lifestyle

Letters from Japan: Should I stay or should I go?

23 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.

Hi Hilary,

I’ve lived in Japan for almost four years, and have been dating my Japanese boyfriend for almost three years. We don’t live together, but we’re pretty serious. The problem is, I hate living in Japan. I can’t stand being here, I’m sick of being treated differently because I’m foreign, and I feel like people are always talking about me. I don’t speak Japanese, so I don’t know if they are, but people say things about English around me a lot. My boyfriend lived in America and speaks English and he tells me all the time to stop being so paranoid. 

I’m thinking about moving back to the US. I’ve been talking to my old friends online, and one of my best guy friends is really encouraging me to move home. He sends me photos of things in my hometown and tells me how much fun we’ll have when I get home. I really like talking to him, and I feel like he understands what I’m going through since he taught in South Korea for a year. We talk almost every day online, and I feel like he’s more supportive of my life goals than my boyfriend is. My boyfriend is still going to work and doesn’t want to see me “just in case”, whatever that means. What do you think? – Crossroads

Dear Crossroads,

It sounds to me like you know exactly what you want to do, but you’re looking for someone to give you permission to do it. I’m not going to. The best I can offer is advice, which you sound like you need a lot of at the moment, so we’ll go through this step by step.

Let’s start with your boyfriend’s behavior—he’s most likely avoiding seeing you in order to keep you from catching Covid-19 on the off chance that he’s infected but asymptomatic. In other words, he doesn’t want to risk making you sick, which is a decent thing to do during these times. Being stuck inside alone—even during a soft lockdown—is still stressful and can put even the best relationships under pressure. You shouldn’t make any rash decisions regarding your relationship or life when you’re stressed out.

Have you tried talking to your boyfriend about how you’re feeling? You say that your relationship is pretty serious, but you’re talking about your hopes and dreams with some other man online. Not only that, but those goals don’t sound like they include your current partner.

Perhaps the bigger question here is: do you genuinely want to be with your Japanese boyfriend, knowing that it potentially means staying in Japan? If the idea bothers you that much, then you need to address this with your boyfriend first. That could mean the end of your relationship, or it might mean him moving to the US with you.

Now to address your other, not insubstantial problem: your emotional affair partner. 

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23 Comments
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"I hate living in Japan. Should I stay or leave?"

Gee, I wonder.....

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Four years later after moving back to the States.....

“The problem is, I hate living in the US. I can’t stand being here, I’m sick of being treated differently because I’m special, and I feel like people are always talking about me.”

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Life in Japan, in the coming future is going to be tougher

Higher taxes, fewer opportunities and more insularity-get out while you still can!

-2 ( +7 / -9 )

I guess she might have more empathy for those who are seen as "other" if she returns to the US. I hope it all works out for her, whatever choice she makes.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Go Dog Go!

I suggest going back to the States for a planned 1 year and then seeing how you feel. My British friend did that back to his country and came back to Japan refreshed, while two other US guys went back and decided to stay in the US and just visit Japan annually.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Four years and doesn't speak a lick of Japanese?

Why did she move here if you're not gonna even attempt to adapt? Furthermore, why stay for 4 years?

6 ( +10 / -4 )

If you don't like it, go elsewhere if you think it'll be better. I'm looking to move, Japan is a dead end and I'm applying for jobs in other countries. If there's nowhere else then stay put and learn Japanese.

There'll always be a market for monkeys speaking English for the Japanese to grind an organ for

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

You hate living in Japan and you have to get advice on what to do? FFS!

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Time to cue up a wee bit of Joe Strummer....a one and a town and a three

Should I Stay or Should I Go

The Clash

Darling, you got to let me know

Should I stay or should I go?

If you say that you are mine

I'll be here 'til the end of time

So you got to let me know

Should I stay or should I go?

It's always tease, tease, tease

You're happy when I'm on my knees

One day it's fine and next it's black

So if you want me off your back

Well, come on and let me know

Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go now?

Should I stay or should I go now?

If I go, there will be trouble

And if I stay it will be double

So come on and let me know

This indecision's bugging me (esta indecisión me molesta)

If you don't want me, set me free (si no me quieres, librarme)

Exactly whom I'm supposed to be (dígame que tengo ser)

Don't you know which clothes even fit me? (sabes que ropa me quedra)

Come on and let me know (me tienes que decir)

Should I cool it or should I blow? (me debo ir o quedarme)

Split

Should I stay or should I go now? (yo me enfrió o lo soplo)

Should I stay or should I go now? (yo me enfrió o lo soplo)

If I go there will be trouble (si me voy va a haber peligro)

And if I stay it will be double (si me quedo sera el doble)

So ya gotta let me know (me tienes que decir)

Should I cool it or should I blow? (me debo ir o quedarme)

Should I stay or should I go now? (tengo frío por los ojos)

If I go there will be trouble (si me voy va haber peligro)

And if I stay it wil be double (si me quedo sera el doble)

So ya gotta let me know me tienes que decir

Should I stay or should I go?

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

Four years and doesn't speak a lick of Japanese?

Why did she move here if you're not gonna even attempt to adapt? Furthermore, why stay for 4 years?

To be fair, not everyone can pick up languages so fast. Japanese is a beautiful and beguiling language, but not the easiest to learn!

I do think she's unhappy here. But maybe some people are unhappy wherever they are.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Something is wrong in your head after saying you are in a serious relationship but another man is making you feel good. Since you hate Japan then just leave, why need to seek advice? FFS.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I come across more foreign women than men who find Japan more difficult. The few foreign women who have worked in our company tended not to last too long and many of my female foreign friends got out. My wife is desperate to get out ( her transfer was put on hold because of this virus ). There are clearly better places for foreigners to live, but we have decent money coming in and this is not a good time to go job hunting.

I don’t know about her financial situation, but if she’s staying for the sake of a lover in a country she doesn’t like, I’d say get out and find a new partner back home. Ten a penny.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Clearly she needs to go, that much is obvious.

She is like many women who try to keep a few orbiters around & a few monkey branches at the ready LOL.

And yeah as others have correctly pointed out Japan just keeps getting to be worse & worse over time sadly, tough for those of us with deeper roots here for sure!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Good riddance.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

The problem is, I hate living in Japan. I can’t stand being here, I’m sick of being treated differently because I’m foreign, and I feel like people are always talking about me. I don’t speak Japanese

Of course you hate it, you've spent four years in a little English bubble of your own making. You know nothing of Japan apart from what gets through the English filter you have set up and doggedly kept in place.

If you learned a modicum of Japanese you would know if people are talking about you (most of the time, they're not. You're not that important in other people's lives.) You're not treated differently because you're foreign, you're treated differently because you insist on being treated differently.

My boyfriend is still going to work and doesn’t want to see me “just in case”, whatever that means.

Maybe if you understood a bit of Japanese you could watch the telly and you would learn that the country, nay, the world, is in the grip of the most deadly pandemic seen in a hundred years. Seriously, you have no idea what “just in case” means? Just in case he brings the virus home and passes it on to you.

Go back to the US, hang out with your best guy friend and visit all those nostalgic home town places together, maybe go on one of those 'End the Shutdown' demonstrations. You'll have a ball, and your Japanese ex-boyfriend can find himself someone who isn't quite so precious.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Since you hate Japan then just leave, why need to seek advice? FFS.

Because she has something that she wants in Japan. Of course, staying could cause her trouble, but if she goes, it could be doubled.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

He sends me photos of things in my hometown and tells me how much fun we’ll have when I get home. I really like talking to him, and I feel like he understands what I’m going through since he taught in South Korea for a year. 

I suspect that the friend back home is hoping for a little bit more than "friendship". If it is unwanted, the friendship may dry up pretty quickly.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

You're not treated differently because you're foreign, you're treated differently because you insist on being treated differently.

Not the whole picture. I don’t think foreigners who speak Japanese being turned away by landlords are insisting on being treated differently. I’ve been refused entry to bars ( not hostess bars ) despite speaking Japanese quite well. As for the status of women, Japan lags far behind other developed countries. Some of the very capable Japanese women in my workplace left Japan for better prospects abroad while the foreign women tend not to last long here.

I’m from the UK and spent extended time in the US, China and Japan. Of those three, the US is the most open to foreigners by a large distance followed by Japan and China. I’ve never been welcomed into a neighbourhood the way I was in the States. They were the warmest people ever come across along with Greeks and Aussies ( they can be a bit irritating with the chip-on-the-shoulder ‘pom’ nonsense, but they are decent overall ).

Japan isn’t an easy one for foreigners, and from the experience of foreign women I know, particularly not for foreign women. I wouldn’t be so harsh.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I’ve lived in Japan for almost four years ...

I’m sick of being treated differently because I’m foreign ....

I don’t speak Japanese ... 

I hear you.

The least the locals could do is treat you as an honorary deaf, mute illiterate Japanese person, seeing as you have put in so much effort to assimilate.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

This poor girl unfortunately painted her problem very clearly by pointing out she doesn't speak Japanese.

It's hard enough here for foreign women as it is (I'm in agreement with Jimizo on this one), but when you add in an inability to communicate, essentially rendering you a human adult baby who needs your hand held to get anything done, it's hard to be at all comfortable in a place. And after four years, when you still can't speak the language, it's going to garner a bit of disprespect from the locals, for not bothering to have the respect to learn their language - in four years.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Of course, staying could cause her trouble, but if she goes, it could be doubled.

:) I saw what you did there & its true to boot!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

 I’ve been refused entry to bars ( not hostess bars ) despite speaking Japanese quite well. As for the status of women, Japan lags far behind other developed countries.

Sometimes I think it's men who have a harder time of it. I've been here ...well, a very long time, and I have never been refused entry anywhere, never been turned away by a landlord, never had people stand rather than sit next to me on a train. And all that time I've been, very obviously with blonde hair, blue eyes and a very fair complexion, what most would call a foreign woman. (I'm not a foreign woman. I'm an English woman.)

Some people (let's be honest, a lot of people, perhaps even most people) here are wary of talking to furriners because experience tells them they're gonna have trouble communicating; experience says the furriner is unlikely to speak Japanese (though this is slowly changing), and the Japanese (generally) are notoriously bad at speaking English. In addition, the way they were taught English in school serves to make them ashamed of making even the slightest grammatical or pronunciation mistake, and so it's easier for them simply not to get involved in the first place. When it's apparent that communication in Japanese is not a problem, all this 'us poor foreigners are treated differently' nonsense disappears in a puff of smoke.

Japan isn’t an easy one for foreigners, and from the experience of foreign women I know, particularly not for foreign women.

I simply don't agree. It's not easy for those who think the world should adapt to them, regardless of whether they are XX or XY.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When it’s apparent that communication in Japanese is not a problem, all this ‘us poor foreigners are treated differently’ nonsense disappears in a puff of smoke.

No, it doesn’t. You may not have been refused accommodation by a landlord despite speaking Japanese, but plenty have. You may not have been refused entry into a bar despite speaking Japanese, but plenty have. As for the empty seat next to you on a train, I don’t care about this too much. but it does happen. The first two situations I mentioned are very unpleasant.

These things are not imaginary or just paranoia on the part of foreigners - they do happen too often.

As for the treatment of women as second class in the workplace, this is something Japan is notorious for, which I’ve come across myself at my place of work, and heard countless stories from women I know ( Japanese and foreign ) including my wife who is far from the whining type. Even the dinosaurs in the Japanese government recognize this and have made half-arsed attempts to improve it. Women coming from countries which are more progressive on this issue are bound to feel frustration.

I just find the idea that speaking Japanese will make all of these very real problems disappear in a puff of smoke very unhelpful. Speaking Japanese certainly helps with integration and getting out of a bubble, but the issues I mentioned are not just in people’s imaginations.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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