Friday, September 29, 2006

Is Japan a bad place to live?

One of the tough things when writing about Japan---or anywhere--is to provide some sort of balance. I do not. When I read back through my posts, it seems most are critical. Since one of the points of writing this is to counter the tourists and Japanophiles who believe the propaganda---that Japan is a uniquely unique country where all the people are always kind, thoughtful, and polite, where there is some zen-like respect for nature, and how everything is just all wonderful here. Also, when I went through undergrad school, I majored in East Asian Studies (minored in business---a mistake I made from believing the then current Japan is the future nonsense) and one of the most popular Japan "experts" was Edwin O. Reischauer, whose version of Japan was all sugar-coated half truths. Not fully false, but very obviously misleading. He has been pretty much discredited now, but I would like to continue to contribute to his discreditation (if that is a word.)

So is Japan a horrible place to live? It would seem so from simply reading my posts. But, frankly it is not. In fact, for a foreigner---we are talking a white foreigner of American/British/Australian/European origins---the ones for whom the somewhat derogatory term gaijin really applies, it can be a relatively good life. That is one reason many tend to turn a blind eye to anything less than perfect about Japan.

People are generally very "polite" to you, at least to your face. Of course, politeness is politeness by Japanese standards, which on the surface are agreeable to most. Racial discrimination is rarely in one's face. It is more subtle and institutionalized.

You will receive special treatment almost any and everywhere. That this in itself is discrimination doesn't bother most, in fact many enjoy it. Unfortunately, some seem to believe it and assume they are kinda special.

You can get a job for which your only qualification is that you are a native speaker. It is easier to get this job if you are white. Things have improved, but if you are say, African-American, it can be more difficult because some will worry about getting a "black" accent from studying a language under you. If you are Asian, well who wants to study a language from someone who does not look like their stereotype of an Australian, American, etc? One small problem is that this is about the only job you are gonna get. (Oh wait, you're different. You are gonna learn Japanese and Japanese culture and fit into Japan---become more Japanese than the Japanese---and then you'll work as a salaryman. Of course you will.) You'll be happy to know that the most important thing about you is your race, followed by national origin.

Besides, the country itself is interesting. You do have to live on a smaller scale. One day vacations can actually seem enjoyable here. By that I mean a one-day or overnight trip that costs $5-600 and would seem rushed by other standards can be somewhat relaxing. The food is great. Don't like Japanese food? No problem (are you nuts?) you can eat almost any type of food it you have the money to eat out. And most of it will be very good. You can enjoy tradition Japanese things, old temples etc., and if you know, or learn Japanese history, this will become even more enjoyable.

In fact, if you don't think too much; if you don't read much; if you don't learn Japanese well enough to know what is being said or written about Japan by the Japanese; and if you only care that people smile and are "polite" and treat you like you are special (either a genius or an idiot who cannot possibly understand the simplest thing about Japan), then you can live a very pleasant life here. Of course the fact that you are not taken seriously, that you are not expected to really participate in society and can live a simple life with few adult-level responsibilities beyond your job (and if you are in eikaiwa, you needn't even do it there) might be less than wonderful. Not many can continue this self-deception for more than a few years, though. Occasional visitors/tourists can maintain this forever.

Japan is not a horrible place to live. In fact, I would much rather live here than any other country in Northeast Asia, and probably any other in Asia. But I have a family and a reason for living here. It would not be a choice I would make, nor recommend over the long-term otherwise.

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