With many baby boomers in the process of retiring — and this includes many foreigners who have spent years working in Japan — the following letter from the U.S. (in response to a query from HB on shipping, printed back on Dec. 12) makes a number of points that may help those in a similar situation.

“After almost 25 years of teaching English in Tokyo — the last 22 1/2 at the same language institute — I retired in 2003 and returned to the U.S.,” writes S.

“I’d like to comment on the matter of actually getting your stuff back:

“I feel now that I got rid of far more things than necessary. I gave away a lot, including to the Franciscan Center in Roppongi, sold some things to a big used furniture place in Shinjuku whose name I can’t recall, threw away even more, etc.

“I was very grateful to the Franciscan Center for accepting things. I don’t believe such donations are deductible on American tax forms. However, I didn’t investigate that thoroughly.

“The thing I wish I had known is that if one has been working abroad and returns to the U.S. for the purpose of retirement, there is a one-time deduction from income for transporting one’s things back. HB should therefore keep meticulous records of all the expenses involved, because there is a great deduction on American income tax.

“At my school there was a hefty final payment for service on which I had to pay regular American income tax for the year of retirement, so a bigger deduction for moving things back would have been very nice. Then I could have donated things I didn’t need at a later date for yet another deduction, I suppose!

“HB should realize also how tough it will be to come back. Patience is required! Trying to solve one problem at a time and giving each one plenty of time helps: driver’s license, health insurance, teaching license, etc.

“I have had two job offers since returning, but I am the only family member remaining to look after a 94-year-old parent, and I have turned down these offers to be able to take responsibility for her.

“HB should be prepared for lots of surprises on how he or she will be spending ‘retirement time’ soon after return to the U.S.”


Caro and her family in Yokohama are exploring Japanese food and are curious about “konnyaku.”

“I hear it is very good for you, full of fiber but containing few calories. Is it made from seaweed?”

I remember seeing fields of an unknown plant with dark green leaves some years ago when walking on the Noto Peninsula in western Japan. I was very surprised to learn this was the source of the crunchy jelly so popular in winter-warming “oden,” for example. Konnyaku is made from the perennial plant konjac (Amorphophallus konjac), otherwise known as konjaku, devil’s tongue, voodoo lily, snake palm or elephant yam.

The plant’s starchy corm can be used to make a flour or jelly, and is also used as a vegan substitute for gelatin. Unlike gelatin, however, konjac gel does not dissolve so easily in saliva. Konnyaku snack food therefore should have warning labels advising parents to make sure their children chew the jelly thoroughly before swallowing. To make sure, remind them yourself.

Send your questions, queries, problems and posers to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp

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