On being alone in Tokyo…

We started this blog to write about what it is like to live as an expat in a foreign country. To talk not just about the fun and interesting things, but also to talk about the challenges and difficult parts of living away from home in a country and culture (not to mention language) that is so far and away different from where we are from. Sometimes this blog does morph into something like a travel guide — places to see and things to do in Japan. Today, though, I will step back and talk about one of the challenging things.

My husband just left on a business trip. He will be gone for almost a week. I have been very fortunate to be able to accompany him on many of his business trips. The company pays his travel expenses, and we pay mine. We schedule a few vacation days before or after the business part of the trip, and so we have an opportunity to do a bit of sight-seeing together. But… this time, going with him just wasn’t an option. He has a couple of business stops to make, and it just wasn’t practical.

Over the years of our marriage, he has done a fair amount of business travel, and I have stayed at home. It isn’t that I can’t stay alone, or that I am afraid to stay alone. In fact, I like some alone time now and then.

But… it is a little more challenging for me being alone here. I can manage quite well taking care of myself, our apartment, and buying groceries, etc. That is not the problem. The problem is that the amount of solitude that I have when he is gone, can start to feel overwhelming. Without a job of my own, and without the business connections and friends at work that he has, my day is pretty quiet. Sometimes too quiet.

I just got back from a trip to the US to visit family, and I left my husband here “alone” for 2 1/2 weeks. He missed me, and evenings were lonely, but he had that full day at work where he was with his co-workers and interacting with people. Then for a few hours in the evening before going to sleep, he was alone.

I guess the difficulty is that I don’t really have many friends here, and not many outlets for “socializing.” Because of the language barrier — and it is definitely a hurdle — it is hard for me to make Japanese friends. Most of them are just as shy about trying to speak English, as I am about speaking my meager amount of Japanese. And… finding English-speaking expats in our part of Tokyo is hard. We opted not to live in the popular expat areas, because we wanted a more authentic Japanese experience. Besides… living in Shibaura, close to my husband’s office, he can walk to work instead of taking a 45 minute train ride from Roppongi or Akasaka. We like Shibaura.

The Japanese people are very kind, and considerate. But they are also somewhat introverted. They don’t like to interfere in other people’s business. When we walk down the street, most of the Japanese that I meet do not make eye contact. When we ride on the trains, most people are looking at their cell phones, or have headphones in listening to music, or are sleeping (or maybe pretending to sleep.) Actually, if you hear loud conversation on the trains… it is likely to be from tourists… lol. They don’t want to interfere in each other’s business… including mine. I don’t mind, I am kind of that same personality myself. Like I said, I enjoy my “alone time” too.

And it is all well and good when I am alone during the day, and can look forward to spending time with my husband in the evenings. Except… when he is away. So this week I will have a few too many days to be all by myself.

I am not asking for pity, or even complaining. I am just bringing this topic into the blog for consideration. Yes. It can be lonely living in a foreign country. It can feel isolating. And I really do believe that you have to have the right personality to do this. You do have to be able to deal with some amount of isolation. You have to accept the challenging parts right along with the fun and interesting parts. And for us, this expat experience has been well worth dealing with those difficult parts.

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My husband and I were both born and raised in Kansas, but for the past 20+ years we have been living in Atlanta, Georgia. Now, with our children grown and out of the house, we have the opportunity to spend two years living in Tokyo. My husband will be working with the Japanese counterpart to his American company. UPDATE 2023... After 4-1/2 years in Tokyo, we returned to Atlanta. Now we are heading to London for a three year job assignment!

2 thoughts on “On being alone in Tokyo…”

  1. I would have never though this to be an issue. Until I find myself as an expat, with a similar situation. I have decided to take up knitting!


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