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WHEN EAST MEETS WEST: Longtime expatriates all play 'Survivor' |

Commentary by Hank F. Miller Jr.


Yet I too am a survivor.True, My challenges list looks like this:

Struggling doggedly with another language and culture,not just for a few weeks, but for every 6a00d8341bf7d953ef01156ff02a98970c-800wi single day of every single year, year-in and year-out...Raising three kids between two lands and a pair of families parted by a wide world of differences and understanding...Sweating through a boiling cost of living that over baked even the smallest of expenditures...Thus perhaps the hardest task of  all this is watching other folks in similar situations not being able to survive, but rather pack up everything and head back home.

I am reminded of these old friends every day, for like a true survivor I have their cast-off belongings. I sip coffee from the mug an ex-colleague who is now living on the west coast.


I watch videos on an ancient tape machine from a former neighbor from Australia. I gaze upon a bookcase filled with novels that I keep claiming I will some day finish reading , all forsaken by good buddies who exited long  before they intended. "What rubbish,"says my wife Keiko." You act like those people are dead. But all they are is long gone."So? 


And is that not like death?


At a business lunch last month one friend tells me of who had taken enough of the stagnant Japanese growth and economy and moved his family back to Seattle. "No, I gasped, he's left us? Already?”


But he was young! Who will be next? Not that I ever planned--or even plan--to stay in Japan forever. In truth it often seems that the years have passed so quickly by me, that they have accumulated un- expectedly from out of nowhere.


Yet I drew a fast and easy camaraderie with those who sit in the same expatriate boat, especially those people of the same generation or in the same line of work. It is as if we all shared a common misadventure, one of tripping clumsily through a colorful land of overly arranged flowers, ceremonies and relationships. It's almost as if we were family.When one leaves,it hurts.Of course keeping contacted with such dearly departed has never been so easy as the present.Yet e-friends are not nearly as close as those smooched with you into the same commuter train.


For they no longer take the Japan challenge.They no longer...survive. There is no pattern as to why these people left.There is no rationale for non-surviving  either. Some of these people hated every minute of being here. Others loved it so much they would speak Japanese even with fellow foreigners. Some couldn't go through a meal without rice, and seaweed and something fishy. Others knew the location of every set of Golden Arches within 10 km.Some were married to the land, as so many of us are. Whatever, they were part of the expatriate fabric,which is always diminished by another absence.


"Do you ever wonder,"I ask my business lunch friend,"when your day will come? I mean,most of us go back sooner or later.The alternative is much to permanent." "Sure," he says."The only problem is timing. Most people stay too long...or too short.But when is just right?Once I figure that out, that's when I'll go." Most of us Japan hands are waiting for something much sweeter,like a home, an on going business and a pension, all happily planted in a resort-type setting."


But I have all that and benefits that expats can't imagine getting, I have figured out that I have all of that and enjoy my life here living the good life with my wife Keiko. 


No doubt after all these years Keiko says you have traded away one view of reality for another. Isn't that why it's worrisome to watch others return to their homeland? It makes you anxious over both settings--the one you have chosen and  the one you have left behind.


"It's the same for me,"she goes on. It's the same for anyone who has embraced something different.


The tighter the embrace, the harder it is to tear yourself away and glance backwards. How can others do it?"What's left then?Except to aim ahead.When you’re an expat in Japan with a long term commitment,"Survivor"always has another episode."Something else I worry about,"confess to my wife,"is that so many longtime residence here turn out a bit weird.You know what I mean?"

She smiles."Yes, I think I do.But survivors can't be picky, can they? "Besides," she pats my hand. "for some survivors, it may already be too late."



I wrote,"Longtime expatriates all play survivor" while undergoing several surgeries this past year in the hospital here in Japan.


It certainly beats laying in a hospital bed bored to death. I decided to create, I enjoy writing stories.


Happy Easter to all of my family and friends back in my hometown of Gloucester City and surrounding areas.


Warm Regards from Kitakyushu ,City, Fukuoka ,Japan

Hank ,F. Miller Jr.  


Note: Hank  is a former resident of Gloucester City NJ who resides in KitakyushuCity,  Japan. category WHEN EAST MEETS WEST