The Foreigner Trap

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China Town in Yokohama 

These past few weeks have been overwhelming in terms of making new friends. It’s always funny how a quiet evening drinking at a cafe can quickly turn into an adventurous night on the town and an invite to the family BBQ (true story). While I was trying to pretend like I can keep up in conversation, I was vaguely aware that the conversation switched over to foreigners living in Japan and interacting with foreigners. They expressed how they want to interact with more foreigners (I’m assuming they mean more Americans and Europeans), but find that communicating with the one’s here to be a little daunting.

The most common issue was of course the language barrier, which I can understand. You can’t really communicate with someone if there isn’t a common language. The second problem was just stereotypes trying to avoid the otakus (anime nerds) and all the ones with yellow fever. Which I can understand I wouldn’t want to talk with anyone who thought rap and hip hop was the only aspect of black culture. However there was a third issue they brought up that seemed to be kind of ridiculous; foreigners that aren’t interested in talking to Japanese people or at least not in Japanese.

I was at a lost for words. I mean why would you travel thousands of miles away from home to not speak a word of Japanese to an actual Japanese person? But then it hit me, I think the foreigners they’re talking about are stuck in a trap. Something I call the “Gaijin Trap”.

 

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Enoshima Island Temple

 

 

 

This happens when you live in another country for a while but you don’t really make I think a connection with the host culture. This disconnect could happen for a number of reasons maybe you didn’t really want to live abroad and you’re only here because of work. Maybe you don’t find the culture as interesting as you thought you would. I think everybody has fallen victim to it or at least has the potential to. I know I have when I first studied abroad in Osaka. My main group of friends from that time were other English speakers and I felt comfortable that way. I had fun of course but not experiencing things the way I should’ve been. Which didn’t really make me feel the most confident in my skills when I returned home.

So what can someone do to prevent this from happening? How can you break loose from the perpetual cycle? This isn’t a step by step guide on how to make authentic Japanese friends but simply just a little bit of food for thought. Maybe the problem is just simply being to self-involved. Self-involved meaning always waiting for someone else to make a move or assuming that you inherently don’t fit into whatever image you’re currently looking at. Looking back on my experience from before and my experience now. Some of the best times I’ve had come from me simply making the first moves and letting go of that initial fear of not being good enough.

I have to remind myself just because I look different on the outside, doesn’t entitle me to any sort of special treatment. Especially in a place like Japan where being different isn’t necessarily a good thing (personal experience). I’ll be the first to admit that I fell victim to this way of thinking before. Always thinking of myself as the “other” when in reality that really wasn’t the case. As much as I’m intimidated about starting conversations with Japanese people I’ve come to find out they’re just as intimidated by me. And even if they don’t plan to visit the U.S. anytime soon, most people find the casual culture exchange to be just as interesting.

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BBQ’s during Golden Week

 

What are your thoughts on the situation? Do you think the “Gaijin Trap” exists? I’d love to hear outside opinions.

 

A Little Bit of Culture Shock

I have to laugh at myself a little bit, mainly because this is my second time coming to Japan. I’ve already lived through all of this for a short time before, so what else could I possibly find shocking? The truth is there’s still a lot that gets to me. Sometimes it’s frustrating and other times I just have to roll with the punches. So I’ve complied a short list of things that I’ve found to be the most shocking since living here.

ATMs Close

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My ATM: I’m charged ¥ 108 after 6pm on weekdays and on the weekends.

Japan is still a heavily cash based society so it’s still uncommon to pay using credit card at most places especially in rural places where they might not even have card machines. So it’s very common for people to walk around with $500-$1000 in cash at any given time. The only place I can think to use a credit at around Sano would be at the Aeon Mall and Outlet stores. Even online, there’s often options to pay in cash at convenience stores or give the delivery man cash on arrival.

This all wouldn’t be so bad if dealing with the ATMs wasn’t so annoying. Unlike in America ATMs in Japan actually  close, usually around 6pm, on weekends,and on holidays. ATMs are also notorious for charging fees for withdrawing your OWN money from your OWN account. I was lucky enough to be with a bank that’s not so annoying but I know I do get charged to withdraw money if I do it after 6pm.  So this means I have to do some careful planning when it comes to my weekend adventures. Especially since my bank can’t be found outside of Tochigi so I try to make sure I withdraw enough money to get through the weekend.

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Just slide into the ATM, the machine writes all your transactions.

A good thing about them though is that you can update your bankbook automatically at the ATM so Japan got that part right.

 

 

 

 

 

No Returns

This one is still a little hard for me to understand, most stores will not allow you to do a return. If you are able to make a return, it’s usually an annoyingly long process.  It’s not that you can’t return things I’ve returned a couple things, you just have to have a good reason why you want to return it i.e. broken, wrong fit, etc. Even if you are able to make returns most places will want you to do an exchange instead of giving you back your money. It’s a hard concept to get used to,  especially coming from America I remember returning things that I bought months ago without any problem. Hell I’ll buy clothes to try on at home and then return them within the week if I don’t really like them. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to return things , I guess it’s just to make sure the stores aren’t being cheated out of money somehow. It’s not all that bad though I just have to really think about what I’m getting and weather or not it’ll be worth the purchase.

 

Technology

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Electronic Dictionary: the saving grace of English Education

Japan has a very love hate relationship when it comes to technology. On one hand they have electronic dictionaries, self opening car doors, and high tech Japanese phones, but on the other hand they still rely on kerosine heaters, fax machines, and chalk boards. I guess it’s the idea of if it’s not broken don’t fix it, because they will hold onto outdated technology until it dies. Maybe it’s a part of the energy conservation or just putting money into more viable infrastructure… I’m not really sure what it is. Most of my teachers aren’t really sure how to use certain technology like bluetooth speakers or creating power points it’s strange. I remember being at Kansai Gaidai and having to type my final reports on computers that  were still running windows 98. It’s crazy to even think that that program can still work on anything in 2017, but it still exists.

Delivery

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McDelivery is McGenius

This one I can’t experience too often because most places around me don’t deliver but it’s surprising how many restaurants actually offer delivery services. You can get not only get pizza but also McDonald’s, Moe’s Burgers, ramen, etc all delivered to your door step. The first time I had it in Osaka I was shocked, as lazy as Americans are why don’t we have delivery McDonalds?

 

 

 

I’m sure there’s plenty of other things that throw me off every now and again but these are the few things that I experience everyday that really get to me.

 

Winter Vacation: Starting 2017 on a Good Note

The year 2016 will not only be known as my first winter vacation in Japan, but also my first paid winter vacation ever. It might sound a bit pretentious of me but, when I think about where I was last year this is a major improvement.This time last year I was so stressed out from working two jobs and applying for more jobs that led me nowhere. It’s sill to think about it now but I thought that part of my life would never end. Now here I am on a program that I never thought I would get into doing something that I like. I never saw myself feeling this good at 23 years old and I’m happy to say that I ended 2016 on a good note.

Unlike most of my peers, I didn’t make any big plans for the winter holidays for several reasons; 1. I wanted to save a little bit of money (bills are not fun) and 2. I really wanted to spend the holidays in Japan. Not that Japan does anything particularly special for Christmas and New Years, but when will I ever spend winter break in Japan ever again?

Finishing up work in school brought so much relief. I spent the last month teaching (fun) Christmas songs to my upper level students. They all thoroughly enjoy Jingle Bell Rock and continued to sing it well until the final day of classes. Two of my classes banded together to make me Christmas origami cards. They were super cute, sweet, and their English was impeccable. My Japanese has been steadily improving, things that didn’t make sense suddenly, are starting to make sense. Conversation in Japanese has become much easier (still pretty bad though).

I had several friends come and visit me during the month of December with long movie nights, frequent onsen visits (hotsprings), rocking the house at Karaoke night in the local bars and playing the new Final Fantasy on my new (used) PS4 and TV.

My Christmas Day Collection, peep me in the fuzzy sandals.

Christmas day I spent with two American friends from Yamanashi Prefecture in Sano. We all stayed in my cramped apartment for four days but it was still great, watching the new Yuri on Ice anime (highly recommended) and the somewhat new MARS ただ君を愛してる drama (not so recommended), and visiting the Ashikaga flower park for the Christmas Illumination (highly recommended). Unfortunately it’s hard to cook a good American Christmas dinner in Japan so I couldn’t enjoy the standard turkey with stuffing on the 25th, instead I indulged in some KFC for Christmas dinner. I think KFC for Christmas is strange to but the reason why Japanese people eat it is because KFC is the closest thing they have to cooked turkey… I don’t think so either.

A much deserved trip to Sendai City

December 30th I took a trip up to Sendai city all by myself just to get out of Sano and try something new. Which turned out to be a pretty amazing trip, I’m the first person to admit that I’m scared to travel alone especially to areas I’m not familiar with, but I’m glad I was able to conquer my fear of the unknown. I was able to navigate around the city on my own strike up good Japanese conversations and keep myself thoroughly entertained for the day. The shinkansen ticket was pretty pricey from Oyama but the journey was well worth it in the end. Highlights of my trip included the Daikannon temple, Nishi park and the Tanabata Museum.

 

Osechi and family time.

Finally I started the year off right eating Osechi with a Japanese friend Mutou-sensei and her family. Osechi is the new year cuisine that most Japanese people eat at the beginning of January. Apparently this meal used to be prepared as a way for Japanese families to survive the first couple of days of winter during the time when most stores in Japan would be closed. The food in Osechi can be set out in a cool area and eaten for many days without spoiling. Many of the items represent prosperity, good fortune, and health. The best part of the day was visiting the huge temple in Ashikaga and praying for good luck within the new year. I think my prayers were answered because my mikoji was the highest luck (daikichi omikuji) for the new year.

I’ve never felt this good about starting a new year before and I’m excited to see what the next 365 days have in store for me. Here’s to a lit 2017!!