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.