So Japan...Let's Talk

I've been in Japan for nearly a whole year now. In fact I'm just a little over a month away from that anniversary. It's pretty staggering. I've had many awesome times and fun experiences, most of which you've seen/read about on this blog. I feel like I generally have a positive impact at my schools. I really love teaching, which has led me to believe that pursuing teaching as a career might be a good idea. However, I kind of feel like I've partially failed in this whole exercise. What I'm talking about is the fact that I haven't really made any Japanese friends.

See I had certain goals when I set out on this trip, believe it or not. At the top of that list was making connections with people. I think it's something that's important in all aspects of my life, so it's no surprise I meant to do it here as well. And as far as my foreign friends go, I think I've really succeeded. I have plenty of awesome JET friends, but I have all of about two Japanese friends. I had no idea how abysmally hard it would be to meet and befriend Japanese people.

I'm willing to admit at this point that I've sort of fallen into a trap. Being that I never met any Japanese people in the begining, I really bonded with my fellow JETs, and now they're the only ones I hang out with. It's just, I'm not sure how to go about changing the situation, and I'm not sure I could change it even if I tried my hardest.

I said I have two Japanese friends. They are Nori (who is kind of my guardian) and Mao (who happens to be my girlfriend). Nori is sort of professionally my friend. I don't mean for that to sound horrible, it's just that's her job description (as she told me in her first email to me). She may have started out as someone who was paid to be my friend, but now I know now that her friendship is extremely genuine and that she cares a lot about me. If she didn't exist I would never have decided to stay another year...and I doubt anyone would ever recontract in Hamada.

Mao is amazing. She makes my life a lot more interesting and fun, and if it wasn't for her I'd probably just be sitting in my room when I wasn't at work or attending JET events. She is my main insight into Japanese life/culture/etc. and she fields all my questions with grace and skill. She cares a lot about me too and she does all kinds of great stuff to make me feel special when I need a pick-me-up.

Beyond that...I've been in Japan for about 11 months and I've yet to be invited into a Japanese home. See the thing about Mao and Nori is that they actually want to be around me. They both have an interest in the world outside Japan. Most Japanese people (as best I can tell) can't stand to be around foreign people, or more appropriately they just can't be bothered with us. Now this could be because my area is very much a rural area, but since that's all I have to work with, for me, this rural hell is Japan. Period. I don't get big cities or exciting young people or anything like that. I get people who stare at me, laugh at me, or avoid me. The novelty of that wears off quickly.

And it's not just me. I've had this conversation with my fellow JETs, especially my friend Evan who has tried his damnedest to meet and interact with Japanese people in an amazing effort to learn the language. Evan has been here a year longer than I have; still no private home invite. And he has access to the "city" (aka Hamada). I live up in the mountains, so my contact with people is even more limited.

One of my only chances to meet people is work. Most of my coworkers ignore me. I tried to be outgoing for about two or three months, but when it's so one-sided it really gets old fast. I speak Japanese and they pretty much pretend they didn't hear me or they can't understand me.

There is one exception, the office admin lady at my one school. She's been amazing, always having conversations with me when she's not busy, trying to make polite chit-chat. But I can see our friendship will never develop beyond that, because she's married, and thirty-something, and god forbid a male and female become friends in Japan. In fact, this post was actually touched off by the fact that she shared a huge secret with me today. She told me she's going to have her second child. I was really touched by that, since she hadn't told anyone else at work yet, but it made me think that maybe she only told me because no one ever talks to me. Who the hell am I going to tell? (Well, you guys, but the chances of anyone from work reading this are slim to none)

Anyway, the point is that today I did a lot of thinking about all this crap and I decided to write it down. It didn't come out at all like I wanted it to sound, I think it mostly sounds horrible and whiny. Obviously this stuff wasn't enough to make me give up and come home, but I can see how another year of it might bring me to that point. I guess this awful post can just be a testament to how sometimes Japan is really frustrating for me. And perhaps it will be a little inspiration for me to try harder in the coming year.


Blogger Ashuri said...

I know exactly what you mean. I've been invited for home dinners but I think it has to do with young women in the family wanting to speak English with me and their parents forced to be the hosts for an evening. In those two cases I haven't been invited BACK.

It must be a different situation for you as a young foreign male.

I would really like some more Japanese friends as well, and invited some teachers over to my house for drinks one night but I got sick and had to cancel. I regret that because I haven't had time since, and it was a stretch anyway considering my apartment barely fits three people comfortably.
My advice is to invite some people over for dinner. Show them how interested you are in THEM. Maybe their rediscence in getting to know you is due to their assumption that you couldn't be bothered with them.

Blogger thomas said...

fascinating read, even more knowing that it's coming from one of my close friends.

and while actually on the subject of Japan, have you seen Paprika? it just came out here in the states. i LOVED it. too much for words even.

Blogger Ben said...

That's tough, I have trouble fitting in here in the states. But it's good your aware of it, and it's not like some after thought down the road.

Blogger golorengo said...

i totally understand where you are coming from. how can you live someplace and understand the culture if noone wants to talk to you? that is so depressing!

i realize more and more how much i lucked out when i went to Denmark, in that i was in a city and the danes don't have nearly as insular a mind set as the japanese, and i lived with international and danish students, and happened to live in a dorm with social Danes. My friend went the semester after me, lived in the same dorm complex, and made not a one danish friend. The highlight of denmark, hands down, were my danish friends. i mean, what else besides hang out (its like the national pastime--see: hyggelig http://www.studyindenmark.dk/default.aspx?id=4133) was i going to do in denmark?-- oh and legoland (kind of awesome BTDub)

How did you meet the girlf? And doesn't she have any friends? You've got a foot in the door there, man!

Anyway, I was watching Howl's Moving Castle today and I have a question for you: does this movie really make sense? I first watched this crazy fansub and I seriously thought Miyazki was on crack. and then the version on tv today was dubbed and it made slightly more sense, but really? I just don't think the story holds up under scrutiny.
And I feel that way about quite a lot of anime (uhh..UTENA WTF? I admit I didn't watch the whole series, but they TURNED into CARS), but just passed it off as things being lost in translation.
But I was thinking today about The Wind Up Bird Chronicle--have you read that book? Also crazy. (BUT GOOD!) And it made me wonder that maybe abstruseness is a theme in Japanese art/literature.
I mean, on the one hand, it kind of goes with the whole fantasy element. but on the other hand, you can easily have an intelligible story take place in a fantasy world.
So my real question is: do many Japanese movies and books have stories that don't really make sense, or is this a product of translation/selective importation?

/end longest comment ever

Blogger Darrell said...


Ashley: Thanks for the response and advice. I think my thing is that I don't really want to be friends with any of the people at my work, and I guess I didn't make that point well enough in my post. They're just my only prospects as friends for the most part. Plus when you think about it me inviting people over would be seen as pretty weird...I mean who do I invite? I can't invite everyone...there's not enough room. I'd have to pick and choose and that would get around. Plus I don't have any furniture either...that could pose a problem. Maybe I'll work on that first...

Tom: I've not seen that movie. I'll check it out.


1) I met my gf through foreigner friends. She appears so (sort of) have Japanese friends, but as far as I can tell she never hangs out with them or anything. Most of them are married and stuff by now.

2) Howl's Moving Castle doesn't make sense in either language. I've never read the book, so I'm not sure if it was just pacing issues and them having to cut stuff from the movie, but the story is totally full of holes whatever way you look at it. It's not just to make it seem "fantastical" (like the way certain things in Spirited Away are left unexplained).

3) Do Japanese comics/movies really make sense, eh? I guess that's all in the eye of the beholder. They definitely enjoy a little bit less scrutiny than their western counterparts. Japanese people are a little more disposed to go with the flow, so they tend to accept and even embrace weird plot holes and strange premises that we typically wouldn't. I think even Japanese conversation is a little more loose than your typical English conversation. The way Japanese works, you need not always be specific about subjects...or objects...or anything really. A lot of Japanese works on inferring things, and you don't want to look like an idiot by asking questions. You never want to be left out in Japan. In this way I think literature/film/etc in Japan has developed a similar ambiguity. Plus, yes, some things are just plain hard to translate. So yeah, I'm not sure I answered your question well, but there you are. Japanese stories do and don't make sense.

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