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In memoriam

Ok, I know it's been a little while since the last post. Some of you may have noticed a little activity on my Flickr account, but that's been it. Time to explain why I haven't felt like posting much recently.

I got some bad news regarding my grandmother near the end of last year. She'd been diagnosed with cancer a few months earlier, but was having chemo and seemed to be handling it ok. And then, suddenly, the prognosis took a turn for the worse. I say "suddenly"; I suspect it wasn't all that sudden, really, but that's how it seemed from this side of the world, with information filtered through long-distance phone calls and family members keen to put a brave face on things until the last possible moment.

So I booked an open-return ticket and we flew back to the UK for a family Christmas; I'm very lucky in that I can do my job from pretty much anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, so I arranged to work out of our London office for a few weeks. Many thanks to my boss (not that he'll be reading this, but still, it was appreciated) for that.

So I spent a couple of weeks staying with my parents, catching up with a couple of friends, getting used to commuting into London again every day. We made it to the Tate Modern, a pub quiz or two, had a nice, subdued family xmas and utterly uneventful New Year's Eve (sofa plus Jools Holland's Hootenspanner; fireworks over the Thames on the telly). And, of course, I made a trip up to see Gran.

The folks and I went up to see her on the xmas weekend. She was in a hospice by then, being very well looked after; the place was very modern, plush, the staff seemed friendly, and her room had a really nice view out over the garden and, beyond, the rolling hills of North Wales. She seemed fine, really; the only thing was that she couldn't talk for long before becoming noticeably tired. Otherwise you'd really never have known.

It was strange, but I realised that all these years, I'd never really thought of her as old - or even particularly mortal, for that matter. I'd never stopped and done the maths; she was just Gran, this constant, and it was only now that the number "87" started meaning something. We hung around and chatted for a while - just an hour, didn't want to tire her out - and popped in again the next morning before heading back south to London.

I regret now not going up to see her again the next weekend; not that there was anything else left to say, at that point, but after eight years on the wrong side of the planet you can't help but think that even just another hour would have been worth something. I guess that's part of the process, the second-guessing, the what-ifs. I was planning to go up the weekend after that; sadly, things didn't work out.

The funeral was a couple of weekends later. Despite the circumstances, it was actually quite... nice? Am I allowed to use the word "nice"? Well, anyway, that's what it was. I keep forgetting just how large that side of our family is, and it was good to catch up with people I hadn't seen for quite a while. It was also the first time in I don't know how long that we'd had all the grandchildren, i.e. my cousins, in one room together; maybe not quite the first time since we were all kids, riding our bikes around and around and around the garden in some two-wheeled homage to Wacky Races, but close.

I held it together, amazingly, until the airport, a week later. I've been back to the UK a few times since I started living in Japan, for the odd holiday here and there, but this was honestly the first time I've ever thought twice about boarding the flight back to Tokyo. Perhaps it was the funeral, perhaps it was just the length of the stay (exactly a month, the longest time I've spent in the UK for eight years), but I really didn't want to get on that plane.

I think that the sheer emotional distress of saying goodbye to my family at Heathrow this time might have been it, might have been the catalyst for a decision that I arrived at pretty much over the course of the 12 hours back to Narita, staring out of the window at the Airbus's Union Jack wingtip as Siberia scrolled by below. So here it is: I'm leaving Japan. This April.

I know that it must seem fairly sudden, but in reality it's been coming for quite a while. The main thing is that my girlfriend is planning to start a teacher training course in the UK this autumn, and is therefore moving back when her current contract finishes, in April, for interviews and work experience and so on. The question was always whether or not I'd move back at the same time, or stay behind in Tokyo a bit longer. Realistically, though, what was I going to do, hang around an extra six months to catch the cockroach season? I don't think so.

There are a number of other factors, of course. I've always known that I couldn't stay here forever; I always knew I didn't want to get married, have kids, settle down, get a mortgage, or retire here. Tokyo's a great place to be twenty-something, even thirty-something, but it's not where I want to be long-term. More and more of my friends have moved back to the UK in recent years, to the point where I think I probably know more people in London and the Home Counties than I do in Tokyo.

My job prospects are better in the UK, too. While my Japanese is ok, even pretty good, it's not quite at the level it needs to be in order to let me work here to the fullest of my abilities for anyone other than a western firm. And if it's still not fluent after eight years, you have to wonder if it's ever going to get there.

So I feel that if I want to make any progress towards my life goals - to grow up, if you like - I have to leave Japan.

I'm going to miss the place like crazy - already am, in fact. I've started thinking, "this will be the last time I eat at this restaurant" and "this will be the last time I go clubbing at Womb" and "this will be the last time a 4ft-tall obaasan elbows her way through me to get on a train" and the like; the last month or so has been like a series of mini funerals.

It's not all bad, of course - not at all. I do love London, albeit from rather a distance these days; hopefully it'll stand up to closer scrutiny, too. I don't have to change jobs, either; I'm keeping my current position, which is a godsend. I have friends and family to catch up with. I'm going to be able to walk into supermarkets and understand what everything is. I'm going to be able to rent foreign-language films without having to rely on Japanese subtitles. I'm going to be able to take walks (well, drives) in the country without seeing entire mountains sheathed in concrete. I'm going to be able to fence again. To buy decent sandwiches. The list goes on.

So, there we are. The end of one adventure, and the beginning of another. I'm not sure what I'll do about the blog; definitely continue it for now. (That was a big mark in the "reasons to stay in Japan" column, by the way: "But I just started the blog up again! I can't leave now!" Idiot.) but I already have another domain name picked out, so we'll see what happens. Watch, as they say, this space.

Posted by chris at February 27, 2006 01:09 AM | Permalink


Aw, mate. Haven't looked at your blog for ages and caught this. Really touching post. Something else to add to Things to Look Forward to in London: getting to know all the people you've been conversing with online, face to face, in the pub. We'll see you soon

Posted by: Tikki at February 27, 2006 03:29 AM

Aw, sniff.... wow, what Tikki said. Sounds like it's the right time for a change. Hope everything works out for you. Change is good, although terrifying and difficult. But good. Good luck.

Posted by: stella at February 27, 2006 06:56 PM

That was a really beautiful post. I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother, and wish you the best of luck back in the UK. Shame though, having just met you a couple Blogger meetups back, after having been a big fan of the previous incarnation of Tokyo Tales. Having just signed the papers to buy a house I guess I'll be here for a while longer.

Posted by: UltraBob at February 27, 2006 11:21 PM

I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. We'll miss you, Chris, but I think you're right about wanting to go home.

Posted by: Daphne at February 28, 2006 01:07 AM

Much better to go when it feels right. When I went back after 5 years in Japan I did it because I felt I should (5 years was long enough, thought I'd better try London before I was 30). I lasted 18 months before coming back, as well you know, and when I go back again to live in the UK it will be because the I want to and the time is right.

Good luck though I think it will be adieu rather than goodbye.

Posted by: tokyobogue at February 28, 2006 09:10 PM

Sorry to hear this news, Chris.

But ... it will be good to see you over here in the UK. We haven't been back for that pub quiz once. Mostly due to the fact that you were the only one who could answer any questions! If the subjects were Japanese fashion and beginner's golf then it might have been a different story (fat chance!)

We took a look at our old place in Higashi Nakano the other day using the google map thingy. Quite natsukashi - probably because we'll be going back (but not for a while, mind.)

Maybe the Firm's going to need an elearning-MySQL-PHP-maestro in a couple of years ...

Posted by: Rich at March 1, 2006 12:03 PM

Sounds like you're moving for good reasons, and it'll always be there if you want to go back.

Plus you'll be able to eat crumpets, binge drink and get mugged for your iPod.

Posted by: Dave at March 7, 2006 09:28 PM

Very touching post, Chris, and emotions that I can relate to.

Been a while since I've visited the blog, but am glad that I did on this occassion.

Best of luck back in the UK.


Posted by: Ian Pratt at March 10, 2006 01:10 PM

Thanks, all, for the kind comments. It's definitely the right thing to be doing. Looking forward to catching up with everybody in my soon-to-be-new time zone.

Posted by: chris at March 14, 2006 04:17 PM

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