On getting by. On getting out.

There are a bunch of things that i’ve wanted to write down, but events are conspiring to sap me of all clarity of thought. The only way forward is to try and blurt it all out!

On getting by.

Several recent conversations have led me to conclude that in the current environment the best that a foreigner in Japan can hope to do is ‘get by’. There are opportunities for people, but everything looks like a dead-end, a cul de sac, one might say. The prospect of working in Japanese environment, where promotion is based on tenure, where connections are everything, where creativity can be a liability, just really doesn’t appeal. As a cultural experiment it has some charms, but they wear pretty thin when thoughts turn to the future. If i was reliant on a job at a japanese company, it would have to be in a truly remarkable environment to keep me here…

[Last week, in a drunken haze, i nearly got into a fight with an english teacher. Nobody seemed to want to tell me what i said that was so offensive, but given the lubrication, it was likely not particularly charming. The job of ‘english teacher in japan’ is the one that i most closely associate with the malaise described above. What exactly is the career path for an english teacher on a temporary contract? I’m not sure what the answer is to that question. The implication isn’t that teaching isn’t a meaningful profession, just that with japanese turning increasingly inwards, where exactly is it going?]

And there’s the rub, without that pressure, i’m still pretty happy here. That may well be that M and i are pretty happy to live / play in our bubble. Society is, of course, always out there, but we’re as isolated / insulated as we need to be.

On getting out.

Several of my friends have wandered off, out of the sunset that is japanese society. And, as much as i’d like to churlishly sulk about it, i can almost always see their points of view. None of them have been the type to whine, and no one would say they haven’t attempted to make the best of it. They’ve got stuck in, learned the language, hustled for work, given a mile, taken an inch… but in the end there just isn’t enough to keep people here once the novelty of newness wears off.

Maybe it’s just that wanderers wander… although that feels like a trite answer to a much deeper question. What is there to keep people here, if they can never really become integrated into society?

The above is full of generalities. There are of course counter-examples, people who have happily integrated themselves into companies / society. Perhaps they are the role models, and, despite protestations to the contrary, my expectations of how a company / society should deal with outsiders in it’s midsts are not suitable for japan. I’m not really cut out to blend in, to conform, do as expected. I’m watching (sniping?) from the borders of society, not prepared reshape myself to fit the mold. How could i possibly judge those who don’t have the easy out of hunkering down in the suburbs?

18 thoughts on “On getting by. On getting out.

  1. It’s partly that there is no hope of integration, but the longer I stay the more I see Japanese society (and yes by extention Japanese people) as a kind of facsimile of ‘real’.
    It looks real, it tastes real, it sounds real but it is essentially a machine with no ghost.
    It’s no longer that I will never be allowed to integrate,but more that my self respect will no longer allow me to even care about trying.

    • I’m perpetually surprised how much people feel they need to be accepted. It has become something that i’ve determined that i need to accept, even if i don’t understand it. People tell me that they don’t care what people think about them, and i mostly believe it. It seems that it’s one of those things that just accumulates…

      America, a society that i (mostly) loath, still manages to turn up individuals that i consider lifelong friends. Japan is no different.

      Maybe it’s all proportions. Maybe it’s all the luck of who you meet.

  2. Staying and moving are human race’s two fundamental way of lives. Who can say which is good or bad? It is not loss and gain but an instinct. I heard that we all were born in Africa. If so, all nations are wanderer’s descendants. don’t you think?

    • Yes. There are more english people outside england than there are immigrants to england (a completely meaningless statistic over the longer term as the english are a mongrel breed). Completely agree that people move instinctively. There is no good or bad in terms of travel / moving.

      The chinese have a theory that they evolved separately out of africa… what are the odds?

  3. Very interesting post, and something we can discuss next we have some beers.

    As you all know, I have often a quite contraire point of view of this topic.

    • Far be it from me to say, your viewpoint seems to be extremely contraire, but rarely well argued. we can take it as given that it’s possible to give in to the japanese way of doing things, however, the crux of the matter is how to do so with sufficient dignity!

  4. hmm. I have a comment to make but each attempt has lead me to thinking of more tangents to go off of. I think this deserves a discussion from late afternoon over a beer.

  5. Well, what can you say about Island culture, except that none of us are one, and, by extension, no matter how iconoclastic, individualistic, nor how much we say we don’t care what others think of us, we all yearn for some kind of acceptance, whether it be Uchujin’s version, Mr. Wood’s, Gullevek’s, yours, mine or the Chinese’s (who as we all know came from the Italian Polo line, hence the noodles). Whence we come, we rarely stray far: it’s said that 80% of people die withing 50 miles of their birthplace. That said, what we do in the interim is what makes all the difference, wherever you are you carry home with you.

    • Island culture… maybe thats the issue. Miss having you around here to talk to about this stuff. i’ll refrain from encouraging you to hurry back…


      • I’m all Ger’d out for now: too much dairy, and surprisingly, not enough Vodka. The Mongols hordes are seemingly accepting and talkative while imbibing both, so far anyway, but they are still mid-Industrial revolution, so who knows for real?

        • milk and vodka… i’d have a hard time not giggling. white russians always make me think of tacky 80s disco.

  6. It seems to me there is a significant difference between being a foreigner in Japan today compared to the 20th century, the difference, of course, being the Internet, skype, etcetera. Cheap airfare also means that home is nearly always available to us should an emergency or nostalgia become paramount. Thus, Brett’s statement of carrying home with you becomes particularly true. It’s literally at our fingertips.
    Beyond that, this sort of discussion is nearly always subjective drawn from generalities. Is it that much different for Westerners to live as infidels or casteless in the Middle East or India? Definitely, over there communication is easier and the culture is more accessible, but still that incorrigible ‘other’ persists…

    • i’ve opined before that the reason that we get so testy about it is that, as (predominately) white boys, we just aren’t used to being, and being treated as, minority players in society. discrimination, one might say, is something that happens to those less fortunate than oneself… where ‘fortune’ is a function of skin colour relative to the majority.

Wise words...

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