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I gave up my dream life in Japan to move to the Netherlands — now, I couldn’t be happier

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  • I’m an American who lived in Japan for about six years until I started to feel lonely and lost.
  • I sold my house in Tokyo and traveled around Europe until I fell in love with the Netherlands.
  • I used a special treaty to get citizenship in Europe and I’m happy living here. 

One day in January 2022, it hit me: I had outgrown my life in Japan.

I was an American living in Tokyo and still felt like a fish out of water after six years, despite my many attempts at mastering Japanese, perfecting my bow, and learning how to (politely) push my way through the crowded rush-hour trains.

My first few years in Japan were exciting and dreamy, what many would expect when they imagine living in Japan.

I visited stunning shrines and temples, sipped oolong-hai cocktails with friends in izakayas, spent hours exploring the streets of Shibuya — back then, Japan felt like my playground.

My experience in Japan changed with time

Eventually, some of the drawbacks of living in the Land of the Rising Sun started to wear on me.

No matter how quiet and inconspicuous I tried to be, I received stares (and occasionally glares) in my suburban neighborhood because of how much I stood out as someone who is not Japanese.

After all, only 2.5% of the country’s population is non-Japanese. Although Japanese culture is fascinating, I started to miss diversity and multiculturalism.

Living in Japan also felt increasingly lonely with each year I stayed. For one, Japanese society is known for being reserved, and striking up a conversation with a stranger in big cities like Tokyo is often viewed as a transgression against the order and harmony woven into most interactions.

On top of that, Japan is literally isolated, surrounded by water on all sides. This can make it challenging to get out and visit other countries.

I was eager to explore new places and make more connections — and Japan no longer seemed to align with these values.

I didn’t know where to move to next but going back to the US didn’t feel right

After my revelation in early 2022, my husband — a Japanese national I met within my first year in the East Asian country — and I assumed the only other option was to live in the US, where I’m from. But we struggled to settle on an American city that fit our ideal lifestyle and goals.

To stall our decision, we sold our home in Tokyo and traveled around Europe as digital nomads for a few months.

Our adventure began in 2023 and included a stop in the Netherlands, which we were surprised to discover felt like home.

In Amsterdam, we tallied up the perks that Japan lacked: multiculturalism, locals who made small talk with us about our little dog, and convenient travel to other countries, among others.

And without the stares and unwanted attention I’d once received, I noticed a refreshing sense of freedom.

During our trip, I also learned about the Dutch American Friendship Treaty, an agreement that allows American entrepreneurs to obtain residence in the Netherlands with little hassle.

Staying in Europe long-term never seemed realistic, but with this program, I saw it could be a feasible option.

The Netherlands offers what I had missed in Japan

Less than a year after our trip to the Netherlands, we returned to the country as residents rather than tourists.

I’ve felt welcomed by my neighbors, already made friends from numerous countries and backgrounds, and even found it easier to visit my family in the US compared to when I was living in Japan.

The Netherlands is often ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world, and although many Dutch locals would scoff at their position on the list (complaining seems to be a national pastime here), I’ve found evidence to support it.

Aside from the open, friendly people and ease of travel, I’m routinely delighted by the little things here, like my neighborhood’s “used goods” box where residents pass down their belongings to a new owner, the people leisurely reading in the park on a weekday afternoon, and the bike lanes that make it so easy to live a car-free life. These charming observations would have been rare in Tokyo.

Of course, I’m still new to the Netherlands, and I know my feelings may change with time — as they did in Japan. People and places can both evolve, and though a country might feel like home during one phase of life, it might not feel that way forever.

I’ve learned to embrace that feeling while it lasts, whether it’s for two years or seven or the rest of my life. For now, I’ve decided that living in the Netherlands is what my dream life looks like.

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