For a lot of people, living abroad is a temporary thing. Most come for a year or two to work, or to go to school. Then, they hightail it back to their home countries to start their ‘real’ lives. Or some family emergency pops up, and they hop a plane home. Or some simply freak out over a giant earthquake and decide Japan isn’t their cup of tea anymore.
Whatever the reason, the average time spent living abroad tends to be fairly limited for the average Joe. But, there are occasionally those crazy fools among them that stay behind for whatever reason. Here in Japan, they go by the nickname of ‘lifers’ – people that are here for life and are probably not moving back.
In all fairness, once you hit the 5 year mark, it becomes pretty difficult to move back even if you want to. There becomes a problem of reverse culture shock. While living abroad, your mind tends to think your home country has been frozen in time, waiting for you to come back. Like it is waiting for you faithfully like your old pet dog you left behind. But, it isn’t. Every time I visit the States, it just seems stranger and stranger. So, I guess I’m stuck here for now, along with all these other fools.
These fools tend to fall into 5 main categories. Now, with all generalizations, there is a lot of gray area here, not everyone living here for an extended period of time is purely one of these, but they tend to make up a good number of them. Here they are in no particular order:
5. The One that is Completely Lost
You know that Baz Luhrman song/speech? It’s called “Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen.” It’s a classic piece of 90’s nostalgia.
Anyway, in one part of the song, Baz tells you to not worry about what you want to do with your life. And that some of the most interesting people he knows are 22-year-olds and 40-year-olds that still don’t know what to do. Well, those 22-year-olds and 40-year-olds are in Japan, hanging out, wandering what to do next.
Part of the reason is because the economy took a major downturn in the States and there really weren’t any jobs to be had. The problem has fixed itself a little bit, but there still don’t seem to be the kind of jobs that people currently living here want. And now that they’ve been here a while, they are kind of stuck. I mean if you teach English in Japan, what kind of skills are transferable to a job back home? Not many.
Another reason I believe is that people sometimes live abroad to find themselves, which it is really helpful to live abroad to do that because it helps you to see who you truly are. However, for some it just seems to confuse them more and they get too comfortable here to move to somewhere different.
4. The One that is a Political Refugee
There are a good number of Americans that are here because they don’t agree with what is going on back in the States at the moment. There seems to be a whole lot of shouting over there and not a lot of doing currently. Of course, that isn’t a whole lot different than some other countries at the moment, but some people feel like America should actually be getting its act together being that they are often thought of as a leader.
I’m partly in this category to be honest. I wasn’t a big fan of Bush and all the fun things he did, and I thought I would just take a vacation from it for awhile until somebody else became president. Then, we got Obama, who looked promising at first, but… well, he didn’t really do much of anything. And now, the Republicans are suing him as if that is a valuable use of anyone’s time and resources. I’ll stop right there before this becomes a political rant, but hopefully you get my point.
Some people would rather just live in another country, not that Japan is doing much better at the moment, (Article 9 anyone?) But, political problems here seem to be somewhat abstract. I can approach them from a more neutral angle I guess because I’m not from here, so it doesn’t bother me as much.
3. The One that Doesn’t Want to Grow Up
There is a honeymoon phase when you first come to Japan where everything is just peachy. Everybody wants to help you out. You go out drinking with your new buddies, meet other new buddies, date a lot, go exploring, etc… Everything is new and shiny for at least 3 months, sometimes even a year or 2. But, then, inevitably, it all kind of grinds to a halt and you wake up one day and you realize you are just doing the daily grind except in a very different place.
Well, some people don’t want to let go of that special honeymoon period. They keep holding on to it with all their might. They still go out drinking all night as if there is something to celebrate. They spend every last penny they have on beer, taxis and ramen. They are horrible drunks that never know when to quit. I see guys in their 50s hanging at the cool kids bar trying to live up the old days. They are gone, sorry.
2. The One that Never Quite Moved Here
Some people never quite make the transition to Japan, but still hang around because they like having the foreigner treatment. They feel it is cute to get someone to sort out all their bills, take them to the doctors, and generally pamper them because Japanese is just way ‘too hard’. Which is often quite ironic because those same people will turn around and preach to their students that learning English is easy and that they need to study it to be successful.
They fumble around with some Japanese, but never really learn it properly. They still go to British and Irish pubs that serve beer and fish and chips like they are used to. They still might even have pretty much the same job as when they landed. They have had a terrible time adjusting and a lot of times are divorced and bitter, complaining about their wives or ex-wives whenever they get a willing ear.
These are the type that give most of the other lifers a bad name. I hear they patrol the British/Irish pubs looking for women with their giant beer bellies. The funny thing is, for whatever reason, they are successful in this endeavor. I’m not sure how or why, but I guess more power to them.
1. The One that Found a Home
Then there are those of us that for whatever reason just feel comfortable here. And if you asked me why I feel comfortable, I have no idea. This leads to a lot of frustration whenever I meet someone knew that wants to ask me “Why did you come to Japan?” And to be honest, I have no idea at this point. It was kind of something I did on a whim because I didn’t have anything holding me down and I meet a beautiful nice woman and we got married. Now we have a beautiful daughter and a beautiful house. Its too hard to leave now.
Not only do I have all that. I’ve paid into the pension system and so, if I leave now, I could potentially leave a lot of money on the table. You can get up to a 3 year refund on your pension, but after that the government takes it all. There is a funky agreement that allows you to transfer some of what you earned to the US system and vice versa, but only to qualify for the minimum level of pay back. So, there is no turning back now unless I win the lottery.
Bonus – The One that Genuinely Loves Teaching English
For most people, being a native English speaker is your first initial ticket to Japan. From there, a lot of people will branch off into translation, marketing, even sales. But, to get that critical first visa, English teaching seems to be the easiest way to go. After that first visa, it is up to you where you want to go.
But, a select few love English enough to teach it at a higher level and go through the master’s program to qualify for posh teaching positions. There are actually a lot of top researchers in the field here. It is always good to see and rub shoulders with them from time to time.
Can you Add Somebody else to the List?
Do you live in Japan? Who tends to stay here the longest? Let me know in the comments.
Photo by Nullumayulife