Moving Back to Japan

I have been back in England for just over six years. Seventy three months and a few days since my four year, Japanese adventure came to an end. But hey, who's counting?

England has been good to my wife and I, but we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into a bit of a rut. With family nearby, secure employment and lots of lovely video games to play, it has been easy to let year after year of comfortable inaction pass us by. We felt that we wanted a change, and that a return to Japan might be the answer, but we weren't in any great rush to make it happen.

The birth of our daughter changed everything. Watching her develop and grow has made us far more aware that time is slipping by and, should we wish to move back to Japan, then we'd better hurry up and do it. With a new found sense of urgency, we viewed Japan very differently during a holiday late last year. It was a welcome eye-opener and the first stage in making a decision that will likely affect the rest of our lives.

After much deliberation, we have decided to move back to Japan.


I have spoken with a number of returned expats since coming back to the UK. Some of these returnees I knew in Japan, others I met for the first time here in England. We'd reminisce about the things we miss about our time there: unrivalled customer service, vending machines on every street corner, baths that talk to you etc. We'd commiserate about the things we loved and left behind, but also moan about the aspects of life in Japan we loathed, before moving onto a more British topic of conversation, such as beer or the weather. Speaking with fellow returnees, it became clear that it takes a long time to settle back into your home country, after being away for an extended period of time.

However, it seems that most former expats reach a point where they give up on Japan and commit to settling down at home, a point which I never reached. I liked living abroad and dealing with the challenges it presents. I'm also very fortunate that, having a Japanese spouse, the option has always been there for us to up-sticks and head east.

I do have a tendency to romanticise my time spent in Japan. To stop myself from getting carried away, I have to remind myself that life there was not always plain sailing. For example, although I can just about hold my own in everyday, Japanese conversation, I'm not a gifted linguist and have to work hard for the smallest of gains. This of course limits my job prospects, and at times I found myself in dead-end positions because of this. In choosing to move back to Japan, I must commit to Japanese fluency and aim a little higher in my choice of employment.

It drove me up the wall when people would refuse to have a stab at guessing what I was trying to say in Japanese, completely thrown by the slightest mistake in pronunciation or inflection. Each time a confused waitress presented me with an English menu, I died a little inside. After four years, no matter how innocent their intention may have been, I wanted to scream whenever someone expressed disbelief that I could use chopsticks, eat raw fish, sit on the floor or take part in any simple daily activity that some consider uniquely Japanese, and therefore impossible for a foreigner to grasp. But more than anything, come the end of my previous stay, I had come to resent my categorisation and treatment as an "Alien".

It felt good to get that off my chest. It's easy to become disillusioned with Japan, but ultimately the positives far outweigh the negatives. We enjoyed a certain quality of life over there that we never quite matched here in the UK, and I wonder if perhaps my personality is better suited to the Japanese way of life, whatever the fuck that is. I'm fascinated by Japan's culture and history, and I'd be lying if I said that video games weren’t part of the cultural appeal.

We do have immediate concerns about returning, namely my ability to secure a good job and our being able to afford a decent apartment. As much as I enjoyed living in central Tokyo previously, the horrendous rent and tiny floor space is incompatible with our current requirements, so we'll settle a little further out this time, close enough to commute but far enough away to gain some extra space. Our long term concerns revolve around our daughter and how she'll settle, but I know she'll be fine; she'll grow up Japanese, with just the right amount of English language and attitude, courtesy of her Dad. Her vocabulary is already a mish-mash of Japanese, English and whatever language it is that refers to a spoon as a ball - the day that her Japanese is better than mine is probably closer than I'd care to admit!

The prospect of starting afresh is daunting, but I feel like we are finally taking control of our lives, and that's really exciting. There will be many challenges, but we're up for it. I hope to document some of them here at toomanywires - I did consider starting a new blog for this, but I'll mention video games enough to keep it on-topic. Future entries will be less introspective (get ready for the "packing up my video game collection" post!) and it will be nice to share the ups and downs of what promises to be an exciting and extremely busy few months.


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