All About Japan
I thought I’d write a bit more about my feelings concerning Japan. I want to try to express myself more clearly and to address the negative tone of some of my recent comments. They weren’t meant to be quite so negative.
Once again, I find myself at one of these uncertain points in my life, both in the short and long term. Immediate problem number one is that I don’t have a job. Believe me, I like not having a job, but realistically, I need money. I’m not in immediate danger of penury and starvation, but I need to find something in the next month or so.
I turned down a job that would have given me security for the next eighteen months—and the right to stay in Japan for three years—because I decided to leave Japan this summer. That brings me to the long term problem: what do I do next? I’m going to leave that question hanging, because I can’t do much about it while I’m still in Japan. It still weighs on my mind, of course.
I’ve been offered a job starting from next week and running until late July. That would sort me out for the remainder of my time here. It’s a bit farther than I should have liked, but it seems good otherwise. I confirmed my interest, and I’ve been waiting for the agency to contact me to sort out the preliminaries, as arranged. Except...they haven’t contacted me yet, and this job is supposed to start on Tuesday. I don’t know whether that means that they have decided to screw me over, or just that they haven’t sorted out details with the client yet, and it won’t start on Tuesday. I really hope it’s the latter. I would like to know what’s happening, though. I’m going to call them on Monday, but that still leaves an anxious weekend.
A big issue for me is my feeling that my options are limited here. If I’ve got to work for the rest of my life, I want to be doing something that’s right for me. Outside of English teaching—which isn’t my dream for the future—there is a limited number of jobs that I could do here. Finding one that suits me as well seems even harder. Even putting aside linguistic and cultural difficulties, there the visa problem.
And on to the other issue. What’s my problem with Japan? If you know me, you’ll also know that I’m quick to point out things I don’t like. I like to complain, and no country’s perfect. In fact, most of them could be radically improved.
I complain about the UK, and I’d like to think that a lot of my complaints are well founded. The weather really is bad. The trains are incredibly unreliable. Youth culture often equates to alcohol fuelled yobbery. The culinary tradition is dreadful. These are weak points. Some you can do something about; some you can’t.
Equally, whilst Japan has plenty to recommend it, it has problems, too. The urban environment is crowded, dirty and noisy. The work-life balance seems to tip on the side of inhumane. Discrimination is rife, particularly with regard to women, and I think that that is the thing that annoys me most. It’s not that I’m a feminist in particular, and I’m sure that I have plenty of prejudices of my own, but Japanese society treats women so badly that I am at a loss to comprehend it. There are many other things too, but I don’t want this to turn into a list of “Things that suck about Japan.”
Maybe it’s just because I’m a foreigner, but if I point out a shortcoming of Japan or Japanese society, I seldom receive either agreement or a reasoned refutation of my position. I just hear, “this is Japanese way.” Yeah, maybe it is. But that doesn’t make it good or right, and it doesn’t preclude improvement. That’s frustrating. Japanese society is very inward looking. You might think otherwise, looking at the snap happy hordes than cover the tourist locations of the world. However, the number of Japanese people with an sufficient understanding of other countries and cultures to make comparisons and draw conclusions seems to be very low.
The point is, I don’t want to live somewhere that is unable or unwilling to evaluate and try to address its own shortcomings. I don’t want to live in a society that can’t take a hint. And I don’t want to live somewhere in which I don’t have a voice.
Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t start out with a Japan fetish. I don’t obsess over manga, video games or Hello Kitty stuff. I don’t much care for temples, hot springs or kimono. My interest in and subsequent involvement with Japan came through a linguistic route. I started studying Japanese because I had the chance, and it seemed fascinating to learn a language that didn’t come from Indo-European roots. And if you want to learn Japanese, Japan is a good place to come.
Much of the time, this slight detachment has served me well. Rather than being a freaky Japan maniac, I’ve tried to be just a regular guy from a different country. I’ve been lucky enough to delve fairly deep into Japanese society at some points, and to have some really interesting discussions. And here’s a dichotomy: whilst I have been able to get to know individuals well and to interact with them, at the level of society I remain a mute observer, transient and powerless to make a mark.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m glad that I came to Japan. It has served me well to come here at a certain point in my life, and I will continue to have ties here. I’m going to visit again, and there are things about Japan that I will miss.
Ultimately, however, if I want a chance to participate in society and to be able to stand up for what I believe, I need to do so from the inside, on my own turf. I can’t do that here; hopefully someone else who can, will.