an option, pack up and don't waste your life any further

English teaching is a fine career if you commit to it and want it to be. Open a school and get other people to do the teaching if you like, or get qualified enough to do a desirable teaching job. They do exist.

The story is someone 7 years out of college approaching a "birthday". If its the big three-O, a bit of self-reflection is completely normal. Note that the people who reflect on where their lives are going at 30 include those on career ladders but experiencing strong doubts. The grass is not always greener.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

One must be secure and happy with themselves first. Love oneself and you can live anywhere. Why would I want to move back to American and become a Huge burden to myself and physically to theirs. Not healthy.

Aloha

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Love each day as if it’s your last! Don’t care about what others have going for them. Marriage and having children doesn’t mean accomplishment or happiness…more headaches if we are being totally honest! Most spouses can’t make each other happy and just argue about everything. Affairs, domestic violence and divorce are common! Most children develop a bad relationship with their parents over the years and don’t take care of them during old age. What’s the use of spending all your money and time on children if that is the result! As for career, having a full time job isn’t really a security because you can get fired anytime! Times have changed now and so should your way of thinking! Just go out and enjoy yourself ( even if alone life can be full of enjoyment and excitement )!!!

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I never click on a thumbs up/down but had to do so to Jim because he seems so satisfied and happy.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Marriage is about what you give, not what you take.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

The question is whether you like living in Japan - whether you can see yourself living here forever. I've seen many international marriages break up due to disagreement on where to permanently settle. My Japanese wife could not and would not ever live in my hometown of LA, but I'm fortunate enough to find Kyushu much preferable. You've got to ask yourself: can you make a permanent break with the US and call Japan home? If not, better to return while you're still young.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I never click on a thumbs up/down but had to do so to Jim because he seems so satisfied and happy.

I’m very satisfied. I’m as satisfied as a kid whose mum bought him a pack of Pocky on the Shinkansen after he had a hysterical meltdown.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

@zichi Marriage is about what you give, not what you take. Marriage is giving and taking. I presume you are a yes honey man. I don't know of any relationship where there are not disagreements, again marriage is about giving and taking.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Perhaps part of the happiness we can experience is by routinely overlooking shortcomings, or most times, just ignoring the constant and blatant falsehoods:

@Kyakusenbi_Arimasu 5:16pm: “I never click on a thumbs up/down but had to do so to Jim because he seems so satisfied and happy.”

1 ( +1 / -0 )

kaimycahl

@zichi Marriage is about what you give, not what you take. Marriage is giving and taking. I presume you are a yes honey man. I don't know of any relationship where there are not disagreements, again marriage is about giving and taking.

I am not your yes man. Look at what you can give, to what should be one of the most important relationships in your life. My wife is happy to give everything she can too. we have been married and together 24/7 for 30 years. We promied to care for each other.

Last year went I was in the hospital for my cancer op, my wife sleep on a cot in my room for 10 days. We rarely have disagreements but when we do we resolve them before sunset.

I have always encouraged my wife to speak her mind and say what she wants without fear. I give her all the freedom she wants. We sometimes have different wants and differnt needs but that is not a problem.

Relationships, like marriage are only as good as you are prepared to work at them. Our love today, it the same as it was 30 years ago.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Some here pinpointed what is happiness.

Love is the strongest cement to reach that state.

I wish the lady can find love soon.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

-The world has changed and the so-called “new normal” is something to which everyone needs to adapt.

Japan may still be in pandemic mode, but in the UK the only differences from the 'old normal' are a result of Brexit. As Japan hasn't had a Jexit, once the vaccine levels go up, things will return to the 'old normal' there. England has already scrapped its own vaccine passport domestically. This 'new normal' that keeps being sold by media outlets is looking like a dubious scam. Being single is best for some. Being in a couple works best for anyone who can find a compatible partner. Having kids is a big risk - some take it, some don't. It may be easier to be unhappy as half of a couple than single, as you have less freedom to change the path of your life. Happiness is not bestowed upon anyone, nor is it inherent. You have to look for it and work for it. And for everyone, it is different.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I stopped reading at "exasperating"....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What I find tiring about the foreign community in Japan, particularly the English-speaking ones, is the never-ending trying to "one up" each other and the constant judgement.

Whether it's education, careers, Japanese language ability, skills, how "native" you've gone, how "settled" you are in the country, visa status, there's always some sort of paradigm that people use to judge others.

I can understand Lost in Thought's concerns, it's a legitimate one. Is the life here I made in Japan, really living? But then again, who's to say it isn't? Why is success defined only as climbing up the corporate ladder with a "proper career" and owning a home? This sort of thinking really limits the many experiences we can have.

If you enjoy your life but want a change, then focus on what you should do to get that change. If you want a "proper career" then work toward that. If you want to go home and do that, then go home and do that. But you should always be doing it for yourself, not because that's what society expects of you.

In 50 years time, we're all going to be dust in the wind anyway, so make the most out of your life in a way that works for you.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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