Sunday, January 7, 2007

Negative Feelings About Japan Among Foreigners...

I was thinking over my post on working for Nova while doing some Google-surfing, and I found more helpful information from- guess where- Peter Payne's J-List Side Blog. Peter Payne's blog is a must read if you're interested in what it's like to live in Japan, and this entry is particularly helpful and insightful.

His experience was very different from mine in that he didn't work for one of the eikaiwa (big chain English schools like Nova, Aeon and ECC), but I think we're similar in we both love living in Japan and tend to focus on the positives. My attitude is, if you're going to do nothing but be miserable and complain about Japan... don't come here. Stay home and be miserable there.

His essay had an interesting quote in it: "There is a tendency for JET gaijins to make friends in their own groups, to feed negative feelings about Japan to each other, and to create a mini-society where they try to keep Japanese influence out as much as possible. Makes me want to slap them silly."

I can vouch for this not among JETs, who I hardly had any contact with and who, when I did, seemed pretty cool and interested in their experiences here, but among foreigners in Japan in general. Understand I don't mean everyone, but there is this strange anti-Japanese anger that surfaces in some people when they live here.

My first experience with this was in Toyohashi, working for Nova there. We had these two girls who were the twin hubs of our social wheel there, and both of them were outspokenly racist. One of their favorite topics of conversation was how much they both hated Japan and the Japanese. That was bad enough, but what was even more disgusting was the attitude from the others there, the ones who genuinely liked Japan- they just laughed along with these two girls and said nothing to challenge them.

Along with them was a guy who'd read Dogs and Demons, had his own cynical worldview confirmed by its straw man arguments, and was always running down every little thing about being in Japan. You could hardly talk to the guy without hearing all the many ways Japan was a failing, screwed up society. But judging from the way he also badmouthed the rest of our coworkers when they weren't around, he had some problems beyond mere dissatisfaction with living in Japan.

Having read as much of Dogs and Demons as I could stand, I have to tell you it's the most poisonous one-sided rant about anything I've ever encountered in published form. I won't go into all the bullshit you'll find in it, but I will tell you while many of its points are no doubt accurate, it's willfully ignoring many counter arguments that more than fully refute it in almost its entirety. The movie chapter is especially asinine and inaccurate. A lot of foreigners read this book then snap it shut and on Japan as well, and end up missing out on all the good they could find here if they weren't so smug, cynical and blind.

Later, in Hamamatsu, we had a teacher who I wrote about in my "Straight Scoop on Working for Nova" post. He was a genuinely smart guy, but full of this diffused, unfocused anger that he consequently turned on anything and everything about Japan, most particularly the lower-level Nova students, and frequently, Nova itself.

Now in fairness, I could've cared less about his Nova criticism. I was sure a big company like that, even with its financial problems, could survive his blunt and sometimes hilarious tirades against it. After all, it'd weathered a lot of less clever and less accurate online screeds. On the other hand, his comments about the students were unfair and completely wrong-minded.

What these people had in common was, their constant negativity not only caused them a lot of personal unhappiness, but also wrecked the morale of everyone around them. When others were around them, they were too afraid to challenge them on even their most egregious lapses in logic and self-control. So social gatherings were very uncomfortable for me, and I quit hanging out with them.

I even transferred from Toyohashi to Hamamatsu, only to have the funny-smart-but-still-negative guy get transferred there too because his Trainer couldn't take it anymore.

His days off were some of the most peaceful, relaxing ones at our branch.

If you recognize any of your own tendencies in those descriptions... don't come to Japan. Stay home and bitch about your job there.

Another thing English teachers tend to do is feed off each other's bad attitudes about Japan. Do a Google search for some "Living in Japan" blogs and you'll see what I mean. They recount the same tired anecdotes over and over.

Some of the these complaints are true. Maybe even most of the things.

What's wrong is how they focus solely on those things to the exclusion of all else, and how they become enraged as if it's somehow more wrong for Japan to have the same flaws, or equal flaws, as any other industrialized country, and the perceived flaws we foreigners encounter when West meets East.

They fall into the same trap many people do, which is to assume that only the bad things in life are the real things. They think that constantly harping on problems makes them somehow more insightful or deep, or possessed of a greater understanding of Japan than someone who genuinely enjoys it here and lets the annoyances slide.

But I also promise you that some of their examples- chosen carefully to re-confirm their preconceived notions- are exaggerations or outright lies.

That's one thing I've come to know about even otherwise well-meaning people- they exaggerate and lie. They make themselves out to be the heroes or victims of a lot of self-inflicted drama and never recognize their own hand in creating these problems. Probably don't even realize they're doing this, or maybe they're just excellent at lying to themselves. But lie they do. That's why you really have to be careful about what you accept as true when you hear it from someone, no matter how sincere they sound.

What it boils down to is... you're not at home. You're in Japan, and subject to Japanese mores. Therefore, you're not free to do whatever the hell you want, whenever you want. As a foreigner, you will get a certain leeway about some customs. Also, you will be patronized at times, and you will experience some racism. But on the whole you will have it much better here than minorities do back home, be it in America, Canada, Australia or the UK.

So you have to adapt, learn flexibility. Getting angry at Japan and demanding the whole country bend over backwards to please you, or do things the way you're used to back home is only going to offend your Japanese hosts and make you miserable.

The only thing you have control over is you and your attitude. Should you be happy about every little thing that happens to you? No, that's stupid. But it's also stupid to blow them all out of proportion, or to believe whatever negative story you're told without confirming it for yourself independently, or somehow thinking Japan is worse than any other country when actually, it's better than most. Especially these days.

Japan is Japan. While many things are very alien to what I grew up with, if people here are like people anywhere in any particular way, it's they do things the ways that make sense to themselves, or how they've been taught, without really giving it much thought. That's annoying, yes, wherever you encounter it. But that's human nature. Look at yourself and see how often you've fallen into this trap before you lash out about "the Japanese do this, the Japanese do that!"

So... if you think you're going to have any of these problems, please please please... do NOT come to Japan.

No comments: