By nature, both my husband and I are creatures of habit. If we're comfortable, then we stay where we are. It takes a pretty strong push to move us off in a different direction and this more than anything has kept us in Japan for 20 years.
Life in Japan has largely been "as usual" during most of our time here. Generally speaking, the level of comfort and familiarity has increased as the years have gone on. We can watch foreign television via cable or DVD rental. We can talk and even see family in real time through the internet and foreign food is easier and cheaper than it was when we first arrived. Setting up a comfy refuge from the sometimes oppressive Japanese environment has never been easier and the number of pop culture touchstones between the Japanese and Westerners have never been greater. I can talk for quite some time with students about shows like "Lost", "House", "Ugly Betty", and "Desperate Housewives."
However, the times, they have been changing. The Japanese government is starting to put policies into place so they can remotely track foreigners with computer chips that contain biometric data. This will make identity theft easy and makes it look like we are criminals who need to be watched. If you step outside your home without your card, you will be fined about $2,000 if a cop scans you and finds your card missing. He can do this from the comfort of his koban (police box). It adds a whole new level of possibility to the usual police harassment of foreigners in Japan.
In addition, the Japanese government is looking to forcibly add foreigners to the Japanese pension scheme. This would be ideal if it weren't for the fact that you have to live here for 25 years to collect your money back. The scheme is clearly an attempt to fill Japanese pension coffers with money from people who won't get it back. And, while this doesn't apply to me, Japan is currently attempting to bribe foreign residents to leave who were issued permanent residence based on having Japanese ancestry.
You can add to this the increasing numbers of violent crimes in Japan as the economic situation continues to worsen. News of finding dismembered bodies and people going on stabbing sprees is no longer shocking in Japan. I'm not saying other countries don't experience violent crime, but it's no longer a place where a lack of economic disparity keeps crime at bay. It's a place where the gap between the haves and the have nots continues to grow and crime is increasing as a result. If you consider that Japan has twice its GDP in debt and a problem with the birthrate falling and an aging population which they are unwilling to solve through immigration, you can see which way this train is rolling.
The writing is on the wall. Japan is becoming a more foreigner hostile place with social and economic problems. That doesn't mean it'll be terrible or that people can't still enjoy their lives here, but it's a sign of the times. For these reasons and more personal ones (which I will get to shortly), my husband and I are setting in motion a long-term, but concrete plan to leave Japan. When I say "concrete", I mean there is a departure date in mind. That date will be some time in April 2012. It will be shortly before my husband's current and final work visa expires.
The proposed foreigner-hostile changes in Japan have been the catalyst for finally pushing my husband and I to do what we would have done long ago if we weren't so comfortable where we are. We're also 44 and 46 years of age respectively and there are age-related issues at hand. The bottom line is that we have to go soon or never go at all. If we leave in 2012, we will have saved a bit more money and we will still have time to go to school for higher degrees in America and start new careers in a different field. If we linger much longer, that narrow window will have closed and we'll essentially be too old to start anew back home.
In addition to the other issues that are at hand, we have to consider that neither of us had worked long enough in America to qualify for retirement benefits in the U.S. If we go back soon, we will have put (and paid) in enough years to do so. If we remain, then we're resigning ourselves to the idea that we will have to retire only on savings from our earnings in Japan up until the point when we won't be able to work anymore due to age or infirmity. While we're good savers, I'm not sure I'd like to stake my entire future on that money.
The reason we're choosing 2012 is mainly because that is when the visa will expire and it's a good kick in the pants to know that it'll be a hassle to stay beyond that date. Beyond that though is that it's not easy to just pack up 20 years of your life and walk out the door so quickly or easily. While I have assiduously attempted not to hang on to too much junk, there's still a lot that needs to be dealt with. If we wanted to leave as soon as possible, it'd be hard going to get out successfully in six months given our possessions and connections to people who have the right to have some time to make up for our future absence. Also, honestly, this decision was made fast, but the full acceptance and arrangements for what is to come on the other end will take some time. I don't take well to change and I need some time to prepare myself mentally for walking away.
At the moment, the plan is for my husband to go to graduate school at his Alma Mater in California. I'm hoping to attend simultaneously with him, but I don't know if I qualify as a state resident so that plan will have to wait. I may just have to find some stop-gap work to defray the costs. For now, I've investigating the possibility on-line and looked into the finances in a rough way. It all looks good on paper, but my husband will look into it in person later this year when he goes home in the fall for a visit. Another part of having to make arrangements for our future plans will be taking the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) before going.
One way or another, I can't imagine us staying after 2012. The prospect of leaving is terrifying, but also exciting. It'll be the fourth stage of life for my husband and I. The first was our long distance relationship which spanned a little over a year. The second was our brief time living together in California and the third has been our life together in Japan.
Leaving a comfortable and stable life is very difficult, but moving on to a greater challenge is enticing. Unless something serious happens in the next three years (like a serious illness which requires a change in plan), we'll be blowing this Popsicle stand in a little under 3 years.