Grappling with Loneliness in Japan

“Let’s just leave,” I say to my husband. “Let’s go somewhere else. Anywhere but here.” He doesn’t want to stay in Japan forever, either, but he knows we must be prepared to move abroad. I, on the other hand, have had one foot out the door since the pandemic. Last year, I wrote two blog posts about the pros and cons of living in Japan, but neither of them covered the chronic problem I have been suffering with. It is about time I talk about it.

Lonely, Lonely, Lonely

It is said that if we say the name of a boogeyman three times, it appears. What if I called out what has been eating me up? Would it disappear? Well, acknowledging feelings might not make them go away, but it can make them less intense, according to this article on VeryWellMind. Also, I believe talking about our problems can create a sense of community regardless of our location.

I have been alone for a long time. There, I said it. Yes, I am married here and have a family back in my country, but I am deprived of a vital resource for surviving abroad: a sound support system. This is not my first time living abroad, but it is my first time being this lonely. During my stays in my other host countries, I had friends. I always had a support system.

But now? I don’t.

Photo by Marina Shatskikh

When does loneliness appear? When do we start to recognize it? Or is loneliness like a creeping illness, which makes it hard to pinpoint? All these questions have individual answers (but, probably, common roots). In my case, I first started to realize I was lonely during the pandemic. I hadn’t felt this way before because my husband and I traveled together. But then I began looking inward so that I could understand this multi-layered problem and discover its cause. The results were surprising.

Reason #1: Personality

I am a classic introvert. I can pretend to enjoy myself at a party and look interested when people talk about themselves without listening to anyone else. However, these types of settings drain the life out of me and make me want to run back home barefoot. I am also an empath, which means I get tired after absorbing other people’s energy.

Photo by S Migaj

Recently, I realized I wasn’t in tune with my needs and feelings in my twenties, which explains the illusion that I had more friends back then. I didn’t have more friends. I simply befriended people unsuitable for me because I ignored my needs and gut feeling. I also denied being an introvert because I come from an extroverted society where quiet people are ridiculed.

Reason #2: Age

It isn’t a secret that the older people get, the smaller their social circles become due to social expectations and categories. When I was a teen, and then a college student, I met people on paths similar to my own. We had similar interests and lifestyles, so it was easy to bond. However, we went our own ways once my friends and I graduated. It was a natural process that nobody was responsible for.

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite

After getting married and hitting my thirties, I realized most of my peers were pregnant with their first babies or had already become moms. There’s nothing wrong with having babies (or not having them), but we can’t ignore that it changes people’s lives. Because I am childless and have different priorities, I struggle to socialize with people who have babies.

Reason #3: Living abroad

I used to cry my eyes out whenever one of my friends went somewhere else. I have gotten used to it because I am usually the one who leaves. Because I moved often, I didn’t have many chances to strengthen my existing friendships or make long-term friends. And when I finally settled down, it was other people’s turn to leave.

Photo by João Jesus

It is hard to make foreign friends when living abroad because of the uncertainty lingering over our heads like rain clouds. Moreover, few people are designed to live abroad their entire lives. The person I am friends with today might leave tomorrow, and I could end up alone again. That has happened many times before.

Reason #4: Japan

I had a pen pal who lived in Germany, and in her letters she would say, “Germans know how to leave you alone, but they also know how to leave you alone.” I don’t know if our experiences would coincide if I lived in Germany, but her words resonate, as I feel almost the same in Japan. Although I like many things about Japan, I can’t say the same about human relations in this country. Japan is a challenging country, especially for an introvert like me.

Photo by Mirko Kuzmanovic

No matter how close I am to someone, I can still feel an unbreakable wall between us. My husband says the Japanese are like this among themselves, too. However, as a foreigner, I feel an even bigger gap between Japanese people and me. I’m not the only person who feels this way. Most of the foreigners who live in Japan befriend other foreigners or fellow citizens. No wonder I haven’t made any friends here since my arrival!


I know I won’t form a large pool of friends overnight, but at least I can control the urge to leave now that I have discovered the causes of my loneliness. I am writing this post for people like me who are confused about whether they want to leave or stay in one place. If you constantly want to go away, you might be overlooking other problems. I have made enough escape plans for a lifetime but have found no solutions, so trust me when I say this.

Interestingly, I have felt less alone since I acknowledged and shared this brutally honest feeling with others via this blog post. Loneliness indeed diminishes when shared online or in person. Thanks for reading this post today and making me feel less lonely.

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  1. Joey J 📸

    Hi there, I’m Japanese living overseas (for 20 years). What your husband said (Japanese are like this among themselves) should be correct, I guess. We consciously or subconsciously do not get too close with others. There’s always hesitation/fear opening ourselves up to others. If you find someone who has lived in so-called Western countries, then they might be a bit different. 😅 Anyways, good luck and have a good weekend ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bahanur

      Thank you for your comment 🙏 Honestly, I find it difficult to befriend even those who have lived abroad. “The fear of opening up to others” must be embedded in people from a young age, which doesn’t automatically go away when they move abroad. I remember I met many Japanese students abroad, especially during my stay in Ireland. They only hung out with other Japanese and avoided other international students, which surprised me back then. I am no longer surprised. I have only a few Japanese friends here and am usually the first person to initiate a conversation. They would have forgotten about me if I hadn’t talked to them. Sigh…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Joey J 📸

        I guess those who have lived overseas go back to their previous-self when they return to Japan. 😅 I was like that, too. Yes, they tend to hang out with other Japanese students. I saw it in Australia, too. Normally, I’m not actively seeking friends, but I don’t mind (or more like welcome) if someone asks me to go somewhere on weekends, etc. I’m just waiting, and many Japanese people are like this, too, I assume. 😅

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Except for the locations and the fact that I’ve been where I am for 50 years, you have just written my life. I can empathize with your situation, and as an introvert – not shy – I feel your feelings. I am sending you a virtual hug.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bahanur

      Thank you ☺️ Yes! I’m also not shy. I just can’t seem to relate to what my peers are doing and how they are living their lives.


  3. Pooja G

    This is something I can relate to. I faced loneliness too when I was living abroad. Luckily I did make some friends overtime but I still felt sort of lonely and I think you’re right the older we get the harder it is for us to make new friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bahanur

      Thank you for being able to relate to it. Sometimes the most challenging thing is to feel I’m all alone in this. It’s easy to forget many people experience similar things.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pooja G

        You’re definitely not alone in feeling this way.

        Liked by 1 person

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