As most of you already know, I grew up moving from country to country. Some of you would call it a nomadic lifestyle, but I call it getting new beginnings every few years. It has taken nearly three decades for me to finally set my roots in a place that I call home, even though it isn’t. But home is basically wherever you want it to be! I have often been asked where I enjoyed living the most, and Japan does rank high on that list. However, what I don’t talk about is the reason why it will never be first. Living in Japan was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will forever be grateful for… But, there are a few reasons why I wouldn’t go back today.
I never truly fit in
When it comes to fitting into a crowd, this is something that many say they don’t actually like to do. Just look around at the Gen Z and whatever came after them. Everyone wants to stand out and be a superstar. But what about if you stand out naturally? When I lived in Japan, not only was I the only black girl in my classes or groups of friends, I was the only one who didn’t fit into a size zero. I was the only one who didn’t have straight hair. I was the only one whose boobs jumped up and down as I ran… Ok fine, my Australian bestie also had a similar problem, but I digress.
As an adult, I am now appreciative of the body that I have because it is what helps me achieve my daily tasks. Thanks to this body, I don’t get sunburnt after fifteen minutes in the sun. And a huge shoutout to this kinky hair on my head for being so versatile. One day it can be an afro and the next it will brush past my bra. Yes, it takes a lot of work, but it is still beautiful nonetheless.
But growing up, I did not think of life that way. I starved myself to fit in. I fried my hair so it wouldn’t frizz up. And I depleted my body of all nutrients so that I could shop with the others…
Living in Japan would bring back too many memories
I have never been good at dealing with my emotions… I mean, now I can identify what’s bothering me and attempt to deal with it. But back when I was younger and clueless, every new challenge brought on so much pain. Japan is the place that my first real heartbreak happened. It’s the place that a terrible family event happened. It’s the place that I felt lonely and lost. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I am very privileged to have lived there and I cherish the amazing memories from my time there. But I also have many memories that I would like to leave in the past.
On a positive note, I made the most amazing friends when studying in Japan. My very best friend to this day is someone I met in the twelfth grade, and we have been “married” on Facebook ever since. The unfortunate thing is that my friends have moved away… And the few that remain are either there temporarily or have changed completely. I loved the times I spent in Karaoke, having Korean BBQ, and just spending hours in Izakayas. I loved the house parties, the sleepovers, and the day trips. But now that I am a mom and wife, living in Tokyo will never be the same.
The work culture is too intense
It’s insane to think that time has flown by so quickly… I received my Bachelor’s degree almost a decade ago! Well, not quite a decade, but we are two years away from that milestone. When it came time to look for jobs, I very casually bypassed that step because the work culture did little to entice me. Have you heard of the concept of a salaryman? Not just someone who earns money – the Japanese salaryman. Yes, that’s a thing, and I’ll explain what it is.
As a university student, I got several part-time jobs so I could fund my fun lifestyle. That meant working late hours in restaurants until I finally got a gig as a teacher. But my hours pretty much stayed the same; anything after classes. So when I would head home close to midnight, I would find many people commuting in suits. To be honest, I’m guessing that they were people because they all looked like zombies to me. So my curiosity got the better of me and I started digging. Turns out that in Japanese companies, you should never really leave before your boss. You are expected to arrive early and leave very late, and you have to attend the socials or risk being ostracised.
If you ask me, that is hellish for an introvert! And as a mother…? *scoffs*
Living in Japan instilled fear in me
I promise I’m not being dramatic, but every time my phone buzzed with an earthquake warning, my blood ran cold.
The very first time I experienced an earthquake was on my second night in Tokyo. At that time, we were living in a wooden house with very thin walls. For all of my American readers that don’t understand my qualms, you need to know that I am used to houses made of brick. I mean, who would want the wolf to huff and puff and blow your house away? Well, best believe that on night two, I found out exactly why the walls were made of wood. And I also understood why we were given first aid backpacks and told to keep them near the doors.
I remember waking up and seeing the walls shaking so hard that the picture frames rattled. But as earthquakes happened more frequently, I got used to the full-body massages. Then came the buzzer sounds on my phone that alerted me of any earthquakes that would happen within a few minutes. Finally, the big earthquake came around and it was not so amusing anymore. Then it was a case of “will this be the last place I live”?
As a young adult, I didn’t mind the possibility of dying in an earthquake. But now that I have my own child, the thought of living in Japan scares me to death. I would never want to knowingly put my child at risk. Nor do I want her to live a short life.
In sum, it was a beautiful experience that I will forever be grateful for. I grew up in Tokyo – but not in the normal sense. I lived alone and lived with friends, got my first job, and ditched my internship… That’s just it, I grew up became the adult that I am today.
I am forever grateful to everyone who made my time living in Japan very special. If any of you are reading this today, just know that you will always have a special place in my heart. But for now, unless a company pays me to move there for a few years, I will happily stay in South Africa.