Goodbye, Japan!

After four years, the time has finally come to say goodbye to my life in Japan. In just a few days, I’ll be getting on a plane bound for Stars Hollow. That’s right, ladies and gentleman, the fourth Gilmore girl is on her way! Oh, but if only. I will be moving to Connecticut though. That feels weird to say. For a long time, I’ve called Takanabe home and it feels surreal to be leaving it.

As someone who’s had to do a lot of grieving, I’ve come to know that goodbye isn’t just a single word or event; it’s a process through which, little by little, you learn to let go.

The range of emotions that comes with packing up a life is certainly vast; I’ve felt everything from an irrational fear of missing out on experiences in Miyazaki I’ll never have, to an intense worry about my future, to a profound gratefulness for all the times I’ve had living in this wonderfully weird place. I am deeply sad to be leaving, but also very relieved to break out of this bubble.

Bubbles can be beautiful; the light reflects kaleidoscopically off of their jelly-like walls, which keep you safe, make you feel protected. For a while, it feels okay to keep bouncing around off them. It’s comfortable; life outside is visible but never really penetrates.

After time, though, you get tired of looking in and you realize that you’re stuck. The air feels tight and you start to obsess about what it would feel like to take a breath from the other side. Well, the film isn’t impenetrable – just a touch of the finger and it disintegrates.

And then the bubble pops.

I always feel pressured to talk about the JET experience in the most positive of lights because, to quote Miranda Priestly, “a million girls would kill for this job.” It’s supposed to be this incredible, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it is that. But it’s also not. Once the novelty and excitement wears off, it’s just real life with a new language and a different address.

Life abroad can be hard. Even harder when you feel like you can’t talk about what you’re going through because, well, you’re supposed to be having the time of your life and, as people will remind you, you chose to be here.

People always ask me why I came to Japan and the truth is I don’t really know – at least, I never had a solid reason. I just knew I wanted to travel and put my newly acquired TEFL license to good use. I had my sights set on South Korea, originally. I didn’t even know JET existed until a friend whose brother had done it let it slip: it’s a better cultural experience with a heftier paycheck. Okay, why not, I thought. I had nothing to lose.

And lose I did not. Although I left a job, people and country that I loved, missed birthdays, weddings and funerals, and had some pretty low lows while here, I’ve never once regretted my decision. Arriving in Tokyo with one too many suitcases and not an ounce of expectation turned out to be the biggest adventure of my life.

Japan will always be the place where I skied my first slope, climbed my first mountain, and ran my first marathon. It will always be the place where I rode a bicycle home alone at midnight and got naked in front of a room full of strangers for the first time. It will always be the place where I discovered my passion for travelling and blogging, where I forged some of my first business deals, and where I finally came to understand that little girl who would spend hours in her room making worksheets for her bears.

Although I came here to teach, I feel like I have been learning every day. People everywhere are different, I’ve discovered, yet also very much the same, and life is really just a series of moments; living means being present for each and every one.  I’ve learned that a walk in nature can cure almost anything, that kindness is nourishment for the soul, and that no matter how lonely things get, you can be your own best friend.

My parents sometimes indulge an alternate reality in which they never left New York. I’m so, so glad that they did; I’ve also learned that despite the shit that comes with being a South African, the world has no better food, no better scenery, and no better people.

I feel enormously privileged to come from a place where things are measured in “just now” time, where we braai instead of BBQ, where the words “it can’t be done” are missing from our multi-language vocabulary, and where people know that, yes, you can smell the coming rain.

I’m sure I will soon miss Miyazaki in the same way. I feel so lucky to now have two homes that I can carry in my heart.

It’s impossible to reflect on the past four years without thinking about all the people who were there with me for this journey. I’ve made some pretty amazing and unexpected friends along the way who have become like family. To them, and to everyone else who has shown me patience and tenderness, I am eternally grateful. You are all what I will miss the most.

To dear o’l Miyazaki – I’m so sorry I picked Hokkaido. I will tell all the world about your dirty bars, fast cars and palm trees.

And to my little town, Takanabe, thank you for being my constant. Your dreamy sunflower fields, mysterious little forests, melancholic lanterns, serene volcanic sand beaches, and freaky ass statues compliment every facet of my being. I’m almost certain my loved ones on the other side had a hand in bringing me here.

I’m not exactly sure what the future holds, but I do know this: on Friday, at ten minutes to midnight, I’ll be arriving at JFK with one too many bags…

Here’s hoping for another crazy adventure!

Watch this space.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

July 24, 2017 at 4:25 PM

As one adventure ends, another one begins! Looking forward to reading to reading about your new travels in the States.
Shaun and I are getting ready to move to China next month to teach English (not enough couple jobs in SK at the moment). We’re both nervous as hell because we prepared so thoroughly for Korea, and China is such an unexpected change of plans. But that’s what makes life so exciting, right? All the unexpected curve balls and unknown prospects. We’re keeping an open mind and going along for the ride to see what adventures await us in the Middle Kingdom! 🙂

July 24, 2017 at 5:50 PM
– In reply to: Phoebe

Thanks Phoebe! And wow – that is exciting news! Embrace the nervousness and everything else that is to come. I know you’re going to have an amazing time 🙂 Please keep in touch and let me know how things are going. Good luck to you both!

July 24, 2017 at 8:11 PM
– In reply to: Simone

Thank you, I definitely will! Good luck for the big move!

Cilla Geldenhuysreply
July 24, 2017 at 6:37 PM

What a lovely mini-memoir and thank you for not forgetting your roots. How you have grown! I am so looking forward to following you around further afield. Our news is that we are in the throes of packing and moving to Australia. Take care …. may you roll up up many rainbows of memories to slide into that extra suitcase, the one that matters more than the one that has your “stuff”.

July 24, 2017 at 7:42 PM
– In reply to: Cilla Geldenhuys

Thank you, Cilla! Your words of encouragement always mean so much. Safe travels for your move abroad! I look forward to following your adventures too 🙂

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