Discussion: Should I stay or should I go? What’s your personal threshold for staying in or leaving Japan?


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Hi Blog.  Some weeks ago a Debito.org Reader posed an interesting question to the Comments Section. Let me rephrase it like this:

  • What is your threshold for remaining in a society? Are there any conditions which will occasion you to consider an exit strategy?

Caveats: Of course, this can apply to anyone anywhere. But a) since this is a blog about Japan, and b) people who have chosen to live in another society for whatever reason have the experience of moving from one place to another (hence “hometown inertia” is not a factor), let’s make this specific to people who are living (or have lived) in Japan.

What would have to happen (or did happen) for you to have to decide to move out of Japan?

It’s an interesting hypothetical. For some expats/residents/immigrants in history, even a war was not enough (see the interesting case of William Gorham). So it’s all a matter of personal preference. What’s yours? Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

56 comments on “Discussion: Should I stay or should I go? What’s your personal threshold for staying in or leaving Japan?

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  • So, I lived in Japan for 8 years (a pretty short time, really, compared to many – or most – in this forum) and left.

    Why? After 8 years of living in Japan, I happened to marry another foreigner. If I had married a Japanese, I’d likely still be there. I had a job I loved, and I was a regular employee, not a contract worker. I left Japan 14 years ago (it doesn’t seem that long, so much so that it sounds funny to say), and several other NJ who were employed there with me still work there today.

    After leaving Japan, we lived in my wife’s country of origin for a while, but eventually decided to move back to the US. It felt strange at the time and it was kind of hard to re-acclimate after 9 years in Asia, but now we have a house in the ‘burbs, three kids, two cars, and an RV, and my wife has been a US citizen for about 7 years now. Neither of us can really imagine leaving, although we can certainly imagine leaving California when we retire. California is no longer the relatively good place it was when my family came here in the early seventies. Of course, looking back on it, and all things considered, the state my family came from is better than California in all – or at least nearly all – ways, apart from weather. It snows a lot there, which is why my parents left. After spending the vast majority of my life outside of the snow belt, I probably wouldn’t want to go back to that. My wife wouldn’t be up for that, either.

    Was Japan perfect? Of course not, but no other place is, either. We all need to decide what things are most important, and where we’re willing to compromise. For me, Japan was good enough. The things that were positives for me were strong enough to keep me there. The negatives weren’t strong enough to make me leave. It was only marrying another foreigner that changed the “balance of power” there for me, and it wasn’t just the fact that my wife did not view Japan as a place she’d want to spend the rest of her life, or even a very long time. It was more that spending the rest of my life in Japan, without what you might call the security of a Japanese spouse (ease of owning property, ease of getting PR and citizenship, and yes, the influences of those things on the whole process of getting older) played a part. Does that say something about Japan? Probably. Does it also say something about my perceptions? Maybe. The particular things about Japan that it may say are well enough covered by others that I won’t re-hash them here.

    Mitua says nothing compares to the women in Japan. Mitua hasn’t been to Viet Nam, I guess 😉 That goes for the food, too, compared to France and Italy. Of course, both of those things are matters of personal taste 🙂 WRT his comments on the doctors and the pension system, while American doctors may on average be better, I’ve had good doctors in Japan and bad ones here, so it’s to some extent luck of the draw. The US pension system stinks, too. No one should depend on ours or Japan’s for sole livelihood in old age (nor was the US’s ever meant to be that when it was created). The best thing the US and Japan could probably both do is phase them out over time, but we all know how much political support there’d be for _that_ :p

  • Some good, balanced posts here. For me, putting my kid through high school here was something i couldn’t justify just for a moderately easy life. Hotspur’s post #15 is excellent on this. We decided to leave before our daughter started elementary school to give us all a chance of acclimitisation. Elementary school in Japan is not too bad. Bringing a family, especially an international one, in Japan is brutal unless one spouse has a permanent secure job. Even then, it’s socially very oppresive.If you are childless, Japan is very pleasant. You will always be able to pick up English teaching work but your life will always be insecure, which is how the Japanese want to keep foreigners.one other point worth making is that after a few years life in japan becomes pleasant but rather predictable and nor very stimulating. Since leaving japan four years ago, i have studied for a degree, started painting and set up and run my own martial arts school while my spouse has learned ceramics. We would have done none of the above had we stayed in japan. I wouldn’t even rule out returning to Japan in the future but after my kid has had most of their education finished.

  • Just as a reply to Baudrillard, I think probably most countries regard you as permanent for tax purposes after 5 years of residence (and conversely not liable after 5y of absence). We were certainly exempt from UK taxes after that time (in fact, before that time – IIRC it started once the *intention* to stay beyond 5y was clear, and was retrospectively activated to our date of departure). It was actually very convenient and efficient for us from this POV. The USA may be the sole outlier where all citizens are liable for taxes forever, worldwide. This ranges from a minor nuisance to a major ball-ache for the USA citizens I’ve discussed it with.

  • Short version of why I left:

    1. Lack of opportunities to advance in my field.
    2. Knowing that if I had kids they would have a very difficult time, either as “hafu” or as a white Japanese.

    Some background to give context to my case. My field is youth development, meaning that I work for programs that are usually not school-based but are still intended to provide educational opportunities that will result in a well-balanced kid. I worked in Japan for four years for a Japanese nonprofit that does exchange programs among other things, but I was the only NJ who worked there. It was an excellent experience, but it quickly became clear that I would always be on one-year contracts with no real change in salary or responsibilities, so I eventually outgrew the position. As you can imagine, quality youth development programs aren’t exactly abundant in Japan, and I had no desire to teach in a school or be a token gaijin staff member. On the other hand, the US (my home country) has tons of options available.

    As you can imagine with my background in child development, I found most of what I saw of middle and high school in Japan concerning…I’m a big believer in hands-on, experiential, and inquiry-based learning which is basically nonexistent in Japanese schools. Add on constant “soft” racism that minorities experience in Japan and you get a scenario I didn’t like for my future kids.

    So after four years I moved back to the US, got a great job that I love and am challenged by, and am going to go to graduate school (which will be mostly paid for by my employer) next year so that I can continue rising in my field. I also got married and don’t have nearly the level of anxiety about raising kids here than I did in Japan.

    I do occasionally have moments when I think I should have “fought the good fight” and stayed to promote new ideas and opportunities in Japan, but then I remember how mentally exhausting that was. Overall I think I left at just the right time, especially after reading posts from others about how they feel stuck for one reason or another in a country that just isn’t investing back in them and their families.

  • I have a Japanese wife and teach at various Japanese universities as a part-time English instructor. I have lived in Japan 32 years.

    I am 60 years old and own a number of rental properties in the United States. In two years I will have paid off my last loan. At this time I will return to the US and manage my properties.

    Japan has its ups and downs but overall I have been treated alright. But the last 20 years have been about putting together a retirement. I never planned or wanted to live in Japan indefinitely.

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