Today marks exactly one year since my husband and I returned to Georgia, USA from our remarkable 4 1/2 years living in Tokyo, Japan. I have been trying to gather my thoughts and feelings about our return, and it has been very difficult for me. It is hard to verbalize my feelings, and put them into any coherent order… but here goes.
Almost six years ago, we were presented with the opportunity to move abroad… to Tokyo… for a two year work assignment. Not me, actually, but my husband. I, of course, would get to go along. We were very excited. It seemed the opportunity of a lifetime… the chance to travel to, and live in another country, another culture. I happily gave up my jobs, packed our things and arranged to have our home and pets looked after while we were gone. So in January of 2016, we boarded the plane and headed off for our adventure.
And what an adventure it was! We settled into our tiny Tokyo high-rise apartment… walking distance from my husband’s office… and never looked back. We traveled… my husband had many opportunities to travel with his job… and we saw not only Tokyo and Japan, but we also saw the world. India, China, UAE, Europe, Africa… we got to see so many new places.
Two years turned to three, and then to four. We loved it all. We were scheduled to return in May of 2020… unable to extend our time any longer. We were sad to leave, but we had plans to do some final trips to our favorite places in Japan before we had to leave. And then the pandemic hit. With travel restrictions in place, we spent the last four months of our time in Japan… mostly in our small apartment. We could go out, but traveling was not advisable.
So finally, in July of 2020, a year ago today, we boarded that plane again, and returned to our life in the USA.
It has been an unbelievably difficult transition back. And I feel like I haven’t fully made that transition. And I think there have been several reasons it has been so difficult.
“Home” is not the same anymore. For 4 1/2 years we made “home” where we were together. Our house in Georgia, USA was not our “home,” it was just a house. The USA changed while we were away. We watched from afar as the political turmoil grew and made America look mean and ugly. It has been hard to return to that. After a year back, things may be some better, but I can’t look at America the same way ever again.
And then there is the pandemic. COVID-19 has changed the whole world. With travel restrictions still in place all over the world, we have not been able to go anywhere. My husband is mostly working from his home office… with “virtual” meetings with his colleagues all over the world. With time zone differences, he sometimes has meetings in the middle of the night. His work schedule is usually something like 5AM to 2PM… with occasional midnight meetings, and evening meetings three days a week. No more business trips… everything has been conducted virtually.
For me… having him at home has been nice, but I do miss the travel we used to do. I have not attempted to go back to work. I worked in health care prior to our move to Japan. I haven’t really had the desire to go back to that. We haven’t even started traveling domestically, though I know there are no restrictions there. We haven’t had our whole family together in a very long time. We keep in touch with our out-of-state children by video chat. We haven’t visited with our grandson in a year and a half.
We have hopes that eventually the pandemic will end, and we can get back to traveling again. We were supposed to have several extended trips back to Japan. I hope at some point we will be able to do that. So… that is where things stand right now.
We had an amazing experience living in Japan. But what we have learned is that every experience changes you. We went to Japan expecting to have an interesting two years, and then we could just step right back into our previous lives. But that time in Japan changed us. It changed everything… and we now know that we can’t go back to the life we had before and feel the same contentment in it.
We keep moving, growing, learning… and we will just have to see what new adventures come our way.
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Time passes quickly, and life goes on. A year ago, we left the home we loved in Tokyo and returned to the United States.
Our previous blogs speak of the difficulties we’ve had. The sense of loss for what we loved about Japan…the political upheaval and strife in the US…the COVID-19 pandemic that made any kind of normal life impossible. We hoped that, as time moved on, we would again feel like the US is home.
We have, to a degree, settled back into our life in the US. We enjoy our house, working in the yard, tending to a garden. There is some relief to the pandemic – we’re now fully vaccinated and things are a bit more relaxed, although we are still very conservative with social interactions, as the COVID variants pose an ongoing threat. Politically, the US now has restored some sense of sanity and stability in our government after a difficult and acrimonious election. We’ve relearned our favorite hiking areas, daily walking routes, and some of our old routines.
But what we didn’t fully realize is the extent to which our time in Japan changed us, in ways that are both deep and hard to explain. Many of the fundamental beliefs and paradigms we used to accept without question no longer make sense. A year after returning, we still feel oddly out of place and wondering what we want to do for the next step in our lives. Although we still haven’t worked out the answer to that question, we have decided that it probably won’t be staying where we are now.
In concluding this blog, let me say that the expat experience for me was one of the most rewarding, amazing experiences of my life. My wife and I have grown, together and individually, in so many ways.
For anyone considering a move to a foreign country, I would offer this advice: Think carefully about what you want, and what you expect. If you want to live in a foreign country the same way you live in the US, the expat life isn’t for you. If you’re ready to open your mind and really immerse yourself in a new culture, you may find an experience that is well beyond your expectations.
So now, faithful readers, it’s time for me to say goodbye to Four Years in Japan and move on to the next great adventure. I wish you safe travels, wherever they may take you.