The Return: Coming Back to Japan for a Second Try
Life is all about chances, as they say. The more cynical amongst us often argue that we “only get one shot” and if we don’t take it, then maybe true happiness will elude us forever.
I’ve never bought into such pessimistic notions. As someone who, amongst other things, has spent a large part of his working life teaching disabled and disadvantaged kids, I am a great believer in second chances, and the hopeful ideal that it is “never too late” to change one’s circumstances for the better.
This was a lesson well-learned for me, and I had to go through a very difficult personal time to get there.
I won’t bore you with all the details, for one you probably wouldn’t find it interesting and secondly I can’t stand those people who feel a need to bare their deepest emotional baggage on the internet for all to see. That’s what cheap talk shows like Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle are for!
Needless to say, in 2010, I ended my first 4 years of staying in Japan under something of cloud. A failed relationship, a job where I was being mistreated both by colleagues and management and a number of health, mental and emotional issues meant that my time in Japan had, for the time being at least, run its course.
It would be easy to sink into melancholy, depression and self-denial at such a time, but instead, I went to Hong Kong, got a new job, made the most of my newly rediscovered singleton status, and most importantly, rediscovered my passion for writing.
The first year or so in Hong Kong went by in a blur of work, partying and numerous other things I probably shouldn’t discuss on a family friendly blog! And yet for all I was enjoying this new adventure, something was missing. I had a good job, a lovely new girlfriend, a good social circle and I was getting used to being able to have normal conversations in English every day.
Then March 2011 came round.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never really been one for getting too emotional in the face of tragedy. I remember for example when Princess Diana died back in 1997 a lot of my friends and family cried as they watched her funeral. I felt nothing. How could I cry for someone I had never met, someone who I did not know personally?
Yet, whilst, thankfully, I didn’t lose anyone I knew in the tragedy of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, I cried, a lot. Seeing Japan, this country I had called home for 4 years being ripped asunder, seeing children no different from the elementary and junior high students I used to teach being brutally swept away from this world in the mud and filth of the Tsunami, it was too much. It felt like a personal assault, an affront to everything I held dear in this world. I’ve never been particularly religious, and I have to say that the events of that day made me more convinced than ever that if there is indeed a god with some kind of divine influence over the events of this world, if he allows something like this to happen on his watch, then he is not someone I care to know.
Anyway, from that day forth I realized why I felt such pain and anguish. The truth was, Japan was where I belonged. I must return as soon as I can.
And so I set about searching intently for a way back into the country and culture I had left behind almost 2 years previously. It took more than a year, before I finally found what I was looking for.
And so in late 2012 I accepted a position with an English conversation school in Osaka. The pay was low, the conditions abysmal, but it didn’t matter. For this would be but a stepping stone in the beginning of my new life in Japan. And this time, I was going to do it right.
By the time my visa finally came through and everything was approved it was February of 2013. I arrived in Osaka with a renewed sense of vigour and purpose.
First the essentials, a roof over my head and a means of carrying out my daily life.
One immediate change I noticed was how much more streamlined the immigration process had become. First time around, in 2006, I had to report to the local city ward office, make an application for a residence card, wait about 4 weeks and then collect it. In the interim, I couldn’t set up a cellphone contract, bank account, internet connection or anything like that. Much to my relief, the new procedures brought in in 2012 dispense with most of this needless bureaucracy. The residence card is issued upon arrival at the airport, and you can begin setting up your accounts from Day one.
I arrived in Japan at 9am on a Thursday morning, by 5pm, I had an apartment, a bank account and a brand new cellphone.
Osaka is also quite a different city from Tokyo. In Tokyo, the people are friendly but they always seem cautious, distant and perhaps a little pre-occupied. In Osaka it is the opposite. During my initial sojourn to the ward office, I got lost. Much to my relief a local woman approached me, asked in broken English where I was going and then proceeded to escort me to the office. This is made all the more remarkable by the fact that the office was about 10 minutes’ walk in the opposite direction from where she was going.
Of course there are a couple of negatives in the story too. Japan is undoubtedly more expensive now than it was in 2006 and working conditions continue to deteriorate for English teachers and other non-permanent foreign workers here. However, how these conditions affect you as an individual really depends on how you choose to react. For me, the need for a bit of extra money proved a great motivator in encouraging me to take on private students and get back into writing. It has also fueled me as I take Japanese lessons with an increased frequency and intensity.
Ultimately that is perhaps one of the biggest lessons in all of this. As my Japanese language abilities have improved, I have found it much easier to assimilate into the local culture. The more I understand, the more I feel at home, and the more I feel at home, the less inclined I am to go elsewhere. Yes, perhaps after all these years, and all the different places I have lived, in Osaka, I may finally have come home.