Living In Japan: 6,786 Miles From Home…The Lonely Side of Japan

By Donald Ash | Articles

Overlooking Shinjuku

This morning I checked my Facebook account, as it’s one of the best links to my friends and family back home. I received a friend request from a karate student that I used to train with…so of course, I accepted the request. I thought nothing of it really. I got the basic “How are things going?” So I responded letting him know that I was living in Japan. However, the follow-up email wasn’t what I was expecting. I was informed that one of the karate teachers (a really good guy) I trained with regularly, lost a hard-fought battle with cancer. In the same email, I found out that another student I trained with (also a really good guy) died from a heart condition over the Labor Day weekend. Saying that I was hurt is an understatement. I felt so bad that I couldn’t be there with the students and the families. Calling and emailing are all fine and good, but there are certain situations where being present makes all the difference in the world. Funerals and weddings are prime examples. Whenever I look at Facebook and see a friend getting married, or hear about those close to me mourning the loss of loved one…it can be a somewhat sobering reminder that I live a distant 6,786 miles away from home.

Without a doubt, there are definitely situations where I’ve wanted to be at home, not permanently, but for certain occasions. For example, November is quickly approaching, and it will be the third Thanksgiving in a row that I will miss. I look at the pictures of all of my family gathering at my mother’s house in Georgia, and see them happy, smiling, and just enjoying each other’s company. Scrolling through the pictures is bittersweet. It’s so sweet to see how happy my family is, but oh so bitter that I can’t be there. Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t even holidays in Japan. So while I’m in class teaching, I know my family is enjoying the delights of Mama Ash’s home-cooked, southern cuisine:

candied yams, green bean casserole, squash casserole…


…juicy, tender turkey, Auntie Irma’s seafood stuffing (or is it dressing? I always get confused)…

quivering bottom-lip sigh

…sweet potato souffle, red velvet cake, sweet potato pie, chocolate cake…


…hot peach pie and vanilla ice cream.

I can’t help but to feel somewhat wistful. I see pictures of the same house that I lived in since I was about 11 years old, wishing that I could be granted teleportation powers of some sort…just for one day.

Does my family even miss me? I shouldn’t think like that…I know they do…right?…I’d like think so. But I often don’t have a chance to speak with my family…so, I wonder. My number shows up as unknown on U.S. caller IDs, so often my call is mistaken for a bill collector or the random telemarketer. Unfortunately, my family doesn’t make use of Skype as much as they could.

The homesickness comes and goes. There are days when the longing is quite mild, others when the it feels heart-wrenching. Often, the only African-American face that I see on a regular basis is the one in the mirror. I think it’s great sometimes, but it can make matters a bit worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love being around people of different ethnicities, but being taller everybody around me and having a different appearance than everyone me makes feel like an apple in a barrel full of oranges…isolated.

Homesickness and the longing to see family and friends isn’t enough to make me want to leave Japan just yet, but it does make me wish that home was closer than the twelve-hour, 6,786-miles of travel that it takes to get there.

Thinking of home,

Donald Ash

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • Les Delaney

    Hey Donald, found your Kanji site and this posted up. So many people in Japan, one lonely foreigner. Yep I understand. Just by being a foreigner, you are different, so cheer up and remember that there are Japanese who want to stand out in the crowd. Find some autumn leaves to look at and rest. Now go have a coffee and enjoy your celebrity while it lasts!

    • Donald Ash

      Thanks Les. I truly appreciate the words of encouragement. I wish I could always say I’m upbeat. But I definitely have my slumps from time to time. The celebrity thing is a good way to look at it.

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