How To Get Back On Your Feet After Friends Move Away From Japan

Expats Share Tips For Lifting Your Spirits After A Yet Another Farewell

By Katheryn Gronauer
February 5, 2018
Lifestyle, Relationships

Feeling lonely and lost after a yet another farewell party? Here are seven tips from foreign women on what you can do to find your purpose in Japan even after your support group is all gone.

I closed the door behind me, dropped my bag on the floor, and collapsed on the sofa.

I had just arrived home from a farewell party for a dear friend who was getting ready for a new adventure to Africa. I have felt sad when people left before, but this time was different. For the first time, I felt more than an emptiness in my heart — I could feel a physical soreness in my chest. Within the same month that my friend left, another girl I had also grown close to moved back to the US with her husband after he had completed his military service.

I spent the following weeks wandering the streets of Tokyo, feeling like each road and shop looked so familiar yet somehow missed a feeling of “home.”  Thoughts kept racing through my head at full speed: Should I leave Japan, too? Am I ever going to find long-term relationships in Japan?

I knew that I would be able to make new friends, eventually. But I also knew that I was beyond tired of questioning my life in Tokyo every time someone left. I was going to have to make a change. A change that would make me find a strong purpose and confidence in Japan regardless of the relationships that come and go through living here. A change that would help me continue to be curious about meeting new people and bittersweet when they leave (instead of just bitter).  

I spent the following weeks wandering the streets of Tokyo, feeling like each road and shop looked so familiar yet somehow missed a feeling of “home.”

I decided to reach out and ask other foreign women in Japan who have lived here longer than I, if they had any advice for me. In the process of gathering feedback, I was surprised at how many other women — new to Japan or permanent residents — were quick to voice that they too have wondered what to do. Each person shared a commonality of feeling heartbroken, devastated, abandoned, envious, and lonely when friends left. And they couldn’t help but ask themselves time and time again: Why am I here? Or, more importantly, why am I choosing to stay?

Here are seven pieces of advice I found from long-term Japan residents to help you build more confidence and purpose in your experience here even after our support group is gone.

1. Decide that Japan is your home, now

One of the reasons why I question what I’m doing in Japan every time someone leaves is because I hadn’t made a clear decision in my mind that this is where I will reside. Until now, I’ve approached all new relationships or activities (or even business) with an idea in the back of my head that one day I might leave.

But one thing I’ve learned from women who are married to Japanese men is that they already know in their minds that they are in Japan for the long haul. When you make a clear decision that Japan is your home — even if you do suspect that you might leave somewhere down the line — your perspective changes and your effort into connecting with the community becomes deeper.

Don’t let the idea that you “might leave Japan one day” get in the way of you making the most of your time while you are here. If you haven’t made a decision nor have any clear plans to leave just yet, then make your future decisions on what you know right now: that Japan is your home at this very moment.  

2. Get clear on your goals

What are your priorities? What are your values? What are your goals beyond living in Japan (if any)? Keeping those goals and aspirations clear will help you stay focused, but also keep in mind that having a priority or goals doesn’t necessarily mean thinking too far into the future.

I find it really fun to reinvent myself every five years. First I was the American wife. Then the school substitute. Then I got into essential oils and created fun activities I love with like-minded people. My kids are going to leave the house so the next cycle for me is to think about what I will do when they leave. – Kendra

For me, my current goals as a health and wellness coach are business oriented. I know that focusing more of my business on women in Japan will help me develop more of a connection to the local community while also serving my values.

3. Accept that change happens … all the time

Even though it might be more frequent as an expat for people to come and go in your life, the fact that things change is something that happens anywhere all the time.

When I was here the first three years, the transitory state of Tokyo was so surprising and devastating. I would make a group of foreign friends through work and once all their contracts were up, I’d suddenly have no friends. I grew to hate the turbulence of this life and went back to America. When I went back to Boston, the same experience happened and I realized running from my goals and ambitions in Tokyo had not changed my situation. – Elizabeth

I have cried a lot of tears at Narita, Haneda, and Karuizawa Station. 

I understand that even in Korea (my home country), the same thing happens. Even though we are or will be apart some day, our memories and emotions that we shared are alive as part of my life. – Soyoung

I have cried a lot of tears at Narita, Haneda, and Karuizawa Station. Goodbyes are always hard, but for every goodbye, it seems like a hello came into my life as well. – Judy

As much as we’d like to think that living in another country would make the process of keeping friendships easier, that might not necessarily be the case. Instead, it’s time to think about how you can value the friendships you do have with the time you do have together.

4. Get out and meet new people

When you feel you’ve reached a deeper connection with a friend, it’s easy to settle into a pattern of seeing only that person on a regular basis. But if you don’t continue to build other relationships, you’re risking being alone if that one close friend leaves.

I have learned not to depend on one person to fulfill my social/friendship needs. I think you learn if you do that and move, then you will really be isolated. – Alaine

Keep trying new things. Don’t become reliant on your current job or friends [as the only close relationships]. – Svenja

While it may take longer in Japan to form new friendships, it is certainly not impossible if you keep trying. See this article for some tips on what you can do to meet new people in Japan.

5. Be part of an activity or an organization

Having a job or activity that is a constant routine in your life is another way to build rhythm and find your purpose in Japan.

I think the turning point for me (between struggling and finding confidence) was really starting a job I liked and being part of a team where I felt useful and valued, thus finding my own little niche in society. – Cathy

Church has always provided me with a community of like-minded people, so when people have moved away from Japan it hasn’t left an empty space in my life, there’s always a network of people who genuinely care about me and I them. – Gabriel

TELL, Japan’s largest organization for mental health support for the foreign community, organized a Tokyo Tower Climb event in 2017, which united many people under a common cause and formed new friendships. Check the organization’s website for upcoming events.

One of the best things that have encouraged me throughout my time in Japan is being a member of cultural exchange groups. I’ve met so many wonderful Japanese women that celebrate holidays and life events with my family and I and that have been a wonderful constant in a life of so much change. – Connie

Volunteering is also a great way to feel that you are helping others and staying connected to the community. If you are looking for volunteering opportunities, here are some suggestions for a start. The annual Spartan Race is also an event (a tough one, for sure) that has helped many women boost their positivity and feel part of an ever-growing team in Japan.

6. Start your own social group

If you can’t find a hobby or organization you love, another option is to start your own group.

For me, I took this advice to heart and started a Tokyo Entrepreneurial Book Club for people who like to read about business and personal development. I also started a Tokyo Women’s Body Talk group for women looking for a space to have discussions about health and wellness. Savvy Tokyo’s newly established Facebook group is also a good place to meet like-minded people and share your feelings if you need to.

I started activities for essential oils, quilting events, knitting events, and even a Tokyo Foodie group. I had an aim to find other crafty people and enjoy being with like-minded people. There is a need for people to lead activities, but know that there is also work involved. – Kendra

When I decided it was better to separate my personal life from work, I had to become more outgoing to make new connections. I joined many Meetup groups and found people with similar interests and goals. I invited people to my own events to cultivate real friendships. -Elizabeth

The most rewarding thing about these groups is developing new connections with people, even if you’re not in search for your next best friend. It’s a great feeling to have a network of people who share an interest in a topic you’re passionate about.

7. Keep in touch and remind yourself that you have friends all over the world

If there’s one thing that I heard repetitively through talking with fellow expat women, it’s that social media has made it so easy to keep in touch with people who have left. Some women reported that their dear friends that left Japan wound up coming back years down the road, or they’ve made efforts to visit each other in different countries.  

There are no friends like Tokyo friends! We traveled far and wide over summers and spring breaks catching up with all these great friends. Still do! – Laura

I remind myself that now I have incredibly close friends all over the world, which is in itself really amazing but also opens up all kinds of opportunities for travel and new experiences. And with all the amazing technologies that we have literally at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch and still feel like we’re a part of each other’s lives. – Kelly

Just because your friends are no longer physically in Japan doesn’t mean you can’t connect with them online or in person in the future. Keep the relationships strong and you can even enrich your own life through visiting them outside of Japan.

Whether you’re new to Japan or have been living here for years, know that you too can find your purpose and confidence living here. Embrace your opportunity to live in this unique culture, embrace the relationships you have when you have them, and embrace something constant in your life that you can take pride in to help you weather the evergoing changes.

Have you ever felt lost when close friends leave Japan while you stayed? How did you overcome those feelings? Share your tips in the comments.

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