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The Other Side of Regret: Thoughts on Leaving Japan

Written by: Avah Atherton, Assistant Language Teacher for the Shizuoka Prefectural Board of Education

It’s the final countdown; in a few weeks, I’ll be on my way out of the country that I have grudgingly called home for the past three years. Grudgingly because I still feel unwanted in a country that desperately needs, not just English language instruction, but also immigrants to combat its social problems. Yet, as much as Japan and I have a love-hate relationship, I have been afraid to leave as much as I have been afraid to stay.

During my time here, I’ve grown emotionally, if not socially. I learnt to be alone with myself, comfortable in my own presence, soothed by my own thoughts and opinions. I’ve adapted to a foreign culture, kanpai’ed with the best of them, used chopsticks in my cooking and said oishii with no sarcasm. I’ve studied the people of this country, examined their stories and wrote mental theses on their behavioral patterns and future prospects.

With my students, I’ve played their cat and mouse game of being friendly then cold, listened to their hurts and joys, posed for numerous animal filter pics, let them touch my hair, my brown skin, my heart and waited for permission to do the same. It didn’t come in the ways that I expected; a sudden hug from a 2nd grader, being asked to join a group of girls at lunch, fist bumps from the boys as they ride past or hearing the chorus they made my name into as I enter class. It was permission granted, to belong to them as they belonged to me.

Yet, I was determined to leave this all behind. The sharp contrast of technological advances and use, the beauty of a treasured culture and country, the simplicity of life and the deep emotions that lie beneath it all. In the short time that we’re on this planet, our lives should be glorious moments of joy and pain and fear and courage. Trials and triumphs. Not Mondays that last for six days and an enduring nature that borders on masochism. No judgement, some people are into that sort of thing. But I rather burn brightly and briefly than flicker and smolder in the dark.

I haven’t packed my bags yet but now, my mind is already at the airport, waiting for a flight back to a country that is listed as one of the most dangerous in the world, to a vague, undefined future. I’ve learnt a lot even though I came here to teach and the lesson that stands out most is how to endure. The other side of regret is acceptance. That life is hard, no matter where you stand. But standing is the only defense against the dark parts. Stand tall, face life full on and tell it come.

Pictured here at Ise Jingu. “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” – Nelson Mandela