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Hi everyone! I have a few questions mostly for the old-timers here who have been in Japan for years, although of course I'll welcome input from anybody. They're questions that get thrown around fairly often, it seems like, but I have a specific take on them I'm interested in that's maybe off the beaten path.

I'm in that post-college phase of life in which I'm trying to find my "niche" in the world--I graduated a couple of years ago and I've been moving through different jobs and cities in an effort to find a situation where I'm happy and comfortable. I've lived in a variety of different regions in the U.S. at this point, and though I'm certainly fascinated by America and have people and things I love here, I'm starting to get the impression that I might not be as comfortable living anywhere in the U.S. as I would be in Japan. I wonder if this is actually the case or if that impression is based on misconceptions. Although I'm enjoying having a life that's relatively in flux I would love to find a situation I'm happy in and settle down.

My experience with Japan goes back to my early teen years. I encountered classical Japanese poetry for the first time when I was in middle school and was intensely moved by the powerful terseness and deftness with which great Japanese poets seemed able to encapsulate pure and essential elements of being alive, and resolved to learn Japanese so I could read it in the original. As luck would have it, the high school I went to had a good Japanese program. I found I loved the mechanics of the language and studied it with vigor, skipping a level after my first year, and then as a sophomore got the opportunity to travel to Japan as an exchange student.

This was when it really became clear to me that there was something about the whole culture of Japan I felt very at home in. I ended up in Mito with incredible host parents--my host father was a very well-educated academic scientist and spoke fluent English, which was wonderful as my Japanese conversational skills were still quite poor and this allowed me to hear his perspectives on on culture, philosophy, politics, etc., etc., and my host mother was both an intense sweetheart and a badass who spent much of her free time as a women's rights activist. They went very out-of-their-way to show me Japan in detail; they took me all over, everywhere from rural heritage sites and distant forests to downtown Tokyo, got me involved in a local Japanese conversation club for foreigners which greatly improved my speaking ability, introduced me to their adult children (who were similarly bookish--two of them were grad students) and their friends in town, and so on. I also got to attend Japanese high school, and though obviously the classes were largely way over my language level, I really liked the warm and rather chummy interactions that took place between myself and the students and teachers, and loved the heavy spirit of camaraderie and cooperation there.

I found I really felt at home in the sort of general rhythm of life--the food fit my tastes better than anything I'd encountered before (I love fish and rice and noodles, best food I ever ate was snail sashimi in Oarai, I think natto is delicious, etc. etc.--when I came back to the U.S. I learned Japanese home cooking out of a feeling of homesickness and it's almost all I've eaten at home since), the daily tea culture was wonderful, taking a bath at the end of the day was a great way to habitually decompress. People seemed remarkably warm and friendly, to a degree that was surprising to me even as someone who grew up in Texas, and it made me thrilled to see strangers interacting pleasantly and kindly in public. The heavy attention paid to aesthetic details and the emphasis on accommodating those around you and thinking of others before you act had me immensely happy. I even found myself attached to things like the insects and the way buildings tended to smell, much of which I still remember with intense vividness.

In any case, my life changed radically around the time I went back to the States. I went through a period of intense reverse culture shock--I could barely leave the house for a week because all the buildings felt disturbingly far apart. I had to adapt fast, though, because I was accepted to a college and left high school early to go (long story) within about three weeks of arriving back in the U.S. My college experience was very intense and consumed more or less all of my attention and energy while it was happening, and it wasn't until I graduated that I started really thinking about going back to Japan. I resolved to try to get a good idea of what it would be like to spend my life in America first, since, y'know, that's where I already was, and I've attacked that goal pretty rabidly, and I'm starting to get an inkling that I might really be happier if I left. Although I definitely have fun here and I like the variety of people and cultures I encounter, it does really seem to me that wherever you go some of the basic stereotypes about America being a sort of crass, rugged place hold true. Lots of Americans are plenty friendly but people here seem largely way less concerned with cooperating with each other and keeping everyone around them comfortable. A lot of the day-to-day interactions I have with people seem kind of jarringly blunt and lacking in niceties, and I often find myself wishing that even my close friends were less brash. The aesthetics of spaces are often pretty bare-bones and lots of places seem kinda dirty. I wish people cared more about the ocean, particularly as something to behold or think about as opposed to just something to work or play in. There seems to be a lack of ritual in day-to-day life and little attention seems to be payed to religious feelings, despite the commonality of a few organized religions.

So, with all that said, here are my questions. I've heard that newcomers to Japan experience a sort of "honeymoon period" in which the surface details of the country seem very appealing but as they delve further in they begin to get frustrated or disillusioned. I know Japan has a lot of problems, but it seems like all countries have a lot of problems (not that Japan's aren't unique, of course), and from my particular perspective it seems like its strengths might well outweigh its weaknesses. From what I've said, does that seem true, or am I ignoring some important basic facts? Furthermore, people talk a lot about the distance of life there as a foreigner--y'know, saying that they feel that even though they've been in the country for decades they feel peripheral, that Japanese people will always keep foreigners at arm's length, that establishing close relationships is difficult to impossible, and so on. Sometimes I wonder if this is because they are going at Japanese society with a "foreign mentality" and not really integrating internally, and if there are foreigners there who have integrated more successfully (who perhaps, through their more heavy involvement in the society around them, would be unlikely to end up talking to someone in my position). It may also really be very true. What do you think? If I was going to move there it would be with the intention of heavily assimilating--obviously it's not like you can get along with everyone or whatever but I don't think I'd really feel happy unless I had a circle of close Japanese friends. There are more logistical concerns, too, of course--I'm not sure how to support myself there right now aside from going as a JET. I have a university degree, but it's in music composition, so aside from it being a degree at all it doesn't necessarily offer any obvious career paths there (could I teach or tutor music assuming my language skills were good? I've done that in the U.S.). Most of my on-paper work experience here is in IT, which I have maybe three solid years in and seems like it could be a useful way to go, but I am pretty heavily burnt out on it (I don't actually like computers that much) and am currently working in pastry; I might be willing to keep doing it if it would allow me to make inroads into Japanese society, though. In any case I'm not terribly career-oriented so I'm willing to do a wide variety of jobs--I'm very into producing art and thus tend to think of my work in more day job terms than like life path terms. I would take what I could get, as long as I could get something, for sure.

In any case, thanks for reading all this! I'm curious to hear y'all's thoughts.
 

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I almost got through your post but the reality is I'm not interested enough to read your life story to answer some questions. But if you decide to just ask a question without the drama I'll be happy to answer it for you.
 
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Hi, your detailed description was very heart warming to me. I feel the same way about Japan. Been here in TOkyo as a tourist for 5 months, trying to find a job. Anyone with a college degree in anything can teach English here. It would be helpful to have a TESOL certificate, though. Beware, it is legal in Japan to descriminate against age! I am older than the usual crowd here so it's been hard.
My background: I am a naturalized citizen of the US, from Germany. So, culturally speaking I am more at home here.
The honeymoon period exists. I experienced a little of it myself. When reality hits, you will realize whether you have what it takes to live in Japan for good.
Your first experience was great but once you live a normal life here, it becomes different.
I am not career minded either, am a musician at heart and rather write stories and poetry than teaching. I am taking Japanese lessons and am looking to join a Japanese conversation club. You have to have several thousand yen to come here. The new visa laws will take effect this July. I don't know too much about it.
What you want is turn yourself into a Japanese without changing you looks. I am with you. Not many Westerners achieve this, however. Many live here for many years and still don't get it.
In my case, I feel like I have come home partially since I grew up in similar circumstances as they exist in Japan today.
Good luck. Here is a website you might check out:
GaijinPot : Japan jobs, Apartments, Living Guide and Blogs
they have lots of job listings, not many for music though
gunbatte! Ishi no ue ni mo san nen.
 

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The "honeymoon period" is by no means unique to Japan. It happens anytime you decide to immerse yourself in a new and complex subject (like another culture) that has both good parts and not-so-good parts. It's only human to overlook the bad in search of the good but you can only filter out the other stuff for so long and then it starts to become more obvious. How that affects you depends on you more than the place. For me, the good parts of living in Japan outweigh the bad parts. But, at the overused saying goes: "Your mileage may vary."

Not being career-minded is a strike against you at this point. Not because the ordinary non-career jobs don't exist... because obviously they do. But there are plenty of Japanese also ready to take on those particular jobs and, all other things being equal, a manager would rather have someone he can talk to in his native language. So the only real hope of landing employment here is to bring something not that many Japanese can do (like computer programming or English fluency) or to become fluent in the local language so you can compete for the regular jobs along with Japanese natives who can do the job just as well as you can.

As for teaching... it's true that anyone with a degree (or provable equivalent experience) can teach English. But the market for English teachers is very poor right now. The books that claim how you can make a killing teaching English in Japan were all written 10 years ago, when every company under the Sun was sending their mid-level execs to English school in order to remain competitive. That market doesn't exist today. It's really hard to find a decent job if all you bring to the table is the ability to speak English.

I'd advise against just coming with the hope that you might find something when you get here. To say that Japan is on the high side in terms of cost-of-living would be an understatement. It may be possible to live like a king on some countries just by finding odd jobs here and there, but: (a) that's not as feasible here due to the cost, and (b) you won't get a visa to just bum around doing odd jobs. Information on visas is available if you search for it -- the new law doesn't change things that much (other than registration procedures, which don't affect you unless you show up here, the only real change is that visas are generally for longer periods than they were before -- but you still need to qualify in the first place).

As for cultural assimilation... that also depends mostly on you. You need to realize that no matter what you do, you'll never be Japanese. The difference is a lot more obvious here than it would be in melting-pot cultures like the US or Britain. That's not to say you can't make friends here. If anything, I found it easier to make friends here because many Japanese have a natural curiosity about other cultures (for much the same reason that you're interested in Japan) but that also means you'll have to tolerate a few inane questions every time you meet someone new. But if you're willing to work to get past that stage -- and if you learn enough Japanese to carry on a reasonable conversation -- you should have no problem.

Mostly I think it depends on whether you're willing to accept the fact that things are different that they were at home. If you come over with all your expectations intact and take offense any time things aren't done the way you think they should be done, you're not likely to last long. If you embrace the local culture instead of wishing it were more like your own, the "not-so-good" bits will eventually become "ok" bits. But that too is not unique to Japan. It would be the same no in matter which culture you decided to immerse yourself. The key is immersion in something other than that which you're used to. The only real difference is that Japan is more different for us Westerners than if we moved to some European country.

If you can qualify for JET, by all means give that a shot. Once you're here you can spend the first couple years making contacts that might help you find something else once your contract it up. If you have enough money to support yourself for a year or two, you might be able to get a visa as an artist (such a visa does exist but you need to prove that you can support yourself for the term of the visa and you would need to jump through additional hoops to get permission to work while you're here). Maybe you can convince your current employer to open a pastry shop here in Tokyo, which would qualify you for a visa if the business will also be employing a handful of locals. There are probably many other possible avenues but just showing up with "several thousand yen" to your name is a sure recipe for failure, IMHO.

Hope that helps...
 
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with : several thousand yen" I meant that when you already have a work contract. This sum was recommended by the Japanese government for living expenses until your first income would come in.
You might try on a cultural visa which are granted for a period of six months and you have to have the school arrange the visa.
As far as the educational job scene is concerned, not the corporate scene, there are plenty jobs, especially in private school and pre schools. DOn't give up.
What you have experienced the first time you were here will probably not come again.
Start looking at job sites now and get yourself into a career mind!
 

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Ok I read the end because I saw the answers.

Personally I've never heard of the "honey moon" thing and think it's bunk.

As far as intergrating or assimilation as you put it, I think it's foolish to even try. There are some gaijins here who act more Japanese than Japanese with a greater knowledge of their history and language and they are still gaijins and everybody I know thinks they are weird to begin with.

I saw an interview with Konishiki once, probably the most loved gaijin in Japan and he said he'll always be a gaijin and everything that means.

But here is the thing, Japan needs to grow and evolve like the rest of the world and gaijins bring a lot of spice and variety to Japan that makes it richer. So just be yourself, there is no need to try to be something you aren't. Unless of course you're in the habit of screaming "Usa Usa Usa" in which case I wouldn't do that.

The job thing. I know people who have come and found a job in a day by working the gaijin network in Roppongi, usually bar jobs and such but they do that as they search for better employment. They do some crazy stuff, many just hand off apartments when they leave to friends. It can be done but you got to have some grit in ya if you know what I mean.

And this whole idea that Japan is such a polite kind place is also bunk.
 
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I think it is a very polite place! The customer service here is next to none and if you show respect for their mannerism first, they are delighted. So far that has been my experience. I feel right at home here! No stupid casual behavior!
Believe me, when you look on gaijinpot for months every day and other such sites you get to know about the job market in Japan a little more. In my case it's education. There are lots of other jobs out there.
Don't give up on your dream, no matter what anybody says. I live a few minutes walk away from the notorious " Gaien Higashi Dori", the real Bar- action place of the Roppongi district and I have not been to any bar. It's a waste of my time. Not everybody goes there, just those who come here to experience the nightlife which I have no desire to do.
Just stick to your dream and follow your heart. There is a way, so I am quoting the famous German thinker, Wolfgang von Goethe here:
"the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too....
A whole stream of events issues form the decision, raising on one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamed would have come one's way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Begin it now."
Good luck and may your dream come true to come to Japan
 

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I think it is a very polite place! The customer service here is next to none and if you show respect for their mannerism first, they are delighted. So far that has been my experience.
6 months? Do you speak Japanese?

Once you've lived here long enough to need customer service for when things go wrong you'll find out that they love saying "We can't help you" more than anything, of course it's said with the upmost politeness. End of the day they are still telling you to take a short walk of a long pier. Often times to get any satisfaction at all you got to talk like a Yakuza. I'll take American service with their rude operators any day over Japanese service with all their politness which amounts to nothing.

Most people who can only see Japan on the service thinks it's very polite. The rest of us understand that Japan is the land of scams, yakuza and brats.

What is about Japan that you think is very polite? People waiting for lights to change?
 

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I've always assumed (and said so in previous threads) that it takes at least a year or two to really grok what Japan is all about. And not knowing the language masks a lot of the faults. If you needed evidence of a "honeymoon period" you need only talk to someone who's only been here a few months, doesn't speak the language, and hasn't yet landed a job.

BTW, when I say "faults" that's not to say I don't still prefer Japan as my home. It's just that I've gotten to the point where I realize that there's going to be things we don't like no matter where we live and, IMHO, people tend to carry these attitudes around with them wherever they go. In other words, if you think where you live right now is more-or-less OK, you'll probably like Japan. If you hate where you live now, spend two or three years here and you'll learn to hate it here just as much. It has less to do with the actual location than with the person doing the observing.
 
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