It’s one of those expat topics that feels almost taboo to discuss, or breathe life into, until the necessity truly arises. Sometimes the decision itself takes years of consideration, planning and bravery to actualize into a functional reality. The melancholic pangs of leaving behind our vivid lives in Japan is something that many of us will have to eventually face as residents here. Having once packed up my own life of fifteen years in Osaka in the space of ten days with my level-headed brother and a crying baby, I can tell you that although daunting and emotional, there is also quite a systematic structure of routine to it. Just don’t ever attempt to do it alone, and give yourself plenty of time. Saying goodbye to the Japan that fed our souls, nourished our bicultural identities, and tested us on many levels, is a unique experience for everybody.
Make money matters a priority
Finalizing all the daily utilities, and canceling your phone and any important memberships should be high on the checklist as they may take more time than you think to organise. Remember to also pay or prepare for all outstanding bills like city taxes. Bank accounts may need to be closed at a later date depending on how you have organized direct debit payments, or how and when your final salary will be deposited. If you plan to return to Japan periodically, or perhaps want a back-up plan, make sure your visa and Resident Card are up to date. The new immigration laws have abolished re-entry visas, so you need to return to Japan within one year of leaving to keep your visa alive. To receive your lump sum pension payment, or combine it to your own pension plan in your home country when you leave (depending on a reciprocal agreement with Japan), you have to surrender your Resident Card at the airport. This process needs to be begun while still in Japan, and finalized once you leave. Your local city or ward office can direct you to the most local centre for this important step.
Anyone want a bookshelf?
One of the first inevitable jobs that must be faced head on, is what to do with all your stuff. There are a number of good places where you can advertise to sell your things: the classifieds section in KS, the ‘Sayonara Sales’ section at Tell and Sell Japan, and Japan’s Facebook Garage Sale site. Set up your own original page on Facebook, then make it into a scheduled event. The rite of passage ‘everything must go’ party is the social option for making this downsizing task a super memorable time. You can also ask Japanese friends for other local recycling solutions. Getting the really valuable possessions from Japan to your new home is another big step that benefits from an abundance of time, preparation, and a crew of helpers. Asking friends for recommendations is usually the most resourceful option once you decide on air or sea delivery. Pakmail (branches in Esaka and Amagasaki) specialise in getting your stuff safely from A to B and will happily provide a free estimate. If you are traveling solo, and can time your departure to take advantage of discounted air tickets, you could even recruit somebody to return with you for both the physical help, and general luggage allowance. Two passengers on economy Jetstar Airways tickets can take up to 100kg between them at a very reasonable cost. Moral support at this time is incredibly priceless.
Leaving with a purpose
People leave Japan for different reasons, and this one factor may play a role in how we successfully reestablish our new identities once our old label of expat or gaijin has expired. A clear purpose is decidedly a strong foundation for easing ourselves gently into a whole new mode of life. The following stories highlight some experiences from expats who have already taken the plunge.
Savvy international traveler Peggy, now based in London, advises people to start spouse visa processes early, obtain landlord/work/personal references, and bring current copies of bank statements to combat the lack of credit history after extended years in Japan. “Be prepared for the distinct ‘I’ versus ‘we’ culture,” she warned, when transitioning back into Western culture. Reverse culture shock is nothing to be ashamed of.
Australian digital designer Peter has left Japan more than once. “Life in Japan is something you can never quite grasp. Leaving is relinquishing a funny dream, but then it haunts you. I’ll always yearn for it in some way.”
Family man Mike is moving back to Quebec for French immersion schooling opportunities. The cultural splendor he adores about Japan will influence their choice of neighborhood near Chinatown so some Asian essence remains in their lives. If you haven’t clearly decided where to live, or just hoping to save money, house sitting might be a modern option to gently acclimatize you. You can adopt somebody’s lifestyle for a while, including friendly, chatty neighbors.
Long-term Osaka resident Jacki returned to Australia in April to finish her Early Childhood studies. She had successfully organized work and accommodation before she left, found a local Japan Australia society, and contacted a local craft group for new friendships. Having recently gained her PR visa, her connection to Japan will be maintained through annual visits.
There are bound to be comparisons made, frustrations felt, and distinct edges of sabishii. Trust the decision you have made, be patient with the readjustment, and get creative if you feel lost. Start your own blog, become an avid Instagram-er, or start your own Meetup group for excitement. Reinvent, Reignite and Refresh who you’ve been. Two wise friends said it best: Japan changes us in ways we cannot know until we leave. Give it time.
The Stress-Free Guide to Leaving Japan E-book 2nd Edition 2012-2013 ¥500 Written by a former language teacher in Japan.
The Japan Pension Service English Homepage.
If you need a burst of Japan in your day, head here for some real life stories.
Various threads of conversation relating to daily life issues in Japan.
Pakmail international shipping and moving service. meetup.com An international site to find or create groups, with people who share the same interests as you and live nearby.
If you can’t decide where to live, consider house sitting as a creative and gentle option.
Closed Online Groups
Japan’s Facebook Garage Sale All Things Kids!
A wide range of new and secondhand things for children.
Japan Facebook Garage Sale: Everything Else
New and secondhand things are advertised daily.
The K-A International Mothers In Japan
A good resource and sounding block for lifestyle topics related to living in Japan. Tell and Sell Japan Yahoo Groups A group where you can advertise the things you no longer need.