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Should I stay or should I go?

20 Comments

Should I stay or should I go now… You holler into the mic, a pint glass in your hand ready to catch the cascade of falling tears as you try to make a decision that will CHANGE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, or will at least have some slight impact on the kind of pictures you will from here onwards post on Facebook. That’s right, you could be swapping those "will you just LOOK at these vending machines!" pictures for something resembling…well, real life.

"Yellow" by Coldplay is up next. That’s it. You’re going home. No more AKB48, or weird brown vegetables you’ve still yet to discover the name of. You need real music, your friends at home, baked beans… violins softly play in the background as the image of those two westerners running around the beach, or something equally inappropriate and largely unrelated to the music, plays in front of you.

This could be a terrible exaggeration. The more logical and realistic reality may be that the decision to leave or stay in Japan will be part of your much larger, well-considered and structured strategy for the future.

But for some, it is not in any way straightforward. Just like the decision to head 6,000 miles across the pond in the first place, the judgement call of whether or not to go home might be a spontaneous one; irrational to the untrained eye/your parents/future employers. The way you feel may vary from day to day. On Monday, the obaasan next door gives you a grapefruit = 1 point for staying. But on Tuesday you receive an unwarranted attack from an all-wiggling, all-murdering "mukade" = start putting bubble wrap around your valuables and slinging them in a suitcase. Maybe you’re ready to take the plunge and crawl back under the kotatsu for a few winters yet.

But if you can’t decide, here are a few of the more whimsical things to think about.

• You are moneyed now. Sometimes you put 5,000 yen into a vending machine just to get a can of Coke. If you put the equivalent of 5,000 yen into a vending machine in the UK, it will steal it from you and call you a fool for carrying that amount of money around with you in cash. You will sell your kidneys for a sum not dissimilar from amounts you now casually splash on an evening at the izakaya, while earning a wage that is the approximate equivalent of half a night at the local Manekineko.

• In Japan, there’s a feeling that everyone is equal – most of your friends are likely doing a similar job or earning a comparable wage. Big cities back home are a rat race where you will sell your time and soul to the highest bidder and where your friends will probably be too rich to associate with you or too poor to afford to step out of the door (depending on whether they’re working in finance or not). It’s not so much a ladder as an escalator to the top; one which is permanently moving downwards whilst you are sprinting up like a B grade celebrity on a terrible game show after a 3-day binge.

• Japan is very, very safe. There will be some cities in your home country where you can’t be entirely sure your belongings haven’t been stolen out of your hands whilst you’re still clinging on to them.

• Chu-Hi and the remedial Ukon drinks do not exist in foreign lands. There will be hangovers. And no delicious cheap ramen to soak them up with. Eating out will generally be restricted to birthdays and friend’s birthdays (which you will resent because of the accompanying price tag, and accordingly purge them from your contacts list until it’s just you and the cat, who thankfully doesn’t know its birth date).

The relative merits of choosing to stay or leave are, of course, individual to each person. You may be yearning for the fantastic reunions, the lack of hair-frizzling humidity, and the comfort of knowing whether you’re purchasing salt or sugar at the supermarket. But whether you’re sobbing over repeats of "Notting Hill" every night, just to get a glimpse of home, or still finding too much comfort in your good friend "kara-age" to leave, deciding whether to give up one life and start another is always going to be a headache.

But if you really can’t make up your mind, or just don’t want to, you can always take a giant leap of recklessness and follow the rest of the song: ‘If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double…”

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

20 Comments
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Well written :) Personally, I'm stuck here by one of those little crying, hungry things.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

I'm looking to go to Japan, as part of chasing a pipe dream (I want to work in anime. Go figure). A big move like that (from the UK), is not something I want to do more than once, so if I move to Japan, I'm likely to stay there. If I do decide to do any kind of moving, it would most likely be to go from say: Tokyo to Kyushu. Still, interesting points, and an interesting read.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The article is light hearted, and there are a lot of well-made points.

But it assumes all things will remain equal. Japan is changing rapidly and the uncompromising nature of its current leadership may well herald changes that diminish the standard of living on many fronts. There are further constitutional re-interpretations (thats LDP speak for ammendments) that could have a direct bearing on the civil liberties of the entire population...

'You are moneyed now'. While that may be true at the present there is a sense of diminishing returns on the horizon as consumption tax increases, inflation begins to rise and wages remain fairly static.

These are the real questions that should be considered.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I earn a pretty good income here, but when the money runs out, I'm off! "No money, no honey" is my motto.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

I am very happy, we are very happy, to spend our remaining days here, and I have no intention of returning to my birth country, Britain. We have maybe another 15 years or so, and we want it quietly and in peace.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Tessa, if you are someone who teaches JUST for the money, who thinks she has a say in how people in Japan raise their children, takes every opportunity to say how terrible children are here, and how awful mothers are here, who wants a say in how mothers in Japan live their lives, and is off as soon as she finds it no longer profitable perhaps Japan is better off without you here.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

I originally came for the money, and stayed for the life. But now as my businesses grow, we've decided to open a branch office in Singapore, and move there next year. Income tax is just too much here in Japan.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I originally came just to see what it was like and to polish up my language skills. I didn't expect to find a loving husband or build a wonderful family, but that's what happened and now my roots are firmly planted here. The money angle has gone up, down and sideways several times, and isn't a factor at all. If money is the only thing keeping a person here, maybe they'd be happier looking somewhere else. They might even find the honey they haven't found here.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

There are worse places to build a life and a family than Japan. Once you start down that road it is nigh on impossible to leave unless your Japanese spouse also wants to go. Im reasonably happy here, as happy as anywhere, and prefer it to the country I was born in. Japan has considerable personal freedom as long as you play within the rules, it is clean, safe, the food is good. It is no more expensive to live in Tokyo than any other major city in my experience. I look forward to my yearly trips out of Japan...and tend to look forwards to coming home at the end of the two week break!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I came here with my j-wife and found happines from family life to work and my hobbies like MA, Motorbikes.

Status changes, work situations do so too as well as some closer to home (RIP Wife).

Found happiness is within you and can be your outluck or how you change to deal with your surroundings, you create your happiness.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

They might even find the honey they haven't found here.

:)

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

From this long-termer's perspective, it's a little too light-hearted and shallow a piece.

If you're here for the money then you are here only for a couple of years, and are most likely still in your twenties. Nothing wrong with pursuing a job that lets you save, and lets you see a little bit of the world, I recommend it. But that money (and being here at all, and a lot of things) are meaningless if you don't know what you want to do. And "want to do" is usually a bit different from "which country to be in". Get a goal, get a passion, and pursue it. Saving first if you need to is a good thing. But if you are wondering the kinds of things in this article, you don't have that project, or that special person you are want to devote yourself to and sacrifice for. Once you have that, which country will be easier to decide. But do be careful if a long term expat.

In my case, I've gone through several different "phases" here, including almost two decades of feeling like an "insider" or living as Japanese in many ways. No I don't mean taking my shoes off when going inside felt normal, a little different than that. But I felt betrayed in a really awful way in one central relationship, awful way= racist, and like dominoes feelings about other aspects of my life here/ the country in general, began to tumble. Even after being here so long and knowing so many wonderful people. When you get stung by someone so close, you can't help wondering what others really think. So "going back or not" for me comes from that sad perspective of, maybe I just can't make myself at home here no matter what. Of course, I would only have reverse culture shock if I went back now!!

People who are the most successful (= "adjusted" or whatever, not money or job) here are either like me, completely, or nearly completely throwing off their home culture and taking the J moves as they come (but hopefully w/o the feeling of betrayal I went through), or people who have a family here, generally married. In the case of married people, they do not usually try to be as immersed in J culture as I did, and they don't need to. They are simultaneously accepted as ultimate insiders through their in-laws, and let be and also by those around them they are accepted as playing the role of a foreigner who is also married and therefore a trustworthy member of society. Perhaps the best situation to be in.

In any case, have a passion, a woman or a man that simply must be loved, a research that must get done, a craft that must be mastered, an immature self that must be made adult, whatever it is, and go after it. Nothing wrong with playing or saving when young, but have something you really want to do, wherever you go.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

I felt betrayed in a really awful way in one central relationship, awful way= racist, and like dominoes feelings about other aspects of my life here/ the country in general, began to tumble. Even after being here so long and knowing so many wonderful people. When you get stung by someone so close, you can't help wondering what others really think.

I'm so sorry you went through that. I went through several, albeit much lighter, betrayals like yours, but I never worried about what others thought of me. In fact I'm kind of glad they happened because they helped me to figure out who my real friends were. For me, the key to enjoying life in Japan so much as been to not hook my trust/finances on one person/job, but on many, and to not invest too much of my personal identity in the culture. Paradoxically, the further I try to stay away from people, the closer they want to get to me! It all works out in the end.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

In the case of married people, they do not usually try to be as immersed in J culture as I did, and they don't need to. They are simultaneously accepted as ultimate insiders through their in-laws, and let be and also by those around them they are accepted as playing the role of a foreigner who is also married and therefore a trustworthy member of society. Perhaps the best situation to be in.

Interesting observation, and I'd say it's relatively accurate as far as my own situation is concerned. I definitely feel comfortable in Japan, and don't have a lot of the stresses that a lot of others seem to find here. I've never tried to immerse myself and 'be Japanese', but rather just found my own way of living with the Japanese in a manner to not cause them troubles. Of course this does often mean I do things the Japanese way, but I also often don't do things the Japanese way. And I do find that acceptance from my in-laws as an insider, which while I don't feel it's necessary, it makes things easier.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Strangerland-

Interesting. Good for you.

Tessa-

It's all a matter of distance. If I meet with an idiot drunk on the street or a sober, and they talk trash, of course it doesn't bother me, if it is someone I know well, it bugs me and I may or may not say something depending on the situation, but it wouldn't make me feel bad about myself. However, when it is someone very very close and an enormous amount of time and energy has been spent over years to accomplish various projects, it is a pretty big deal. It's not exactly that I actually wonder or care "what others think" so much as a great doubt grew in me that I could or should trust anyone to be close to again. Which is also sad. Eggs in one basket- that is just smart. I should have perhaps not done that. "Not invest identity"- maybe that was good for you to avoid, for me it was/ is the natural thing to do. Maybe it is my special ability, maybe a weakness. In any case I have done things and felt the world in ways I don't see others doing, and that is interesting to me. I can't say I regret that, even though it has opened me up for a pretty big blow, and major cognitive dissonance.

Paradoxically, the further I try to stay away from people, the closer they want to get to me! It all works out in the end.

This is interesting to me. Of course, I have no idea what you actually mean on a chat post here. But maybe that is your special ability. I feel it is better not to cling and to let others come to you if they need it. But not always easy to do.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Went home after two years teaching in Tokyo. It was a fairly sudden decision. Why did I do it? I guess for a lot of reasons. My teaching contract expired after its maximum duration and I had to get a new job and just couldn't find anything that I really wanted to do. I was tired of feeling like a perpetual third wheel, even with my decent language skills. And I think, deep down, I knew I didn't want to live in Japan forever anyway.

I might be back someday, though. Things back home in the U.S.A haven't been totally super perfect, either. Surprise, surprise.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I remember when I first arrived here a guy told me that in Japan you will need about 10yrs to know if someone is REALLY a friend, I thought he was nuts but after 20+yrs I see there was a LOT if truth in what he said actually. If you have a handful of good/close relationships in Japan your doing well(but beware!)

Lots of relationships/friendships here would be better termed as acquaintances, I have seen & heard far too many evaporate over night, GONE, just like that, and it happens to Japanese all the time as well(why do you think they have ole uchi/soto thing etc), nationality has nothing to do with it.

There are indeed lots of nice people in Japan, can be pretty easy going, but things can also turn on a dime anywhere, anytime!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I remember when I first arrived here a guy told me that in Japan you will need about 10yrs to know if someone is REALLY a friend.

Yeah, that sounds about right to me. True friendships in Japan do seem to develop extremely slowly (probably because "friends" to Japanese people means "the people you went to high school with!"). I really appreciate the Japanese friends that I have, but I don't rely on them, and I probably won't miss them too much when I leave. I'll never forget them, though!

... a great doubt grew in me that I could or should trust anyone to be close to again.

I'm sorry. I've had exactly the same feeling. Your guard goes up, right? It hurts for a while, maybe never completely stops hurting, but in exchange, you learn not to expect too much from others, and that can be an enormously wonderful and liberating thing. It's probably why people approach me so easily now; they can sense that I'm not asking anything from them except that they be who they are. Which is all I ask from them.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

GW/ Tessa, (Thank you Tessa),

I remember when I first arrived here a guy told me that in Japan you will need about 10yrs to know if someone is REALLY a friend, I thought he was nuts

lol Yeah, I know, right?

I would say they don't have friends after say elementary school or jr high. They have roles. People tend to like having clearly defined responsibilities to others based on job, or some other determined group interaction. Within that "space" certain manners will grease the wheels of social interaction, and that is mistaken by foreigners as friendliness or friendship. I wouldn't say it is "un"friendly, but it is something that is limited to an appropriate place and time in a way we don't do, at least Euro-type, where we open up to certain people, and maintain a relationship in a much different way. So when the role has changed, or someone leaves the workplace/ other activity etc, they are suddenly persona non grata. Not hated. Just anonymous. And yes, sudden. There is a great power in it, where you can feel you don't have to think about or worry about this other person anymore because they don't matter, they have no connection to you. So you have no responsibility. This is one aspect of the daily use of the word "shiranai". It can be a very cold word, but also a very freeing word. This is one of the things that I got so used to that it feels like the more natural way to be now.

Similar but different topic, I remember I'd had difficulties w/ a co-worker at work, and when the next year started, I thought I'd invite him out just to smooth things over and talk to him and we could get to know each other better. I invited him on a short hike, (without saying "Let's talk things over"), and he replied with a big grin, "Oh that's a great idea! Let's go together with everyone!" Of course this "group movement" as they say is well-known, and you probably know as well as me, but I'd not had an individual-friendship w/ a J male in so long, I'd actually forgotten!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Long-term residence in Japan does require an individual to be somewhat self-contained. I think that Donald Richie expressed this best when he talked about the joys of NOT being a Japanese in Japan. Japan can be an interesting and enjoyable ride when viewed largely as an outsider. Donald Keene would obviously be on the other end of the spectrum, and all the credit to him on his legal and psychological success in becoming Japanese. Having lived in several countries I can say that Japan has many things going for it, but a rich communal sense of belonging is often elusive. Overtly social people seem to suffer more than the quiet and introspective types, and through no fault of their own I might add. Has anyone else found this to be the case?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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