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Goodbye Japan, Hello USA


“She may not look it, but actually she’s really sad that you’re leaving,” said the girl’s mother.

I knelt down to look into the face of one of my favorite kindergarten students. A shy, sensitive girl of six, she spoke perfect English and had a penchant for embellishing her handwriting with cute little curlicues. I had noticed this and taught her to write in cursive, something none of the other kids learned. We enjoyed goofing off together and had developed a special bond.

“I’m sad too,” I said, “but I know you’ll do a great job. And if I come back, I’ll make sure to visit you.”

I hugged her and almost wanted to cry. Was I breaking this poor little girl’s heart? But no, she was good and smart and talented and had a wonderful mother– she would be fine and go on with her life and probably soon forget about me, her kindergarten teacher. And I had to do the right thing for myself, right?

But was this really the right thing? Either way, it was too late to change my mind now.


“All teachers, please come to the office. All teachers, please come to the office.”

I was pretty sure I knew what was happening. It was my last day, and everyone was gathering to say goodbye to me. I saw a bright red gift bag sitting on a desk and tried not to eye it too conspicuously as the teachers shuffled into the room.

There was the usual ceremonious speech from the principal, which was expected. But I didn’t expect the teachers to have prepared a little booklet for me with personalized messages from each of them. I knew this wasn’t something they did for everyone, and I was touched. I honestly hadn’t thought they liked me that much.

I was asked to say a few words, and I didn’t know what to say. I don’t remember what I said.


I had been waiting in the city office for over an hour, and now I was being called up to the counter for what would probably only take a minute. Darned bureaucracy.

The woman behind the counter bobbed her head at me and chirped a formal Japanese greeting. She smiled and said, “So you are registering a change of address to outside the country.”


“And you’ll be staying in the United States long-term?”

“Well no, not exactly… I’ll be staying there for about a month and traveling around a bit.”

“Oh, so you’re coming back to Japan?”

“No, I have no plans to come back.”

Clearly my life doesn’t make sense to people. I’m not sure if it makes sense even to me.


“Is it done already? That was fast!” I marveled.

“The cavity wasn’t very deep, so it was easy to fix,” said the dentist with a smile. “I want to see you back about six months from now. Make sure you get a checkup and cleaning twice a year, all right?”

I didn’t say anything, but gave a non-committal nod. There was no point in explaining that I would no longer be in Japan six months from now, and had simply decided to get a last-minute checkup while I still had health insurance in a country with affordable dental care. This friendly dentist would probably never see me again.

Regret may be an odd thing to feel about not being able to go to the dentist, but oddly enough I found myself feeling it. Once again, as I have done several times in my life, I was leaving stability and plunging into the unknown. It still felt like the right thing, but there was a sort of sadness in the finality of it.


I got on the bus and sat by the window, on the side where she was still standing watching me. It was somehow awkward to make eye contact, so I did my best to look towards her and away at appropriate intervals. Every time I looked she waved or made a funny face, and I laughed. I struck a pensive pose, and she took a photo. I was giggling like a teenager and the other passengers on the bus probably found it annoying, but I didn’t care.

I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d had a friend who cared enough to see me off like this, and it meant more to me than I could say. When the bus finally pulled away, I cried. I let the tears stream down my face and didn’t care if anyone saw.

When the day finally came to leave Japan after so much thinking and agonizing and preparing, I’d thought I would feel ecstatic– not like this. Not this confusing mix of pain and joy all at once. I couldn’t remember when I had last felt like this, or if I had ever felt like this at all. But maybe this was the way it was supposed to be. My friends, coworkers, and students in Japan had given me the gift of knowing that the time I’d spent with them really had meant something. And if I ever went back, it would be like going home.


“Hi, how are you today?” beamed the waitress.

I started. “Oh, um, I’m good thanks.” I had been back in the states for a couple days now, but I still wasn’t used to being greeted so casually by waitresses.

A while later, I’m sure my eyes were saucers as I stared at the gigantic bowl of coffee that was set in front of me. And then at the gigantic oval-shaped platter of breakfast that looked like at least two meals’ worth.

“This is America, huh?” I thought to myself. And for some reason the thought was in Japanese.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Michele

    Welcome back… Hope you find your next adventure soon!

    • Thanks, I’m sure I will! πŸ™‚

      • Manish Mirani

        Dear Jana,

        Your last 2 posts have touched my heart as I am considering to leave Japan.Moreover, with same reasons and feelings as yours.After living for 6 years in Japan and looking beyond the glass of politeness, I have came to realize that its suffocating to live as a native.You are gaijin and will always be but if you live here for number of years,speak the language and know the culture then you are no different in expectation than others.I so much love safety,cleanliness,comfort,convenience and food in this country. It will be hard being disconnected to this place.So how is life for you back home?Did it take a while to get used to life?

        I would like to keep in touch and will subscribe to your blog.


        • Thank you very much for your comment, and I apologize for my very late reply. I’m not good at replying quickly, but I still try to reply eventually, even if I’m 3 months late!

          I still love Japan very much and always will, but I am now very much aware that it’s not a perfect place. The thing is, though, no place is perfect. It’s just a matter of what you personally are willing to live with.

          I haven’t really been “back home” since leaving Japan, but have been living out of a suitcase and wandering all over for the past 9 months… So I can’t really answer your question the way you asked it, but I always do feel a bit of reverse culture shock whenever I return to my “home” country, which will probably never really feel like home to me. But I am happier now not being “stuck” in Japan, even though I still hope to return frequently.

          Have you left Japan, then? Whatever you decide, I hope you will end up someplace that makes you happy.

  • Philip Newton

    Welcome to another place!

  • SEA monster

    … Jana Sadness for today. “Fair Winds and Following Seas”!

    • Haha, yeah I did experience some sadness leaving Japan, but I do still feel I made the right decision. And don’t worry, I’m not depressed or anything– I’m pretty happy in general. πŸ™‚

      • SEA monster

        Happy to hear that, Jana. Careful with those gigantic meal portions! πŸ™‚

  • Furkan Yuksel

    Hi Jana, it’s good to have you back! In the blog, I mean. I don’t live in the States. I write a blog myself (very unprofessionally) for English practice and enjoy reading yours. I hope you find what you’re looking for and also the answer to the question “What are you looking for?”.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you enjoy reading my blog. πŸ™‚ I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out what I’m looking for but I’m having fun looking anyway, haha!

  • Marcos Pinedo

    The last phrase… Well, It looks like your stay in Japan has really changed you, and I’ts a very good thing to have a different perspective of life I guess. It’s good to read your blog again. c:

    • Yes I think it has changed me, and I would agree that it’s good. πŸ™‚ Thanks for reading!

  • David

    Hi Jana, been following your blog for a while and the last two posts really hit home – going through the same thing myself right now (only substitute Georgia for Japan) and can relate, also to that post about following your dreams and letting them go. Necessary, perhaps, but also painful. Thanks for sharing your story and hope you find your place and people. And me too.

    • Hi David, thanks for reading and for commenting! Do you mean you live in Georgia the country, and are about to leave? Or do you mean the state?

      And yes, sometimes pain is necessary because it leads to better things. I suppose we couldn’t grow as people without it.

      • David

        And thank you for replying, and the latest post about Georgia. Yes, the country. Toughed it out for 3 years because I didn’t want to accept that it would never return the love I had for it. And still hesitating to make that difficult decision. Hope you’re right, that this pain will lead to something better, though it’s hard to believe it when you’re still on the painful side.

        • I see. I know from experience that staying long-term as an expat in a country can give you a vastly different perspective from people who only visit short-term– as well as from locals who have grown up there, because unlike them you have something to compare it to. So it would be interesting to hear what you think of my impressions of Georgia.

          Anyway, I’m sorry to hear your stay there hasn’t turned out like you hoped. And I didn’t mean to say that pain *always* leads to better things, but it can, and it’s possible to deliberately choose to go through the sort of pain that will lead to better things. And if you just find yourself in a painful situation you never intended to be in, well, that’s what’s really frustrating, but often it’s possible to learn something from it.

          • David

            You’re probably right though it’s still not clear what the lesson is – maybe it will become clearer having spent some time away. As for my thoughts about Georgia (particularly the “friendliness”), I could say a lot but I hesitate as I’m still here and still have ties to this country (and living here, you do learn to walk on eggshells and keep your opinions to yourself). Instead, I’ll let you read another foreigner’s perspective: http://www.spectator.co.uk/2012/12/tbilisi-the-edge-of-the-real/

          • That is a beautifully written article. Thank you for sharing!