Home > Stories > East AND West: Putting Japan to Rest (part 1)
East AND West: Putting Japan to Rest (part 1)

February 12, 2014

By Angela Jeffs

This is going to be a very difficult piece to write.  But it needs to be done.  Done as soon as possible to allow me to make a giant leap forward in adjustment and acceptance.

But it is proving really hard.

I feel so dragged down.

Dragged down by the winter, which presented us both last December with hacking bronchial coughs, just in time for Christmas.  Whatever we attempted (a la physician heal thyself) failed to restore us to balance, and it was only last week that I crawled to the doctor, who placed her stethoscope on my chest for milliseconds before pronouncing she had heard enough. Antibiotics prescribed; recovery slow but ongoing.

What continues to drag me down, however, is my confusion about Japan.  How and what I feel about it: Japan carrying on without me while I struggle to carry on without Japan.

Why have I not been back since leaving in October 2012?

My husband – who arrived in Scotland at the very end of that year – returned for a month in September 2013 (a death in the family). But I chose not to go with him; I chose to stay here.


That surely was the perfect time to meet up with friends and soak up some heat. To travel and catch up with Akii’s relatives in Kansai, and eat, eat, eat… Oh how I miss the Japanese food we are unable to replicate here.  We do well enough according to delighted Japanese visitors, thanks to online-ordered supplies from Mt Fuji in Birmingham, and even the Japan Centre in London, but only as far as  ingredients go, and for us, it’s not the same.

My explanation for not returning last year was that I was not ready…  that I was putting all my energy into creating a new life for myself here. That I did not want to get stirred up all over again and (possibly) have to start from scratch all over again.

Even as I write this, I’m not sure what I mean.  If I left my heart in Japan, which is not only what I tell others but tell my self, why am I not anxious to reclaim it? Fill the space in my chest that so often aches with longing. Lying in bed last week, feeling so exhausted and low, I was aware of terrible sounds emanating from my lungs and chest: long croaking sighs of sadness.

Not regret, you understand. I don’t regret the move at all. For many reasons it was timely and necessary.  But with my aunt gone and her home sold, I no longer have emotional attachments to this place. So why are we not hot-footing it back eastwards? Why am I not selling up here to buy there, in Wakayama say, where the air is relatively fresh and temple bells would wake me and lull me to sleep in a way church bells never do.

We told everyone we were coming here for a year and would then take stock. Well the year has passed and I see no sign of either of us wanting to go through the removals process all over again. Not yet anyway. Our lovely house in Zushi, which stood empty for those twelve months as if giving us that chance to return, is (as we just heard) being let from March.

Well, we rationalize, we would not really want to go back and pick up where we left off. As Akii reminds, my slogan has always been Never go back, only forward.

But there is such a deep ambivalence.

Am I not being honest with myself?

Is a part of me deeply relieved to have left Japan?

Is it this relief that has left me with unresolved feelings of anger, fear and guilt?

Right now I’m not well enough yet to enter such difficult uncharted territory. But I will be in a week or so, so I ask that you bear with me. It seems timely that I face tough questions on the eve of 3/11, the third commemoration of that terrible date (and subsequent terrible days) when for so many, life changed forever.

All I can only promise is that while this piece is late, the next will be early.

Also by Angela:

- East AND West: Walking the Wood

- East AND West: Clearing the burn

- East AND West: Re-arranged

- East to West: Taking Responsibility


About the author: After training in theatre and Laban dance, Angela Jeffs ( stepped sideways into London publishing. She worked freelance as an editor from 1973, then reinvented herself in Japan as a journalist and writer from 1986. She was a weekly columnist for The Japan Times for 22 years, and Japan Correspondent for Asia Magazine in Hong Kong from 1989-1996. Her book Insider's Tokyo, commissioned from Singapore, was published in 2001. Since 2005 she has been developing and facilitating a programme of therapeutic creative writing under the title Drawing on The Writer Within. Her latest book, Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail into the Past, can be ordered via
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