One of my least favorite things about Japan is that the best people have a tendency to leave. In fact, if you are a foreigner and you stay in Japan for more than two years, you are almost certainly a piece of shit. I’ve been here for four years now, so I know.
When you first arrive to Japan, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (in actuality my eyes are brown and I haven’t had a tail since I was 12), the first goal is to meet as many people as you can because you have no friends. In my first year I showed absolutely zero discernment when it came to meeting people and attending events – if you sent me an invite, I was there, even if it was to one of those awful international parties full of weaboos (Japan nerds) and gaijin hunters. When you don’t have a circle, any shape will do.
Fortunately for me, I was able to fall in with an incredibly tight-knit group of people, and soon I no longer needed the international parties and bogus “special interest” meetups where people go to hook up under the guise of sharing a similar interest or hobby (I once attended a photography meetup and I have never owned a camera). Meetup.com is like a shittier version of Tinder for groups of people, and you can’t swipe left or right on people’s photos.
Anyway, I was happy with my newfound circle, and I don’t mean to get all kumbaya on your ass, but eventually it became a second family. We called it Ohana, and I liked it better than my original family. So imagine how I felt when two of these people left for good in the same week. They were both Hawaiian, and probably still are, and the fact that they were returning to their island around the same time was a total coincidence.
When Hawaiian #1 was leaving, we met up at Haneda airport with two mutual friends and decided to have a last supper together. We bought a bottle of champagne from 711 and a bunch of burgers from MosBurger and took our feast outside onto the observation deck. Nothing but class and sophistication for me and mine. There is a certain charm in drinking champagne from a plastic cup with cheeseburger grease all over your fingers. We bid a fond farewell and I went home.
Hawaiian #2 left a week or so later, and for some reason it didn’t really hit me until I got to the airport that two of my closest friends would be gone for good. I tend to lack foresight and I don’t really feel or anticipate anything until it actually happens. We had a few parting words, and then I went home and drank alone. By the end of the evening I was completely wasted, standing in the kitchen talking to myself.
This is the expat experience. The most common reaction to this from people who have never lived abroad is, “why don’t you just make some local friends?” It isn’t always that simple. While you’d have to be hikikomori to spend 4 years here and not befriend a single local, the truth is that your strongest relationships will almost always be with other expats because you share a common experience – being an outsider in a largely homogenous society. I’ve had way more meaningful connections with other expats, regardless of their nationality, than I have with the local population. This isn’t meant to be seen as a dig at the Japanese, it is merely a matter of exposure; most Japanese have limited experience with and a superficial understanding of cultures and customs outside of Japan, which makes it harder to relate to them individually on a deeper, more personal level.
So your friends will leave, and you might make some new ones through international parties or Tinder or Meetup or language exchange or your local tachinomi. People tend to come in waves, and each wave will be different than the ones before it. The trick is not to attempt to recreate your best experiences - that never works. Instead, appreciate each era for what it is, be grateful for it, and let it go gracefully. On to the next one.