So often you hear of people who come to Japan for a few months and wake one day to find that many years have flown by. How comforting then to find that it also works in reverse.

Midori Matsui was in her mid-30s when she decided to visit the U.K. Twenty-nine years later she's still there, but only just. Having officially retired last year, she's wondering what to do: stay where she is known and respected, or return to a country so changed she fears it may be hard to readjust.

"Taking a rest from teaching English at junior-high, I was thinking to move on from England to America when my best friend rang," Midori explains on a recent visit back to Japan to look around and try to decide what to do. "A university lecturer married to a man from Shell who'd been transferred to Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool, she pleaded with me: 'Come and stay. We'll feed you, look after you. . . .' "