Wednesday, 22 June 2011

I'm leaving....

Well, this is a sad announcement. I'm leaving Japan. Really soon.

On July 25th, Jeff and I will fly out of Narita and into London (after a long stop in Kuala Lumpur). If we survive a flight with Malaysia Airlines, we'll be in the UK for two weeks before heading to our next destination.... Prague.

I didn't tell you before because I hadn't made it official, and I didn't want my company reading about my departure over my blog before I'd sent in a resignation.

So, why am I leaving?

Well, firstly, it was my original intention to stay for just a year. I knew from my first night that I would stay longer, and I signed the following year's contract without even realising what was happening. My first six months here were a drunken rollercoaster ride of culture shock, wonder, adventure and soul-searching. Then things with Jeff happened, and before I knew it I was about to move in with the guy I'd waited my life to meet. Vomit! Time passed quickly from then, and I suppose it would have been better to complete our second contracts, but there we go. Champagne happened, decisions were made. I'm being vague, let me try again.

I love so many things about Japan, but I'm not and never have been a Japan-o-phile. I don't read manga, I don't watch anime, I have no real interest in Edo Period history and I'm bored of temples. I do enjoy sushi and okonomiyaki, but Japanese restaurants abound abroad. There is a sense of safety and peace here that I will miss as I clutch my purse close to my body in a darkened European street, but there's also an undercurrent of subjugation, of deep unhappiness (well, Japan has the world's highest suicide rate, I believe). Some people enjoy the "special" freedom that comes from being a foreigner, but you can also detect a lot of racism behind the smiles, not to mention a lack of rights. Plus... I really don't think I can stand a second super-humid, cockroach-infested summer.

I've met so many wonderful, amazing, interesting people here, although a lot of those people were travellers, too. Many of them have already departed before me, and are now living back in their home countries or elsewhere. In time, almost every other foreigner you befriend here will leave, apart from the old timers, but they will usually be too busy with their families to truly spend time with. I have met some wonderful Japanese people, too, but their English ability is usually connected to their love of travelling - meaning that I will hopefully bump into them again anyway, wherever that may be.

I never came here to plant roots. The thing about travelling is that you're like a feather on the breeze, sometimes passing a beautiful scene but never really stopping to take it in. Sometimes I regret that, and feel the old primal urge to build a nest, while other times I feel that the world is too big - I want to experience so many places, and for more than just a weekend break. But getting to know a city, a group of people, a lifestyle - and then leaving it just as quickly is painful, too. My heart feels heavy and my stomach is in knots at the thought of leaving, but this is not where I will build my home, start my business or my family, and so in a way I'm moving on before I become too attached.

On the other hand, I'm also escaping the cynicsm that's growing inside me. I meet people who have lived here for years and are filled with bitterness. Eventually, most people realise that foreigners are treated as second-class citizens here. People who've put years into studying the language find that they are still never truly accepted, even with citizenship. Those who marry Japanese partners become disheartened by the emotional distance. I'm speaking in mass generalisations, but those are things that I've encountered, and they frighten me. I know that there is a lot to get cynical about here. If the recent alleged cover-ups at Fukushima weren't enough to make us cast doubt on the information given to the public, then the general barrage of patronising public annoucements and signs could do it. I could rant a little about the things that bug me here, the things that don't make sense - and that isn't because of my stupid foreigner mind, it's because common sense is overlooked in favour of pleasing authority and keeping your head down. I noticed my blog becoming more and more negative, and I don't want that. I don't want to become the bitter old gaijin, and I don't want to spend my life reading poorly constructed English sentences out to children who don't really care about learning it.

Life is good in Japan, and it's comfortable. If I truly wanted to, I could spend my life here. I will be very sad to say goodbye to the people I've met here. But, you are all welcome to come and stay with us in Prague...

Yes, so, Prague. The plan is to go there and study a 4-week TEFL course, which will enable us to actually teach English in Europe (including the UK). Here in Asia, they say that having a degree and a pulse is enough, although I know people without the degree part. No disrespect to teachers here, of course - we all know that teaching quality varies massively between individuals, and that hiring standards don't reflect your personal qualities.

Yes, please.

Jeff lived in Prague for 5 months (5 years ago) as a student, which is why it came up specifically. After researching it, it truly looks like a beautiful city. Things are pretty cheap (especially compared to Japan). There are lots of English schools and a big TEFL community. The nightlife is exciting. There are buildings nearly 1000 years old. It'll only take me an hour or two to get home and visit my friends and family. It'll be cheap and easy to travel around Europe - something I never really took advantage of when I lived in the U.K.

My plan is to find some English teaching work there for the time being, although with my EU powers I won't need a full-time job in order to get a work visa (although Jeff will, alas). In the ensuing year, I am going to find a course in either Hypnotherapy, Life Coaching, NLP or a combination of the three and finally work to set up the practice that I have been wanting to start for the last four or five years. From there, well, who knows. I'll find a good place to launch it from. I might come back to the UK, although it depends on how my taste for new places is going by then.

Japan... it's been wonderful. Really. Of course there are things that I can comment negatively on, but I don't imagine that wouldn't be true anywhere else. This is the country in which I had my first full-time, graduate job. The place where I lived alone for the first time.

I moved to a country that I'd never visited all by myself. I sorted out interviews, paperwork, visa stuff, did it all (although I couldn't have done it without the support of my lovely family and friends). Here, I learned not only about Japan and Japanese culture, but about the countries of the many fascinating people I met here - American, Australian, Brazilian, Canadian, Peruvian, Greek, French, Korean, Chinese... to name a few. I learned about the U.K. from the eyes of others. I learned about English and the structure of language through teaching it. I learned about language in general, about the common things that all people share in their souls. I learned about myself, distanced from the things that I used to think defined me.

I will look back on my time in Japan as the best thing that I ever decided to do - the place where I stepped out of my comfort zone, where I fell in love, found a little more of myself, became an adult (the latter comment might not be totally true). But it wasn't really Japan, per say - it was just the act of leaving behind everything I knew and stepping off the U.K. with few expectations. I had no idea of how my time here would go, but I'm so glad that I did it.

To the people that I met here; you have all, in some way, changed my life a little. Some more than others, of course, but from deep philosophical conversations to spontaneous trips to theme parks... from brief moments of eye contact and understanding to changing the lyrics of songs into cat noises... I am so glad that I got to meet you. And hey, let's not let this be the end. There'll be a futon on our Czech floor with your name on it.


  1. Sorry but Japan isn't the world's highest suicide rate. Maybe you should look things up before saying such inflammatory statements. Only takes a few seconds to do so.

  2. >Something mentioned casually with an "I believe" added to the end is for certain inflammatory due to my lack of common sense and my need for a pointless argument.

    You mad, bro?

  3. Perhaps you should do some research before trolling on a site that someone has put a lot of effort into.

    "However, this figure is somewhat disputed since it is arguably capped by the conservative definition of "suicide" that has been adopted by the Japanese authorities, which differs from the WHO's definition.Some people thus suggest a rather larger figure of 100,000 suicides a year"

  4. I've been living in Japan since around the same time as you and i agree with everything in this article. After putting a lot of effort into learning Japanese it becomes quite depressing when you eventually realize its all for nothing. They only want to talk to you for the sake of practicing their (usually bad) English. You can feel it during conversation with them, they just want practice as much of their English knowledge as possible. Talking bullsh1t for the sake of talking English.

  5. Wow, okay, negative comments well aside- I hope you'll continue blogging! I've enjoyed reading your blog so far, and so, I'll be looking out for your next adventures for sure :)

  6. OMG Prague, I'd love to go there. I don't know much about it but I love saying that word.

  7. Hi, Gwynnie!

    I've been "stalking" your site ever since you and a host of others began teaching in Japan. I had aspirations to travel and teach in Japan as well, but alas, life events and decisions kept me grounded where I am in California. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts, and the links to other blogs/bloggers who are your friends and acquaintances. Thank you for all the posts, and here's wishing you good luck with your next travel/teaching adventure in Prague! It's a gloriously beautiful city; I visited Prague about two years ago and truly enjoyed the city, its history, and architecture. I'm really looking forward now to reading about your experiences in the Czech Republic!

    All the best,


  8. Firstly, to the first Anonymous poster - sorry. I specifically used "I believe" to mean that I thought it was true but did not actively go out and research it. Still, the list that you posted puts Japan in the top 5, and further reading will show you that it is a significant problem. The number of people affected by the Tohuku disaster sadly make it seem that this figure will only increase.

    To the positive comments - thank you! I do indeed plan on blogging from Prague. I'll start up a new one once I think of a name more imaginative than "Gwynnie Goes Prague"... I intend to travel around Europe a fair bit, too. Exciting! Also, I will continue to post on this blog for a while longer, as I have other things to talk about and other adventures that I never got around to writing up!

  9. Hey Gwynn! I have a question for you! On my blog I have an ongoing series that features Japan Bloggers talking about their favorite places. I’d love to feature you! All I would need is a paragraph or so, maybe a picture, about your favorite place in Japan. Here are some links to previous posts I’ve made in the series. If interested, please email me at! Thanks! It sounds like you're getting ready for a new, exciting adventure, though. So I understand if you don't have the time. :)