With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

Time to Leave Japan

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 22, 2017

Mark at the airport last December

If you asked Mark or me last month what our plans for the next year were, we wouldn’t have been able to tell you. We wanted to leave Japan and travel the world, but we had been offered positions with the Yokohama branch of our company. Yokohama seemed like a fine city. It’s an hour train ride from Tokyo. This would have been a great place for us to live and explore the top half of Japan.

We waited for months for our new contracts and information about where exactly in Yokohama we would be placed. We wondered if we would teach elementary school, junior high, or high school. Would we be at one school, two schools, …thirty? Would we take the train to work or could we walk? Our future was very uncertain.

Our current contract was coming to an end and we needed to make a decision. Our choice was an “Around the World Trip” for a year or to work another year teaching at Japanese public schools. We put up dream destinations and exotic adventures as reasons to go then tried to counter argue for staying with the implied assumptions and maybes of the new Yokohama jobs.

With three weeks left in our current contracts, we made a firm decision to leave Japan. The unknown of the positions in Yokohama were no match for a year-long vacation. We emailed the branch in Yokohama and told them that we had changed our minds. Two days later, the contracts came in the mail. We did not look at them.

So with less than three weeks left in our contracts, we had to prepare to leave Japan, for good. We had to schedule the cancellation of our internet and utilities. Change addresses on credit cards and at banks. And, we almost drowned in massive amounts of paper work.

The hardest part, though, is getting rid of our stuff. I’m writing this on my second to last day of work. We leave Japan in a little over a week. And, even though Mark and I put nine 30-liter bags of clothing in the bin before heading off to work this very morning, there is still way too much stuff in our apartment.

We have already given away or sold some of our things. The bigger items, like our fridge and washing machine we still use, but we have buyers waiting in the wings. They will be taken away right before we leave. I don’t care about most of our things; they are just things. I’m taking my best coffee tumbler, throwing away the rest, and I don’t even care.

But some items we own, I have grown attached to, like our camping gear. We gave them to a friend of ours and his family. I know it sounds silly, but giving our camping stuff to a friend who we know will enjoy camping with them felt a lot better than selling them to some stranger or abandoning them at a dump site.

Last weekend Mark and I did a mock-packing. That’s where we pack our bags with what we think we need, then carry our backpacks around for 10 minutes or so to see how heavy they are. I had to pack and repack several times to lighten the load. I still need to get rid of more stuff.

At the start of the mock-packing, Mark was sure he didn’t “have that many clothes.” But after putting all the clothes in a “to pack” pile, “to mail” pile, or a “to dump” pile it was plain to see that this was not true. It was also very disconcerting for us to realize how many “favorite shirts” we have.

It’s a little harder for us than for most travelers. Usually people leave for trips with the intent of returning home. There is no need, no matter how much a traveler would want to, to take everything. But for us, what we don’t take, other than a few things we will mail home, we have to throw away.

Some of these things were hard to come by. I love Arm & Hammer toothpaste, which is not sold here in Japan. I order them online from Amazon and pay the extra shipping. I have 2 extra tubes of the stuff, which doesn’t seem like much. But my pack is too heavy and I need to take only the essentials. Toothpaste, which can be bought anywhere (as long as you care little for the brand), is not essential.

In December, Mark and I went back home to visit family. I did pack light, but still, I didn’t wear half the clothes I brought. That was not so bad for that trip. We drove in cars the whole time. Our flight cost the same whether we took 2 check-in suitcases each or 1 combined. (We actually took one suit case combined and 1 carry-on each.)

This time, taking thing A means leaving behind thing B. It would break my heart to take a shirt I never wear after throwing away a tube of my beloved toothpaste. (Yes, I love Arm & Hammer toothpaste that much!)

And it’s not just me. This is hitting Mark hard too. He’s the king of “favorite shirts” and “favorite shorts”. I asked him the past weekend how many shirts and shorts he packed. “I have 6 shorts and 12 shirts,” Mark told me.

“Are you planning on not doing laundry for a whole year?” I asked with as much snark as I could put in my voice.

“That’s not too much. I have plenty of space in my pack.”

“Do you have a towel?” I challenged him.

“No.”

“Do you have shoes?”

“Those will be on my feet,” he answered confidently.

“What about your sleeping mat, your toiletries, your computer, camera, charger, smartphone,” I went on listing things I knew we had to take.

Mark looked at his pack. He had most of the things from the list, but they were sitting next to his pack, not in it. The pack was almost full and would not hold everything. “So, you’re saying I should start over with less clothes?”

I looked at my own backpack. It looked like it had just finished its Thanksgiving dinner and it was still missing many of the things I listed for Mark. “Yes. And, I think I do too.”

“How many shorts do you have?” he asked me.

“Four, but I think I’m going to get rid of one pair to make space for an extra tube of toothpaste…”

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