Leaving Japan (Should You Stay, or Should you Go?)

This article originally featured in the December 2020 issue of Connect.

Şenol Hasan (Fukushima 2018-2020)

Just two short months ago, life was very different. I was living in Shirasawa, a small village in Fukushima Prefecture, where I would start each morning watching a beautiful sunrise over the pond outside of my apartment window.

Now however, I am back home in London, England and although my bank account may suggest otherwise, I certainly feel richer for all of the magical moments from my time living in Japan. I am almost certainly not the same person as before and even now, it is as if my mind is still living there while my body adjusts to a new reality here in London. Perhaps in time these feelings will fade away, perhaps not. What I can honestly say is that I am at total peace with my decision to come home and embrace all of the new challenges that now await.

My Reasons for Leaving Japan

In 2018, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the JET Programme to become an English teacher in Japan. Looking back, I can still say that nothing matches the feeling of being a “sensei.” The energy that you get from the students when you walk into a classroom can never be replaced. Despite loving my job as an English teacher, I left for one main reason—I felt like I was no longer growing in my role and in my opinion, growth is the single most important factor when it comes to our individual pursuits of happiness.

After two years of honing in on my craft, I felt ready for a new challenge outside of teaching. I considered other options such as moving to the city and working for a Japanese organisation, but in the end I decided that I wanted to leave Japan on a high to protect my memories. I had seen too many people leave with resentment and I was worried that in time, this would eventually happen to me too.

The Grass is Always Greener

Everybody’s personal circumstances are different, but there is one piece of advice which I feel is universal. If you can’t decide on whether you should
stay or leave Japan, then you should

stay. Don’t cut your time in Japan short unless your reasons are strong enough to do so.

If you do decide to leave, there will be times when you question your decision to return. However, the same is actually true if you stay—there may be times when you wish you did leave. This is perfectly normal: after all, the grass is always greener, isn’t it? Every time my mind ponders over these thoughts, I remind myself of the reasons why I chose to leave. The big reasons for the decisions we make generally don’t change, so we need to remind ourselves of these reasons whenever doubt creeps through.

If you are like me, you may be worried that returning home will feel like a step backwards. While it may seem this way at first, it is not. The reality is, going back may actually bring you a step closer to where you want to be.

On the other hand, you may wish to stay in Japan for the opportunity that it gives you to travel, regardless of whether you are satisfied with your work life or not. I do believe this is reason enough to stay as the fulfilment that you get from travelling can never be understated. The most important thing is to be honest with yourself and clear about your reasons, whether you decide to stay or leave.

As we’ve discussed, everybody’s situation is different and for that reason it is also important not to be too influenced by other people’s reasons for staying or leaving.

Many are worried about things not being the same after their friends leave. This is a very valid concern, however, people leaving is just a part of life. Think about it this way, if you never left your home to come to Japan, would you have met the friends that you have now? Though this may be hard to imagine, if your friends in Japan leave, it’s possible that you may end up making even stronger relationships with new friends. We never know what’s waiting for us around the corner.

There is a Turkish saying that goes “attan inip eşeğe binmek” which literally translates to “getting off a horse to ride a donkey.” Returning home may feel this way for you, too, especially if you are returning home to a country that is not handling the coronavirus pandemic as well as Japan.

Regardless of the ongoing pandemic, I can honestly say that returning home has brought me one step closer to where I want to be. If your heart tells you that leaving will do the same for you, then you know what to do. If it doesn’t, then you should lean towards staying. You have nothing to lose.

Leaving Japan was one of the hardest experiences of my life, but ultimately it was the right thing for me to do. Japan will always be a part of me, and I will always be thankful for my time there and for all of the people that made my time there special. A new challenge now awaits, but one thing is for sure: everything I now go on to do will be better because of my experience of living in Japan and for that, I will be forever grateful.

Şenol Hasan is a former English Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for Motomiya City in Fukushima Prefecture. In September 2020, he returned to his home in London, England where he is now teaching in a primary school. Şenol was born and raised in London, however, his family is originally from North Cyprus.