I decided to leave Japan after spending nearly a decade there. I’ve already moved to Southern California and accepted an exciting new job offer. Why? It’s impossible to capture every bit of nuance after living there for so long, but I’d summarize the reasons as below (in no particular order).
The border policy (水際政策) since COVID-19 began is the straw that broke the camel’s back. I cannot understate how angry, frustrated, sad, and isolated the border policy made me. Since roughly April 2020 my family could not enter Japan to visit me; multiple times Japan blocked reentry of foreign residents of Japan for weeks or months on end so many got stuck outside the country, endangering their livelihoods and causing families to be split apart.
Some people argue that Japan wished to stop reentry of citizens too but it couldn’t legally so restrictions on foreign nationals aren’t intentionally xenophobic. I would say it’s the result that matters. I couldn’t risk taking the trip to see my family when I could be stuck outside the country away from my dog, my job, and my apartment. Considering that new strains of COVID-19 could be found for more years to come resulting in more reentry bans, I found the risks of living in Japan to be too large.
Strong quarantine measures are fine and necessary. Blocking reentry is inhumane. For new entries, I can see the need to lower the number and discourage pure tourism, but zero new entries is too little. I have a non-Japanese friend whose parents cannot meet his newborn child and don’t have any idea of when they can.
Also, during the height of the deadly Delta strain, Japan allowed thousands of Olympic staff to hold an athletic competition to empty stands in order to fulfill sponsorship obligations. People have differing opinions on holding the Olympics, but as someone who couldn’t visit his family for years on end due to border measures, I could only feel a deep sense of betrayal.
Not much keeping me in Japan
On the other hand, I didn’t have much keeping me in Japan. I made some friends everywhere I’ve lived in the country (Hirakata, Kobe, and Tokyo), but I wouldn’t say I had a large number of close personal relationships, more like a limited few.
The US meanwhile, while being far from perfect in a number of ways, offers a lot more potential for career growth. The economy is strong and investment in tech companies is massively concentrated in Silicon Valley, attracting top engineers in a variety of fields and leading to significantly higher wages. I can work with and be mentored by some of the world’s best engineers. I genuinely enjoy the craft of making software systems and, while I don’t desire an opulent lifestyle, every extra dollar I earn can be put forward to raising children in the future or retiring earlier.
One thing that struck me when I was a part-time lifeguard at a pool during high school was how some parents taught their children how to swim. The kids who seemed to become the strongest swimmers were tossed into the deep-end by their parents, forced to sink or swim.
While I definitely believe in not pushing other people so hard, I push myself hard as those parents did to their children. I’ve jumped into the deep-end multiple times in my life, forcing myself out of my comfort zone and growing greatly because of it each time. For example: leaving the Midwest to go to college in the Pacific Northwest; studying and focusing on Japan, a foreign country I have no ancestral roots in; and switching careers from translation/interpretation to software engineering. I feel that taking these jumps into the deep-end, departures from my comfort zone, resulted in quick yet extensive growth of my skills and experiences each time.
I do wish to emphasize that part of the reason I was able to make each transition is the many privileges I have being a young able-bodied white male from a middle income background in the richest nation in the world. I believe that everyone deserves the same safety net I benefited from due to those privileges and I also recognize that they make a massive difference.
I don’t have a child at this time, but I eventually want to get married and have children. For a variety of reasons, I figure raising children is very difficult in Japan. I have many deep doubts about the public schooling system that focuses mainly on testing at the expense of creativity and fostering a love for learning. Plus I have heard of countless instances of teachers in various prefectures who sexually harass students simply being assigned to another school without much punishment. The US has far to go, but both subtle and overt misogyny is much more common in Japan anecdotally so I would be afraid to raise a daughter there. Private schools in English cost a lot, and Japanese wages wouldn’t easily cover the costs.
I don’t mean for this post to be an airing of grievances or a wild missive, so I explained my reasoning as simply as I could. I appreciate many aspects of Japan like the excellent train system and healthcare system, the food, the relatively affordable housing, the safety (for men more; it’s less safe for women unfortunately), and again the food.
I have interacted with many kind and polite people there and made some friends as well. With the (unintentionally or not) xenophobic border policy of stopping reentry and making it difficult or impossible for families to meet, I feel somewhat like I was pushed out of the country earlier than I otherwise might have left, but I responded to the situation as an opportunity to accelerate my career and settle down somewhere that might be easier to raise children. The pandemic has affected many people with death, long-term sickness, economic hardship, and more. I lost a family member during the pandemic and, like many, have been isolated more than ever before. While the pandemic is not nearly over, I have been lucky enough to find out how to make the best of my situation.
I’ll certainly be back to visit Japan. I’ll just no longer call it my home. As for my new life in the US, that’s a new adventure so it’ll be a separate post.