Life in Japan

About Leaving or Staying in Japan

It’s probably safe to assume that if you’re reading this, you’re interested in Japan. Maybe you even love this country of the rising sun.
So, now you wonder how would anyone who managed to come and live here want to ever leave again?

Well, I’m sure that anyone who has lived in Japan for a certain amount of time has had similar thoughts. I mean, it’s only natural, isn’t it?

Leaving or Staying in Japan

Living in Japan Forever?!

Think about it. Most of us didn’t come to Japan with the intention of living here forever, right?
And even those of us who did, might have changed their mind after living in Japan for several years.
There are several reasons to change your mind anyway.

 

My Personal Thoughts

I can only speak for myself here, but I assume that others might have similar feelings and thoughts.

I first came to Japan with the intention of only staying one year. After all, I only managed to obtain the “working holiday visa” which is valid for just a year. (Well, the German one is anyway.)
I had nothing to lose. I went on a short 3-weeks’ vacation and noticed that it’s not enough to explore Japan.
That’s when I decided to give it a try and live in Japan for a year.
If I would run out of money before the year is over, I’d just go back to my home country, Germany. Nothing to lose, a lot to win.

When that one year was over, it was crystal clear to me: This one year wasn’t enough!
There were still so many places I wanted to visit, still so many things to learn and explore.
Also, my interests had gradually changed after moving to Japan.

I obtained a “real work visa” and stayed for another year. And another. And then yet another.
Not that I’ve never thought about it before, but after all those years I finally began to seriously think about my future.
Do I want to stay in Japan forever?
If not, then how much longer?
Aren’t 4 years enough?
Wouldn’t it be difficult to find a job back home if I stay in Japan for too long?

I couldn’t make up my mind. I still felt that leaving Japan would be too early.
All I did was leaving my job and my old city to move to a different part of Japan … to explore … to learn even more!
Fast forward, 7 years and counting I’ve been living in Japan now.

Leaving or Staying in Japan

 

The longer you stay, the more difficult it is to leave.

A lot of people leave when their JET contract is over … or when their “adventure year after graduation” is over.
But for those of us who’ve been here for quite some time it’s getting more and more difficult.

Life back home has moved on without us. We’re not “part of the picture” anymore.
Maybe without us realizing it, our personalities have changed quite a bit, too.
At least I notice this every single time I visit my home country. We do behave quite “Japanese” in the eyes of a Western country.
We’re not doing it on purpose. We can slip back into our “old self”, but not completely. It’s awkward.

Thus, we wonder if we’re still “able to” live a proper life back home or if it’s “already too late”?
Do we even want to?

 

Why One Would Consider Leaving Japan

Even now, I still think that I don’t want to live in Japan forever.
At least not unless I get married and have my own family here. Other than that I just can’t see how … or why.
Yes, I love Japan. I’ve travelled to all 47 prefectures more than just once.
I’ve explored and learned so many things, but there’s always more to do and see.

BUT there are many other things to consider and I’m sure others have had similar thoughts.
For example, even if you have your own family here, but even more if you don’t, you’ll always stay an outsider. You’ll always be considered a foreigner.
You’ll never fit in completely.

While possible, it’s a lot harder to find real friends and a “real relationship” here in Japan. It takes some time to learn who’s really interested in you and not just in your “foreignness”.

Unless you put a LOT of effort into it, you’ll always struggle with the language especially when it comes to important things such as contracts, hospitals, bills etc.

Personally, if I can’t manage to have my own family here, I can only see myself as an old, sick grandmother who’s being treated nicely but yet is isolated as the “eternal foreigner“. That doesn’t sound like a desirable future to me at all.
At least, most of us still have family and friends back home. ;)

There might be a lot of other reasons why you wouldn’t want to stay in Japan forever, but I guess that really depends on the individual.
There are many things to consider such as career, family, friends, taxes, crime, natural disasters …. it’s really not an easy decision.
And for most of us, our home countries are quite different from Japan in many aspects: climate, culture, people’s mindset etc.

Leaving or Staying in Japan

Eventually nobody else can tell you what to do.
And after all, it’s not like you could never come back to Japan. ;)

What are your thoughts on this?

I think it would be very beneficial for others to read about YOUR story!
Are you currently living in Japan and thinking about moving back home or at least leaving Japan?
Have you previously lived in Japan? Did you move home?
Do you have any regrets?

Feel free to discuss and ask away!~emoticon

44 Comments

  • i have lived here for 25 years and,Myers I am still a foreigner here, some people obviously don’t like me and see me as an intruder, some do like me and want to be friends. Going back home (Belgium) is like going backwards, once you’ve been here what could be better. I like it here, not going back, this is my home and I love it

  • God bless you one what ever you do…If you do leave, I will miss your FB postings…I had lived in Japan from 1962 to 1964 with my Japanese wife…We now live in Wisconsin, but do long to live in Japan again someday, but because of our age and the cost of living in Japan, this will never happen…

    Good luck,
    John and Kikue Voss

    • John, thanks a lot, but don’t worry!
      My FB postings wouldn’t vanish. I have millions of photos I have yet to share – even if I leave Japan, there’s enough for years and years to come. ;)

      I see, so the cost of living in Japan is higher than in the US?
      That’s interesting. Compared to my home country, I’d say it’s cheaper to live in Japan, but that’s mainly because taxes in Germany are insane. ^^;

  • I enjoy your writings.

    I lived in Japan from 1962 through 1963 and married a Japanese.
    We raised a family(4) who have visited with their Japanese relatives and keep in touch
    using facebook and phone.

    My wife recently passed on and I am planning to visit Japan for a change from the US.
    If it agrees with me then I will consider locating there for a few years.

    Being considered an outsider doesn’t bother me as we have lived in southeast Asia
    and the middle east. It is a part of life.

    Thank you

    • Glad you enjoyed this post. :)

      I think it’s a good idea to try something new. Living in Japan again after all these years might be a great experience. I’m sure many, many things have changed since back then. :)

  • So, I am probably in the minority insofar as I came to Japan with the idea that I would likely stay here forever. I had also considered, long before ever coming here, the possibility of getting Japanese citizenship.

    That’s not to say that there weren’t times when I seriously considered going back to the US or Canada. As you touch on in your post, life here is hard in many ways. Even though I am functionally fluent (speaking, writing, and reading), my Japanese is not as good as my English. And so any time I have to fill out a form or deal with a contract (which, especially now that I’m working, is surprisingly frequent) it’s a much bigger deal than it was when I was living in the North America. The culture is different here than what I grew up with, and so there were a lot of times during my school years that I felt overwhelmed and thought “maybe I should just give up, leave school, and go back to my family in shame”. Not to mention that all of my Japanese classmates had a support network–ie. their family–who helped them transition into full adulthood in Japan, whereas I had to do it on my own… often only learning things after a problem had already occurred.

    In the end I stuck it out, though, and I’m glad I did. It took a lot of hard work, but I’m finally at a point where I can say that I’m doing pretty well. I’ve been able to forge a pretty good life balance, although I’m still working out how to balance my social life properly (ie. how to make time to hang out with my friends while maintaining the activities I do regularly such as working out). I’ve finally met all the base requirements for citizenship, so I’m assembling my documentation with the intention of beginning the application process in April.

    To be honest, at this point in my life I can’t imagine living anywhere but Japan (well, except maybe doing like a year in Guam as a “working holiday” type deal).

    • I would say that statistically you’re definitely in the minority. :)

      I think the only way to truly feel comfortable and “at home” in Japan is to go through all those tough times. It is a lot of work – just like you said.
      And some people just feel that Japan isn’t the right place for them even after they’ve put in all this effort. Others maybe didn’t plan on staying long, but end up staying forever.
      It’s really interesting.

      I hope you’ll be able to find the “right balance” for your life and that you’re happy with whatever you decide to do in the end. ^^

  • I’ve been living in Japan for a culmulative 5 years now. After my first year in Japan, on a Working Holiday visa, I don’t think I would’ve pursued living here for a longer period if I hadn’t had my husband. I didn’t really have many friends or a support network, I worked for terribly little money and while staying for a year was good it hadn’t been good enough to consider staying – If I hadn’t met my now-husband.

    We thought about moving to Europe, mainly because my husband had a really tough time at work and we imagined German employment laws might work better for us, but in the end that just wasn’t feasible (husband doesn’t speak German, I don’t have a degree, which I can compensate for in Japan but maybe not in Germany), so we’re staying, possibly forever.

    I have permanent residency, so even if anything happened to my husband or between me and my husband, I could stay, and I think I actually would. Wouldn’t consider getting citizenship though, to me – what’s the point? The only thing that really changes is that you get to vote. I’d much rather keep my EU passport. :)

    • The only thing that really changes is that you get to vote.

      That’s actually not true. Voting is actually one of the least important changes that occur (especially since the current political climate is “choose this old conservative man or that old conservative man”, which is one reason why a lot of people don’t bother to vote here).

      There are some things that only citizens can participate in, such as running for office or working in public sector jobs. For instance, you can only be a civil servant if you have Japanese citizenship. This applies to not only jobs such as working at, say, city hall, but also for public servants such as police officers and firefighters and even some teaching jobs.

      More than that, there are a lot of legal differences for someone who has Japanese citizenship. One of the obvious ones is that you no longer have to deal with visa renewals/changes and all the red tape that comes with it, but it goes much deeper than that. For example, my ability to live here is granted to me by my visa. If anything happened that caused me to lose my visa status, I could be forced to leave the country. If I were a Japanese citizen, I could not be forced by the government to leave for any reason. There are other legal differences that matter to me that I don’t want to get into because they involve explanations that are somewhat personal, but suffice it to say that my life here is restricted in a way that it won’t be when/if I finally am able to obtain citizenship.

      The site Becoming Legally Japanese talks about the citizenship issue in greater detail in their Why would anybody want to become Japanese? article. I highly recommend it to everyone; it’s a short, but informative, read.

      Anyway, the point is that while obtaining Japanese citizenship is not right for everyone, it’s a much bigger decision than just “which country do I want to be able to vote in?”.

      • I’m sorry that my reply was overly simplified. For me personally keeping my German citizenship is just the smarter move. I am not interested in working for the government or comitting crimes that could lead to me losing my permanent resident status. Plus, I somehow place a lot higher trust in the German authorities to bail me out if anything was to happen than the Japanese ones…
        Additionally I also want my future child to have dual citizenship, which will be a lot easier if I just keep my passport. If Japan was to allow dual citizenship for adults, I would apply for it, but if it means losing my prized EU passport – no thanks. At least not now, maybe in the future.

        • Just to be clear, when I talked about losing my visa status I wasn’t referring to committing crimes (although obviously that’s a great way to risk getting kicked out of Japan and never allowed back). Since I’m not yet eligible for permanent resident status nor am I married, I was talking about things such as, say, losing my job and being unable to find another one or getting injured in a way that would prevent me from working in Japan or otherwise having something happen to me that would disqualify me for any of the working visas. I also, personally, don’t like that at any moment my visa status could be revoked on the whim of the government–even though the chances of that are probably lower than me getting hit by a meteor.

          Anyway, I feel like I came across to you and Jasmine like I was trying to convince you that Japanese citizenship was great and that you should get it. If I gave that impression, I apologize. I was just trying to elaborate on some of the differences between citizenship and living on a visa, which I’m familiar with because this is something I’ve thought about for years.

    • It’s because of people like you that I think the only reason that could make me wanna stay in Japan forever is having my own family there, marrying a Japanese citizen etc. :)
      Also, when you’re married you suddenly have a huge supportive network (family of your Japanese partner etc.) that other foreigners most likely don’t have.

      But I know that you’ve been considering moving back to Europe. Seems like you’ve finally made your decision, so I’m really happy to hear that! :)
      Oh, and good luck with the house and all! ^____^

      I think it’s a good idea to keep your German citizenship. You never know when it comes in handy again and as long as you’re married to a Japanese citizen AND have permanent residency, there’s really no need to throw that away. :D

      • We considered it because my husband’s situation at work was really tough, but when we thought about how life would be for us in Germany/Europe — nah, we’re staying.

  • I think, Japan is a pretty comfortable country to live in, and if you have a job that you enjoy, I can totally understand that you stay here longer and longer, and then on the other hand going back to Germany becomes more and more difficult. I do also enjoy living in Japan (well, at least for the most part), I like the Japanese language and that I feel safe here, – but on the other hand I kind of feel that I miss out on what is going on in the world, and of course I miss out on the lives that my family and friends in Germany have, as I am not an active part of it (although Skype helps of course).
    I think, being seen as “the” foreigner forever can happen in other Asian countries, as well, when you are western looking, so the only solution for that would be to move to a western country.
    Of course you need a lot of courage to move to another country, especially, if you don’t yet have a job waiting for you there, but if you continue living here, always thinking about moving but never really doing it, always thinking about the “what if(s)…”, this might pevent you from becoming happy/ satisfied…

    • It seems like we’re in a similar situation. I feel the same way. ^__^

      Japan has become my comfort zone, but sometimes it’s necessary to step out of your comfort zone, isn’t it? ;)

    • Thank you so much.
      I’m sure that a lot of people struggle with this. It’s always tough living abroad for such a long time as it eventually becomes your second home. :)

  • I live currently in Japan, and I came here knowing that it will be only a 1-3 years stay. This is partly due to my work (no, not JET or similar) which is of limited duration and partly due to my relationship (my better half lives not in Japan). But even without these reasons, I cannot imagine staying here for the rest of my live. The reasons are the same as you mention: My impression is that non-asians are (mostly) always onsidered as foreigners, no matter how well they speak the language or how much effort they put to integrate into the culture. I would not like to endure that situation for the rest of my life. A few years is OK, though.

    • I’m really curious to see what you’ll say in a year or so. Because I also came with the intention of only staying one year and now look at me. I’m still here. It’s crazy. ^^;

      It’s certainly not a nice feeling, but I think one could endure being treated as an outsider as long as you have a partner, good friends and many relationships where you aren’t treated as the “outsider”.

  • Hey Jasmine,

    Well as usual, you and I are largely on the same page when it comes to life in Japan. Just a couple of thoughts, though.

    When you say, “you’ll always stay an outsider. You’ll always be considered a foreigner.” Of course, that’s true, but mostly it’s just that we’re not the “ruling race” here. You know, Yellow Privilege and all. To use an example from my country, the U.S., black people aren’t typically insiders in white circles, nor are Hispanics, and that country is considered a “melting pot” where everyone gets along. So here, we’re the minorities, plain and simple. Not to excuse Japanese discrimination (which, granted, is a bit over the top), but this is what always happens, regardless of the country.

    What I mean is that, even if you were born in Japan, you’d still be discriminated against, if you looked “different”; but that’s true anywhere. Although the whole thing is kind of 1965, and we really need to put this “you’re not my race” stuff behind us.

    And not to jump topics, but the other thing you said—which was kind of alarming—was that “when you’re married you suddenly have a huge supportive network (family of your Japanese partner etc.).” Whoa, a lot of eggs and only one basket. If your marriage is your support system in a country, your gonna be high and dry if you don’t manage to get along. And who gets along with their spouse? Jeez, better work a lot of overtime, would be my suggestion. And apparently, a lot of Japanese folks would agree with that.

    • You’re absolutely right, Ken.
      Even if one is born in Japan, he/she would be considered an outsider. That’s just how things still work here.
      I don’t know exactly how the situation is in the US as I’ve never been there, but in Europe it’s hard to tell who’s a minority or an outsider just by looking at people. I wouldn’t call it a “melting pot”, because nothing is “melting” really. There are large groups of people from East European countries or war refugees and most of them refuse to integrate / adapt at all.
      I’m a bit anxious when I think about where this might be going.
      Considering that I actually prefer the way it is in Japan.

      Of course, I’m aware of that. Maybe I should rephrase that.
      Nobody should ever just rely on a partner or relationship.
      I’m just saying that if you’re married, you COULD probably feel “more at home” in Japan. At least that’s how I feel when I look at all the cross-cultural relationships of some of my friends here in Japan.
      Your marriage shouldn’t be your only support system in Japan. If you break up, you might lose everything. But it could be an additional strong support system.

  • I liked reading this article. I am married to a Japanese and we lived in Japan for 6 years from 1996 to 2002. I went to Japan on a working Holiday Visa and my wife and I married 6 months after arriving so I ended up having a spouse visa.
    We lived together with my wife’s family and we had many friends who accepted me into their group of friends as well. I found a job within a few weeks so life in Japan was great.
    After two years of working for a private English school I opened my own school which also did very well. We had no plans to move back to Australia.
    However, we had two kids, one was born in 1998 and the second in 2001. But after the second child was born is when when we began thinking about our future as a family. My eldest was just about ready for school and we didn’t want the kids to grow up in Japan and suffer through the education system. (Those of you who have been in Japan for sometime will know what I mean).
    So, in 2002 we packed our bags and returned to Australia. My family and I still return to Japan every year to visit family and friends and maybe one day we will return to live.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Stu.

      I think Japan is a great country for raising a child. It’s safe, the food is healthy … all of my students always seemed to be very happy.
      I’m also a bit biased about the school system, but I’m not too fond of the school system in my home country (Germany). For me it would be a very tough decision. :)

      Glad you were able to make up your mind.
      For the kids it was probably a good thing that you moved before they entered school. :)

  • I read it because I wanted to know how non-japanese like japan.
    I have been to Australia for a year and just one month ago I came back. Because of having too much wonderful time in Australia, I cant help thinking its waste of time staying in japan anymore……cant find enough reason to like living here.
    but actually what I want to ask is not the reason why you like japan so much.
    Im just thinking how to go out from Japan as soon as possible, so want to try to get permanent regidence visa in my future tho……..when I read your sentence “you’ll always stay an outsider. You’ll always be considered a foreigner.” I was kind of shocked and recognized how it would be hard to try to live another country where you werent born.
    living in Japan and Australia as foreigner seem tottaly different, on the other hand, I could see what you want to say and your feeling really even it might be just my interpretation.
    I dont know what I expect to write down it though…..anyway, I really enjoyed read this article!!! thanks:)

    • I’m glad to hear you liked Australia so much.
      I have no idea how life is in Australia. I’ve never been there, unfortunately. Maybe, if I ever stayed there, I might like it much better than Japan.
      I do like Japan a lot compared to Germany … I cannot compare it to any other countries.
      Life in Japan seems so “easy”, taxes are low, food is healthy, crime rate is low … and a lot of the typical problems we have in Europe right now are simply non-existent in Japan.

  • I’m Mexican-American and in this regard any type of culture shock was non-existent, albeit with one thing I believe happens when you travel and that is: you’re alone in the world–not that it’s a bad feeling, but a feeling that is sobering, makes you think of those you love. Nothing sets it quite into perspective than being in another country, but Japan is unique because it’s highly homogeneous. Also, although I liked the language, I absolutely detested the passive-agressive and indirect aspects of it (customer service is the best in Japan though^^). Another thing, I’m diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, and as beautiful as I have found Japan, it is terrible to live there if you have disabilities. Bowing, sitting, walking, standing, compared to the US I have yet to find a place that is as accommodating or more conscientious. Conversations take a very awkward turn for the person you’re speaking to more often than not. So, as for you leaving I related to your needs, even if they we’re different than mine. Getting older, being single, no family there. It boils down to the “what am I doing with my life?” “Am I getting the most I can out of it?”
    It puts into perspective that any country is only as good as the needs it fulfills for its individuals. Blessings to you and yours^_^

    • I’m not sure how Japan rates in comparison to other countries for people with disabilities. To my shame I have never given this a lot of thought before, so thanks for mentioning it. :)
      And thanks for understanding and respecting my decision. ^__^

  • Konnichiwa Jasmine sempai. I really like your post. You’re my all time 😊 Heroin😁. I’m trying to follow my long time dream visiting Japan. But hearing u speak about it makes me want to change my mind, i get only one chance to go. And I’d like to take that opportunity to make it a life time. In other words. I’m want to go and never return. It’s either that or i die trying. Please help me to move to Japan. Please…

    • Hi Romano,
      Have you ever been to Japan? From what you’ve written, I don’t think you have.
      I HIGHLY recommend you first visit Japan before you decide to move there. It might be completely different from what you expect and there’s only ONE way to find out: go there and see for yourself and THEN make a decision. :)

      Good luck to you.

      • Konnichiwa Jasmine sempai. Arigato gozaimas for replying to my mail. I see u use Capitals on certain words. I understand full well it might not be what i expect. I work with EXPATS from neighbouring countries and i can tell you they receive some harsh treatments. If they had any other opportunities as to not be here in my country they would have left already. From my point i only get one chance to make the trip. I can’t Afford a second one. Times in my country are pretty bad. When i look around me people are just surviving. But i want to live. Waking up working 13 hours a day just for staying alive. I’d rather live that just survive. Give me a helping hand?

        • Hi Romano,
          I’m not sure how I could help you in any way.
          If you want to live in Japan, then just do it. If you don’t like it, then maybe try another country?
          Japan is not an easy country, it’s not an immigration country and depending on your job you HAVE to do a lot of overtime work, more than in most other countries. But I’m sure you know that much already. :)

  • Well arigato for taking your time replying. Seems i hid another dead end. Either way no matter how high the mountains are on my path to happiness I’d climb them. Dankjewel voor de negatieve steun.

  • Hi Jasmine, I found your blog post by random chance probably because I feel like I could have written it myself. I’m German and I moved to Japan about 3 years ago. I really like living in Japan. I went to uni in a rural part in Japan and now I work at a company in Tokyo. My Japanese is relatively good and I’m engaged to a really great Japanese guy. You wrote at some of the older comments that marrying a Japanese person helps to feel less foreign and gives you more support. Well, it’s unfortunately not always true. The mother of my boyfriend totally hates me and told my boyfriend that she is not going to accept a marriage. She has caused that my boyfriend lost the contact to his own family and it makes me feel even more foreign. Now I’m even 19 weeks pregnant and my boyfriend is planning to tell his parents in a few weeks. I think this is probably going to break all bonds with his family. Due to some rules, I can take maternity leave but would get absolutely no money. My boyfriend is finishing his undergraduate degree in March next year and wants to go to graduate school then, so he also only has a tiny income. Social support for families just seems terrible to me, birth alone at one of the cheapest hospitals around is going to cost us nearly a whole monthly salary and the uni of my boyfriend has zero help for families. If we wanted to stay in Japan we’d have to sacrifice very much, my boyfriend would have to work full-time and give up his hope for a Masters degree. I’d have to give up my career although I’m a highly skilled computer scientist to become a housewife. So we are basically forced to move back to Germany. I guess Japan works for some people who like this old-fashioned lifestyle but my experience is that especially many young Western women can’t stay. Nearly one year has passed since this blog post, how do you feel about it now?

    • Hi Isabel,
      Thanks so much for sharing your story.
      I can totally understand where you’re coming from and I’m sorry to hear that things are not going well with the family of your better half.
      I would probably do the same if I were in your shoes.
      However, in my current situation I still feel the same even after being back in Germany for 1.5 years now. Especially considering all the crazy and horrible things that are happening all over Europe in the moment.

      I can see myself living in Japan again in the future.
      I still can’t see myself growing old in Japan, though.
      If that makes any sense … ^^;

      I wish your little family all the best!