“Why did you move to Japan?“ To be honest, I don’t particularly like that question. Not because I don’t have an answer to it, but because I feel that people don’t want to listen to an answer that’s probably more complex than what they expect, or they simply wouldn’t understand it even if they did listen to all of it, because not everything in life can be explained with mere facts. A decision to move to the other side of the world can’t be explained in one snappy sentence while engaging in small-talk.
Let’s start with why I didn’t move to Japan to get that out of the way: I don’t watch anime and I don’t read manga. That part of Japanese culture has never and still doesn’t excite me like it does other people. (Story time: My friend took me to an arcade once that was full of geeky stuff like games and comics and little action figures. My attention soon was drawn to a table in the hallway, filled with all kinds of pottery and I told my friend that I liked that. She laughed and said: “You managed to find the one thing that doesn’t fit in here and has nothing to do with geeky stuff at all.“) To be clear: I don’t mind people who like that kind of stuff and state it as their reason for coming to Japan, but that’s not my story.
What is my story then? Why did I move to Japan? Let me ask you this in return: Why not? Living abroad adds so much value to your life, and after living abroad once, it’s so much easier to live abroad again. (I lived in the UK twice before coming to Japan.) You know how to build a new life from scratch and you know what you are capable of dealing with when things get tough. You know what it means to live abroad and so you’re mentally and emotionally prepared (well, for the most part). Even if the distances grow larger and the daily obstacles get bigger. The more time you spend abroad, the more you realize that the world isn’t all that big and people aren’t all the different.
My second reason is quite mundane: I came to Japan to work in my first full-time teaching position after finishing university and teacher training. Yes, I could have gotten a job in my home country, but working at a prestigious international school seemed like a great option to work with the best and learn a lot in a short amount of time. (Which I both have, but don’t recommend to any newly qualified teachers if they want to avoid near death experiences. You think I’m kidding? Oh I wish.) If brave or reckless, this was actually the only teaching position I applied for, not only in Japan, but in general. I went for broke. It was all or nothing. Looking back I can hardly believe how that gamble worked out.
Another reason I probably share with a lot of people who dream about moving to or do move to Japan: I wanted to go far, far away. Teacher training was a miserable time that I’m not going to get into here, but from the moment it started until it ended 1,5 years later, every single day I wished for nothing more than leaving. The bare thought that for my first full-time position I could end up in a similar place like that was unbearable. I needed a change, and I needed to put as many miles between between me and that horrific episode of my life. Of course I learnt that where there are hierarchies, there will always be conflict no matter where you go, but I don’t regret my decision to start over somewhere entirely different.
My fourth and last reason is probably the most difficult to explain. My university time living in a student hall was full of meeting people and living with people from all over the world. I loved that crazy mix of different nationalities and personalities and in each and every one of them there was something I appreciated or could connect with. As much as I loved all my international friends and still do, there was always something special about the company of Japanese friends, which makes me think of the famous words of Elisabeth Barrett Browning:
“I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.”
When I’m in the company of Japanese people, I feel so much more calm and less anxious than usual and I know it’s a direct consequence of their calmness transferring on to me, and also me trying to be a more calm and collected person because it’s something I appreciate and admire in others.
Those are my “reasons“ for moving to Japan, but no matter how much I argue my case, the biggest part of this decision was based on following my intuition. When I left Japan in 2013 after traveling across the country for a month, I saw Fuji-san from the plane window. I don’t know where it came from, but I suddenly had this very intense feeling that I wasn’t done in Japan and that there was more for me to come, and that one day, I’d return.
And so I have.