JLPT BC 144 | The Top 5 People that Stay in Japan

JLPT BC 144 | The Top 5 People that Stay in Japan post image

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



{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Patrick September 10, 2014, 11:41 pm

    I’m in #6. Although since I’m sticking around ’til that 20 yr pension I’ll have to leave at some point. I’ll be back as soon as possible.

    6. Military. Thousands of Army/Marines/Air Force/Navy are stationed here as part of the mutual defense agreements between the US & Japan. Many of these servicemembers who get off the base and explore the country fall in love with Japan (or a Japanese woman). Following their commitments there is a percentage who separate and find jobs on the economy or working as civilians with the military so that they can stay.

    I’ll add that as a parent of young kid, another thing that keeps me here (or at least keeps my trying to stay here as long the military will let me) is the general safety and trust within society. I enjoy not being worried all the time. Okay, I still worry – but not in the same way parents in the US seem to worry about everything with their kids.

    Anyway, when my time here is up I’ll find a way back, at least for a few years. I’m of the exception that I would never take an English teaching gig here though. The only language harder than Japanese is English, I don’t even know how it works…no idea how I would teach it to anyone!

  • Matthew September 11, 2014, 9:10 am

    My honey moon period was two years. On 13 now. I just love being overseas. For me, unless you like driving your big car to a big store to buy big things you put in your big fridge, then Tokyo is a much better place to live than the states. Is that a refugee?

    • Clayton MacKnight September 12, 2014, 12:46 am

      I would say so. I am not a big hippie by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but I do think we waste way too much in the States, and driving around everywhere is such a pain. You can have enormous lawn, I’ll take a nice close park where I can meet my neighbors and a nice train ride I can get some work done on.

  • Jude September 12, 2014, 11:52 pm

    Before I forget again – thank you for providing a written text. I almost always read the entire thing – after I’ve skimmed it to see what’s coming. I’ve decided to unsubscribe to anything that arrives in my e-mail with a message saying, watch / listen to my 20-minute video /r podcast where I try to figure out what it is I want to say. Twenty minutes is an amount of time worth investing in something with a known payback – vocabulary drills, if nothing else, multiple listenings to a News Web Easy story. (Their mothers probably lie about looking forward to these productions, I figure that’s the whole problem. Serves them right for not teaching the kid to outline.)

  • Van September 21, 2014, 5:22 pm

    I lived in Japan for only 1 year and 3 months. To be honest, I didn’t think that I’d leave Japan that soon, because I planned to stay at least a few years. Though I can’t go into details, a lot of things happened to me that gave me no choice but to leave. It’d be a lie to say that I don’t regret my decision, I should have tried harder to stay. Living in Japan was the most amazing experience in my life. I miss my friends and teachers in Japan so much.

  • Murtagh April 15, 2015, 9:49 pm

    I am in the long process of returning to Japan. Previously in Japan spent 18 months as a language student then took 2 working holiday visa’s so in total nearly 5 years. I realised that without qualifications or marrying someone, I couldn’t get any more visa’s. Now fast forward 10 years I am in my last year of post Grad in education in Australia and hoping it will lead to a good job in Japan in the future. I want to settle down in the countryside and once again immerse into the rich culture of Japan. I passed JLPT2 so the aim is 1! My reasons are similar to the author and an affinity/admiration of the rich culture that makes Japan unique.

    • Clayton MacKnight April 16, 2015, 2:18 pm

      I wish you luck my friend, it might be a little tough to get here, but it is great place to live if you are into the culture and lifestyle.

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