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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

10 Reasons Why I Am Leaving Japan

I’m going to take a break from my Vietnam and Cambodia posts to write an entry that I think is pretty important to my life as it stands now. The last few months have been an emotional rollercoaster for me and it has led me to do a lot of self-reflection, which has led me to make a pretty huge decision for my life.

I’m leaving Japan.

For the last four years (nearly) I have lived in Japan. I have spent all of my “adult” life here. I came here when I was 22, fresh out of college, and still not really sure who I was. I’m 26 now, and I feel as if I have just been playing house, in a sense, rather than really making a life for myself.

It’s been a difficult thing to deal with, I have people on both sides of my life giving me very mixed reactions and I have had to explain many, many times why I have decided to leave. A lot of people have considered it sudden, but anyone who has really talked to me about how I feel living in Japan will know that the unhappiness and displeasure with my life here has been for roughly the last year, I was just too scared to really do anything about it.

Just to clarify, I’ve not been unhappy with Japan, but rather the way in which I live my life here. I think it would be a good idea to write out my top ten reasons for leaving Japan, starting with the least important to the most in an attempt to make people understand why I’m leaving, and maybe help some people who may want to live in Japan (or overseas in general) as to what they can expect from long-term expatriate life.

10. Pizza

This may not seem like a good reason to leave a country, but bear with me. I love pizza. It’s the best food, and I ate it multiple times a week in college. Which may explain my weight-gain/weight-loss in my 21st and 22nd years… Anyway, pizza makes me happy. I like the ease or ordering a pizza, I love how cheap it is. It’s the perfect food.

More specifically I like the New York, thin, lightly sauced, meaty topped, wonderful pizzas. I like the huge slices that you can get at places around Florida, I like the random toppings. It wasn’t until I moved to Japan that I realized how different pizza in America is compared to the rest of the world.

Japan does have Pizza Hut all over the place in most larger cities. They deliver, they have online ordering, it’s much the same as the American counterpart. But… it’s insanely expensive. As in a basic small cheese pizza will cost you close to $20. However, they only have two size options (medium and large) and the medium is personal pan sized and the large is smaller than an American medium. Here’s some examples of their pizza for you to look at.

Needless to say I never order it. I’ve only had it twice. In four years. It’s this lack of American comfort food in general that has influenced my desire to not be here. I enjoy Japanese food, don’t get me wrong, but I like my American staples much better.

9. I want a pet.

I spend my free time looking at shelters online and seeing what dogs they want, picturing my life with this lovable pet, and crying over their sad little faces. Growing up I always had a dog, and my childhood dog actually passed away while I was over here. I just like having a little companion around. It’s something I have always wanted. Cat? Dog? Either is okay with me at this point.

Having a pet in Japan is definitely possible, and I have plenty of friends with cats (none with dogs). The only issue is that your options for housing once you get a pet goes down considerably, and most places that will allow a cat won’t allow dogs, and I want a dog more than a cat at the moment. Not to mention I don’t really want to put my pet through the stress over moving back overseas. So the days and weeks pass and I look longingly at all my friends with pets and I just want one. It will be one of the first things I do when I have a place of my own.

8. I like cooking.

Japanese cuisine is very different from how I was raised. For starters ovens aren’t really a thing here (along with dishwashers and clothes dryers and air conditioning and the list goes on and on). While I have a pretty decent microwave/convection oven it is really limited and doesn’t really retain heat very well, so cooking takes forever. Imagine a step up from an Easy Bake.

Ingredients are also hard to come by, Japan is a small country and nearly all their food is imported, so things get expensive. I enjoy cooking shows and looking at recipes, and more often than not I have to adjust recipes to suit Japanese availability or just not be able to make things. It’s difficult. Not to mention the cost of fruit (8 strawberries for $10! An apple for nearly $2!) or the cost of meat (a small pork tenderloin is gonna be over $10 and half a pound of ground beef is over $6) has limited me to using mainly chicken breasts and ground pork. I’ve mentioned before about my weird food anxiety that I’ve nearly bested since moving here, and I feel like I can’t really explore my new food options like I want to.

Don’t even get me started on cheese. That can have its own post.

7. “Basic” things are really difficult.

So I have an upstairs neighbor who a horrible human being. I’ve never seen or met this person, but I know that they are. You want to know how I know that they are this devil-span? For the last nine months I’ve been woken up nearly weekly (usually during the weekdays) after midnight by the sounds of their washing machine. If I were in America I would have called my apartment company after the first night and filed a complaint. I would have gotten the police involved when it didn’t stop. I know how to handle these things in America because, well, in college I’ve had it done to me.

In Japan, though, I don’t really know what to do. Let me correct that, I know what to do but I don’t really know how to do it. When you live in a country that has a completely different language from you, you realize that communication is difficult (oh hey blog name!) most of the time. And making a phone call in a different language really, really sucks. I don’t even like making phone calls in English.

Anyways, I struggled for a long time as to what to do, suffering for a few months, then a few months of it not happening, and then when it started up again I got so fed up I asked a friend to help me out, he called for me and they called everyone on the fifth floor and sent letters to the entire building telling them to stop. Which didn’t work (hence the evil part of this person, because they clearly don’t care) and led to me asking a different person for help. This week it happened again (because they are evil) and I found myself too shamed to ask for help again. I’m 26 years old, I should be able to handle this easily. So all day I planned what I would say, hoping that since they had been called twice about the issue it would be easy enough to get my point across. Sadly, I called and the woman on the phone had no idea what I was saying. After struggling for five minutes to get her to understand, all while trying not to cry out of frustration (and exhaustion) I snapped and broke down into tears, hanging up the phone and spending the next ten minutes hating how I can’t even do simple things. And this is a daily struggle, really.

6. Money

This is a huge issue, and I could really spend ages talking about all the issues I have with money in Japan. The biggest issue is that I don’t really have much. When I first moved to Japan and National Health Insurance and city taxes were near zero, I was able to save plenty. But once you get a full year of pay in Japan be prepared (if you’re not a JET) to lose close to 30% of your income to these two things. Yep, that’s a 3 and a 0 before that percent sign.

I have a second job, which means two days a week I work until 8pm when I have to be up at 5:45 every day. If my neighbor decides to do laundry at 1am on a Monday (like this week) I spend most of my week exhausted. Now, Japan is known for its insane working hours and I would venture to guess that the majority of Japanese workers are usually working 8am-8pm like I am, but I’m not Japanese and I refuse to live like this just to have money.

Then, things are really, really expensive. If you ignore the food issue that I mentioned there are still plenty of things that are expensive. Japan has an outrageous import tax on leather (why???) and so anything that’s imported with even a tiny bit of leather has a huge price increase (most backpacks, shoes, purses, jackets, etc.). Then there’s makeup. I don’t know why makeup in Japan is so insanely expensive, but a Maybelline lipstick costs about $15. That’s like buying a Mac lipstick back in America (which are $30 at least here). And Japanese brands aren’t any cheaper, so it’s not an importing tax issue. It’s just a Japan-has-expensive-makeup issue.

5. I am not Japan Size

This kind of goes along with number 6 in the sense that it’s really difficult for me to find anything “extra” to get myself. Now, I realize that I am not average size even in America, but I’ve never had an issue back in the States when it comes to clothes shopping. And yes, Japanese women are much smaller than I am in general. In Japanese stores, though, there is just a very limited variety of sizes available. Usually all you’ll find is a small, medium, and large option which is like a 0, 4 and 8 (US women).

I’m basically one size too big for anything here. Granted I’m roughly six feet tall so I can’t really blame them. But it just really stinks when I want to buy a sweater or a skirt or pants or anything, really. Don’t even get me started on shoes. If you have feet larger than an 8 you’re out of luck.

4. Job options are very limited.

Japan is the land of the Salaryman, a husband who goes to work in a black suit and tie and works endless hours and comes home to his stay-at-home-wife and kids half-drunk at 9pm every night of the week. This isn’t a 100% fact but my 8:30pm subway rides say that it’s definitely more common than not. I don’t want this life, at all. I want a job and a career and a family. I don’t want a barely there husband while I raise our kids alone. I don’t want to work so much and not have time for my friends or family.

Not to mention, women in Japan are still very much behind as far as fair treatment is concerned in a lot of aspects of equal rights, even when compared to America which hasn’t even had a female President yet (please let this happen, US!!). When I go into the principal’s office at my schools you’ll see over a dozen pictures of all the past principals. I’ve seen a woman up there maybe three times. Out of 15 schools. That’s hundreds of principals and only THREE have been women.

Add in the fact that I am a foreigner and my options are even more limited. I just don’t have a lot of choices where work is concerned, it’s basically teach English unless I have fantastic Japanese (which I don’t – see crying in my apartment after trying to make a bloody phonecall).

3. My family.

Now we’re getting into the meat of why I am leaving. My family has had a rough year, maybe even couple of years. I’ve missed out on weddings and births and deaths while I have been here. The former two are the hardest for me, mainly because the deaths have been of more distant relatives, but it’s still loss all the same. I’m reminded that my family won’t be around forever, and if something were to happen to an immediate family member while I was here, I’d never forgive myself.

My family needs me, and I am tired of being that distant relative off in college or overseas. I want to be more present. At least for a little bit (since I’ll likely move to the West Coast, sorry Mom!).

2. There’s no real reason for me to stay

When you add in the lack of job opportunities, the fact that I can’t fit into clothes, that I can’t get my favorite things, that having a pet is difficult, I am faced with the fact that I have no reason to stay. I have friends here, and I love them to death and I consider myself so lucky to have the great community that I have, but… they will always be there. They’ll always be a reason to stay. And it’s sadly not good enough. I need more than that.

I’ve given up on finding love here, that’s a bit more personal and I really don’t want to open that can of worms yet (in short, I don’t think Japanese guys take me seriously, and the type of foreign guys that usually come to Japan only want a Japanese girl). And I want that. Maybe not now, but someday, and I don’t think I am going to find it here in Sapporo, or Japan in general.

And finally, the last reason, which is the biggest reason of all:

1. I never planned to be here forever.

When I moved to Japan I expected to be here no more than two years. But things happened and I ended up staying longer. I would have honestly left earlier, I think, if not for a couple of factors which, until recently, made me want to stay. But I’ve always known, deep down, that Japan wasn’t going to be my forever home.

I love Japan a lot, it is a second home to me, but it is second. I don’t want to raise my children without my parents being in the same country. I don’t want to miss out on all of my cousins’ life moments. I want to be able to go home for Christmas. These things are just too difficult in Japan and I always knew they would be.

It’s never been a matter of “if I leave Japan” but “when”. And Japan has honestly done nothing to make me feel like it wants me here long-term. The Japanese people will never accept me as Japan, even if I live here longer than I did the States (because once I were to hit 45 that would be the case) and I have taught too many mixed-raced children to want that life for my kids.

So, Japan isn’t the place for me. I don’t want to assimilate into the country, and I don’t want to be stared at because I just so happen to be having a cup of coffee in public or be buying groceries. I don’t want the first thing someone says to me to be, “welcome to Japan!” when I’ve been here for years. I don’t want servers to look stressed when a table of foreigners (who all speak Japanese) sits down and wants to order. I’m tired of being “gaijin” and I just want to be “Kaley”. 


  1. Those are all very valid points. I have been here 7 years and the food prices and choice frustrates me even more now that I am the cook for my family. If you dont see yourself having a Japanese spouse it is difficult to solve any of those problems. You could set up your own business to improve your money situation, but it would be risky and you would need to self sponsor your visa. I think it is way harder for non-Japanese females to carve out a long term situation here. There are a lot of jobs working with young children but the social life for us often revolves around foreign friends and Japanese people who want to practice their English. The foreign male friends pair off with Japanese girlfriends and the foreign female friends usually go back to their own country, or move on to somewhere else. The only solution I found was to really force myself to learn Japanese and do a sport where I could meet people who were more interested in the sport than in English. My husband doesnt really speak English at all, we use Japanese. The challenge thereafter is not to have your confidence in your own cultural identity eroded as Japanese people tend to assume the Japanese way is the best, if not the only way. A challenge which faces any immigrant to another country.

    1. I am glad to see someone struggling with the same issues I have had! The food I think is the biggest nail in the coffin for me in terms of Japan. Especially the really limited carb choices, I don't want to just eat white rice, white bread, or potatoes for my cards every day. I would like some healthier options. I don't eat the love fat, fish based diet of a Japanese person so I don't need the useless carbs of white rice or white bread!

      The job options are also not ideal. I can't really see myself as an English teacher, which is 80% of the work I could get.And while I find that my foreign friends are the main thing that has kept me here so long, it's not enough of a reason to stay, because it is such a transient community. And the Japanese people I can make as friends just don't seem that interested in really building a bond with me. I wish I were into sports or more things like that, but I don't really have any of the traditional Japanese hobbies, so doing things to meet people outside of the drinking foreigner setting are just very difficult.

      I think you're making the best of the situation in Japan, you have a husband and a community that isn't just there because you're foreign, which is vital for having a happy life in Japan. Because, really, the only way to be happy here is to conform to they way of life. And while I do think that it is important when you move to any country to do this, I think Japan takes it to an extreme I am not willing to go to, and it's nearly impossible as a foreigner, because that's what you'll always be!

      Thanks so much for the great comment!!