Leaving Japan

Leaving Japan (Poem)Yes, I did the unthinkable – I left Japan. Took the wife and kid with me out to Oz, leaving only fond memories and my stippy mates behind (Well actually a pet rabbit too, but he never did much except jump around and shit everywhere anyways). After nine years in Japan, it certainly isn’t easy getting used to life “overseas”, and earlier this week as I busily pretended to be busy at my new desk in my new office, in my new city, my thoughts turned to what I’ve already started to miss in Japan:

My Favourite Things

Roppongi nightlife and loose social norms;
Miniskirts in winter and high school uniforms;
Harajuku girls suited up in costumes with wings;
These are a few of my favourite things.

Cold nama beer and fresh sashimi;
Towering mountains and the harsh Japan Sea;
Sakura trees towering over playground swings;
These are a few of my favourite things.

Toilet seat warmers and miniature mobiles
Sexy sports cars and highways for miles
Cooking nothing at home yet eating like kings;
These are a few of my favourite things.

When my ship sails,
When my plane flies home,
When leaving Japan makes me sad
I simply remember my favourite things,
And then I don’t feel so bad.

While I don’t think I’ll be winning any poetry prizes with my effort, it certainly helped me get through another “busy” morning, and until I can plan a trip back, my memories (and video Skype sessions ) are all that remain to connect me back to Japan. My wife (Japanese) has already booked her first trip back after being out here for little over a month, it’s yet to be seen how long I can last wthout a Japan fix.

I’m sure some of our readers have lived in Japan at some stage then moved away – what does every one miss the most?

80 thoughts on “Leaving Japan”

  1. I have often thought about leaving Japan, and I even still plan to do it next year for 3 years.
    But, from everyone who has actually bit the bullet and done it, all I hear is stories about how much they miss Japan and want to move back. Is it really *that* bad?? Hmmm…

  2. After seven split years in Japan (four, then three, with three in the middle elsewheres), I miss…
    Georgia Coffee out of a vending machine, hot, at 3 a.m. in January, up in the Snowy North, before the drunken walk home.
    Japanese bowing to whoever it they’re talking to on their keitais, or to the ATM. Both Funny.
    Sitting down to the best ramen ever (Yumeya).
    New Year at the in-laws with the delicious things to eat but the origins of which are not to be asked about lest they become not delicious.
    Sunday Picnics, with a giant tarp (no shoes allowed) and little gas grills cooking all manner of beasts of land and sea.
    In the winter, those heated tables, dang, what are they called? That or the wood stove we always brought into the living room. That thing rocked! Kept a kettle on top for coffee or tea!
    Denkodo/Yamada Denki/Any electronic store
    did I mention ramen and georgia coffee?

  3. They’re called kotatsu and they are just great. We put ours on last week and my wife has fallen asleep under it twice, already!!

  4. こたつ。
    that’s it. kotatsu. Shame on me for forgetting! That’s what happens when you leave. I miss Iwaki Mountain and Hirosaki. I miss Fujimiko Park.

  5. I spent 6 years in Japan and moved back just this May. Being back in the US has been interesting. So many things have changed.
    However, I miss so many things about Japan that I’ve given up and am going back next month. It was nice to be close to friends and family but I miss my friends in Japan. I miss the food, onsen, snowboarding, and the time on the train reading books. I think that in those 6 years Japan became my home.

  6. I’ve never been to Japan, but have a longing to experience the culture, which has fascinated me for a long time! However, I am a misplaced New England native (brrrr!) that really belonged in South Florida, where I moved seven years ago, and couldn’t be more happier. How will a sun-drenched beachbum fair in Japan?

  7. I think you have to be committed. Japan can be likened to alcohol… if you go hard and fast you risk being left dazed and confused.

  8. J-Curious: My experience is in the frozen north, so I doubt you’d enjoy that much. Stick with Tokyo, or go to a completely different country, Okinawa.

  9. I did it. Lived in Japan for almost 7 years straight and then came back to Sydney with the wife and 2 kids. It has been VERY hard to get used to things here again. As was said earlier in this thread, so much changes while you were gone, and I feel Japan is more my home now than Sydney. With the price of real estate here, completely unaffordable, and the ridiculously cheap price of housing in Japan, moving back seems like a certainty. I know of many others like myself who have left and gone back, and I am thinking of the same. I guess if you stay in Japan for more than a year, the longer you stay, the more certain it is that Japan will capture your heart forever.

  10. I have spent about 10 years (spread out over the last 20) in Japan (high school in Nagoya, uni in Osaka, work in Tokyo). And after moving back to NY about 4 years ago you don’t know how much I enjoy being back. Lots of great things about Japan: there is a greater appreciation for food besides ‘over-sized portions for as cheap as possible’. Customer service is second to none. Clean, efficient (if expensive) public transportation.

    But there are many things I absolutely hate about Japan. The men are adolescent – childish, even – and are mostly borderline pedophiles. As a result women into their 30s and 40s feel like they have to dress and act like they’re 13 (high-pitched anime voices, hello kitty pens, high-school girl giggling) to attract a mate. When things don’t go as planned Japanese companies are easily the most dysfunctional in the world – and for the same reason that perverts on the train continue to be a problem: no one has any balls to stand up and say ‘this is wrong’, or ‘follow me, we’re going to do this’. Japanese companies would rather sit together on a boat heading towards the rocks, doing nothing, then have someone stand up and take the responsibility of taking the wheel. Japan’s culture stifles creativity, HR departments throttle career developments and are a major reason behind the very slow footwork of most Japanese companies compared to their Western counterparts, and Japan’s middle managers are among the worst in the world.

    I will be back in Tokyo from February after a company literaly through their wallet at me to shape up their Tokyo operations (I’m being used like Carlos Ghosn(sp?) at Nissan). I accepted – on the condition that a) I have complete control over my budget and hiring decisions (no HR involvement!) and b) I move back to NY within a year.

    Japan is great if you either work for yourself (being a consumer first and foremost would be fun – no bureacracy to deal with) or have a relatively low-skillz job – I suspect that’s why all the english teachers stay here so long and miss it when they get back home. The ‘I speak english and a little japanese’ schtick doesn’t get them chicks back home, they have no real job skills so they’re broke, so of course they pine for the money and their lost popularity of Japan. Ugh.

    Sorry if this comes across as a bit cycnical. I have a bit more in-depth view of corporate Japan than most foreigners, and while that doesn’t stop me from appreciating the best that Japan has to offer it also prevents me from agreeing with the ‘Japan is the best’ sentiment that so many foreigners seem to have of this place.

  11. No, you’ve reminded me about a few things that I didn’t like about Japan. I sometimes blind myself to the negatives, and remember only the good things. It is true that my only memories of crime in Japan always seemed to include the word perverse, as in a kidnapper locking a little girl in a box and feeding her ramen. And the general difference in value between men and women still needs a lot of work, it’s true. I can’t say that I know much specifically about the workplace, but the Japanese are not generally risk-takers. Trying something revoutionary takes place only rarely, and at a glacial pace.
    Still, I’d go back in a heartbeat.

  12. When I arrived in Tokyo 14 years ago, I’d set myself a hard limit of 3 years before returning to London. So much for that. London’s a great city and I still do pop back once or twice a year but, other than my parents and the dwinding numbers of friends from university who haven’t (yet) moved abroad, I find it harder to justify going back permanently. Tokyo offers a lot of things that other readers have mentioned, but it’s really the general safety of this place that I can’t do without. I can feel almost 100% sure that my wife will not be mugged/raped/murdered on the way back from the local train station late at night, and it’s a feeling I _never_ get when we’re in London.
    I do agree to an extent about the corporate thing. I’ve worked for both Japanese and non-Japanese companies and I find it easier to be working in a non-Japanese company, and with a non-Japanese boss, I admit. But I got more skills training when I was working at the Japanese company. Of course, they didn’t think I’d bugger off after 3 years, which may be part of the reason why they trained me in the first place. But in the non-Japanese companies that I’ve worked for since, it’s basically been on-the-job training all the way. For better or worse, I’m self-taught in my particular specialisation. I don’t think that’s exactly the best career help one can receive, although you do learn other things that you wouldn’t have had you been spoon-fed.
    The thing about Japanese men being childish, I do agree with. For instance, I find myself being able to converse more comfortably with guys who are perhaps 10 years older than me. Regarding women, not true. The girly-girly stuff is not put on show for the men, it’s actually for the other women. And anyway these women do not represent anywhere near the majority that I work with or have worked with in the past. Personally, I manage a number of women in my department and they have very professional attitudes towards their work.
    Nope, what really gets on my nerves these days are moronic gaijin men who think they’re God’s gift to Japanese women, and Japanese women who all too readily agree. We’ve had a few of them go through here on occasion and it’s utterly pathetic.

  13. Ryan – I would agree to a certain extent that Japanese women – perhaps more so than Western women – do act and dress for their female friends as much, if not more than, their male friends. However, their actions around men – Japanese or otherwise – are clearly based on what they perceive to be ‘cute’ ‘attractive’ and ‘desirable’.

    Western companies expect you to think for yourself. Japanese companies don’t expect you to do anything without being told. Being a ‘self-starter’ is not necessarily a good trait at a Japanese company; more often than not the person is simply viewed as a loose canon that needs reigning in.

    One question – after 14 years in Japan, are you really in a position to compare corporate cultures and other work experiences between Japan and London? Working at a Western firm in Japan – while preferable to a Japanese firm – still isn’t the same as working at a Western firm overseas.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are some great things about Japan. I have had one or two excellent Japanese bosses – true managers in the best sense of the word – and I have a Japanese female employee that I have hired at three different companies – and am already talking to about hiring her at a fourth. So obviously I’m painting with a rather broad brush. But after many, many years, at numerous companies, I feel relatively confident in looking to be proved wrong first by Japanese companies, and Japanese male workers in particular.

    Part of me is frustrated a bit, I think, because Japanese companies are working so, so far beneath their potential. There is oodles and oodles of talent and productivity literally wasting away. I once took over a team of 19 people at a Japanese company. 18 months later we were a team of 12, and were handling output from three other departments. Of the six ‘leftover’ people, four should have just been let go, they were beyond deadweight. They were instead transferred elsewhere to eat up someone else’s headcount. The other two I was able to transfer specifically to departments where they were happier and more productive.

    The ‘gods gift to Japanese women’ gaijing are a blight on the entire country. Ugg. Although given a choice between them and Japanese guys, I have a hard time faulting Japanese women for choosing the former over the latter.

  14. -S, sure I definitely know what you’re saying about some Japanese women behaving in a perceivedly “cute” way. It’s just that I find just as many – if not more – of them do not behave like that. But sure, YMMV.

    Regarding “thinking for yourself”, yes that’s part of the deal I mention about not being spoon fed. Fair enough but at least from a professional training stance, what I’ve found is that my Japanese employers were far more willing to commit resources (budget, manpower) toward the training of myself and my colleagues.

    When it comes to working in different countries, my comments are from the perspective of someone whose professional career has developed in Japan. I don’t believe I was trying to suggest otherwise. Just my own two cents’ worth. But for me anyway, work isn’t the sole focus of life in Japan and, getting back to the theme, there are other aspects to life in Japan such as personal safety that I myself couldn’t do without, and which are not (I feel) as good back in the UK.

    Finally, I’m afraid I have to disagree with your comment about the sun-shines-out-of-my-ass gaijin being preferable to “Japanese guys”. But anyway if there are Japanese women who are just as happy to take these fools in, well maybe they deserve each other. 🙂

  15. I worked in Japan for 4.5 of 6.5 years as a graphic designer. I worked for foreign companies mostly in Japan. My Japanese, particularly my written, is not good enough to work in a Japanese company. I did my English teaching stints when work wasn’t available. Thing is, I quite enjoyed the teaching. It was certainly a refreshing break being away from a computer screen 24/7 and it gave me the opportunity to genuinely help people, which I found rewarding. Since being back in Australia it has been a hard 2 year slog to break back into the design market here. Now I finally have a secure job in a large company here. My permanent visa in Japan is due to expire in April of this year, which I already extended a year. My daughter has started school here but is due to start school in Japan this April if she were in Japan. I know my wife wants to go back, but after all the hard work to get set back up here, I’m not sure if I do, now things are just starting to look on the up. In the future, I’m not so sure though, as we most certainly would never be able to afford a house in Sydney, which is my original home. Schooling and lifestyle would most certainly be better here though I think. Torn between to worlds is a nice way of summing up the situation to be perfectly honest. One thing I have done to be on the safe side in case I have to go back is do the Cambridge CELTA course, which was bloody hard work but I got a B pass. I have to make a decision one way or the other, my wife is leaving it all up to me because she doesn’t want any regrets for me giving up on Australia I choose to do so. This the hardest and most impossible decision I’ve ever had to try and make. Any advice from someone from the outside looking in would most likely go a very long way.

  16. db – first, I would definitely think of your children’s education prospects. I can tell you from all-too-personal experience that education in Japan, especially through the junior high school years, if focused almost exclusively on making polite little robots (remember, the ultimate goal for Japan’s parents isn’t that their children become happy, or excel at something they love, no, it’s that their children grow up to be adults that ‘don’t cause a nuisance to others’).

    Safety is a but over-regarded in Japan. There are some rather rough parts of Tokyo where I would think twice about living – in fact, I recall a tv show in Tokyo pointing out that the crime rate for males age 18 and under is actually higher in the 23 wards of Tokyo than in New York City. Forced, violent rape is likely much rarer, but I suspect that the ‘date rape’ figures are likely off the charts (for mainly the same reason that perverts have their way on the train – no one does anything).

    Also do think about your career – where are your career prospecs better? Where do you enjoy working more? If you can find yourself a good niche, there’s no reason why you couldn’t be based out of Australia, while your wife would still be able to go back to Japan on occasion when she started to miss Japanese baths, food, etc.

    I’d write more, but I have to leave now – feel free to email me directly at drgnash_2006 at yahoo dot co dot jp.

  17. My wife turned out ok, surely everyone that goes through the machine that is the Japanese education system aren’t all just mindless drones. I’d like to think that my kids would think differently having a “foreigner” for a father anyway.

    Career prospects? Hmmmm. Well, as I see it, its either pursue ELT as a career option, or stick with graphics. Either or. I can always pick up some freelance hopefully in Japan while teaching, maybe after a few years of study and if my Japanese improves enough I could even work in design in Japan? I don’t know. Perhaps start my own school? Maybe combine the two, English through art?

    Not sure if I really want to spend my whole life infront of a computer, teaching on the other hand was a great experience.

    I just find myself running in circles when I try to think about it. The one that is most daunting perhaps is that if I choose to stay in Australia, I will never own my own home. That is a scary thought. I find it ludicrous that to buy a house in Sydney costs around $500,000 and up yet 20 minutes by rail outside of Yokohama we could buy a nice 2 storey house for as little as $100,000. Crazy. And the interest in Japan won’t kill you on the loan like it will here. Sigh.

  18. Hmm – I can give you a bit of first-hand experience. First, it is true indeed that interest rates on Japanese home loans are quite low. I bought a nice little mansion connected directly to the subway about 20 minutes from Ginza for Y40 million, paid 25% down, and got a 15-year 3.6% loan. However, rates are so low only because banks only pay less than 1% on deposits! In other words, you could have a substantial amount of money in your bank account – and lose more than one years’ worth of interest if you happen to make a withdrawal after 5pm.

    Second, you won’t be able to buy a home in Japan for sometime: you need a permanent visa to be eligble for any type of housing loan (and even if you were to pay cash, I suspect some governmetn regulation may require you to need a permanent visa to register the house or something). The very earliest you can even apply for a permanent visa is after having been in Japan for three years straight – and then it’s almost never approved unless you’ve been paying oodles and oodles of tax money. I was making very good money, paid my taxes on time, applied after three years, and was approved. My friend spent 11 consecutive years in Japan, was married and had a kid – but spent the time working for himself and basically not paying taxes, and was turned down even though he had a very good-paying job at the time he applied.

    Also – don’t know if you can compare a home in Sydney to a home 20 minutes _outside_ of Yokohama – that’s like 90 minutes from Tokyo! Maybe compare it to a home a bit farther outside of Sydney?

    ‘Teaching was a great experience’ – I suspect you are a very rare breed indeed; I can’t think of many people who would equate ‘teaching English in Japan’ as a ‘great experience’. I think I’d be suicidal after a week of being a talking head in Japan. But if you actually enjoy it, you’re pretty much always guaranteed work. Have you done it full time, however? You might change your tune if you do it for 6-7 hours a day, 5-6 days a week.

    Does going back to Japan have to be such a ‘all-or-nothing’ proposition? It seems pretty clear to me that you’ll work hard at whatever you have to do,and your wife seems like the model of understanding and support. Why not move back to Japan for six months, see if you can and enjoy teaching full-time for that long, and really really explore your design career options – you have absolutely nothing to lose by calling up companies and offering your services, either on a freelance basis or on a part- or full-time basis (I’ve given jobs to people after such phone calls).

    I personally suspect that doing your own school might be the way to go – get everything established, then pass over the actual teaching to someone else. That frees you up to focus on your design stuff that it seems you’d like more.

  19. I lived in Japan for 6.5 years, so I am well aware of the banks/interest/home loans. We have some money tied up in investment accounts. You would have to be a moron to leave all your money in a Japanese bank account. As for home loans, since neither my wife nor I have been in our current job for more than 3 years, at the moment our chances of being approved for a home loan in Japan is zero. However, my wife’s parents are happy to help us there, so basically, “we” can get the loan anytime we want.

    You’re right, maybe you can’t compare a home in Sydney to a home 20 minutes outside of Yokohama – I know it is 90 minutes from Tokyo. Where I am in Sydney right now is 60 minutes from CBD and completely unaffordable. Even 75-80 minutes from CBD you are still looking at around the $500,000 mark.

    Yes teaching was a good experience. And I believe you may be right in saying that I am somewhat of a rare breed. I think it is very easy for foreigners to become disillusioned in Japan by the ELT experience. The main reason I was able to stay focused and enjoy myself was that I realised I could help people and touch their lives in a very special way. I taught full-time for 2 years, not consectutively but when I think back on the 2 years I taught, “hell” is not a word that springs to my mind, which even if you only just scrape the surface of the hundreds of Eikaiwa-bashing sites you see it plastered wall-to-wall. Which I think is pretty sad.

    I like what you have said about “Does going back to Japan have to be such a ‘all-or-nothing’ proposition?” This helps a lot.

    Truth be told, going back at this point in time, IS an ‘all or nothing’ move. Unless things change in the future that will allow us to move back and forth. But I can’t see my finances affording that opportunity. I had wanted the kids to go through schooling here. And I do believe the lifestyle for them growing up, would be much more wholesome. But there is much to be said for quality of family life, something which we are rich in in Japan, but lack sorely in Australia. And family and friends often count for a lot in life.

    I am coming to realise that I most likely will be happy where ever I am, or what ever I do. As you said, it seems pretty clear to me that you’ll work hard at whatever you have to do,and your wife seems like the model of understanding and support.

    To give an example, I have not been to visit my mother’s once since coming back home and her reasoning to me was “we haven’t got any plastic covers for the couch and the kids will make a mess.” Way to go mum, nice to see you have your priorities in life straight. Well, you have yours, and I have mine, what can I say (goodbye)?

  20. Sounds to me like more than anything, this is really about your dysfunctional family and inability to make friends in Australia. Sorry if that comes across the wrong way, but if you feel like you have to move overseas because of your _mother’s_ admittedly mixed up priorities, well – we can’t help you out there.

  21. Except for your inclusion “inability to make friends in Australia” which is completely untrue and unjustified, I’d accept that as a fair comment to make.

  22. Actually, I realize I mis-read your post a bit, and thought for some reason you were including friends in your ‘quality of family life’ comment. My bad.

    Although, on second thought – _do_ you have a rich group of friends in Australia? People you grew up with? I can see that having a looser group of friends – particularly work friends – could influence your desire to stay.

  23. I have a close circle of friends, many I went to school with and grew up with. Some I have known since I was 12 years old. Many are from highschool. I see them regularly. Not many close friends on the work front, most likely as I have had to change jobs frequently over the past 2 years here (through no fault of my own — bad luck with employers), but I do keep in touch with and catch up with people I have worked with in the past here from time to time.

  24. I lived in Japan (mainly Tokyo) for almost 20 years. I left 8 years ago and haven’t been back in 6. Leaving has seriously enhanced my appreciation of things Japanese which had become stale over the years. What do I miss most? Tonkatsu, Japanese white peaches, Tokyu hands, bookstores, design, the energy of the place, just walking around Tokyo, railways that don’t strike on a regular basis, service people who know the meaning of the word, and lots more. And what do I have now that I didn’t have then? Fresh air, fields, horses and farm animals all around, buying food at the farms where it’s produced, a large house that is actually mine, and knowing where I will be, without needing special permission, for the foreseeable future. I have even bumped into a Japanese couple at the local supermarket! Not that common in rural France…

  25. It must be nice to have a place to call your own. I can see how that changes things. It would for me too.

  26. One thing I can say for sure is that nostalgia clouds decisions and affects memories more than anything else.

    Lately I’ve been getting a strong urge to move back to Japan… but I feel like maybe it’s similar to the urge to get back with an ex. Would I really be happier or is that just nostalgia and hormones (not talking about high school girls here) clouding my reasoning?

    I’d love to hear those cute little melodies on the trains and drink canned coffee and hit izakayas on a nightly basis.. but I’m sure there are a lot of downsides to Japan I’m forgetting.

    Well, I’ve found myself a nice Japanese girl here back in the states so if all goes well we may decide to move back at some point. She herself recently went back to Japan and couldn’t get over how “kawaii” everything is there.

    I guess that on a superficial level Japan is a great place but I didn’t experience deep connections with people on the level that I’m used to back home. Maybe that changes with time? (I was just there 2 years)

    Another concern I have is the Japanese lifestyle. I’d most likely have to work in corporate Japan, and I like to live a balanced life so I’m not so down with the salaryman lifestyle. Nor do I like the education system that will rob my kids of their childhood. Well, I suppose I can always move again if the going gets tough.

  27. In my experience, the connection issue actually got worse with the years rather than better. The longer I lived there (20 yeras in all), the fewer close Japanese friends I had. And this had nothing to do with language as I do speak Japanese fairly fluently.

    The nomadic lifestyle always has a price attached to it. Whatever place you leave behind always changes by the time you return, and experiences are rarely the same as they were. But of course, they could be better still…

  28. Which elections would those be? The ones in France? Not sure a political aside is relevant to the theme of this particular discussion…

  29. Yes a house in Syndey costs more than one would outside of Tokyo.

    But there’s a reason.


    Clean Air. Clean Water. Modern construction concepts such as double-paned windows for energy efficency and comfort, insulation in the walls, a free and democratic police and government.

    You’re buying a house in Chiba:
    Dirty Air. Clogged trains and highways. (Polite) People everywhere you look. Probably a flimsly house that will fall apart in less than 50 years.

    Your children will turn out fine wheever they grow up. But, condiser the quality of their experiences. Just one off the top of my head: they can play on a real grass field in Sydney and know what it feels like on their bare feet vs. a gravel/sand lot in Japan. Different foods. CULTURES! The list goes on and on. You owe it to your kids to offer them the best you can.

  30. I lived in Japan for 12 years and moved away 4 years ago. I don’t miss it. Sometimes I miss the food, but that’s really about it. I don’t miss the pollution, the crowds, the reign of conformity or the superficial politeness.
    I have friends who believe they are trapped in Japan and can’t come home. I think that’s nonsense and a sign of buying into the Japanese cultural norm of valuing (perceived) “stability” over all else, including quality of life. The only things stopping a lot of people who say they want to leave Japan are fear and apathy. You’ve got to figure anyone who was clever enough to move to Japan and create a life while navigating a foreign culture and language ought to be clever enough to to find their way back home and figure out how to survive there if that’s what they want to do.

  31. I left Japan (Osaka) six years ago, after seven years there (3.5 Eikaiwa, 3.5 a Japanese software company).

    I have to say that the only thing I really miss is the people. Sure there’s a facade, but I enjoyed the intensity, the scrupulous attention to detail (not that I could do it myself) and the warmth that was shown once you broke through the honne/tatemae barrier.

    There are many more things that I don’t miss, that are also more important, many of which have been enumerated in previous posts. One of the main things is that so many of the people I met were unhappy. They hated their jobs. Many hated their lives. Some hated their spouses. They had dreams, but most of them knew that they would never have the chance to attempt those dreams, let alone realize them.

    In seven years I met three people who really loved their work. Two of them were the owners of their companies.

    And the sheer waste of human potential, most glaringly obvious when looking at women in the workplace, still saddens me.

    Frankly, I see Japanese society as dysfunctional, and now starting to shake itself apart like a machine running out of control.

    I’m looking at buying a house now, in a small Canadian city. It will be about $200,000 (say U.S. $180,000) in a neighbourhood with parks, rec facilities, and a 15-minute bike ride to my work. A solid Canadian house with central heat/air, front and back yards, and neighbours.

    I never liked the Japanese tendency to wall in their houses. Maybe it’s related to a desire for security, but I think it has at least as much to do with the feeling that you don’t share with other people unless you get something in return. With an open yard, you share the beauty of your garden with the world, and no way to limit who gets to see it.

  32. I have decided to leave Japan. It all comes down to money. I just don’t see myself being able to support a family on the money I can earn in Japan. There is also a DEFINITE glass ceiling for foreigners. The fact that foreigner-specific work exists shows that non-Japanese in Japan are in fact lower-class citizens. Sure there are people who break the mold, but they are an exception to the rule.

    Even if you were able to start a highly successful business in Japan, as a foreigner, you will constantly shock people with your Japanese-speaking ability and your ability to use chopsticks. I know that when I am 80 years old, I do not want to be complimented on the fact that I can use eating utensils. I will add though, that over the years there have been many foreign people who screwed the rest of us over. It is my belief that you should never go to a country without first knowing the language and a lot about their culture. Vacationing is obviously allowed, but if you plan to live somewhere, you damned well better know the country’s language.

    In the end, no country is perfect. You must weigh the good and the bad, and choose which country you are best at living in. For me, that happens to be the U.S.A…. for now anyway.

  33. How ironic is that. I can remember back when I first arrived in Japan (over 15 years ago). Back then people came to Japan because it was too easy to make money – especially for foreigners…
    It wouldn’t surprise me if Japan still does feel like that for Americans but probably not for much of the rest of the world after the huge move against the yen by the Euro, the pound and the Aussie dollar in the last decade.
    I feel for you Ryan. I bet you wish that you did gaika yokin like the Japanese did.

  34. I lived in Japan from ’90 – ’93. I was living well as an expat employee of an American semiconductor company, but I was really getting into the whole Japanese experience and I knew that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. When told that I had to return to California, I didn’t want to leave. I even interviewed with several other American tech companies in Tokyo, but nothing worked out.

    Back home I experienced reverse culture shock and a longing to move back to Japan. However, after six months I was resettled and I realized that as an American my place was in America. Since then I have never seriously considered moving back to Japan; it would require giving up too much.

    The longer I spent in Japan, the more I felt like an outsider. I studied the language for two years before going there, continued studying even more diligently while living there, and achieved a fair level of fluency. I was (still am) fascinated by Japanese culture, often finding out that I knew things about Japan that my Japanese peers didn’t. What I didn’t realize until I moved home was the stress that had built due to my pointless efforts to fit in.

    Top things that bugged me:
    – Being asked, “when are you going home?”
    – Being complemented on my ability to to use chop sticks
    – Being complemented on my language ability after uttering just a single phrase
    – Speaking in serviceable Japanese to store clerks who would then turn to my Japanese girlfriend for a translation

    In addition, the longer I spent there, the more clearly I could see the dark side of Japan: the corruption; the collusion between the police and yakuza; the destruction of nature as the government funneled taxpayers’ money to the construction industry that keeps them in power ; the powerlessness of the people in their “democracy” and the “shoganai” attitude that attended it; etc.

    Now, nearly 15 yeas later, I am appalled by the sick and twisted crimes I read about daily.

    I have been fortunate in that my work has enabled me to visit Japan regularly, and I really do enjoy visiting Tokyo, feeling the energy of that dynamic city, and taking in all that is “kawaii.” However, visiting is enough for me.

  35. Nice post. I agree with all your comments.

    I recommend people read a book titled “Dogs and Demons”. It covers the darker side of Japan you mention.

    Yes moving back to Australia has been hard for me and my family after living there for nearly 7 years, but now after being back here for 2 years I feel I have settled in and reached the same conclusion.

    I also experienced bad reverse culture shock. And it seems that you need about 2 years or so to readjust again.

    Loved reading your pet hates. All exactly the same for me too!

  36. Alot of good info available here, but I am in a situation that I have scoured the web for and I am curious if anyone has any info…

    I have lived in Japan for the last 13 years and I have a permanent resident visa. I am a home owner (designed and built by me), have a few kids, and generally like what I am doing.

    However, I just received a really good job offer in the Seattle area and I have decided to take the job.

    I am looking for someone to rent my house, but my biggest thing is this: I do not want to lose my permanent residence visa. Is there anyone out there who has left Japan for 5 years or so and has kept their visa? I am assuming I will need to come back once a year to get a re-entry permit and renew my driver’s license, etc…

    Anyone have any insights?

  37. Hi Aaron, I also have a PR in Japan. I am not real sure about it, and have often wondered the same thing myself.

    If I find more info, I’ll be sure to post back here, and I would appreciate if you could do the same – I’m sure many people have the same question.

    I don’t think you will ever loose that status, by that is only my impression after speaking with the people at immigration when they gave it to me. Did you check the immigration home page etc??

  38. FuckedGaijin:

    I’ve seen your website 🙂 That was the first place I dropped a comment about this but never got an answer…

    I will post here after I find out anything. I might be leaving in the next couple of months so this is a rather pressing issue. I was under the same impression when I got my PR however, I know some people who wanted to lose their PR status and the way they did this was to leave the country and come back without a re-entry permit.

    I always thought there was a long term re-entry permit available for people like us but hey, I’ll ask around and post back.


  39. It depends on what type of PR you are. If you are Special PR (特別永住者) then you only have to come back once every 4 years. All other types of PRs have to come back once every 3 years. Make sure you get a PR re-entry permit (I think it is different to normal re-entry permits but not 100% sure) before you leave though.

    Also, think carefuly about how you want to manage your taxes. Depending on your income the tax rate in Seattle might be lower than what you would have been paying in Japan. Make sure you are not treated as a Japanese resident for tax purposes (this is separate to your PR status as Japanese nationals can also apply for it) otherwise you will be paying taxes (to Aunty Japan) on your US income as well.

  40. Yes, it seems Richmond has hit the nail on the head. Furthermore, this page:
    http://foreigner.gyosei-shosi.com/contents/15.htm suggests:


    You will loose your current visa if you don’t re-enter Japan with a valid re-entry permit. Even if you have a Japanese permanent residence visa, you will loose it if you come back to Japan without a valid re-entry permit. By getting a re-entry permit, you are effectively extending your current visa status to when you get back to Japan, so don’t forget it before you leave Japan!

    What I couldn’t work out, is what happens if you just come back to Japan every 3 years, get the re-entry permit, and continue doing this for decades… I wonder if after 10 or 20 years of not actually living here at all, if you could still manage to keep the permanent residence visa…? Anyone done this or something similar?

  41. Richmond:

    “Make sure you are not treated as a Japanese resident for tax purposes”

    Any idea on what the procedure is for this? A link to a website or some such?


  42. Aaron,
    Sorry I’m not sure what the exact process is. The key is apparently the length of your absence from Japan. If the tax office thinks that you are only leaving for less than a year then you are still a Japanese tax resident. I’m not sure if you have to advise them of this or if it happens automatically when you leave the country. I think Japanese people change their registration in the local ward office so it is probably the same for you.

    You should also be careful with inheritance tax as I have a funny feeling that they changed the law recently so that you only get out of paying Japanese inheritance tax if you have been out of the country for 5 years. This is probably the biggest drawback of getting residency. (because you can’t have the cake and eat it too)

  43. Ha ha ha ha.
    Richmond, you should ask Marukawa Tamayo about that.

    She was pretty good at changing her registration during her year in the New York office of TV Asahi back in 2003. Although she did look pretty embarassed when she wasn’t able to vote at the Upper House election the other week.
    Moral to the story?

    Make sure you put it back when you return if you want to do silly things like pay taxes or stand for parliament.

  44. Well I’ve done it thus far, been out of Japan for 3 years, been back, went to imigration, bought my stamp, filled in my form, and extended. I’m good for the next 3 years, and I’ll continue to do it. No questions were asked. Dead easy. I intend on retiring in Japan so I want to keep my permanent visa.

  45. Hi,
    I just stumbled upon your posts and wanted to ask a question since you are a graphic designer who worked in japan. I lived in Japan for 3 years and have returned to Canada (i have been here 1 year). I am working in graphic design in canada (i was an english teacher in Nagoya in japan) and my boyfriend wants to return to Japan. I didnt like the ESL experience..at least not as a forever job. I m interested in and passionate about design. Are there any oppertunities for a foriegner in japan doing freelance? How did you go about finding jobs? I dont want to give up a career I am passionate about…though i do love somethings about japan

  46. I lived there in Tsukuba, on and off and I really didn’t give a f**k about their culture. I spoke english to people all the time, even though they did not understand and I pointed what I wanted or was saying. I got stared right in my face alot by “Old” Japanese men….like the muddafuc****s never seen a negro before. I would stare back right in their eyes..how rude of them. I was respected in the gym though, since I was buff and could lift alot of weight. I also had my own car and lots of money so they knew I was not some English teaching loser.

    I did speak with some other expats over there and asked how they were doing. They liked it, since they had family there. Me, I did have a girlfriend there, so that made things ok. But I tell you, those people are the flakiest, fake, pretentious assholes I ever seen. At least in the States we are open with our true intentions and assholeness.

    By the way, I just got back from there….LOVE the Sashimi, especially wild boar! I got to drive to several of the cities and spent time exploring and video taping. You have to go to Nagano…especially in the winter to ski or summer to hike….nice nice area.

  47. Yes, your assholeness is very clear. Teaching English does not mean you are a loser. Career GI maybe, now there is real a loser! If you hated the people so much and couldn’t care for the culture, what the f*** are you doing raving about how great the place is?

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