Losing Interest in Japan as an Expat

YokohamaThe more time I spend in Japan, the less I’m here for my own ambitions and the more I’m here because this is where my husband is rooted.

Whenever someone finds out I majored in Asian Studies in college, they say, “So you could become an English teacher?” Definitely not! (Those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter might not know that I teach English and very much dislike it.)

When I chose to study about Asia–specifically Japan–it was not with a post-graduation career goal in mind. You see, growing up, I learned nothing about Asia. Then in college I suddenly had so much information about Asia available to me. My boyfriend (now husband) was Japanese, and all my friends were studying Japanese, and there was an entire academic department dedicated to Asia. It was new and exciting intellectual territory, and I wanted to learn everything. I didn’t have an interest in using my future degree to become a translator or an international consultant in a large company. I just wanted to explore.

Fast forward to now.

I’m feeling lonely, unhappy, and unfulfilled in Japan. My husband is busy more often than not. He stays at work late and pulls all-nighters and sometimes has social obligations on other nights or the weekends.

My husband takes on so many roles in my life: life partner, sole family member, best friend, only local friend. So much of my social health depends on him. And since I don’t find happiness in my job, I have to get my happiness from my relationships. That’s where there’s trouble since my main source of human contact is strained lately. My happiness is too dependent on another person, I’ve realized.

My dream is to be a writer, to make a career out of telling stories. (At least I think it is, but that’s a topic for another time.) Being a writer is something very possible, but it requires years of practice to get good. And I need to make money in the meantime. So I’m stuck teaching English because it’s the only job I can do with my limited Japanese. Of course, once I can get my Japanese level high enough, a lot more options will be open to me. I could go to film school or join a theatre company, something more closely related to my interests.

But the truth is I have no desire to attach myself to this country any longer. My interest in Japan started with curiosity, and now the curiosity is gone. I’m not enchanted anymore, and perhaps enchantment was all I had. I don’t care about making Japanese friends. I don’t care about the social/political/environmental state of Japan. I don’t care about cultural exchange — in fact, I pretty tired of it. So then what is the point of improving my Japanese when I don’t care about using it?

But I’m still in Japan because my husband is here. I’m still in Japan because I don’t want to be a failure–one of foreigners who just couldn’t handle it and gave up. I’m still in Japan because I don’t know how I would talk about my experience to those who don’t “get” Japan–the “normals,” whose only knowledge of Japan is all the crazy and unbelievable stuff they’ve heard in the media.

I’m still here, but I’m unhappy.

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9 Comments

Filed under Japan, Personal

9 responses to “Losing Interest in Japan as an Expat

  1. Hi! Just started reading your blog, but wanted to say that your feelings are completely valid! I’m doing Japanese studies at the moment, and even have Japanese origins and went/am going through exactly the same feelings.
    I spent 3 months in Japan last summer and became completely disenchanted. I didn’t want anything to do with Japan to the extent that I considered quitting my degree.
    There’s something about Japan that made me lose hope and feel extremely isolated. My coursemates and friends treat me like I’m crazy whenever I complain about Japan as they see it as a mythical land, full of happiness and rainbows. ha
    Once my enchantment, as you said, was broken; I had to look at Japan with a new light. I did grow to love it again, but this time more realistically and pragmatically. I hope you feel better about everything soon!
    Sorry for the long story but I thought it may help to know you aren’t alone!

    • Hey, thanks for your comment! It really helps to know someone else has felt the same way. I’m glad you could learn to love Japan again, and I hope I will too. It would definitely makes things easier if I can! Thanks again. 🙂

  2. John

    I hear you. I’ve been over 2 decades myself and have grown so tired of the continual kabuki drama that is associated with almost everything here. Park your bike on the left side of the parking lot instead of the right? Oh dear God, how can this foreigner care so little for how we do things? Ugh. I’m actually considering bailing back to my home country as well. After a 20+ year stint here, that’s a pretty crazy thing to consider.
    Good luck, Jeanette. You’re not alone.

    • Thanks for your comment and sharing your frustration. I’m glad to know it’s not just me! 20 years — that’s definitely commendable! I guess the problems never go away, huh?

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  5. No, they never go away…writing however, as you expressed an interest in it, and from what I’ve read thus far seem to have a knack for conveying your ideas and feelings in a way that is moving and thoughtful, is therapeutic and might be at least part of a regiment that might address what you’re going through as much or more than any proficiency in Japanese would. This is not pop psych either. This is experience. Good luck, and if you need an ear, or even wanna chat about writing, holler! (-;

    • Thanks so much! It means a lot coming from you — I’ve been reading your blog since I started studying Japanese, I’ll keep going, keep writing. Thanks for cheering me on!

  6. Hi Jeanette! I just found your post and your blog while googling, and although I’m not shocked to hear about your experience, I’m feeling sorry for what you have gone through. I’ve been studying Japan and Japanese culture for some years, after some close contact with Japanese people living in here, and some very disturbing things I’ve learned along the way, day by day I started feeling disenchanted by Japan. I’m not going into the political debates here, but I, like many other “Japanophiles” in my area, was interested in that myth of Japan. Up to that point, having never read Japanese history book, I deceived myself that the Japanese is the most peaceful, modern and open-minded nation in the world. Yes, I was such a naive and ignorant person to believe that.

    I know there is no nation or country in the history that is full of good things and no evil, but in this case, I’ve been tricked into believing that Santa exists and after years I realize that was just a lie. I’ve been studying German for some time, and I like that country and the people despite Hitler. I’m not an American, and I’ve read the atrocities in the history of the US, from many historians, including the extremists like Howard Zinn, yet I never feel disgusted or uncomfortable when I study English or American literature. I don’t know what the difference is, maybe the feeling of being cheated.

    You sound afraid of negative comments, that’s reasonable after the huge number of negative comments in that Kotaku article of someone’s hard time in Japan, but hey, seeing your article helped me to make up my mind about it. More than 5 years, and hundreds of hours wasted for studying Japanese, tons of money for language books and courses, for the last 6 months or so, I kept telling myself “I came this far, I can’t come back, it will get better” but you spent whole 3(?) years in there and you gave up on it. Now, it’s time to move on for me, as well. But I really love kanji system, the way it is written. Maybe I can get some Chinese or calligraphy classes for fun, but that’s it.

    I’ve read your other articles, including the one you said you left Japan months ago. You did the best thing in that situation. Did you quit blogging, by the way? I’ve just discovered your blog and I missed the whole thing.

    Well, if you read this far, I have a little question! In your last article, when you said you have no reason to be in a country that doesn’t want you, I felt like being crumbled to pieces. Why did you say that? You know it’s not about you, or them, it’s an isolated country and I don’t know how to explain it in a better way to cheer you up, but for your own happiness, it’s better to remember just the good moments of your journey and let the rest be forgotten. Or written in here for others in your situation.

    P.S: Sorry if I made mistakes while writing, English isn’t my native language.

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