Monthly Archives: August 2012

“So, why Japan?”

When you think of Western expats living in Japan, what comes to mind?

Go ahead, you can say it:

Manga geeks. Anime devotees. And, most of all, Western men on the singular mission of getting a Japanese girlfriend/wife. Protest all you want, I just said what many of us were thinking.

None of those things are bad! They’re just the stereotypes. And it’s easy to see why: each of those types of people has a particular fascination with Japan, a specific reason to come and make a life here.

Which brings me to a small problem I’ve been facing: many Japanese coworkers and friendly strangers expect me to have a special cultural interest that brought me here. Last week, when I met the principal of one of my schools, we sat down to chat over some cold tea and one of her first questions was: So what is your #1 interest in Japan?

I was caught off guard and ended up answering lamely, “Learning Japanese.” I could feel her wanting me to say “tea ceremony,” “karate” or “Arashi,” and no matter how much I think about it, there’s nothing like that that really resonates with me.

So, if we’re talking about my reasons for coming here, let’s just get the pragmatic one out of the way: yes, I just graduated and am still not sure what to do with my life and the job market back home is abysmal. Yes! No shame! For a year, I can support myself, and if it happens to be in Japan, so be it.

But beyond that, what I failed to explain to the principal and to many other people here is that my interest isn’t so much in Japan as in the world beyond the United States in general. I don’t want to live here forever; I know deep down that my home is America and that’s where I’ll be long-term. But I do love the challenge of living in another country. I’ve always loved learning other languages, learning to express myself in new ways, and examining the ways culture determines how people live their lives.

But if the interest is that general, why did I end up in Japan? I guess I feel a sort of affinity with the culture of politeness, as overbearing and tedious as it may be. As an introvert, as someone who worries about pleasing others, I feel a little more comfortable here than in the U.S., where inflated individualism is a major influence (to say the least!). Maybe I’ll expand on this in another post.

But even if I knew how to explain that in Japanese, I’m not sure it would really satisfy people. “Your culture is good for quiet people like me.” Hmmm.

So is it bad that I don’t have a passion for anything uniquely Japanese? Is it my responsibility to have a keen interest in the nation I’m now a part of (even if I’m still kind of a guest)?


Just a storm fangirl post

I have been very, very bad about blogging. I arrived in Japan over two weeks ago and this is the first thing that I’ve written. So let’s just jump right in, shall we?

I’m writing in the middle of a fantastic summer storm, the second one I’ve experienced just since moving to Takaoka. It’s almost gone, having taken about twenty minutes to pass over my apartment. When I was outside to take this picture, I could watch as the edge of the storm moved towards me. Birds of all kinds were everywhere, flying ahead of the clouds.

As a Southern California native with very little prior storm experience, I’m pretty wowed. It hadn’t really occurred to me before that thunder has a point of origin; here, it’s not just a boom somewhere over my head, it’s at a specific point relative to where I’m standing. One especially incredible burst of thunder over my left shoulder several minutes ago really sounded like something breaking!

Once the clouds came over my neighborhood and the rain started, I watched as all the street lights came on to accommodate the sudden darkness. Now, in turn, I’m watching it slowly lighten up outside; landmarks are emerging once again from the total opacity of the rain just minutes ago.

So, to sum up, I’m incredibly glad I got my grocery shopping done about an hour before this all started, and I shudder at the thought of being caught outside during one of these storms (it’s bound to happen). I hope everyone in this part of the world — well, and everywhere else — is warm and dry.