I am facing an uncertain future for the first time in three years. Due to city budgetary considerations and the expiration of my visa, it appears unlikely I will have a position in Koriyama after July. So I began a preliminary job search back in my home country. I am finding this very difficult at the moment because after 2 1/2 years of living in Japan, I now feel my home and my life belong in Koriyama City.
When I finally do leave Japan, whether it is this year or the next, I will probably miss Japan much more than I ever missed the USA when I left 3 years ago. Departing the United States two years ago, I didn’t give much thought to everything I would miss. Leaving behind the dizzying array of everything permeating my environment and my own self that I concomitantly referred to as ‘America’ was new to me, and without precedent. I was woefully terrible at predicting what things and people would be sorely missed and everything that would be gladly forgotten. With the situation now reversed and the experience of hindsight, I now know precisely what I am walking away from this coming July, and I know exactly the place I will be returning to.
Moreover, I left the United States always knowing that I would return someday in the future, or at least always had the option of returning. While I was initially ignorant of how many people and things I would miss upon leaving the USA (and there was much that was sorely missed), the knowledge that I could return if I desired always assuaged my cravings for all things American. I always knew I would someday come back, so I stopped worrying about the lack of Mexican food, Arizona sunshine, or Christmas trees. Everything is still there waiting for me when I return. I currently have no idea whether I can or will ever return to Japan on terms that would be appealing to me. I am uncertain how much will be lost forever.
But the vast array of exotic customs, sights, sounds, smells, amusing idiosyncrasies, language, food, drink, products, services, textures, styles, people, and architecture that are now as familiar to me as a 4th of July BBQ will disappear forever after 15 hours over the Pacific Ocean. I may be able to go to a Japanese restaurant in an American city, but I will always know how many foods are lacking from their menus or whether the rice tastes right. And no matter how authentic the Japanese restaurant in America may be, I will never again eat another school lunch, dishing up healthy bland slop with the students and listening to them complain about it. I will never again go to a harvest festival and buy overpriced greasy morsels of salty pork on a stick. I may never again ride the bullet train, sleep in a capsule hotel, and drive a car smaller than a riding lawnmower on the left side of the road. And what restaurant in the United States serves up 4 different cuts of raw horsemeat?
When I was initially struggling to make sense of the culture and my place in this country, a former teacher told me, “When you were back home you had 24 years to meet friends, build a career, and find a place in the community. You have family connections. You don’t have that here, and you have to actively make a life for yourself.” After taking this advice to heart, I now have a wide circle of friends and co-workers that care about me. People everywhere know me by my name and greet me on the street. I finally built a real life for myself that I am proud of, and now I must abandon 95 percent of it forever.
But at the same time, I wonder how much I am seeing Japan through rose-colored glasses. Other advice I received as I “adjusted” to life in Japan was not to compare Japan to my own country. People told me to, “Find and focus on the positive.” But in this effort to adapt to my surroundings, have I so thoroughly twisted and distorted the perception of my environment that I no longer recognize its glaring flaws?
I don’t look forward to the extended period of adjustment on the approaching horizon, and I don’t think I am ready to return to my own country just yet. Please keep me in your thoughts and pray that God would show me what to do next.