Epilogue 2 … loss and uncertainty

We have now completed our two-week self-quarantine after returning to the US from Japan. Fortunately, we are healthy and COVID-19 free. But we still feel unsettled and uncomfortable with our “new” life.

This difficulty in transitioning back was never supposed to happen. The plan was to spend two years abroad, have some good experiences, and return to restart our old life. Simple, uncomplicated, no problem.

But life seems seldom to be simple. Along the way, we fell in love with our life in Japan. The two years became four and a half, and the love of that life deepened. Japan became our adopted home.

So now, although it must sound strange to most everyone else, we are grieving. It’s like a loved one has died. We’ve moved along the five stages of grief and passed denial, anger and bargaining, and now are firmly entrenched in depression.

As we work through our emotions, we are trying to reestablish normalcy. Working on the house, cleaning out old and unneeded clutter, finding our old grocery store, buying a new car. All these things help us to connect to the old life with a new perspective.

But it isn’t easy. It would have been hard in normal times. Today, we have COVID-19 and all its concerns and complications. It’s hard to see a solution or any hope for normalcy anytime soon, as the virus surges out of control and so many people – including our government “leaders” – are failing to do anything to stop it.

We also grieve about what has happened to our country while we were away. Hate, corruption, and a disdain for decency has festered in our national government. Now we have federally-sponsored goon squads attacking peaceful protesters in our cities. Like COVID-19, our political system has turned into a threat to the lives and liberty of our country, and it is hard to be hopeful for any improvement. This isn’t the America we hoped to return to.

So, if you see us hesitate when you ask, “aren’t you glad to be back,” we hope you will understand. Yes, we are glad in some ways. And yet, we haven’t yet come to grips with our loss. We will get better, as time goes on. We hope you will be patient with us.

Sunset in Tokyo

Epilogue 1…adjusting

We have been back in the United States for a week, and we are … adjusting.

Our trip back was rather uneventful. Haneda airport was deserted. Only a few people were in the terminal. We spent a couple of hours in the Tiat lounge, and for much of the time we were the only people in the room.

Our international flight was similar to most. Everyone was wearing masks, but we still had meals, drinks, and a not-too-different experience. Perhaps because of the stress of the previous week, both my wife and I slept more than normal on an airplane, and the 12 hour flight passed quickly.

Our connection was in Detroit. Again, fewer people than normal and we cleared immigration quickly and without any issues. The lounge was a bit more crowded, but with some effort we maintained social distance. Rather surprisingly, most people were wearing masks. And all passengers on the domestic connection were wearing masks, with many seats unoccupied.

The past week has been a time of adjustment. Complicating this is my job schedule. I am still doing work for my company in Japan, and there are a series of meetings during the day in Japan that I need to attend virtually. My thought was we would still be on Japan time biologically, and so it would be relatively natural just to work at night and sleep during the day. Although this seemed logical at the time, in reality it has been very difficult. My body is trying to adjust to the day/night cycle in the US, and sleeping during the day is proving difficult. It is also disorienting trying to think about the time zone difference in reverse. All in all, not a pleasant experience.

Otherwise, there are ups and downs. We are readjusting to our home, which our daughter and son-in-law lived in during the 4-1/2 years we were away. They did a good job caring for the house (and our kitties) while we were gone. Now, we are again making the house our home. It will take some time to be comfortable again.

Of course, we have the stress and concern about the COVID-19 situation in the US. We are following the CDC recommendation to self-isolate for 2 weeks. Our daughter provided much food, so we’ve only had the need to order a small number of groceries, which could be picked up in the store parking lot with no direct contact with anyone. With a record number of COVID-19 cases in our area, we probably won’t be going out much for some time. It is a crisis that further compounds our adjustment here.

So, we enter our second week back, still working an upside-down schedule, and adjusting to our “new” home. We are thankful for remaining healthy, and hopefully our 14-day self-quarantine will pass without cause for concern. There are still feelings of great sadness and loss for the life we left in Japan. That will probably lessen as time goes on…and we continue to adjust to our “new” life back in America.

Still missing the view from our home in Tokyo…

And so it ends…

I write this while sitting in the Tiat lounge at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, awaiting our flight back to the United States. Our time of being Tokyo residents has ended, and we begin a new chapter of our lives.

The past week has been incredibly stressful and difficult. Although we are coming home, we are also leaving home. We’ve come to love our adopted country of Japan during the past 4-1/2 years. It is heartbreaking to leave.

Coming through airport security this last time, we filled out a form saying we would not return as residents. Our residence cards were invalidated, and returned to us with a hole punched through them. Such a silly thing…we’ve taken care of those cards, and kept them with us for 4-1/2 years. It was emotionally painful to see them defaced.

So we will return to our beautiful house in the US. It will be great to be nearer our children. We look forward to seeing our cats, which our daughter has been caring for. I know we will feel better once we get back to our old home. And I am fortunate that I will continue working for my company’s Tokyo office. Virtually, for now, but I will have an opportunity to travel back to Japan once pandemic conditions allow.

But we are returning to a different country than we left. An administration of hatred, bigotry and exclusionism has damaged our country, and I fear what the future holds. And the abject failure to control COVID-19 is frightening. We are over 100 times more likely to contract the virus in the US than we were in Japan. Not the “welcome home” I would have hoped for.

I don’t want to end this blog on such a negative tone. Looking back, our time in Japan has been indescribably amazing. We have seen and done so much…much because of living in Japan, but also from the opportunity my job has provided for travel. We have seen the world…and it has been an unforgettable experience.

As we prepare to leave our adopted home, I do so with sadness, but also gratitude for the amazing opportunity we have been provided.

And to my adopted country, I say “domo arigato gozaimasu.” Thank you so much. We look forward to coming back.

Two Days, and Counting…

Our last night time view from our apartment.

Two more days until our “home”ward-bound flight back to the US… and re-establishing our life there.

It has been kind of a rough week for us… totemo taihen desu… to begin to reverse the process that brought us to Japan as “American Expats” four and a half years ago.

When we came here, we never expected it to be this hard to leave… Tokyo has become our home. And it is with much sadness, and heartbreak, that we have to leave it.

I know we keep going on and on about this… sorry… but we never expected to love a foreign country as much as we have come to love Japan. All week long… through all the “to do” things we have had to take care of… we kept thinking of all the things we are going to miss about Japan.

I have a friend who was an expat living in France when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Her husband was an exchange professor at a university there. When the pandemic hit France back in March, and they had to shut down classes and go to online teaching, they debated about whether it would be best to go home or stay. But suddenly… that decision was taken away from them, and they had one day’s notice that they were going to have to pack up and leave for home. What a nightmare!!!

But… yet… as traumatic as those days had to have been for them… they were over and done in a few days and they have since settled back into their US life.

For us… it has been kind of the opposite, with way too much time to stew and worry and overthink every little detail of the process. Too much time to think about all the things we will miss, and all the things we haven’t had time yet to do.

This week has been an ordeal. We moved out of our apartment to a hotel on Sunday. Monday morning, bright and early… the packers/shippers came to pack up our apartment. Four packers and three hours later, they drove away with 50 cartons containing our past four years in Tokyo. And it was sad to see our beloved little apartment so empty. We still had our rental furniture… but no more internet.

Tuesday, the rental company came in the morning and took away all the rest of the things in our apartment… our furniture, our cookware and dishware, and washing machine… microwave. The apartment was depressingly sad and empty. We lovingly cleaned it. Tuesday afternoon we had to go with our relocation company rep to de-register our apartment address. In Japan, everyone has a residence card with their address registered with the local ward office. I went there 4 1/2 years ago to have our address printed on the back of our residence cards.

The LDK (living-dining-kitchen) part of our apartment.

Then… we had some banking issues that we needed help with. We have had a bank account here since we moved to Japan. But the banking system in Japan can be notoriously difficult to navigate even if you can speak the language. For a non-fluent Japanese speaker… it can be almost impossible. We had our relocation rep to help us with that… as well as with the cancellation of my Japanese phone plan.

Today… Wednesday, was the check-out inspection of our apartment. It was brief and easy, but at the end we had to turn in our keys, and say our last goodbyes to our tiny 30th floor Tokyo high-rise apartment. It was a rather sad and subdued walk back to our hotel.

My husband is still doing some work and video meetings from our hotel, and will be tomorrow as well. But on Friday, in the early afternoon, we will leave for Haneda International Airport for a 12 hour flight back to the United States. After a 4 hour layover in Detroit, we will make the final part of our journey back “home” to Atlanta.

It will be a slow and sad transition back to our “American” life… but we have time… lots of time in quarantine from COVID-19. I know it will all get done, and it will all be fine in the end. But for now, we are already missing Tokyo.

Last Friday evening in Tokyo…

So, the days are now down to less than seven. My job assignment has come to an end, and it’s time to return to the United States.

Rainbow Bridge over Tokyo Bay

When we tell people that we’re getting ready to return to the US, invariably the response is, “I’ll bet you’re glad to be coming home.” And yes, we are…but we’re also profoundly sad to be leaving home.

In the last 4-1/2 years, Tokyo has become our home.

That probably sounds strange. After all, we still can’t speak the language worth a darn. We’re 6,000 miles away from our family and most of our friends. We live in a tiny apartment, instead of a spacious and nice house in the US.

And yet, we’ve come to love this place and we’ve been very happy here. The people are kind and wonderful, even to us “gaijin” (foreigners). The culture is respectful and orderly. The country is clean and safe. We’ve enjoyed being able to walk almost anywhere in Tokyo, any time of the day or night, and feel comfortable.

The words I’ve just written fall short of describing the feelings we have about Japan. And part of the sadness we feel comes from the uncertainty about when we might be able to return.

I will continue to work with my Japanese colleagues. The plan for my job was to travel back to Japan fairly frequently along with doing virtual work via videoconference from the US. All that has changed with COVID-19.

Japan has, to a large degree, controlled the spread of COVID-19. There has been a slight increase in cases recently, as restrictions have been lifted on almost all businesses and travel within the country. Still, the number of COVID-19 cases in Tokyo has been around 100 per day or fewer. Quite few, given that Tokyo is a densely populated metropolis of nearly 37.5 million people. Adjusting for population, the infection rate in the US is more than 50 times what it is in Japan. Not exactly an encouraging “welcome home.”

Because of the abject failure of the US to control COVID-19, Japan (and most other countries in the world) has closed the border to US citizens. So, for the foreseeable future, until and unless the US can get control of the pandemic, we won’t be allowed back into Japan. Once we leave here next Friday, we won’t be able to return, probably for a very long time.

This uncertainty of when or if we will be able to return compounds the already difficult transition back to the US. Before COVID-19, we knew we would be sad about leaving, but we could look forward to returning with some frequency. We no longer have that to comfort us.

It may be difficult for anyone else who hasn’t had this kind of experience to understand. Sometimes it’s hard for us to understand. We came here expecting to have an interesting 2 years, then return without so much as skipping a beat. Then 2 years became 3, and 4. We never expected to love our adopted country this much.

Looking out of our apartment window at the high rises, and the ship passing on Tokyo Bay, it’s hard to accept this will be our last Friday night as Tokyo residents. We do look forward to many things about returning to our home in the US. But we will so miss our home in Japan.