As soon as I realized that if you stay in Japan for more than two years, the circle of foreigners you know will completely change, I started coming across articles on the same subject. Apparently, the two year mark is a widely known phenomenon for foreigners in Japan, which ironically, I haven’t discovered until I passed two and a half!
Maybe because I first came for only one year and then stayed for another two, it was out of question to consider changes at the time of my second anniversary in Japan. That does not mean that I do not start thinking the same as the third one approaches, or to be more precise, as April approaches.
I may have told you before, but April is a time of change: new financial year, new jobs, and massive rotations within companies. Already now, you can feel the anticipated change in the air, as people who will move already know that, so even without any official announcements you start noticing different mood, different level of interest and engagement, and certain questions start dragging slowly towards April, until they (hopefully) will become someone else’s problem. Sometimes I cannot understand how Japanese companies could achieve so much with such working system in place. If you are one of those who do not move anywhere in April, this period can be quite frustrating.
Back to foreigners and the two year mark. I was reading one article after another and was surprised that I haven’t heard about it before, that some companies even do not hire foreigners who have not passed the two year mark (this is aside of your Japanese level), or that the ones who stay longer are considered to be taking the “whole Japan thing” more seriously.
I am not sure I would entirely agree, but it also depends on your particular circumstances. One thing is to be a fan of the country and culture, speak the language and come because you have always dreamed about it, and quite another is to end up in Japan by accident. In case you were wondering, I belong to the latter ones; those who would have never thought to end up in Japan one day and would have laughed out loud at such idea if told a few years back. But as we all know, life is full of (small and big) surprises.
Then there is a difference in whether you come and try to settle in by yourself or just move within your Company as an expatriate. In case of the latter, two year mark comes without major contemplation, as two or so called two plus one is a typical expat contract duration. If you are one of them, you probably do not intend to stay in Japan in the long run anyway and do not even (need to) try to integrate. Work is probably more or less in English, you circle between work, home and your preferred groups of foreign and/or expat connections, so theoretically you live in Japan but in fact somewhere “next to it”.
The other day my bank gave me a hint that I am over the mark. Soon after I arrived, it was acquired by a Japanese bank and immediately stopped issuing credit cards to foreigners. Now, two years later, I was kindly informed that they are migrating to a new system and English version of their website will be discontinued. My guess is that they expected the last foreigners to be gone by now… Welcome to the 21st century! We are preparing for Tokyo 2020!
The funny thing is that when someone asks where is my home, I reply that I currently live in Japan, without using the word “home”, I just cannot say it. As a rule, the next question is where do I come from. This much I can answer, but “home” is not a right word either as it has been years since I left the country. Paris? That does feel closer, though while I am living somewhere else, I equally cannot call it home. Many expatriates I meet feel the same, at some point realizing that they belong a little bit to numerous places and nowhere really at the same time. Going back no longer seems easier than just continuing to move on.
Then, one colleague rephrases: “what place do you call home”? Here I always remember a friend back in Paris, who used to say “my home is where I am”, joking that quite often it is Air France lounge at CDG terminal 2F”. While I cannot say exactly the same, shuttle bus to/from Haneda gives a somewhat similar feeling.
Stay tuned for a travel update and ask me if I have an answer by my third anniversary in July!
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like”. (Lao Tzu)