Category Archives: Japan

Leaving When Possible

Time has passed so quickly even though I don’t do much. It’s been a year since I’ve written here and even longer since I’ve written about what’s happening in my life.

I’m definitely leaving Japan. I’m just not sure how or when. I have a vague idea of what I want to do now. I want to make things with people. Specifically I want to work on movies or plays. I want to know others who enjoy creating and aren’t afraid to try things. I just need to figure out what my first step should be.

Last I wrote about my life, I had just started a new round of Japanese lessons. I did that for three months, took the JLPT N2 for the third time, and failed by one measly point. Around the same time, I stopped teaching English and started working in the kitchen of a yakiniku restaurant, which was one of the most stressful and demanding jobs I’ve ever had but also fairly rewarding. Every time I went into work, I had to use Japanese. Only Japanese. And I did it and kicked ass, toward the end of it at least. I did it for a year before quitting last month because I wasn’t making as much money as I needed to. I’ve gone back to teaching English, and as much as I don’t like it, I’m feeling better about it now because I’m sure it’s temporary.

I’m leaving Japan.

Also since I last wrote, my husband and I visited my hometown of Los Angeles for a week last August. It had been the first time in over two years that I’d been out of Japan. The whole week I was overwhelmed with how easy it was to live in a first language. I’d forgotten how easy it was. Or maybe I didn’t know it before because I always took it for granted. Even when I spent a year in Nagoya as an international student, I was still able to rely on my first language. My classes were in English, my classmates spoke English, my advisers spoke English. It wasn’t until I moved to Tochigi three years ago that I really felt how frustrating and completely isolating it is to live in a second language.

I realized that my goals and dreams are hard enough of my native language. So why would I waste effort and energy trying to do them in a second language? Especially in a country that doesn’t want me, that I have no reason to be in.

I thought about what has led me here, how I could be so unhappy in the choices I made. I thought about what teenage me had wanted for her future. I thought about the praise my high school teachers and writing instructors gave me. What would they think if they knew I was sat here, unhappy and doing nothing with the talent and ambition they had seen?

I’ve decided this has just been one long detour. It’s time to start carving out a way back to the path I wanted to take originally.

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ANA’s Ad is Racist, But That’s Not the Problem

I first saw the ad two Saturdays ago when my husband and I were watching TV together. I didn’t think much of commercial until one of the men said, “Let’s change the image of Japan,” and for that brief second, I was excited. “Yes!” I thought. “Let’s do it!” But in the next second, the commercial did a 180. The camera cut to the other man (comedian BakaRhythm), who was now wearing a Cyrano nose and a yellow wig. He’s supposed to look like a hakujin — a white foreigner. My husband laughed. I said nothing.

Some people, like the Japan police of the Internet, think it isn’t racist at all, but I would disagree. The ad is racist; there’s no debating that. What’s debatable is how offensively racist it is, and as for me, it’s not even a blip on the radar. But ANA’s ad is upsetting for other reasons.

Japan sees itself as a unique country (like I talked about in my last blog post). Name your reason–because they were closed off to the world for 200 years, because Japan is supposedly the only country with four seasons–whatever it is, Japan is insistent of its uniqueness. There’s a feeling of “us versus them” within Japan, the Japanese versus the rest of the world, and this feeling is very strong. There are many stories of second-generation foreigners and how, even though they were born here, grew up here, and live here permanently, they are still considered Korean or Chinese or whatever their parents’ nationality was. Either you’re ethnically Japanese or you’re an outsider.

The ad was exciting to me because it speaks about Japan as a global player. There was no “us versus them” …until the yellow wig and big nose appeared, which was like a slap in the face. Changing the image of Japan wasn’t a serious proposal. Instead, it sent the message that Japan is no more international than it ever was. Either ANA thought foreigners wouldn’t see the commercial or they thought people wouldn’t be offended by it, and either is upsetting in its ignorance.

Edit: Hifumi Okunuki has written a great piece on this topic for the Japan Times.

Related: Reactions to the ANA Commercial, White-Face, and Racism in Japan

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Quitting Writing

My husband thinks I should quit writing for a while.

He said he thinks it makes me unhappy. He told me tonight while I was in the middle of a mini nervous breakdown that had me crying on the floor of our bedroom for a couple of hours.

I love writing. The only time writing doesn’t make me happy is when the crippling self-doubt kicks in, when everything I write sucks and I’m not getting better fast enough. I know it takes time to get good, but I don’t have time when everyone else is already good and I need to make money to pay bills.

I hate my job. I can’t get a better job because my stupid Japanese still isn’t good enough despite years of studying. And while I’m barely pulling in any money, my husband is basically supporting us both, and I feel guilty. He’s smart and very capable and works so hard, and he deserves someone stronger and more mentally stable than me, someone who can share financial burdens equally.

Since we got married, he’s used every bi-annual bonus to help pay off my student loans, and the guilt kills me.

If writing makes me unhappy, it’s only because it feels selfish.

He thinks I should quit writing and take Japanese lessons so I don’t waste my time here. But I already created a deadline for the story I’m working on. I’ve already made a goal to write every day of the year. And enrolling in Japanese classes would mean I’d have to work longer hours to pay for it.

But taking classes might be the push I need to reach a level of Japanese that will let me get a job I like, one where I can earn more. And then maybe the guilt will go away. I just hope I don’t forget about writing along the way.

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Possessive Over Unique Japan

The Japanese keep you an outsider. The other foreigners are competitive and are out to prove they know more than you. The world outside of Japan is looking on with jealousy and amazement because they either worship Japan or thinks it’s batshit crazy.

Here’s a shocker: Japan is no more unique than any other country.

People act like Japan is some mysterious, enigmatic country, usually citing the 200-year period of isolation as the cause, but the fact is different countries have different people and different practices. All nations are the same in their differences. If you think Japan is unique or crazy-weird, that makes me want to question how much of the world you’ve seen.

Once Japan is brought up in conversation, online or in person, people begin to not-so-subtly stake their claim on the country in one way or another. I think the one expats use the most is “So, how long have you been here?” Whoever answers with the larger number is wordlessly deemed superior. And beware: if your answer is one year or less, you will be laughed onto the next plane with the other tourists, students, and JET teachers.

"Oh, you've been to Japan, huh?"

“Oh, you’ve been to Japan, huh?”

The one I hear most from people outside of Japan is “Oh, I’m a big fan of Japan.” I hear it every day, but I have no idea in what way these people are a fan. How can you be a fan of an entire country? Think about it — when was the last time you heard someone say that about another country, outside of referring to sports teams?

When people say they’re a big fan of Japan, I think it’s like saying “I find Japan interesting,” but the difference is it goes a step further. They’re also implying they know a thing or two about Japan, enough to be a fan. But why people need to let others know how knowledgeable of Japan they are, I truly don’t know. Is it to seem unique or interesting to other people? To feel superior over mainstream culture?

"That's one of the main reasons why I love this book, because we got to visit Japan, and I love Japan."

“That’s one of the main reasons why I love this book, because we got to visit Japan, and I love Japan.”

Regardless of the reason, and taking this to a personal level, I’m tired of having to struggle against other foreigners, Japanese people, and the world outside. I don’t want to be Japanese. I don’t want to be a foreigner in Japan. I just want to be with my husband. It just so happens that he’s Japanese and works in Japan and I live with him.

I haven’t been able to find anyone else in a similar situation to mine. I didn’t move to Japan with a Japan-centric goal in mind. Yet, unlike the other wives who followed their husbands here, I’m not completely disconnected from Japan. I got my degree studying Japanese, and I had inklings to have a career here at one time. I don’t want to be here, and yet I do.

I feel like I’m playing three simultaneous games of tug-of-war with no one else on my side helping me pull.

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Goals, Jobs, and the JLPT

New Offical Website of The Japanese Language P...

New Offical Website of The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (Photo credit: Rainbowhill LL)

If you’re interested in Japan, you’ve probably already heard of the JLPT. The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT for short,  is what it sounds like–a test that measures the Japanese ability of non-Japanese, and about 600,000 people take it every year. The test is divided into five levels, going from N5 (the easiest) to N1 (the hardest).

Typically companies in Japan require foreign workers to hold a certificate at the N1 or N2 level, which is why passing the JLPT N2 has been a goal of mine since I started studying Japanese. But it’s always felt like a far-away goal, something that, even now, would still take a year or two of studying to pass.

This July, I sat for the N2 at a local university. I didn’t expect to pass, but at least I would know how close I was to reaching my goal. Last week, the results were posted. I didn’t pass, as expected, but my score was higher than I thought it’d be. Much higher. My listening score, in particular, kicked some ass. I was floored. For a year I’d been beating myself up about how low my Japanese skills are despite studying for five years, but here I am almost reaching my goal. It was a huge boost of confidence.

I’ve been studying Japanese every day since the results, and I plan to sit for the test again in December, this time with a goal of passing. But… if and when I do pass, it will leave me with a decision to make.

Should I keep teaching English and being miserable but being paid well? Or, do I want enter a different job where I have the chance of actually enjoying what I do? If the latter, I’d have to work twice as long for the same about of pay I’m getting now, which would mean less time to write, which is what I actually want to be doing. I just need a job for the money until I get good enough at writing to hopefully make it a career.

Whatever I decide to do, I hope I’ve learned to have more confidence in myself and my abilities, and that goals might be closer than they seem and are reachable as long as you do the work.

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Is It Just Culture Shock?

Every time I write about my feelings toward Japan, I worry I will start sounding like this guy and people will begin to hate me. Well, here I go.

Last week I wrote about losing interest in Japan. I’ve lived here a year now–two if you include my year in Nagoya in 2009–and it’s been five years since I started studying Japanese and about Japan in general. The easy answer for what I’m experiencing would be culture shock… but is that really what I’m going through?

Loneliness, Part 1: Old friends

When people experience culture shock, many mention feeling lonely because they don’t have the same group of close friends and family that they did back home. When I was still in the US, all but two of my friends lived far away, so we were already used to using the internet as our main way to interact. As for my parents, my relationship with them was and is nearly nonexistent, so nothing has changed in how I interact with friends and family.

In fact, I’m less lonely now than when I was still living in the US. Continue reading

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Losing Interest in Japan as an Expat

YokohamaThe more time I spend in Japan, the less I’m here for my own ambitions and the more I’m here because this is where my husband is rooted.

Whenever someone finds out I majored in Asian Studies in college, they say, “So you could become an English teacher?” Definitely not! (Those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter might not know that I teach English and very much dislike it.)

When I chose to study about Asia–specifically Japan–it was not with a post-graduation career goal in mind. You see, growing up, I learned nothing about Asia. Then in college I suddenly had so much information about Asia available to me. My boyfriend (now husband) was Japanese, and all my friends were studying Japanese, and there was an entire academic department dedicated to Asia. It was new and exciting intellectual territory, and I wanted to learn everything. I didn’t have an interest in using my future degree to become a translator or an international consultant in a large company. I just wanted to explore.

Fast forward to now. Continue reading

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In Defense of Japan’s Practice of Killing and Eating Dolphins and Whales

Ric O’Barry is driving around Taiji, Japan, pointing out the various artistic portrayals of dolphins and whales displayed everywhere in the town. “If you didn’t know what went on here, you’d think they love them,” he says. In his 2009 documentary The Cove, O’Barry focuses on the hunting of dolphins in Taiji. What O’Barry doesn’t understand is that the town’s display of dolphins and whales is evidence of their love for the creatures; however, it’s a different kind of love. The Japanese appreciate these animals. The fishermen know that without whales, dolphins and other sea life, they would be out of a job as well as out of food. Japan’s relationship with sea life is different than how we in the U.S. regard sea life. I’ve had two experiences of visiting aquariums in Japan, and both times have given me a glimpse of this difference. As people stand in front of the glass and marvel at the creatures on the other side, in addition to the exclamations of “Kirei! Beautiful!” I’ve also heard many individuals, from young to old, exclaim, “Oishisou! They look delicious!”

Continue reading

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