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.
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.