Expat Forum For People Moving Overseas And Living Abroad banner
1 - 1 of 9 Posts

· Registered
1 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
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.
1 - 1 of 9 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.