I finally did it! I made the leap and I’m back in the US now. I quit my job late August and then spent just under two weeks traveling around Japan, visiting my favorite places one last time, just in case. Most of September passed in a stressful haze as I packed up my apartment and my belongings after four years living in that place and seven years in Japan total. It was so ridiculously stressful! I had to sort all my stuff, throw away so many things (including registering 粗大ゴミ big trash with my city and paying so they would come pick up my big items no one wanted like my sofa, closet rack, broken microwave/oven, etc), post on Facebook groups and Craigslist and Mercari to sell and give away so much more, arrange for like a dozen strangers to come to my apartment and pick things up, and then pack all the things I wasn’t selling into boxes to ship to the US via slow boat. (They still haven’t arrived!)
And don’t forget that I have a cat! I had to arrange everything for her to travel too. We visited the vet many times in the month prior to departure so she could get vaccines and health checks. Of course, none of these were needed upon arrival in the US–at US customs, they just waved us through. They were all needed so she could spend one night at the airport pet hotel the night before the flight, and so she could clear export quarantine at the airport and be cleared to leave Japan. (I never ended up writing in detail about the process of bringing her to Japan in the first place, so maybe I’ll do that at some point… maybe.)
Just picture me leaving Japan–and later entering the US–with two giant suitcases stuffed to the brim (one ended up overweight even though I tried so hard to keep them within the weight limit when packing), one giant cardboard box (long story, but at least it was light), a cat carrier, and a backpack. Plus I was an emotional wreck because my wonderful, amazing, precious closest friends in Tokyo had made a scrapbook for me filled with photos of all the trips we’ve taken together, and they had all drawn me pictures of my favorite characters and written amazing messages. Saying goodbye to each of them had already had me in tears, and when I got the scrapbook I couldn’t even look at it closely because I knew I’d lose it. So when I got to the airport the morning of my flight, I had lots of time before I could pick up my cat from the pet hotel, so I went to the outdoor observation deck, found an isolated bench, looked through the scrapbook, and just cried my eyes out. Even now, writing this, I want to cry. I love my friends I made in Japan so much. I never would have imagined that I could make such amazing friendships when I first moved there, people who’ve literally changed the course of my life and I’ve changed theirs in return. Leaving them was the absolute hardest thing about this whole decision to move back. Once I’d picked up the cat, taken her to quarantine, picked up my luggage, checked it in, gone through security, and gotten to the gate and had some time to sit, everything hit me all over again and I couldn’t stop the tears. Fortunately I wasn’t facing anyone so I just let myself cry and cry as I gave my cat food and water (she had been so nervous at the pet hotel that she refused to eat…). On the flight, too, I listened to the song I always knew would be my ‘leaving Japan’ anthem, and burst into tears again. I had to just throw the airplane blanket over my head and let everything out.
“We won’t be leaving by the same road that we came by…”Keane, “My Shadow”
So then why did I leave Japan? I mean, I agonized over the decision here on this blog so many times, the reasons shouldn’t come as a surprise. If I had to list them…
- I had absolutely no hope for my romantic life in Japan, and I didn’t want to resign myself to being single forever with more or less 100% certainty
- As a conventionally attractive (I guess) blonde, blue-eyed white woman in Japan, I get a lot of attention just wherever I go and whatever I do. I don’t enjoy this attention. I’m not the type of person who enjoys that, but it happened no matter what. I hate getting stared at, and it happened all. the. time. And it never stopped! Every day was filled with new people who hadn’t seen me before who would stare. Whenever I complained to Japanese people about this, they’d laugh and say, “It’s because you’re so pretty!” – I was told this many, many times. I honestly don’t care what the reason is – I can’t handle it. It drove me up the wall. I soon learned how to tell people were staring at me (usually when on the train) without looking at them, and I developed a multi-step plan that usually worked to get them to stop staring at me. Step #2 involved a nasty glare. Sometimes, however, all steps of the plan failed, and I had to actually walk away to another part of the train to escape it. In my last 2-3 years in Japan, I almost always wore sunglasses when leaving the house in the summer, and a white surgical mask when leaving the house and going home in the winter. Of course it didn’t disguise me in any way, but it really did cut back on the staring, because as soon as people saw they couldn’t get a good look at my full face, they stopped looking. But if they could, they would look to their heart’s content. I could feel these gazes and there was a definite difference in wearing a mask/sunglasses vs not wearing one. I also always pulled back my long blonde hair, since I knew it attracted extra attention too. Basically the uglier and less attention-getting I could make myself, the better. I felt naked and anxious without something on my face to block people from looking at it. It really wasn’t a healthy way to live, and I knew it wasn’t sustainable. As much as I enjoyed so much else about living in Japan, my own anxiety about the attention generated by my appearance and people’s reactions to it meant that I could not live there forever. It was just too stressful for me personally. Other people are able to handle it perfectly fine, and that’s great for them. I’m jealous! But for me, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
- As a non-Japanese person with fluent Japanese and no technical background living in Japan, the type of work I could do was fairly limited. I could work at a mobile game company, or… well, that was pretty much it. And I didn’t dislike that work, but the salaries were fairly low, and it just felt like it was going to be hard to progress my career in any real way after a certain point. I wanted to be free to do more things, and to not be bound to a job at all times so I could keep my work visa.
- Related: Work culture in Japan sucks. Workers are expected to be totally dedicated to their jobs, regularly staying late and often coming in to work on holidays and weekends. I felt pressure to do the same thing, and even though I resisted it and worked productively so I could leave on time almost every day, I saw it all around me and it was depressing. Every New Year after the holiday, people would just… stop coming into work, because they had been so burned out and overworked that it took the company closing for five days for them to finally realize their lifestyle wasn’t sustainable anymore. Work culture in Japan and burnout is a huge problem, and I wanted to get away from it.
- The weather and other related nasty things. As an example, last summer (2018), insanely high heat and humidity meant that dani mites took over my bedroom. It was a tatami floor room, which initially I was excited about because it felt all cool and Japanesey, but it’s the perfect place for dani to breed. I was getting bitten all over and losing my mind worried that maybe it was bed bugs (but it wasn’t, my mattress was totally clean) and what if I had to throw away my bed, that I had just bought in January? In the end I was able to buy some anti-dani packs from Amazon to place under my mattress and around my room, and that basically curbed them, but it just made me want to get out of this whole country!
- Missing friends and family back in the US and wanting to get to see them more often than once, maybe twice a year.
So, for all those reasons and probably some more I didn’t get into, I moved out of Japan on September 30. Informed my ward office I was leaving Japan, closed out my visa (that one was hard… I’d just gotten a three-year visa last June, my very first one longer than one-year!), paid all my last taxes, and packed up and left.
And now I’m back in the US, living with my parents in a city I do not plan to stay in (and they don’t plan to stay here, either! After I go… wherever I’m going next, they’re going to move to a different state too).
I honestly wish I had better things to report, like that I already have a job at a famous game company in the US. I don’t. I have nothing, literally nothing going on. I don’t know where I’m going to live and if I’ll ever find a job that I want to do and that wants to hire me. I’ve had a few interviews (at, admittedly, very well-known places. Just getting the interview was huge) and have already been rejected for two of them. It’s such a blow to my confidence. I didn’t get rejected for jobs very often in Japan because I was usually the ideal candidate, so this is an entirely new and awful feeling.
I’m also searching for freelance translation work at the same time, and coming up empty there too. (I did a little bit of work last month, but won’t get paid for a while…) And due to a mishap applying for 2020 health insurance, I ended up having to cancel the 2019 coverage I had just gotten, so I’ll have no health insurance for the rest of the year. I had wanted to go to therapy or something, but now it doesn’t seem wise. I have no income and so while I do have savings, trying to judge when I should and shouldn’t spend money has been difficult. And going from being 100% independent with my own place living on my own and taking care of all my own stuff to living in a bedroom in my parents’ basement is… a big change. I miss having my own place and income so, so much.
That’s not even getting into reverse culture shock. I visited my friend who lives in Rhode Island last week and one day while she was at work I took the train from Providence to Boston. Getting there was fine, but going back there were ridiculously delays (paired with a total lack of clear instructions about what was happening or even what train was pulling into the station 30 minutes late, so I ended up getting on the wrong one!). What should have taken an hour ended up taking two and a half. It was insane. I just kept thinking, “This would never happen in Japan… this would never happen in Japan…”
I think I mostly came here to whine. It sucks! Moving back sucks! I really did dismantle my entire life, and now I have to put it back together again, and it’s just the absolute worst. I really hope things get better.