Land of Happiness?

On my flight to SFO from Japan on United, I started chatting with my neighbor. I wasn’t sure if she was Japanese at first, as she persisted to engage with me in English when I thanked her for passing my food tray over, or excused myself to go to the bathroom. She may have realized I was a native speaker when I ordered “OJ” instead of “orange juice”.

She told me she works as a nurse in Tokyo, and was visiting friends in the Bay Area. She had studied in America on a year-long English program, and was looking into getting a nursing job in order to stay. It didn’t work out, and she envied her friends who married Americans and were able to do what she’d wanted.

I asked her why she didn’t get married and do the same. She smiled and proudly, but with a hint of defeat, told me she wanted to achieve the goal on her own. I really admired that.

I also asked her why she didn’t want to stay in Japan since there was a need for caretakers with the falling population, enough so that the government is looking into changing its immigration policy. She said that there was always work, even work that she wasn’t hired to do, causing overtime. I asked her if there was any way to change that, and she resolutely said, “No, I’ve given up.” She didn’t believe anything could be done, and that it’s just expected of everyone.

One of my students had described America as a happy place. As much as I tried to appreciate all I had, some part of me didn’t feel as happy inside. I still needed to live Japan. I wanted to find some authenticity in this imported Asian culture that always seemed to have a white person sharing their perspective of it and how they can adapt it to fit their own beliefs and lifestyle. I needed to live Japan for myself. Relationship woes aside, it was only after accepting my small achievements in video games as well as my completion of my TESL certificate that ultimately made my decision to accept the JET offer. Before I turned 30, I was telling people about this goal, but I wasn’t committed to a plan. I was told of the Saturn Return more than once.

From afar, America does seem like a happy place. But there’s always a price to pay.

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