Probably best to be clear, and probably like most blogs of this type that you’ll find, this is not a Japanophile affair. It’s just about my experience, which may well include a few rants.
Last time I was back in Australia, I got the impression that most of my friends there had the impression that I was nuts about Japan. And for a while, I was. But somewhere, that changed. For a while it was love-hate. For a while, it stayed on the negative side of that spectrum. At the moment it’s somewhere in the middle, and to be honest, I think one of the things I’m trying to achieve in writing here is to rediscover the things I like about this place, or at least come to terms with it in a new way.
See, when I first came, it was all just really interesting and exciting.
I was up in the north, and discovered this fantastic international community, which allowed me to make friends with a heap of other expats but also locals who were interested in things and people from outside Japan. I went to onsen, I went to nightclubs, I went skiing. I had a car my company helped me lease. I went on road trips and saw temples, shrines, gorges and caves.
Then I moved, and the community wasn’t there. The work I was doing went from trying to coordinate 40-strong classes of unmotivated high school kids to watching and trying to help Japanese teachers of English with varying levels of language proficiency in classes of middle school kids. I met some overtly sexist and xenophobic people, including a teacher who kindly informed me that I didn’t understand history or politics because of being a woman*. (He was serious.) I started to feel self-conscious that every time I looked at someone on the street, they were already looking at me. I started to notice more the distinctions people in my town and schools made between ‘Japan’ and ‘other,’ which largely meant American. Basically, the novelty was wearing off and I had more time to notice these kinds of things. They bothered me, but I still somehow felt there was more to do in Japan. However, I had to leave for unrelated reasons.
*I don’t mean to suggest that people like this don’t exist in Australia – I just never had to work with any.
A year and a half later, I came back. This time, due to now having a significant other who lives in central Japan, I’m in central Japan with a new company. I don’t have a car because my job doesn’t require me to have one. This makes life different again, particularly living in an area where most people have cars: it’s that kind of area.
Rice paddies. Closest station is a half-hour walk away. My significant other is a 2-hour commute away. The things that I was noticing in my last job that bothered me about Japan are all still there. When I came to my new placement, a year’s contract, it looked set to be a very long year.
5 months in, I’ve finally made a few local friends and had the chance to travel around and rediscover a few of the best things this country has to offer, as well as things that can help me get through the day/week/semester.
Here are a few:
- The ABC radio app, and more specifically, Radio National’s breakfast program with Fran Kelly.
- Mountains and gorges.
- Avoiding eye contact with strangers (you don’t see them looking, though one of my newfound friends does the opposite and likes to stare them down).
- Audiobooks, book books, ebooks, fanfiction.
- Making and maintaining contact with any and all friends and family.
Now, heading into the second semester of school, let’s see how these things help over the next 4 months until the winter holidays.