Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two Years of Tokyo

Well, we've now officially been in Tokyo two years now.
The end of this month will represent two years since I started work here. Originally, I was only scheduled to work here for two years with an option to renew for an additional year.

To be honest, these two years have probably been the two most difficult years of my adult life. I'm just glad my wife is here with me; she should probably be sainted for going along with this crazy idea.

Japan is a perfectly fine place to visit. The idiosyncrasies are cute, even fun, when you only have to deal with them for week or two. What visitor to Tokyo can't remember the first time they were packed into a train car? It's pretty memorable and gives you a funny story to tell when you get back home. Now trying doing it everyday for two years -- not so much fun anymore.

When we came, we had intended to travel and see more of the countryside on the weekends. But I've found I just don't have the energy. The daily grind just wears me down. So, with my contract coming to a close, we were looking forward to using the last few months before my wife's contract ended to finally make up for some lost time and see Japan.

Back in July I gave my 3-months notice that I didn't intend to renew my contract come this November. But my employer would have nothing to hear of that. Apparently, they need me to stay on through March. I find it flattering that they value my labor enough to want to keep me on for 4 more months, but it shattered our plans of finally getting out of this soul-sucking city and seeing more of Japan.

Probably the average American would have told them to shove it. We're familiar with a system based on at-will employment and autonomy. It would be unthinkable for an employer to tell you cannot quit. They may ask you to stay, even make offers to entice you to stay. But, at the end of the day, you are free to leave.

However, I am a guest in this country. Like a H1B Visa-holder in the U.S., I would have had to leave the country if I lost my employer sponsorship. Luckily, my wife is still employed, so I could have just changed my status to her dependent and stayed. The problem is that landlords in Japan require a guarantor before they will rent you an apartment -- and my employer has been kindly acting as our guarantor.

Which leads to two complications: a) if I left my job I would lose my guarantor; even if we stayed in the country, we would have to move into the housing provided by my wife's employer and b) I feel an obligation to my employer for having been my guarantor for these 2 (now 2.5) years. Add in the fact that I take pride in my work so, if my employer says they need me to stay for 4 more months, I am inclined to see it through. Result: I'll be working for 4 months longer than originally planned.

So we'll be here a bit longer.

I doubt we'll be seeing too much more of Japan, outside of Tokyo, then. Which is really a shame because, based on our limited experience, life in the country is completely different than life in Tokyo. Even Kyoto felt laid back. But Tokyo, Tokyo will never have a warm place in my heart.

There is an old Soul Coughing song that I never really liked called "The Incumbent". But with a little modification, the refrain has really started to speak to me:

Tokyo, Tokyo, I won't go back
Indelible reminder of a steel I lack
I gave you two years, what did you give me back?
A jaw-grind disposition to a panic attack

Anyway, it has been an experience. I'm glad I had the opportunity to live and work in a foreign country; perhaps aiming for the biggest city in the world was a little too high for me. The pressure of big-city life and the hassles of living in an unfamiliar land have just added up to a less-than-wonderful experience. Work has been fine, but I'm looking forward to getting home.

Just four more months.


turingpup said...

Hey Kelly.

It's been awhile. I keep up with your blog, but I honestly haven't been able to find words to put to textfield that haven't already been said.

I decided to take a year off from work, and I applied / accepted into the Kansai College of Business and Languages. I'll spend the year studying Japanese and living around the Tennoji area come this April, around the time you'll probably be heading back to PA.

Anyways, I knew from your experience, and my experience, a long, long time ago that Tokyo was not the place for me. For the "heart of Japan", it is clearly 10 sizes too small. Everything I remember about the Kansai area was the people and places being very casual, laid back, less crowded, and beautiful. I wish you had had some more time to spend in Kyoto and those areas.

Anyways, California will welcome you home with open arms. You'll be able to continue your life with all this mess behind you.

jjinux said...

Thanks for the retrospective. It'll be fun to hang out again when you get back.

Kelly Yancey said...

Hey Zach, thanks for the comment and congrats on getting into school in Osaka. I really wish we had had more time to travel around Japan while we were here, from everything I've heard the Kansai area sounds a lot more laid back than Tokyo. Anyway, I hope you have a good time!