“I’m done with Life Abroad, Now What?”

Since my recent return to Canada for Christmas vacation, I’ve been thinking about my life in Japan, and what I’ll do after I’m done here. Many people, myself included, move abroad simply because they are bored with the status quo, or life in their home country no longer appeals or works for them for one reason or another (for me it was because I couldn’t get a job in my field if jobs were bears and I stripped naked and marinated in honey.) So you move abroad, and eke out a new glamorous life full of excitement adventure and employment. But sooner or later, home calls. Maybe you realize you’ve gone as far as you can go in this new country — I know this is the case for English instructors in Japan. I feel there will come a time when I’m sick of having the same salary year after year, and I have no ambition to open my own English school. When the time comes, I’ll have to move on to greener pastures. So I’ve come up with steps to make things easier for myself (and consequently, you if you happen to be in the same position).

Have a plan

Maybe it seems strange that I’m not even close to experiencing all I want to do here, and I’m already drawing up my exit strategy, but I’m pretty sure that by the time I want to leave, it’ll be too late. I’ll be taking some internet courses at a university back in Canada, so that when I go back I can be eligible for an internship that will likely lead to a job. A better opportunity may come along, but if not I can at least fall back on that.

Realize I don’t Have to Go Back Where I Came From

In fact I’m seriously considering moving to another city in Canada, if not another country all together. The beautiful thing about this move to Japan is that it has completely eradicated any fears I had about “living away from home”. I’m international, baby! Now that I know for a fact that I can make a comfortable life for myself in another country, I have a lot more freedom of choice in where I work, and where I’m willing to relocate.

A penny saved…

Is a penny spent on rent instead of living in my parents’ house. I probably love those two dear souls the most in the world, but I never again want to live with them lol. I like my independence too much.

I know things might not work out exactly as I plan them. After all, in the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “plans are useless, but planning indispensable.” But knowing I have somewhere to go from here makes me feel a lot more secure.

If you live abroad, what are your plans once you’re done where you are?

 

My Experiences with Dating in Japan

Dating in Japan

 

I can’t lie, before I moved this was one of things I was the most interested in/concerned about.  What would it be like to date a Japanese guy?  how would we communicate? would Japanese men even find me attractive? should I only date foreign men? would I be able to date at all? or would this time in Japan just be one long dry spell?

I’ve decided to make an FAQ, to answer questions I know I had, that you might have as well. And if nothing else you can be nosy and read all about my dating life :p.

Do Japanese Men want to date Foreign women?

Yes, some do and no, some don’t, and it’s as simple as that as far as I’m concerned.

Do Japanese men find Black women attractive?

I think straight men in general find women in general attractive, and if you’re an attractive woman men will be attracted to your feminine charms, no matter what race or colour you are. I think there is more of, for lack of a better word, a “demand” for white women, particularly with blond hair and blue eyes. I talk more about that in this blog post. However, I’ve been hit on/flirted with by Japanese men, so yes some do. I’ve briefly dated two Japanese men.

The first was when I had just come to Japan. We met at a club and I gave him my number, but his English level was very low, and my Japanese was even lower. So when he called communication was pretty much impossible, as we had said all the basic stuff when we met, so there was really no way that could go anywhere.

The second I met at another club a few months later. I was actually first sitting outside on the patio and his friend started talking to me, but then he somehow “swooped in” and took over the conversation. His English was much better because he’d lived in Australia for a couple years. We went out a couple times, and it was cool and we had good conversation, but it fell apart, I believe, because we didn’t have so much in common. Hmm, maybe I should stop meeting guys in clubs.

Do foreigners date other foreigners?

Yes, I’ve dated foreigners as well, most recently a guy originally from Cameroon, but it depends on the people. Perhaps you’re aware or the charisma man, charisma girl stigma? These are people who come to Japan with the aim of “sowing their wild oats”. They’re like, I dunno, cheese. Not only because they’re usually kind of cheesy people, but also because cheese is cheap and widely available in the west, but here in Japan it’s expensive, more valuable… you get my drift? If you want to date other foreigners, avoid the cheese people. It shouldn’t be too difficult though, as these cheesy people are usually pretty scared of you, and only have eyes for their “prey”, Japanese people.

Do cultural differences make dating more difficult?

They can, yes. If you’re dating someone who has lived in the West, that mitigates it somewhat. But I don’t think “cultural differences” are a good excuse for not dating in Japan. When two people really like each other you can get over it. The main problem foreigners seem to have with dating Japanese people is not really knowing what they think. In Japan, people are expected to be more empathetic. Because people try to avoid giving offense, you’re supposed to know, or anticipate when something is making the other person unhappy. That can be really difficult for us Westerners who value verbal communication. When communication with the second guy stopped, I didn’t actually know something was wrong. He was still really polite and attentive. My single clue was at the end of the date where he didn’t hug me like usual.

How can I attract a Japanese guy or girl?

Just be your vivacious self! I wasn’t particularly trying to attract the guys I did, they just saw something in me that they liked and went for it.

Do Japanese guys/girls just want to date me because I’m foreign?

There are definitely some people like that in this country yes. And you’ll be able to tell pretty soon based on their behavior and the questions they ask you. (“Do foreigners like this? Do foreigners like that?” As opposed to “Do you like this? Do you like that? ) Then it’s up to you to decide whether you care or not.

So that’s my experience with dating in Japan. I plan to be here for another year at least, and it that time, especially as my Japanese improves, I’m sure I’ll have more stories to tell. And please, drop a comment with your stories about love and dating in Japan and abroad.

 

 

What We’ve Learned by Living Abroad

You lucky reader, you are in for something really special. I’ve been doing a lot of reflection and contemplation, and even though I’ve only been in Japan for a little over 10 months, I feel like I’ve aged a few years.

So I thought, if this is how I feel after a few months, imagine what my fellow expats, who have been abroad for years, have to say. I reached out to them and together we’ve come up with a great collection of posts that will really make you think about life abroad, and life in general.

 

 

Loco in Yokohama

SoaplandLoco starts us off with a bang — not just one post, but a whole, ongoing series about the revelations and self truths gained after close to a decade spent in Japan.

…And that’s when I realized that, remarkably, for the first time in my life I had been the victim of outright, Jim Crow-style racial discrimination, not so much because I was black (actually I’ll never know if my color was a factor) but because I wasn’t Japanese (or Asian.)

And, ironically, instead of feeling a victimized rage in the pit of my stomach, and an irrepressible urge to do harm to someone (which up til that point I imagined would be my reaction whenever this dark day came to be) there I was consoling a friend… keep reading

Life of a Foreign Hachikin

Screaming into the AbyssAfter two weeks of serious deliberation Indi reveals her top life lessons from living in rural Japan.

…I can’t say that I’ve changed drastically as a person either. Not that most people change 180 degrees when they have life changing experiences like living abroad, but I do know that I’ve gotten stronger in some regards. I can say with certainty that I’ve become a more confident person. While the simple idea of standing in front of people used to make my heart squeeze in anxiety, I am now ecstatically looking forward to the first live show with my band in January… keep reading

 

Haikugirl’s Japan

Haikugirl writes about a hot topic for expats regarding Japanese culture — western “assertiveness” vs. Japanese “submissiveness”, and how it has affected her.

…The Japanese business style is very different from the way I had worked in the UK before. Assertiveness wasn’t really acceptable, and I learned to keep my mouth shut and get on with things a lot more than I ever had before. I also learned to show respect to my colleagues and seniors a lot more than I had done in the UK. There were formal phrases to use, and certain manners like bowing which I needed to follow… keep reading

 

We Live in a Fantasy World

We Need A Good Slap Every Now and ThenToby gives us an excellent post about resisting the urge to be co-dependent when living abroad, especially when you don’t speak the language,  and also the importance of  giving yourself a wake-up slap every once in a while.

…Then, I started realizing that I had gradually stopped asking for help, and just started doing without these things. I would just decide that it was too difficult to get tickets to some event using the Konbini machines, so I wouldn’t go.

I didn’t realize how terrible this behaviour had become until I met *Yinsan… keep reading

 

 

 

 

 

The Japan Guy

Cherish Those Closest to YouWith the anniversary of his fourth year in Japan on the horizon, the Japan guy brings us a two-part list of the top 7 things he’s learned about life and himself during his time in Japan.

4. Cherish Those Closest to You

It’s heartbreaking to lose those you know, it’s even more heartbreaking to know that you can’t make it home to their funeral because you can’t afford the trip. I’ve been there on a couple of occasions. You want those who are close to you to live forever, but the sad reality is that they don’t.

Living abroad can keep you away from your family for extended periods of time, and things can happen. However, the memories you share with them can last a lifetime. So if you’re living abroad, but making that much needed visit home. Make some great memories with the people you love: take pictures, make DVDs, whatever you can. These memories are timeless… keep reading

Thanks so much to everyone who’s participated, everyone who retweeted and shared, and everyone who’s reading now. For all of us, it’s been a great journey with both highs and lows, but I hope I speak for everyone when I say I wouldn’t do it any different, and I’d never give up what I’ve learned.

Three Reasons Why You Can’t Learn Japanese in a Year

This post was inspired by what was — I’ll say it — a stupid comment on another one of my posts: Why Living in Tokyo is Hard.  In it I talk about my struggle with getting everyday things done in Japanese. A person named “James” had this helpful response:

Seriously if you’re not going to learn the language don’t expect it to be easy living there… I’m sick of these blogs crying about how hard it is moving there when you SHOULD be getting your lazy ass fluent in their language…

For the record yes, I have been studying Japanese, and I’m waaaaay better than I was when I first came. (For example, I don’t run away crying at McDonald’s anymore when they ask me if it’s eat in or take out),  but no I’m still not fluent.

I’ll cut James some slack, because before I did any research at all about what being an expat in Japan would be like, I also thought that I would be able to converse pretty smoothly in Japanese after just one year. I was…wrong, so wrong, but I think this is an idea a lot of people have. The hard truth is if you move to Japan, especially to teach English, after a year you probably still won’t understand even half of what people are saying to you, and here’s why:

You’re Not Really Immersed in Japanese

In fact when you first get here most of your long and/or meaningful conversations will be in English because…you can’t speak Japanese! So you’re going to seek out English services, get friends and coworkers to help you, and continue speaking in the language you actually know how to speak. You’re going to stream movies in English, listen to your English music on your iPod, think in English, eat, sleep and shower all in the King’s English. Plus, if you work teaching English that’s — what — eight hours a day where you’re in an English environment. In fact where I work we’re discouraged from even letting the students know we can speak Japanese. The idea is to try to immerse the students in English for the time they’re at the school. So I’m actually not hearing as much Japanese as I thought I would.

You (Hopefully) Have a Life

Alright, I suppose it’s technically possible to become at least conversational in Japanese after only one year, but it will be at the complete expense of your social life and you’ll have no one to converse with anyway. It’s not like you can just hear Japanese and magically “learn” it. It takes time, and it takes study. Even if you did want to go the “I’ll just listen and pick it up” route,  think about this: A Japanese baby, living in Japanese society, hearing Japanese since birth, using his baby language-learning super powers to suck up the language into his eager baby brain, will still take a good three to four years to start stringing together sophisticated sentences. So if you want to get past cave-man Japanese in just one year, you’re going to have to work at it like it’s your 9-5.

People Will Want to Practice their English with You

So you’ve made some Japanese friends, maybe got a Japanese boyfriend or girlfriend, gotten chummy with your coworkers…what a great resource of people to help you learn Japanese right? Wrong, because you are actually a great resource, a real live English conversation specimen, they can use to hone their English. And referring back to point one, if you want to have any kind of meaningful conversations with your friend/partner it’ll have to be done in English. Besides, your friends aren’t teachers. They may mean well and truly want to help at first, but the halting conversations about the weather will quickly wear thin. I hate to say it, but it’s much more exciting/beneficial for your friends to use you to develop their own English skills, and who can blame ‘em?

So this is my story for why I’m still not bilingual yet, and I’m sticking to it. And don’t get me wrong, despite what I’ve written above I actually really enjoy learning Japanese. I get a secret thrill whenever I understand a few words of what someone has said, and sometimes I even catch a whole sentence! So although I won’t be fluent this year or even next, I’m going to keep at it. And if I’m lucky maybe this time next year I’ll be able to order a pizza.

…And screw you, James.

How I Faced my Fears and Moved to Tokyo

Skydiving Facing FearsIf you’re wondering if you too can take on life as an expat in the country you’ve been admiring from afar, the answer is yes, you can.

Really!

Here’s the thing: My trip to Japan actually started years before I even set foot on the plane. I’d heard about the Japan Exchange and Teaching program (more commonly known as JET) in my first year of University, and given my love at the time for everything I knew about Japan (which was pretty much Final Fantasy, Dragon Ball Z and neon leg warmers) I was determined to sign on once I had the required degree. But…I was scared. At that point I don’t think I’d even been away from my parent’s house for more than a week. Plus I’d been researching — reading about what life was like for foreigners in Japan on blogs and forums, and it wasn’t always positive. Mixed in with stories about ultimate temple crawling and sushi so delicious it could bring peace to the Middle East were anecdotes about racism in Japan: TV shows that catered to stereotypes, Black Sambo dolls, Mr. James (a caricature of a clueless Caucasian foreigner used in a McDonald’s ad campaign) and silly questions and comments like, “do you play basketball?” (if you’re a black foreigner), or “foreigners can’t learn Japanese”.

Fast forward four years and I’d graduated from University, but I needed internship experience to get my journalism diploma from the college I had also been fast tracking through at the time. And that’s how I found myself in an office, working that 9-5, instead of saying a teary goodbye to my family at the airport.

I finished the internship, but stayed on to pay my student loans. One year at the company turned into two, and then three, and suddenly I found myself stressed out over deadlines wondering “whatever happened to Japan?” I started researching Eikaiwa schools because I knew that if I worked with JET I’d probably get sent out to the bush where no one spoke English, and moving to Japan was already tough enough.  Finally, after spending a fitful night worrying about an issue I would have to fix at work on Monday, I woke up one Sunday morning, turned on my computer and just applied online to the school that seemed the best fit.

It’s just an application. I told myself. Even if I do get an interview I don’t have to go.

Well, a couple of days later I got an email, and sure enough I did get an interview, and I did in fact go. I told myself:

I’m just going to the interview; I might not even get the job. And if I do, I don’t have to accept it.

But strangely enough, after the interview the fear started to give way to excitement, and I found myself really hoping that I got the job. Even though the guy who interviewed me said it would take about two weeks for them to let me know, I couldn’t help checking my email every day until finally I got the answer I’d been both hoping for and dreading: I had got the job, and if I accepted I’d be moving to Japan.

Ah yes, now there was a serious decision to make, but once again I just had to trick my brain into believing it was no big deal: I’ll say yes to the job, I can always back out if I change my mind, and I can always move home if I hate living in Japan.

And armed with the knowledge that nothing is forever I was able to take that leap across the globe, and now no matter what happens, I’ll never have to wonder what it would have been like if I had moved to Japan.

I can’t say life here has been perfect, it’s been challenging as you’ll see in some of my other blog posts, but the fact that this is the challenge I chose makes it easier for me to face it. And I’ve only been here ten months, but I feel I’ve learned so much about myself, and gained a lot of confidence too.  I guess successfully navigating life in a foreign country will do that to you.

So I say if you’re thinking about moving abroad, and there aren’t any tangible obligations holding you back (such as a family) then why not take that first step? After all you don’t have to go through with it…but you probably will.

 

 

How Do You Know When it’s Time to Go?

Woman Going Home“So, how long do you plan to stay in Japan?”

I get this question all the time. Honestly? I have no idea, and yes that’s a bit scary. My default answer is that I have a three year visa and I’ll leave once it’s up, but the reality is I’ll leave Japan when I feel like it’s time to go.

But…how do you know when it’s time to go?

I have a co-worker, let’s call him Chris (because half the people I work with are named Chris anyway).

Every day Chris seems depressed about “teaching lame students”, or about the inconvenience of a doctor’s visit in Japan, or about…he’s got some kind of negative comment about pretty much anything we talk about. And yet I can still tell that he’s a decent guy, because he’s willing to help me out if I ask a question, and he’s not particularly unfriendly. The negativity seems to be entirely aimed at everyday life in Japan.

Some people become expats for a specific reason, such as work, so their time abroad has an expiry date and they simply leave once they’re done. But then others, like me, set out into the wide world in search of something: adventure, freedom… and we don’t want to leave until we find whatever it is we’re looking for. And during that search, many of us might create bonds and obligations that keep us here such as a family, or a well-paying job we don’t want to give up. And while many expats make the jump to immigrant, others seem unhappy after too much time in a country that just doesn’t mesh with their ideals.

I don’t want to wait until I reach that point, so if I ever start to feel like Japan is getting on my last nerve, I’ll ask myself, and honestly answer these questions:

  • Can I do the same thing somewhere else?
  • Is the quality of my life worth the perceived security?
  • What can I gain by staying?
  • What will I lose by leaving?
  • Am I happy?

I believe the last question is the most important one, because if I’m not happy where I am, why should I stay? Some of the expats I’ve met in Japan who have been here a long time seem disgruntled, disheartened and depressed. Perhaps they feel moving back to their home country, or somewhere else, will be a source of trouble and unhappiness because they’ll lose their jobs and established life here…but they’re unhappy now! In this case, moving on can only be a step in the right direction…right? Or is it not that easy?

What do you think?

 

 

Take these 8 Pills for Homesickness

 

When I first moved to Japan there were so many new things to do and see I had months and months of distraction, and it was like some kind of  illegal super immune system booster.  Even the biggest earthquake in Japan’s written history could barely put a dent in my enthusiasm. But a few months back, the “stuff” stopped working as well as it used to, and I started to feel a little under the weather. And soon, though I tried to fight through it, I couldn’t deny that I’d definitely caught the bug. I was officially homesick. So I had a consultation with my inner doctor, and she prescribed these 8 proverbial pills.

1: Embrace the loneliness — Enjoy being alone. Do the stuff you like to do that would make you spontaneously combust out of pure shame if your friends ever found out. Go ahead and blast that Wham! CD. Sit back and admire your (mint condition) Star Trek figurine collection. Fire up that belly dancing for beginners DVD. There are some things that are meant to be done alone, and only alone.

2: DON’T call home – This only makes it worse, trust me. In fact, my homesickness really peaked when I made the rookie mistake of calling home during my family’s Canada Day party. After seeing them all together on Skype, and watching them eat home cooked food and play Cranium, I felt a little tear slip delicately from my eye…and then I spent the rest of the night ruining my pillowcase with watery eyeliner stains. Wait until you feel better to call home, or you’ll regret it.

3: Go out — If you must have human companionship (you pansy), call some of your peeps and go out. Also don’t turn down invitations to go out for no reason. If you spend too much time at home you’ll get “homesores” (TM), which are like the mental equivalent to bedsores.  Booze is not mandatory, but it’s encouraged.

4: Watch TV/listen to music from your home country It’s like a piece of home, and it’ll make you feel more in touch. I like to stream TV shows and listen to internet radio.

5: Find something (or someone) to love in your new country — This will create a connection to your new country, because we all know “home is where the heart is”. Take up a culturally specific hobby, or you could just marry a local.

6: Personalize your new space and new life — Make your new digs your home away from home. Recreate your old room if you really want. Just make it feel, well, homey. And get some routine going in your life. Find a cafe you really like and go every Tuesday. Go to the Gym. Do things you would do if you were home.

7: Have a good cry get it all out of your system.

8: Celebrate all you’ve learned in your new home — Learning a new language? You’re becoming bilingual and you can now impress people at parties. OK and I suppose it looks good on a resume too. Or maybe you’re learning to cook new exotic food. Or just learning how to be an independent person. Pat yourself on the back for making it as far as you did.

Yup, every time the sickness starts to come on I pop a few of these pills and I feel right as rain again. What does your doctor prescribe for homesickness?

How Nihongo Showed me I’m a Snob

 

Nihongo is the word for Japanese Language, and since moving into my own apartment, I find I’ve been much more motivated to study Japanese (see my “Why Living in Tokyo is Hard” post), so I’ve stepped up my learning by — no kidding — like 300%. Where before I would study “when I had time,” or “when I felt like it”, I now study for at least half an hour a day.

TIP: Listening to podcasts on the train is a great way to take advantage of down time and learn something new. For me it’s Nihongo, for you it could be Italian, Spanish, how to start a business, the rules to extreme Pavlackian chicken toss…anything!

As I study I’m learning more about how the language works, especially the levels of politeness. This is all well and good, but the other day I went to the convenience store, and I realized that when the clerk gave me my receipt I needed to say thanks. After listening to a recent lesson about all the different ways to say “thank you” in Japanese I found myself worrying about the best way to do it.

Should I give a polite “arigato gozaimasu” (thank you)? She’s about my age, that should be OK. Ah, but she’s just a convenience store clerk, just a short “domo” (thanks) is all she should get…

Hmmm… Just a clerk? All she should get? I didn’t like where this train of thought was going, so I gave her the usual “arigato gozaimasu” I always did, and took my booze and went on my way.

But it did make me think: how often am I judging how much respect people should get based on trivial things like age and occupation? Probably no more than people are judging me. This episode took me back to a comment from one of my students a week before. I was teaching him the word “connoisseur”, and we somehow got to talking about the fact that I speak a minuscule amount of french, having grown up learning it in Canada. For example, I can count to 1000 and do things like say the year, which I suppose is slightly more than the average English speaking person in the west, but by no means can I have a meaningful conversation.

Still, he was mighty impressed: “Wow, you speak French? I have to be honest, before, I just think of you as an English teacher, but now I feel you are…eeto…someone I must respect.”

Enlightening.

I’ve come to learn that hierarchy is a staple of Japanese culture. It’s built into the language, and drives the workforce. My students have told me that it’s very rare for someone to switch jobs, because at a certain age, someone should be at a certain position, so to leave and start over is very difficult. No one wants to hire someone over a certain age for an entry level or even mid level position. It will throw off the whole balance of the corporation. Now coworkers have worry about referring to their new colleague as Tanaka-sama, because he’s older than them or Tanaka-san, because their all junior programmers. No, we can’t have that.

But what I also learned is that this classicism was also there inside me all along, it just took a brush with Japan’s more overt system for me to realize it. And maybe it’s in you too. What goes through your head when you see someone over the age of sixteen working the drive through at McDonald’s?  What do you think when you see a hobo?

But so what? Who cares? We’re all entitled to our own beliefs, and if you want to rank people in the privacy of your own mind there’s nothing wrong with that right?

Wrong, because to live in the hierarchy you need to place yourself somewhere in this hierarchy as well. Do you really want to live under that kind of limitation? I certainly don’t. I believe this strict hierarchy is the driving force behind the suicide problem in Japan. According to the World Health Organization the majority of people committing suicide in Japan is men between the ages of 45-64. Perhaps men who have lost their jobs, and faced with the daunting, almost impossible task of starting over decide to give up. Or maybe men who are forced to work 70 hour weeks to maintain profits and an image of success as the big man on top, and are tired of running, running, running every day like their on a treadmill that can’t be stopped.

While there are many things I enjoy about Japan, I think this is one of the things that need to change. And I know I’ll be doing my damnedest to be aware of my thoughts, because thoughts form reality, and I want to break free of the hierarchy.

The Salary Man Who Called Me a N*gg*r

True story: I was out and about with a friend in Shinjuku, and we were starving and looking for a place to eat. Well, Murphy’s law must have a sick sense of humour, because just as we’re contemplating giving in and eating at KFC, a random salary man comes marching through the sea of people on the sidewalk towards us, and as he’s barreling by he leans in and yells:

“NIIIGAAAAA!”

“..Oh my God,” said my friend. “Did he just…”

I kept walking, in shock.

Did that really just happen? Maybe he was speaking Japanese and I didn’t understand.

But as the seconds passed and I kept replaying it in my head, I had to accept the tragic truth: I was a victim of a drive-by (well in this case speed-walk by) hate crime.

In hindsight I think my reaction, or lack thereof, was the best thing I could have done, because to be honest that guy seemed…crazy. Even if I had been able to catch up with him as he whizzed by, he picked me because I was an easy target — I’m smaller than him and running my mouth would have probably gotten me a nice pop in the teeth. I’m sure he would have had no qualms with hitting me. He seemed like a man who’s got nothing left to lose. For all I know this was the last line on his suicidal bucket list and he was headed for an appointment with the next speeding train. And it’s not as if he sees me as a human being, much less a woman. He made it pretty clear that all I am to him is a nigger.

But still, there’s a part of me that wishes I had done something, anything more than well, nothing.

It’s something else how I’m learning that some of the positive stereotypes about Japan aren’t all that true.

“Japan is such a safe country; you don’t have to worry about anything being stolen.”

Uh, no, two friends on three separate occasions have had money stolen from their wallets since I’ve been here, and NOT in Roppongi in case you’re wondering.

“The Japanese aren’t overtly racist, just lacking in PC skills.”

Uh, go back and read the first paragraph of this post.

But, you know, despite that, I still want to live here, because thankfully I’ve met enough pleasant and kind Japanese people to easily cancel out that asshole. And there’s still so much I want to learn and accomplish here.  So sorry racist salary man, but you haven’t gotten rid of me. Sure it was a disturbing experience, but sadly it’s not the first time someone’s said that to me, so you lose points for lack of originality.

I’ve got too much to do and see to let him get under my skin. And you know what, honestly, he’s not the real problem. At least there’s no mistaking what’s on his mind. It’s the ones in power, the ones who keep their racism under wraps to avoid a bad public image I worry about.

I guess I’ll take some extra time with the kids in my classes now, to try to keep them from turning into him.

 

Blacks in Japan: She Was Scared of Me!

I’ve been living in Japan for eight months now, and though I had always feared it might happen, not once has a child run screaming or starting crying at the sight of my blackness.

Not until yesterday that is.

I was shopping at Don Quixote.  For those not living in Japan Don Quixote is a department store similar to Wal-Mart. I was shopping for stuff to pimp my crib, when I spotted a black man with an adorable half-black, half-Japanese two year old daughter. As I try to do when I see another person who looks like me in Japan I gave “the nod” of acknowledgment, which opened the doors for conversation.

“Where are you from?” he asked, with an African accent. I told him I was from Canada.

“Are you a student?”

“No I’m a teacher”

“Oh, I’m looking for someone to teach my daughter English, and I want her to have more interaction with the black community.”

It was at this point that the little cutie started crying.

“She must be tired,” I commented naively.

“No, whenever she sees a black face, or anyone not Japanese, she gets scared. She’s only used to me.”

Whaaaat? She’s afraid of…me? Little old me?

The irony, that the first child who cried at the sight of me was half black. Don’t that beat all huh? Well I think I’ll take the teaching job, so she’ll be seeing a lot more of me. But we’ll be best friends in no time ;)

I sometimes think about how difficult it would be to raise a visibly foreign child in Japan. I don’t think I would do it. This little darling believes in her childlike way that she’s Japanese, and technically she is. She was born and raised here. Yet sometime soon, maybe when she starts school, she will encounter people who are only too quick to show her that no, she is not “real” Japanese. And it won’t just be Japanese people either. It will be the foreigners who expect her to speak perfect English.

I don’t envy her (even though I can tell she will be a complete knockout when she grows up). She has some tough life lessons ahead of her, and I think in order to have the necessary tools to face the upcoming challenges she needs to have an understanding and healthy self-love for both sides of her heritage, so I’ll do my best to get her to stop crying.