The Five Stages of Becoming a Lifer

Becoming a “LIFER” breaks down into five distinct stages. It starts with denial, moves on to anger, morphs into bargaining – which leads to depression – and ends in acceptance. Sound familiar? Then God have mercy on your souls, brothers and sisters. If you’re a lifer, then there’s no sense in denying it. After all… that’s the first stage!

Stage One: Denial
We all know the tell-tale signs. “As soon as I get that 5 million in the bank, I’ll be on that plane and into grad school.” But then you start looking at exchange rates and wondering if you should wait to cash out cause the yen is either too low or getting stronger. Either way, you want to get the most out of the lucre you have managed to hoard by not eating out or socializing in establishments that require payment. Unfortunately, such cold cash calculation means you’re given to procrastination, which comes with inevitable delays. Of course, having put it off once, you can (and most likely will) put it off again and again. You will deny that there’s anything in this – you are merely waiting for the right time. Sure you are. Meanwhile you’re running low on brain juice, and the cash-guzzling liquor store’s just around the corner…

Stage Two: Anger
The annoying tendency of friends back home to get married, have kids and in general move on with their pathetic, middle class lives – acquiring mortgages and mountains of debt like we could have, if only we’d gone back sooner -sets even the strongest amongst us on edge. “That could have been me!” we scream, while they chase a snot-faced kid around their well-trimmed back lawn. But after three years or so we still haven’t amassed the lucre we need to return triumphant, able to prove to those we left behind that we have traveled the world and returned wealthy and wise. The prospect of returning home to former glories – an encore as a waste management professional, or a “barrista” at the local Starbucks – turns our blood cold. Instead we snippily lash out at the Japanese world around us. Green tea ice cream! Pff! Shuffling obasans! OUT OF MY WAY! “What’s the deal with no central heating or dishwashers?” The list of complaints grows and we become what is generally referred to as a baka gaijin; insufferable yet suffering. So we do what anyone in their right mind would do – we open a can of lemon chuhai. 12 cans later we find ourself passed out under the kotatsu with tatami marks on our face. Grrrrrr…

Stage Three: Bargaining
Breakfast: One can of BOSS BLACK coffee (hot), one nikuman and a cigarette. This is followed by a few sticks of Black Black Gum and a genki drink to get us up and going. If you can’t go home yet you might as well enjoy the fruits of the land Nippon. This requires that you adapt your taste for unhealthy comfort foods and nefarious activities from home, replacing them with the bounty of unhealthy foods and illicit behavior this country is blessed with. CC Lemon, anyone? It tastes great hot!  But you also develop a taste for the finer things Japan has to offer as well. Whereas before you would wait for a student or well heeled native to treat you to expensive sake and high end sushi, now you treat yourself. Once you begin down the path of bargaining, you find that your need to make yourself more comfortable eats away at your bank account. This in turn further delays your return home. Never fear, though. A tumbler of artisanal sho-chu takes the edge off such troubling thoughts.

Stage Four: Depression
We all experience depression at some time or another. As an expat in a strange land it comes with culture shock. Depression can be caused by lots of things, but for those on the road to Liferdom there is one thing above all else that is sure to trigger a bad case of the sad days: the sayonara party. It is not that you aren’t happy for your best pal of several years that is finally making the move. (You aren’t.) You are depressed for your own self. The endless karaoke party has come to an end. From here on in, you’ll be the balding drunk guy, alone at the end of the bar, smiling hopefully at the balding drunk guy reflected in your beer glass. Newbies often wonder why it is so difficult to get close to lifers. Well, imagine if you were always going to the funerals of your best friends. It gets depressing. Lifers can smell the terminally ill. We know whose time is coming soon, and frankly, we’d rather not be there when it does. Sayonara parties are like funerals with booze, only they’re full to bursting with drunk dead people.

Stage Five: Acceptance
Sooner or later you come to terms with the fact that you will probably never go home, or if you do, it will be right before (or after) you die. Ever checked into the funeral options for expats? Once you do, you have accepted your lot. For anyone who fears lifer status, this is the thing they dread most. Never going home. Stranded in the Land of the Lost. Yet the truth of the matter is that anyone who has been gone for 10 years or more looks across the shore and often doesn’t recognize the place they left anymore anyway. The home they knew in their youth has gone, replaced with drive-thru burger joints managed by people who don’t speak English either. You might as well kick the can here. If only they didn’t leave your body out on a futon packed with dry ice and sit around you drinking for three days before burning your body and picking through your bones with chopsticks. Oh well. That’s rife!

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