It's a question I'm often asked. “Why did you choose to move to Japan?” It's tricky because it's such a big question, but also because...well, I moved here over seven years ago. Whatever drove me to pack up my bags and move from the UK to Japan is now history. I have different reasons to call Japan home these days.
That being said, it’s always worth revisiting your original purpose now and then. Living abroad is an incredible and eye-opening experience, but the sensation of being uprooted from your native country can weigh heavily on you, even now after not calling the UK ‘home’ for a quarter of my lifespan. So it’s good to reconnect now and then. Plus it helps you to get to know me!
Let’s go back to June 2007. I’d just graduated University. I’d not been a fan of my time at Uni, contrary to most people’s experiences. To be fair, it was mostly my fault. I wasn’t in a good place in my mind. I tried to make the most of it, and it was by no means 3 years of misery - I had some great moments and memories - but by the time I had that diploma in my hand I was already mentally checked out.
Did you know?
The Japanese word for 'Japan' is 'Nihon' (日本), which literally means 'Root of the sun'. The name was bequeathed by the Chinese, because from their point of view Japan lies to the east, where the sun rises. This is also why Japan is known affectionately as The Land of the Rising Sun.
I treated myself to a holiday in Japan. Why Japan? Lots of small reasons, I suppose. While doing my laundry in the communal laundromat I’d read and study kanji from a book I’d picked up for cheap and on a whim. Whenever I was working on one of my fiction novels, my research and flights of fancy would take me to Japan, a place familiar yet very different from the world I knew. A friend had introduced me to Ghibli over a lazy summer, and I’d binge watch the whole collection during Wimbledon matches. The more I dipped into Japan, the more I liked it. It was a security blanket during a few crappy years.
So after graduation, I had enough money from my part-time job in the bowling alley to send me on a trip to Japan that summer. Two weeks. A classic route from Tokyo to Kyoto, taking in Hakone and Mount Fuji on the way. I ADORED it. It didn’t hurt that it was 250 yen to the pound, either! And as I explored Japan during that humid July in 2007, I got this strange...feeling. One I never felt during my three years of living in student digs in London. Perhaps you get that feeling too. Where you know you’ll be back, and it may be for something more substantial than a holiday.
And that surprised me. Because - and this will sound a little like I’m fishing for pity - I’ve never really fit in anywhere. In my old Primary School, I was the weird kid. The one who’d rather sit and watch football than join in. In Secondary School, I made some amazing, lifelong friends, but I struck gold to go to that school. Other students came from well-to-do families. Most were cool with my council-estate background. Some weren’t. As a teenager, the minority sounded that much louder. And Uni...well, we’ve talked about that.
So imagine my surprise when, on a holiday to the other side of a planet, in a country very different from the UK, this misfit in his early-twenties felt something. Not that he belonged, per se. But that he felt he wanted to belong.
Sounds a bit dramatic, I know. It felt dramatic at the time. I was an emotionally delicate flower back then. But I had between 2007 and 2010 to shape up and turn vague dreams into reality. I scrimped and saved every penny I could. I learned a bit more of the Japanese lingo. I went on multiday hiking trips, partly to test myself on handling a challenge and partly because I wanted to see as much of the UK as possible before I left. And finally, in March 2010, I left the UK, and I have called Japan home ever since.
So: “Why Japan?” To this day I cannot give a definitive answer. But in that time I have made a vast number of friends from around the world, explored Japan and a dozen other countries...and got married. So even if my reasoning is a bit vague, I have no doubt that the choice was the right one.
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you'd like to write about next!
© 2017 PJ Leonard