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The expat summer

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By Lisa Jardine

What’s the rush? One minute you’re attending your 12th sayonara party, singing karaoke completely off-key, and the next you’re sitting in Segafredo wondering where everyone went. Why do expats feel the urge to leave on the first flight out of Tokyo the very day school ends? And where is everyone rushing? With the exception of one, maybe two women, most expat wives I spoke to were spending their summers as guests in various friends’ and family members’ homes, hauling their kids from one place to another, without their husbands.

Consider my friend Kat (her name has been changed to protect her from people thinking she is crazy), who last summer traveled from Tokyo to Minneapolis, to Hartford, Connecticut, to Minneapolis to Northern Minnesota, to the Twin Cities, to Omaha, Nebraska to Kansas City to Owatonna, Minnesota (I’m getting tired just typing this), to Seattle, to Lakeside, Montana to Seattle to Minneapolis and then finally flew home to Tokyo. And she did it in eight weeks, dragging her three children and eight suitcases with her.

One complication many expats face is trying to figure out where to tell people they are from. My friend “Barbara” moved directly to Cairo after her wedding, and from there they moved to Moscow, then Namibia. They had a brief spell in Maryland (their hometown) but after 18 months moved to Mexico City and then Paraguay before arriving in Tokyo.

And talk about challenges with summer vacation when you are from a country in the Southern Hemisphere. You get to take your “summer” holiday during their winter, basically ensuring that you never have a real summer.

There can be a serious amount of guilt and pressure put on the expat family. According to a 2009 survey by FreshMinds on behalf of HSBC Banks International, 59% of the 190 million people working outside their land of birth were over the age of 39. That leaves a lot of angry grandparents back home.

Assuming you can make plans that include visiting all your loved ones in the eight-week time frame, at what point do you consider your own children’s needs? Many of these kids have been taken out of their comfort zone and have had to change schools, make new friends, and live in completely new environments. Most likely they have also had to leave behind a sport or artistic outlet that they are passionate about. My friend Stephanie’s daughter rowed crew all through middle school and for two years of high school—something not easy to replicate in a concrete city like Tokyo. My son Hayden plays football here in Japan, but the level of play is not the same as it was back home. He is concerned that his father’s assignment to Japan has completely taken him off the Division I athletic track for university scholarships.

To make up for life abroad without these opportunities, we as parents need to make sure that kids get every opportunity to compensate for the loss during the summer. For Hayden, that means five different football camps in five different cities in the U.S., involving massive amounts of planes, trains and automobiles.

And let’s talk doctors. If you have a large family like I do, the number of doctor’s visits scheduled during the summer vacation could be in the 30-40 range. At a certain age, each child may need to see a pediatrician, a dermatologist, an ophthalmologist, an orthodontist and a dentist, and if they have specific medical issues, the list can be even longer.

And lastly, there is Target. After 10 months of deprivation, you find yourself buying massive quantities of things you just have to have for the upcoming year. My girlfriend Libby still hasn’t made a dent in her supply of authentic olive oil from Greece.

And so, on summer vacation, while we are traversing our countries and spending a few days here and fewer days there, we shop. We make long lists of all the items we think we’ll need, like hiking boots for Bhutan, cleats for baseball, tennis whites and camping gear. We’ll remove all the tags and somehow wedge it all into the two suitcases the airlines allow each of us and pray the customs agent at Narita won’t question our 12 suitcases when we arrive home in August, completely exhausted from our summer “vacations.”

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not—the expat summer is almost comical, and probably a lot different than what non-expats would imagine. Even with all the work involved, I’m not giving up my gaijin card anytime soon.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

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54 Comments
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The thing that makes Japan just tolerable is the time I get to spend away from it.

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And talk about challenges with summer vacation when you are from a country in the Southern Hemisphere. You get to take your “summer” holiday during their winter, basically ensuring that you never have a real summer.

Oh, the humanity.

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I'm sorry, but can someone tell me what the point of this article is?

"How people spend their summer holiday" hardly deserves a write-up. What is this? 5th grade?

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Ummm, so people like taking vacations? What's the point of this?

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Assuming of course that you get the summer holidays off, which ex-pats in a lot of jobs don't.

What I dislike is the writer's huge generalisation that all "ex-pats" are the same, all teaching and all eligable to get the summer vacation off.

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Well, good for them. These are great memories. Unfortunately my wife and kids refuse to move from Tokyo, so we can only experience other countries on vacations. When I was a kid a huge trip was a drive to Florida for a week!

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This was the most pointless article....

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sitting in the cafe pondering next holiday. sounds familiar

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Yes, agreed, pointless article, yet could have been so much more. I spend every summer away from here as I have for 25 years but all I do is go back home and sit around, no rushing about here and there. Just getting back in touch with your roots is all you need, to remind yourself who you are and where you are from, a little dose of hometown humanity. This is what summer vacation is, getting away from it all, namely the hustle and bustle of Tokyo life.

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I wouldn't mind missing this Summer heat right now..

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Hey you forgot to mention the ridiculous airfare hikes that typically go along with having the luxury of traveling during the summer holiday.

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Stupid lifestyle where you accept stress just to get the money and the career... These people seem to like the stress ... it makes them seem/feel busy = successful, I guess.

If sport scholarships for your son is important to you, then go home now. This is quite easy to understand... you have problems of luxury that very few people on this planet have.

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What's TARGET? I'm assuming its a shop but I really dont know (or particularly care). Didnt want to comment at all but its too late now. Maybe if you werent creepy lifers you'd not have to worry about all this rubbish

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These must be the rich expats, as nobody I know has the money to travel anywhere near this much.

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I think this article is probably referring to those ex-pats living in the Gaijin Ghetto (Hiroo, Azabu etc), going to international schools, expenses accounts, paid-for apartments, and absolutely not married to a Japanese living a "Japanese life"

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This article is so poorly written, and most of the comments here are more on topic than the article itself. Has Metropolis fallen this far?

Target, by the way, is like Wal-Mart for people who aren't hillbillies.

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wow......why do these people live in Tokyo again...?

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Does the writer of this and her friends actually live in the real world?

8 Weeks vacation? Traveling every summer?

Most non-Japanese and Japanese I know are lucky to get 3 weeks off and traveling with the family? to expensive during the summer!

"After 10 months of deprivation, you find yourself buying massive quantities of things you just have to have for the upcoming year. My girlfriend Libby still hasn’t made a dent in her supply of authentic olive oil from Greece."

"We make long lists of all the items we think we’ll need, like hiking boots for Bhutan, cleats for baseball, tennis whites and camping gear."

Where do they live somewhere in "inaka"?

10 months of deprivation? Authentic olive oil from Greece.?

This is TOKYO it has everything I can find all those things and more withing a 20 minute drive form my place and I mean top brand stuff, olive oil from Spain, Italy, Greece etc, Real pro-hiking boots and camping gear etc. and at good if not regular back home prices.

This all just sounds like the privileged whining to me.

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Haha a whiner from the golden ghetto..........just remember yr probably squeezing more into 8wks each yr than many japanese experience in a lifetime sheesh!

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Hey limboinjapan, do you ever see pro-hiking boots size 30cm? Let me know if you do, I've been looking for a while in Aichi but no luck yet. Thanks for the heads up if you can. Cheers

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While the expats suffer the ordeal of shlepping their 8 suitcases to untold destinations, some of us non-expats are trying to survive. I am not crying tears over the poor creatures the article writers bemoans.

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After 10 months of deprivation, you find yourself buying massive quantities of things you just have to have for the upcoming year.

The "Ugly American" is alive and well in the pages of Metropolis magazine.

RR

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Hey Everybody! Look at me! I'm a Jet Set World Traveling Ex-pat Slumming it in Tokyo! But I'm really a down to Earth person because I shop at Target!

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Citizen12, Target is just one of the many department store chains found in the U.S. Kind of halfway between your typical Sears and your typical Costco.

To everyone bashing the "article": it showed up in the "Commentary" section and as such is usually given much more leeway with regards to journalistic soundness. I will admit the tone of the commentary was pretty elitist. I live in America and I've NEVER been overseas for an 8-week vacation. The longest I've been outside the borders on vacation was three weeks and that practically drained my savings.

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Next will be The expat winter. Expats have hot and cold running water. Regular gaijin have cold and freezing-ass cold running water.

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Ah, I remember those days, the longing and anticipation and exertion and ultimate disappointment: that whole roller-coaster, year after year, until I finally chose to go native and chuck it all. Now I find nirvana where I am.

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PeaceWarrior; Sorry no idea about Aichi, but if you get to Tokyo there is a pro outdoors place in Akiba, then a few places in Ameoko, and a large size shoe store with just about everything in Okachmachi! I got mine size 29 cm European brand in Ameoko for 7500 yen internet price $200 plus shipping to Japan, Good luck!

As for this article I am pleased to see that most if not all see it for what it is bragging in the form of a complaint.

But what really Ps me off is this:

"If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not—the expat summer is almost comical, and probably a lot different than what non-expats would imagine. Even with all the work involved, I’m not giving up my gaijin card anytime soon."

As an attempt to make it all look like it's a tongue in cheek poke at her self but at the same time reinforcing her elitist position.

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Goodness, I can't even afford to travel abroad during the summer. If the writer thinks it's so awful and stressful, she can buy me a plane ticket and I'll make my first trip home in almost four years.

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Exciting expat house wife stories. Truly exciting !!!

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What I dislike is the writer's huge generalisation that all "ex-pats" are the same, all teaching and all eligable to get the summer vacation off.

@Frungy: I heartily agree, though I think you should read the article again... it's actually just the KIDS that have the summer off; these wealthy expat housewives leave their husbands behind to traipse around the globe! I seriously doubt that Ms. Jardine has a job of her own... unless you count "volunteer" work at the Tokyo American Club (which, of course, costs her husband's expense account millions of yen in yearly membership fees).

Seriously, it's as if this woman made a list of Most Annoying Wealthy Expat Stereotypes and chucked every single one of them into this piece-of-crap article. Baseball cleats and tennis whites (as if that isn't telling enough)?! Hiking boots for the trip to Bhutan?!? Doctor's appointments for pasty white kids?! Imported Greek olive oil?! Good god, I suppose life is hard when you fail to realize that all of these things are readily available IN JAPAN!!!

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Isn't ignoring your children's health needs for 10 months out of the year child abuse of some kind?

And

For Hayden, that means five different football camps in five different cities in the U.S., involving massive amounts of planes, trains and automobiles.

I think it's time Hayden move in with a relative in some football-crazed state like Texas and shove the obviously massive amounts of cash five football camps require into his college beer-drinking fund. Plus, plus: they take the train? In the US? Poor paupers.

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This has to be a joke! Im waiting for the follow-up article titled "not!"

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Someone needs to tell this woman and her friends that authentic olive oil, doctors, dentists, sports equipment and all the other stuff you just have to have are available in Japan. Or does she think that Japanese people go about their daily lives deprived of essentials?

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@limboinjapan,

thanks a lot for the information. I have a couple of meetings in Tokyo next month and I'll have a chance to check it out then.

My 15 yo son also needs 30cm and it's really a pain.

Cheers

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Many of these kids have been taken out of their comfort zone and have had to change schools, make new friends, and live in completely new environments.

That trail has already been blazed by those of us who grew up in a military family. My dad was a career Army officer. We were on the move every two - three years throughout the 1950s and '60s. So, trying to work up some sympathy for youngin's being denied rowing crew because her parents are posted in such a remote location as Tokyo is a bit difficult.

RR

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Someone needs to tell this woman and her friends that authentic olive oil, doctors, dentists, sports equipment and all the other stuff you just have to have are available in Japan. Or does she think that Japanese people go about their daily lives deprived of essentials?

It's not olive oil if I'm not enjoying it beside the Fontana delle Tartarughe, darling.

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Just on a positive note, I for one am certainly looking forward to Ms Jardine's next article.

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Something tells me Ms. Jardine comes from a different social circle then the average JT reader....

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If you have a large family like I do, the number of doctor’s visits scheduled during the summer vacation could be in the 30-40 range. At a certain age, each child may need to see a pediatrician, a dermatologist, an ophthalmologist, an orthodontist and a dentist, and if they have specific medical issues, the list can be even longer.

It seems she has all the time and money. Why can't she find a doctor in Japan? She risks her children's health because she can't move a single step out of her closed circles?

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Yawn. What a boring article.

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Doesn't sound anything like the expat world I live in....

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Something tells me Ms. Jardine comes from a different social circle then the average JT reader....

Yeah. I bet she even pronounces it Targét.

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I am very glad that I don't have to listen to this woman say this near me. Reading it, one can let it kind of bounce off of one's consciousness. If I were sitting at the next table in a cafe, I think I would have to leave.

It is petty chitchat.

I will also repeat that the article is most entertaining if you read it aloud using a Carol Channing voice. Joan Rivers works too. My favorite is Maurice Chevalier, though.

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Klein2 - Instead of leaving, you could ask her to please shut up.

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Oh Lisa, it seems your dreary, whining literary voice has followed us here to JT too, but sadly hasn’t got any sweeter. Honey, if only we all had 8 weeks a year and cash cow partners to allow us to live a life like you! while it seems I, like most, can’t relate to this tripe, perhaps I can help shed some light on the questions you pose at the beginning of your piece:

Why do expats feel the urge to leave on the first flight out of Tokyo the very day school ends?

We don’t – most of us share a novel pursuit we affectionately refer to as a JOB, try it sometime, it’s almost as rewarding as hiking in Bhutan.

And where is everyone rushing?

I hazard two guesses here – either A. to said job … or B. away form you, because if your writing is any indication of your conversations in real life, anyone in earshot would be trying hang themselves with their own shoelaces within in seconds.

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Obviously this expat comes from a different world than most of us.

I love summer here. When it's not to hot, I can spend a lazy afternoon in Yoyogi park. When I feel like something more lively I just head for a beach party which is only an hour away. And I'm not complaining cause this year I actually get a week of PAID summer vacation!!

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Inokashira-koen, Koganei-Koen is luvely in Summer, lots of shade and cool.

To get away from the crowds in Inokashira-koen hit the area between the lake and the sports-grounds(Gibhli Museum), very nice to chill and maybe have a picnic underneath the Sakura Trees.

For a BBQ we head up to Chuo-Koen(Musashino) as they got a nice tree-covered BBQ area.

For Pool we hit the local muncipial sports-centre(indoor and outdoor pools), etc.

Tokyo can be fun in summer, just need to hit the right spots.

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she seems really interesting and can type. big family, can travel. keep it coming!! fascinating

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I remember well the first time I went to a meeting at the Kobe Club or some such, we were considering joining. I could to one or two meetings to decide if I wanted to join. First off the women were all much older, wives of bankers etc. The conversation that day centered on where to get chocolate chips and if you could get Cocoa Crispies or not. Oh dear....then when I tell them my name and they see I've married a Japanese I get 'Oh, so you've gone native.....how nice' SNORT! Needless to say I didn't go back.

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8 Weeks vacation? Traveling every summer?

Ummm, she's a housewife who has other housewife friends. Their husbands/partners stay most of the summer working. The wives get to travel 8 weeks of summer when school's out.

most expat wives I spoke to were spending their summers as guests in various friends’ and family members’ homes, hauling their kids from one place to another, without their husbands.

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uhhg, come on, Ms Jardine, you must have seen this response coming...Your boy is going to get trashed for this at school in a few weeks. Roppongi Midtown Residence expat sob stories don't get a lot of sympathy. BTW, Mustang football may not be to the level of the Cali/Texas powerhouses, but your son is getting a vastly superior education in a far safer environment. If hubby's company is paying tuition, all the better. Not a lot to complain about, imho.

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One complication many expats face is trying to figure out where to tell people they are from.

Your place of birth should be listed on your Certificate of Alien Registration.

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This sounds like a mother who wanted to really write a junior High School paper, because she didn't like writing about something of interest when she did it - in junior High School. Whatever country she is from, I'm sure the people there do not miss her one bit. She only feels as though it's her duty to return and talk about how "crazy" her life is in Japan. "OMG they have no Target. I'm SOOO deprived" Gimme a effin break. I feel for any person who has to deal with this woman on a regular basis. This article reeks of egomania. The article is a cesspool of complications that are mostly self-inflicted which seem to irritate her, then she has the audacity to say "If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not". I get it...it's look at me and my lofty problems isn't horrible how much I have to do and take care of? NO...it's NOT. You have 8 WEEKS vacation. Quit bitchin'

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Yawn...yawn...yawn....this sounds like a story from the 50's. Who travels like this nowadays and who wants to leave Japan during summer break when all the fun is here? I really can't relate to anything from that story.

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