I’ve lived in Japan for almost 10 years. Yet, of the thousands of foreigners who come here to work every year, most will stay for one or just a few years. Although many of those who come to Japan do so with the clear intention of staying only a year or two for the “experience,” many of these new arrivals claim they want to settle here. However, in the end, the vast majority of them don’t. Why is this? And what is it about Japan that makes some of us want to settle down and others head for the hills? It’s something that’s been on my mind as I move through some changes in my life at the moment — still resolute in my choice to make a life here — and I thought I would put these thoughts out for discussion.
I’ve noticed over the years that there seems to be a “honeymoon period” for those that come to Japan. Generally, this seems to last about 18 months to two years, depending on the individual. During this time, many of us (myself included) tend to live in a bubble, where everything about Japan seems mystical and wonderful. We may hear dissenting voices from the wizened, grizzled veterans, but we tend to be dismissive of these older foreigners as being “bitter,” “cynical” or having stayed in Japan for too long.
What is it then that happens around this two-year mark? Most likely, a number of common factors will have changed by this time.
1) Japanese ability
After two years in Japan, hopefully, you’ll have acquired a basic understanding of daily spoken Japanese. While learning the language has the obvious bonus of opening up a number of previously closed doors to life here, both in social and work situations, there is also one drawback. You may start to develop a “double perspective,” so that things in Japanese culture may start to make too much sense. Things may start to “get real.”
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