I just walked in the door after attending a Bible study. We went over John 3 and I realized afresh what a difficult and deep passage of the Bible it is; it was good to be able to look at it with fresh eyes. Mrs. N. had never read it before in her life. Mid-Bible study the ladies asked me what I think are the good points of Japan (a digression from the Bible study). My gut reaction that there are a lot of great points but each one also has some negativity attached to it in some way, in my opinion. In other words, as I explained to them, as is true on an individual level it is also for a country: “one’s greatest strength can become one’s greatest weakness.”
Here are the things I listed as Japan’s good points: 1) Japanese are self-controlled and do not easily show their feelings. 2) Japanese are perfectionists in general – this is easy to see in society. 3) Japanese are hardworking and dedicated to their jobs. 4) Japanese are great at sensing how others feel and sensitive people overall. 5) Japanese are extremely polite and think of other’ needs first. 6) Japanese work together well with others in a group (I see this often when they clean up together, for example). 7) Japanese are neat, tidy, and clean overall. 8) Japanese are highly thorough, organized, and systematic.
I read my list out loud to the ladies, I laughed out loud and said, “I think Americans are the opposite of this list!” You may disagree with me but I cannot say that I would describe most Americans I know as “extremely polite, highly sensitive to others’ feelings (some people are but not Americans as a whole), neat, tidy, and highly organized (been to Walmart lately and waited in line?), or “highly self-controlled with their feelings.” I was once again reminded how different our cultures are!
However, I concluded that in Japan while I greatly admire all of these points I think they can easily become a weakness. Here are several examples: One: I have sensed that many of my Japanese friends find this perfectionist culture exhausting and frustrating (especially when you fail at something). Two: while it’s great to be a foreigner enjoying the many blessings of being in a place where everything runs like a well oiled-machine, I imagine being part of that machine is so tiring! Three: many Japanese men are so dedicated to their jobs that they often neglect their families due to a deep sense of loyalty to their companies; a good quality of working hard becomes abused and families suffer. Four: while it is amazing how Japanese are slow to show their true feelings or say what they are really thinking, there are so many times I leave a conversation wondering if I offended/ hurt someone without knowing it. While living in Japan has certainly sharpened my skills at reading people (and I am so grateful for that) I am not a mind reader! Japanese don’t come out and tell you what they are thinking so it’s like the ultimate guessing game. It’s hard when I have offended someone and don’t hear about it until weeks later or they tell someone else you offended them and you hear about it from someone else (that has happened to friends of mine).
Overall I really admire Japanese folks. I thought to myself, if I had to make a list of America’s good points, what might they be? Innovative, independent, opinionated, and strong-willed came to mind but I am not sure these are all admirable things in Japan. Being here really gets me thinking deeply sometimes about culture and I really love that! It’s also a highly painful process as I am daily forced to see my own culture objectively from another culture’s perspective. I also find it painful to regularly experience negative reactions to Japanese culture – if I am honest I will say it happens many times a day (having negative reactions). When I confront something I strongly dislike I try and think over whether my reaction is fair or not. Most times it is not, I must confess. At any rate, this has been a very fascinating although painful experience, living in a foreign country with a culture that is the polar opposite of my own.
I have been wanting to make this list for a while.
Things about Japan that used to weird me out but now have become ALMOST NORMAL
1) Grown women love what we consider to be highly childish things (and make them, too) such as Elmo pens, stickers that a kid would love, pen cases with Sesame street characters, etc. This card was made by a 30-year old woman.
2) Twice a week when the garbage man comes around around the truck has loud, carnival-like music playing, usually around 10am and it lasts for over an hour. I don’t think this is necessary and while it’s really annoying I am getting used to it.
3) Regularly, there are political messages blared over a loudspeaker attached to a truck early in the morning (8am Saturday morning for example) repeating the same thing over and over and over…like 20 times.
4) I regularly turn on the TV to find old samurai dramas complete with scenes of people committing suicide by seppuku (disembowlment) with a sword. They don’t show anything but you hear things…
5) My roommate says she cannot get BBQ sauce with her french fries at McDonald’s. She has asked several times and is refused. You just can’t break the set rules here, even when it comes to BBQ sauce. My old roommate tried to get a slice of cheese on her bagel once and was refused. The cheese was only for one type of bagel and not for any other one. Keep the rules! I am pretty much used to this, too.
6) BAD ENGLISH EVERYWHERE. I recently received a party invite and it read: AN INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE EVENT. THE SPRING PARTY. DATE: 12 APRIL (SUN) FREE: 1000 YEN THING: ONE MEAL PER PERSON Pleasures: Let’s enjoy Japanese culture. Koto. Bingo game. It’s free…but costs 1000 yen? What is the “thing”?
Today I saw a sign that read: Why do I choose the English conversation? I will be involved in the English conversation as my second-life and the communication in this area through the English Lounge. Ummm…what???? Is she going to be reincarnated speaking English?
7) Excessive usage of EMOJI (or icons) in one’s cell phone emails. When I send or receive emails they are usually full of icons. I have tried to upload some of them into this blog to show you all but it wouldn’t work. I can include in my emails tiny icons of an octopus, monkeys, a man in a bath, clapping hands that move, burning fire that moves, a skull, about ten kinds of hearts including a sparkling heart that moves, all kinds of flowers, fruits, about 15 kinds of facial expressions including crying faces with tears, a kissing couple, smiling poop, a toilet, a gun, a plate of spaghetti, and a syringe. I AM NOT KIDDING. I got one yesterday with a smiling tiny Elmo face (which I liked).
Anyway, today’s blog was a window into my life here. I think that overall I am used to things here, and being able to speak Japanese at somewhat of an advanced level and being able to read more easily eases a TON of stress from my life, but I have my moments of wondering, “How did I wind up here again?”
On the plus side, spring is coming…I am so excited to see the cherry blossoms!!!!!! Only two more weeks!