Hey, it’s been a while since I blogged about, well, me, so let’s do that!
I’ve been feeling really under the weather recently. Not just from eating strange, nameless sushi or having trouble getting to sleep at night, but just with looking at the past and having to cope with how much my life has changed over the last two years in Japan.
Let me state first and foremost that I love Japan. It’s a culturally rich country with great cuisine and lots of strange, unique and wacky quirks, beautiful landscapes and an abundance of fantastic pop culture. But it is also a country with an insufferable amount of cultural differences that if I had to deal with for the rest of my life, would drive me insane or to my deathbed, which ever comes first. So, let’s talk about them from my point of view;
I hope you know everything about every illness that can enter your body, because if you don’t treat it before you catch it, you better bring a big wallet to the doctor with you. As a foreigner, Japanese medicine is incredibly weak. This is because Japanese medicine is supposed to be taken before, or “if you have a feeling” you will get ill. Be late on getting the hints and you might be forced to pay upwards of $400 with insurance for something as simple as painkillers. As you know, last month I got an ear infection. The checkup alone cost me $200 with insurance, and another $100 for 1 weeks worth of treatment through tablets. Turns out I just had a blocked nasal passage that was starting to push air up into my ear, and all the tablets did was clear my nose up, allowing air to get in. You know, like buying a $2 tub of Vicks Vapor rub.
Secondly, at least where I live, there is no such thing as a General Practitioner. Ever doctor in Japan specializes in something. Feet, ears, nose, throats, mouths, bones, you name it, there is a specialist for it. This means if something goes wrong, you need to go to a different doctor each time. If you are like me, some doctors, such as the nose/mouth/throat doctor, is a good 45 minute drive away, as the town I live in has no such specialist. This is why I gave up doing dangerous sports. I would hate to think how much money a broken bone costs to fix.
In Japan, you are either in or out of someone’s “Circle”, much like, y’know, Google+, only here everyone starts off by hating you. Circles are groups of friends or colleagues that you enter and build respect within, in order to be a strong member of the group. being a member of a circle is a big responsibility, and failing to meet those mandatory responsibilities will determine who likes you and who doesn’t.
For example, in my work circle, it is natural to attend after-work parties. These happen much more often than not, especially since I work at more than one workplace. In one week I had to attend three different parties. Sounds pretty tiring, no? If I wanted an evening off to recuperate, or fell ill and couldn’t attend, that would tarnish my reputation and lower my standing within the circle. People will talk, rumors will spread.
Japanese people, while apprehensive and shy to people outside of circles, are ruthless and unforgiving to those within them if these unspoken rules are broken. They do not practice subtlety, and will outright bad mouth the person in question in front of their own eyes, or within hearing distance. While this has not affected me (Don’t me wrong, I love a good roasting!) yet, it makes me sick hearing and watching other circle members rip on someone I like because of a rumor they made up, or something they forgot to do.
Circles also have hierarchies that must be respected if something goes wrong. Something as simple as the internet not working on my work PC. I cannot just go to the IT guy who sits two seats down from me and say “I can access the WAN but it seems the LAN is down”. Nope, I gotta ask my supervisor to ask the Depute Headteacher to change the schedule of the IT guy to come over and have a look at it for 5 minutes.
If I go out for lunch, I cannot just say “Be right back, going to grab a sandwich”. Nope, I gotta ask my supervisor to ask the Depute Headteacher to unlock the filing cabinet in order to fill out a time sheet for “leaving workplace grounds”, even if it’s just to cross the road and buy a Coke from a vending machine.
This drives me insane.
Lastly, you cannot just enter circles like you would make friends back home. You can’t just strike up a conversation in a coffee shop with a group of awesome looking people, and expect a friendship to last. You need to devote yourself to that circle, and do what is needed to be done in order for them to give you the pleasure of being their friend. That is, if they don’t outright ignore you in the first place.
For those of you who follow my blog (you don’t?! Why not?!) you should already know the state of my 90-year old wooden shack of a house in northern Japan. This part of the entry isn’t about that, it is about the cramped living conditions of Japan in general.
In areas such as Tokyo, you could be paying up to $700 a month for half a living room worth of space, surrounded by 400 other residents, all within hearing distance of your stereo or computer. Japan has a huge overcrowding problem, and again, as a Foreigner who needs space, this is probably the biggest problem I would face if I were to live here for the long run.
Now, while most studio apartment-like flats are incredibly expensive and tiny, there are larger places to live. Even up north there is a fair share of closely-knitted, large-sized houses, but within each house is a full 7-8 person family. Most children do not leave home when they grow up and after school end up living at home until they are old themselves. That is something I can do without, thanks very much.
Restaurants and stores are always jam-packed not just with locals but with tourists from all over the world. As for the trains and local transport? I won’t even comment, just try to imagine a tin of angry sardines that give you terrible looks for existing.
Which leads me to my last point. Existing just as me, is not acceptable by some people in Japan.
Japan, believe it or not, is an incredibly racist country that takes pride in everything it does. While not everyone feels this way, many Japanese people look down on others, and see all blue-eyed foreigners as English-speaking Americans, completely disregarding the achievements or diverse cultures of the rest of the world.
Sure, strangers will throw out a “Hello!” or “Hi there!” from time to time, which is nothing more than either a fleeting interest, or accompanied by a barrage of laughter within their circle of friends as if it was a dare to “Talk to that weird looking American”. What if I was French or German? Would I be offended?
No, because like all of the above I have just come to tell myself “This is just how Japan is”, and have no choice but to deal with it.
So in closing, I am in no way saying the UK is perfect, it’s far from it, but if I am planning to live somewhere for the rest of my life, get a job, settle down and make a family, I don’t want to have to do it in a place that I have to “deal with” to get by. I want it to be a place I am happy living in, that sees and understands me as myself, and not someone who they think I am.