“So, how long do you plan to stay in Japan?”
I get this question all the time. Honestly? I have no idea, and yes that’s a bit scary. My default answer is that I have a three year visa and I’ll leave once it’s up, but the reality is I’ll leave Japan when I feel like it’s time to go.
But…how do you know when it’s time to go?
I have a co-worker, let’s call him Chris (because half the people I work with are named Chris anyway).
Every day Chris seems depressed about “teaching lame students”, or about the inconvenience of a doctor’s visit in Japan, or about…he’s got some kind of negative comment about pretty much anything we talk about. And yet I can still tell that he’s a decent guy, because he’s willing to help me out if I ask a question, and he’s not particularly unfriendly. The negativity seems to be entirely aimed at everyday life in Japan.
Some people become expats for a specific reason, such as work, so their time abroad has an expiry date and they simply leave once they’re done. But then others, like me, set out into the wide world in search of something: adventure, freedom… and we don’t want to leave until we find whatever it is we’re looking for. And during that search, many of us might create bonds and obligations that keep us here such as a family, or a well-paying job we don’t want to give up. And while many expats make the jump to immigrant, others seem unhappy after too much time in a country that just doesn’t mesh with their ideals.
I don’t want to wait until I reach that point, so if I ever start to feel like Japan is getting on my last nerve, I’ll ask myself, and honestly answer these questions:
- Can I do the same thing somewhere else?
- Is the quality of my life worth the perceived security?
- What can I gain by staying?
- What will I lose by leaving?
- Am I happy?
I believe the last question is the most important one, because if I’m not happy where I am, why should I stay? Some of the expats I’ve met in Japan who have been here a long time seem disgruntled, disheartened and depressed. Perhaps they feel moving back to their home country, or somewhere else, will be a source of trouble and unhappiness because they’ll lose their jobs and established life here…but they’re unhappy now! In this case, moving on can only be a step in the right direction…right? Or is it not that easy?
What do you think?