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Plight of the Penguins: Should I Stay or Should I Go


I’ve just signed my reappointment papers. Well, by the time this is published, it won’t be “just,” but you get the idea: I’ve made my mind up: I’m staying for another year.

If a woman were to get knocked up right now, she could carry the baby to full term, birth it, realistically travel once around the world Jules Verne style, get pregnant again, carry that baby to full term and have the damn thing before I finish my life in Japan. Put like that, my plans for the next twenty-one months sound dull by comparison. Maybe I should try and find that woman; she’s clearly got a lot going on.

Anyway, the decision to reappoint caused me more anxiety than it realistically should have. I enjoy my life in Japan a whole awful lot: I have friends, money and enough free time at work that I can not only write this article but also google “how long would it realistically take to travel once around the earth Jules Verne style?” Also, there are bars with penguins inside them, so I’m pretty sure this might be the best country ever. However, it’s not all sunshine and updating Facebook at work; there are issues.

For one thing, I don’t know what my next school will be like– I have a grand total of six schools (four Elementary, two Junior High), and I’ve only seen five so far. My next school, a Junior High, will be the institution where I actually spend the majority of my time, as I’ll be there from January to July. I’ve visited the school twice and everyone seemed nice but experience tells me not to make judgments after only one showing– after all, Jack Sparrow seemed cool at first.

Another problem is that I know my own temperament: if something starts to irritate me– and, much like a Pokémon battle, it really can begin with next-to-no provocation– that irritation will consume me until I can’t see the forest for the hateful, hateful trees and I just absolutely have to remove that thing from my life immediately or I can’t think about anything else. This is why I gave away all my Yu-Gi-Oh! cards when I was ten and haven’t seen the finale of House, despite watching for eight and a half seasons. At the moment, I love Japan and my life here, but that could all change at any given moment and that worries me (not least because it seems to suggest some greater problem in my general personality).

And finally, I realise that Japan is really just a stop-gap. I’m not Anna in The King and I, bravely forging a new life for myself in a foreign land, I’m Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly, having a bit of fun and then shoving off (though I plan to be less of a dick than him). I’m checking out the Penguin Bars, taking a few selfies, maybe teaching some kids if I have the time and then going back to reality. Life here is beautiful but temporary, like a sexy mayfly, and while I’m all about mining all the good you can out of any seam, eventually I have to surface and face the light that is adult life. And I think that light will be harsher the longer I spend underground.

But, countering all of that is optimism. I tell myself and others that I am an optimistic person, but very rarely do I actually follow any of the tenants of the movement: I’m a bit of a Christmas Eve optimist, except that Christmas usually makes me gloomy. But, in reappointment has come the perfect opportunity to put my money where my mouth is while simultaneously earning more money: despite the objections listed above, I think I’ll regret it if I leave.

Like I said, I know my own temperament and, honestly, my fear of missing out outweighs my annoyance at being wrong. I’ve attended a fair old whack of shit parties– I used to date a bus spotter– but I’ve usually been able to console myself by saying that at least I was invited and reminding myself that the love of my life or Geoffrey Rush might have been there (that totally happened once) and would I really wanted to have missed that? And lots of times, parties have turned out to be so much better than I’d anticipated and I get to act smug and enjoy a good party: I don’t know which is better! (Being smug.)

In the short-term, staying for a year and hating it will be difficult but in the long-term, wondering constantly about what would have happened had I stayed would be torture. And, happily, at the moment all the signs are pointing to an enjoyable tenure in Japan. So, even if it goes pear-shaped, I can console myself that I made what was the logical decision at the time.

There is a lyric in Sunday in the Park with George which I think may be the wisest sentiment hidden in rhyme since “he who smelt it, dealt it”: “I chose and my world was shaken/So what?/The choice may have been mistaken/The choosing was not.” If you are forced by circumstance, time or your employer to make a decision and you really don’t know what to do, then just pick an option and ride it out. Don’t blame yourself for the outcome, but congratulate yourself for your decisiveness. And then google more Penguin Bars.


Rory Kelly

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