Thursday, May 29, 2014

5 Things That Surprised Me in Japan

"What surprised you about Japan?"

I swear, every other Japanese person I meet asks me this question. No. Wait. That was a lie.

Every. Single. Person.

I usually answer that I was surprised about the heat and humidity (I came in August). Or, that all the people in uniforms and suits surprised me. I mean, I rarely saw people in suits when I was back in the U.S.

But, I've decided to make a list of things that surprised me or were new to me...a little different from the typical "culture shock" thing. Here goes (in no particular order):

1. My Japanese Sucks
I studied Japanese for five fucking years at university and arrived here with the hope that I would at least be able to communicate with people only to have those hopes dashed. The speed that people spoke with, their accents, their word usage...everything was different from what I learned in the U.S. And why wouldn't it be? But, that didn't make that first year frustrating.

2. Everyone Knows English Better Than You
...but they still want you to teach them. Makes no damn sense. The person going on about how "bad" their English is, is the first person to ask you some snotty question like, "What's the difference between 'Can I' and 'May I'? 'May I' is more polite, isn't it?" On the surface it seems like an innocent question, but fuck if I want to be grilled on English usage by someone who wants to stroke their ego. I should have used a better example, but some of the questions are so damn stupid, I just try to forget them.

3. You Should Must Be Happy...Always
In the U.S. you are allowed "bad days" to an extent. I mean, no matter how bad of a day you're having, you don't go into work stabbing people. But, no one is going to hold it against you if you say you're tired or having a bad day or whatever.
The amount of times I'm allowed to mention that I'm having a bad day has fallen to 0 within the past few years. I wake up feeling like death, pull myself to work..."How's it going?" I want to tell them that I feel like I might die or that I am actually dead, but I smile feebly and mumble a "I'm OK." 
It's even worse when you have to meet outside people or teach English on the side, like I do. Up late drinking? "I'm great. I love life." (OK, maybe all that drinking is my bad...)
Let's change that to pounding migraine. As much as you want to just cancel all of your plans, roll into a ball and never leave your apartment, you drag yourself out and put on a good face. All so that your client/eikaiwa lady doesn't complain that the foreigner seemed unhappy or something. So, smile.

4. Other Foreigners Ruin Everything
The reason we can't have nice things? It's the fault of that fucker. Whether it's a mysterious foreigner who used to work at your workplace years before you were ever born and left a bad impression, or a current coworker who Just Doesn't Care, other foreigners can make or break your experience. A majority of the Western foreigners here in Japan are minorities for the first time in their lives. The idea of doing better than the locals so as not to bring unwanted disgrace to your race/culture/ethnicity is just not something someone who is a part of the majority is used to. 
"What I do effects only me" is fine when you're back home. It doesn't fly here. People that don't think before they act literally screw things up for everyone else.

5.  Friendship is Like a Second Job
Oh god. Friendships are just not easy. Well, actually, sometimes they are too easy. Too easy in the sense that asking someone you've just met to be your friend and having them reply in the affirmative means that you are now "friends." When that happens, you've got a creepy, stalker "friend." Congrats.
In other circumstances, you're in constant limbo. "Are we friends? I think we are...but we only talk about the weather..." Once you feel like you've become closer friends, a whole crop of obligations springs up: "Come to this concert I've's only 3,000 yen!," "Teach me English. We are friends after all,, right?," and more. And if you stumble one too many times, you're in danger of being kicked off the "friend" list. Friendship in general has some give and take, but it shouldn't be an obligation. Unfortunately, while it's not limited to Japan, the cultural differences can make it seem like a second job.

So. Those are my five things for now. Will add to the list if and when I think of more! How about anyone reading? Anything to add?

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