4 Things I Learned from Living and Studying Abroad
And, finally, to round things off are the things that I learned while I was studying abroad. These are less relating to Japan specifically and more to do with the experience as a whole, but I’m sure anyone who has studied or will study abroad might be interested to read them!
Fear not, friends! Not everything about living in Japan was all doom and gloom; quite the contrary. It’s an amazing, really unique country filled with wonderful people and places and things, and in spite of the things that annoyed me during my stay, my heart is still full of wonderful memories that I’ll carry forever.
Living in Japan was a great experience, but as people who have followed me since I left to live there will know, I do not like everything about it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still love Japan and that I didn’t enjoy my time there, just that there were certain things that annoyed the crap out of me, or problems that I personally couldn’t make myself ignore.
It should go without saying, but everything that follows is just my own personal opinions and experiences. I make some generalisations, but recognise that they are generalisations; I don’t mean to invalidate anyone else’s alternative experiences of Japan and I also don’t mean to frighten anyone away from studying there! These are just things that bug me (they might not bother other former gaijin at all), from my point of view, and while some might be indicative of wider problems that might affect a lot of other people, please don’t take them to mean that Japan is awful and you should rethink going, because it’s really not! Studying in any country will always have its downsides.
Anywho, here we are: four things I still don’t miss about Japan. Be warned, it’s long!
This has been shared by a few people I know, so I thought I’d share it with you guys, too.
The existence of things like yaoi and shounen-ai makes a lot of people who’re interested in Japan but have never visited think that it must be super positive about homosexuality, but actually, it’s quite the contrary.
Have you ever noticed how many interpersonal interactions in Japan are like “speed dates” of set questions?
For example, the taxi drivers who have the odd fascination about where you’re from, whether you’re married, how much you like Japan, and how hard you think the Japanese language is?
The barkeeps and clientele who try to slot you into their hackneyed preconceptions of some country and nationality, what you can and cannot eat, and (as things get drunker) how much you enjoy having physical liaisons with Japanese?
The neighbors who have a white-hot curiosity about how differently you raise your kids, what you fight with your spouse about, and how much you like Japan — regardless of how many years you’ve been interacting?
In the beginning, these were dismissible as just acts of awkward friendliness by people who didn’t know how else to approach you. It at least made you really good in certain areas of Japanese conversation.
But after years of repeat games, boredom sets in, and you begin to realize two things: 1) that you can sleepwalk through most conversations, and 2) that, if you stay awake, you see there is a larger issue at play here: social control — something increasingly recognized by social psychologists as “microaggressions.”
They include, in Japan’s case, verbal cues (such as “You speak such good Japanese!” — after saying only a sentence or two — or “How long will you be in Japan?” regardless of whether a non-Japanese (NJ) might have lived the preponderance of their life here), nonverbal cues (people espying NJ and clutching their purse more tightly, or leaving the only empty train seat next to them), or environmental cues (media caricatures of NJ with exaggerated noses or excessive skin coloration, McDonald’s “Mr. James” mascot (JBC, Sept. 1, 2009)).
Usually these are unconscious acts grounded in established discourses of interactions. Nobody “means” to make you feel alienated, different, out of place, or stereotyped.
But microaggressions are also subtle societal self-enforcement mechanisms to put people “in their place.” For NJ, that “place” is usually the submissive status of “visitor” or “guest,” with the Japanese questioner assuming the dominant position of “host” or “cultural representative of all Japan.”
This article has been making the rounds around international students I know, and it’s pretty accurate as far as explaining the little things that make me tick as a foreigner in Japan goes. People too often dismiss Japan’s racism because the things that many Japanese people say or do aren’t necessarily done with bad intentions, but intent isn’t magical and doesn’t change the way it makes a lot of foreigners here feel. Sure, they might just all be ‘curious’, but when you’re made to feel out-of-place, day in and day out, however nice the people around you might be, it has the potential to eat away at you. It’s also something that a lot of people who’ve visited but never really lived in Japan often seem unable to fully understand.
(Of course, although I’m posting this because of it’s relevance to my study abroad, it’s also important to remember that these kinds of microaggressions are not something that can only be experienced in Japan - they happen every day to minority groups just about everywhere, to the same effect.)
On a lighter note, I’ve never understood why Japanese people are always so curious as to whether or not foreigners have romantic partners. （・＿・；）
This isn’t a question that I’m entirely equipped to answer since I’ve only experienced being a woman in Japan from an international university student’s perspective, but I can offer my own opinions, fact-based assumptions etc..
Personally, the short answer would simply be yes. Japan is a sexist country and is many years behind other similar countries when it comes to women’s rights, ranking at 98 of 135 countries in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Report (compare to the UK at 16, USA at 17 and the fact that there are many countries that aren’t even widely considered ‘developed’ that rank much higher than Japan). Gender roles are more deeply ingrained in Japanese society than, for example, American or British. Rape culture, while not always obvious, is much more of a problem and Japan’s laws on rape are, quite frankly, disturbing. Body image issues and pressure for women to be beautiful and slim and young are debatably more of a problem in Japan than some Western countries (fat women are, at least, more often of a subject of shameless public ridicule and abuse here than my own home).
I may have never worked in Japan, but the fact that it very much favours men is, generally speaking, common knowledge. Women aren’t often seen in positions of power (a mere 9% of senior officials, managers etc. in Japan are female) and when they are, they’re usually not seen by their male colleagues as equals. Foreign women might be seen as more of a curiosity, but they’re still unlikely to be looked at on equal grounds like foreign men would be. There are also no laws prohibiting gender-based discrimination, which pretty much speaks for itself as far as making life difficult for career women goes and, of course, there’s still a huge wage gap.
So, when it comes to work at least, I’d say it is more difficult, and that Japan is on the whole a good couple of decades behind most of Europe and even the USA with regards to gender issues. I wish I could offer my own personal experiences, but beyond it being much more likely for foreign women to have their personal space invaded, to be bothered for photographs, generally creeped on etc. than a foreign man, I can’t really say much or offer my own stories.
Plus, if you’re interested, here is a small post on someone else’s experiences as a foreign woman in Japan vs. being a foreign male. They link some interesting reads, too.
If you could have guessed GW stands for “Golden Week”, and know what “Golden Week” in Japan means, you are a super expert about Japanese culture:)
So, it’s the beginning of GW tomorrow, which is almost a week holiday with four national holidays and regular weekend holidays. It depends on the calendar every year, but usually it makes 7-10day holidays in a row, which is considered to be a LONG vacation in Japan.
Many people visit foreign countries during the Golden Week.
Please be nice to them if you see any in your city;)
Or, if you’re like me and you study at Ritsumeikan, it means you get only two days off, which you later have to make up on a weekend at the same time next month. （￣△￣#）A fore-warning to anyone else considering their Study in Kyoto Programme: you get no days off for several solid months at a time.
こんにちは！This is the blog of a student of Japanese Studies who spent a year living in Kyoto studying at Ritsumeikan University. I've since returned home and will not be using this blog to talk about my travels or studies anymore, but I wanted to leave it up just in case anyone still found the old, existing content useful.
I will no longer be taking questions on this blog so please read the faq or visit my personal blog if there's something you're dying to ask.