Reflections on Life in Japan

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye in Japan can be a sad experience. I suppose that this is true of farewells in every country or culture, but here it somehow seems more pronounced. Tears flow more easily, perhaps to make up for all of the emotional restraint or “proper behavior” that people are expected to exercise at all times, though I’m not sure. Regardless, I still remember leaving this country the first time, years ago, thinking that I would not return, amidst an outpouring of emotion that quite frankly took me by surprise. Coworkers and students saw me off at the station, and the scene remains vivid in my memory to this day.

We had already had an official “farewell party” the night before, so I thought that there would be little fanfare. At the party, we had speeches--some funny, some sad--and presents (which I had not been expecting), a few tears (which I had), a few too many drinks, and far too little time. Yet there they were, the next morning, standing on the train platform--some waving goodbye, some bowing, not a dry eye among them--watching my train recede in the distance. It was a moving experience for me, since I am not really one for long goodbyes, and it helped me appreciate how much I had meant to them--and how much they had meant to me.

It seems that I’m always saying goodbye, particularly in Japan. Perhaps it’s the nature of the industry that I’m in, with no shortage of English teachers in this country, or, then again, perhaps it is the economic situation we’re currently in--though moving from job to job, contract to contract was the norm well before the Great Recession set in, even during years of expansion and growth. Or I suppose that it could simply be me: perhaps I move around so much because I don’t like to get stuck in one place for too long.

Regardless, now that I’m married, I often think about setting down roots and making a home somewhere. The idea of moving to a new city, making new friends and starting over again, though enjoyable to a certain extent--at times, even exciting--is starting to get old (as am I). One good thing about living abroad is exactly this experience of “starting over again,” something I’ve written about in the past; however, with each new contract, each new “clean break,” I also find myself yearning for that particular time to be the last.

In any case, this is my final column entry, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone for all of the kindness they have shown me. I suppose it’s time that I wrap up this particular segment of my life and move onto something new. As the year (and with it, the decade) comes to a close, I find myself ready to move on, though not without reluctance or one final backward glance, one last reflection.

I’ve learned a lot over the past two years--about Japan, about cultural difference, perhaps most of all about myself--and I want to thank my colleagues at Daijob/Work in and all of my readers for accompanying me on this journey. Life in Japan for an expatriate can be, at times, an intense experience, but finding one’s voice and learning how to share it with others is a great way to move beyond loneliness or isolation and toward understanding and fellowship--and I have been very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do just this, through Daijob/Work in Japan. For that, I am grateful.

Well, it is time for yet another farewell, as I say goodbye to all of my friends--colleagues and readers--at Daijob/Work in It’s been a great experience sharing my “reflections on life in Japan” and I hope that you have enjoyed reading this column as much as I have had writing it. I want to thank everyone for their support, and wish all of my readers--and all of the Daijob/Work in family--the very best in the future. Instead of saying “Sayonara,” allow me to repeat what I said that first time I left Japan, many years ago: “Sore ja, mata ne”--“See you again someday!”

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