It’s no secret Japan has weighed heavily on my mind since I left in 2008. I had a good setup there:
– A brand-new apartment in a quiet area with a heated toilet seat. In the mornings I could run to a park overlooking Kinko Bay and see Sakurajima smoking in the distance.
– My job, though not challenging in the least, was with a stable Japanese company and employed good people. My income was exceptionally high when compared with that of the average ALT.
– In Kagoshima, I was well positioned to see sights most visitors had never heard of: climbing Kaimondake, visiting Tanegashima and Yakushima, cycling to Cape Sata.
So why did I leave? I was just starting my journey. I was fresh out of university when I applied to AEON, and Japan was all I knew of the working world. I was having an incredible adventure, but even in the midst of my happiness, there was a sense of emptiness, and I knew where it came from.
“…polite Japan is no match for Thailand when it comes to gentleness. The politeness is there, but at critical moments Japan’s fatal flaw, rigidity, spoils the effect. A flexible and ad hoc approach to life gives the Thais the extra wit and endurance to remain unfailingly pleasant, even in painful or unhappy circumstances. It’s a huge achievement for there simply is no other country that manages it.”
– Bangkok Found, Alex Kerr
Japan wasn’t the world. I had originally flown into Osaka thinking I would stay and continue on to the rest of Asia, but all of my vacations were spent domestically, on the Sapporo Snow Festival, southern islands of Kagoshima Prefecture, and chasing the cherry blossoms across Kansai. If I were to become a true traveler, I would have to abandon the comfort of Japan and start exploring. To see if there was a place that would suit me better.
Do I regret leaving? Not in the least. I’ve learned more in the past five years than I did during my time in Japan, and lived in several different countries. To be honest, I’m not sure if I should keep exploring, keep looking for that perfect match. But I can say for certain: Japan is the closest I’ve come so far.
As Alex Kerr points out, the rigidity and rules in Japan can drive many an expat insane. Living there is like inhabiting the mind of someone with OCD; everything has it’s place, and chaos can erupt if one dares to break the mold. However, for the same reason, things work. Safety is paramount, and never in question. Transportation is reliable and efficient. Food is healthy and delicious. Japanese people have a work hard, play hard mentality to which foreigners easily take (often not accepting the “work hard” aspect). The rigidity, while unfortunate, is a necessary part of this balance.
I’ve considered the pros and cons of returning for quite a few years. Thailand, while interesting, isn’t the best match for me. New Zealand isn’t foreign enough. China is dirty and polluted. Peru wouldn’t allow me to make a living teaching (or doing anything else, for that matter). The US is home, and always will be.
The problem I have to face now is how I will plot my return to Nippon, and whether I can settle there for more than a year on my own. I haven’t ruled out saving up from a job I’ll have in the US next year, staying in Japan for several months just living and working on my book, and coming back… to something. But I also realize I want to be in a position to take more control of my destiny. And my destiny likes being abroad, but also having a place to call home, with a comfortable bed and a nice bottle of wine… or sake, as the case may be.
To that end, I will be exploring the possibility of setting up a business in Japan in 2015 with my savings. It’s time I took a risk on something other than hopping the next border.