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After the romance of expat life fades, the dream lives on

by William Bradbury

A lot of people dream of living abroad, imagining a life of freedom, wanton abandon and the indulgence of wanderlust.

Yet, in time, even the rowdy all-night drinking sessions become sobering reminders that things have changed. I go out sometimes with the crew I met at the beginning of my stay in Japan and realize there’s just a few of us left. There’s an unsettling feeling in the air, as if everyone is aware to some extent of their self-deception yet is afraid to bring it to the surface.

The scene sometimes reminds me of the Noah Baumbauch movie “Kicking and Screaming,” about a bunch of university graduates who choose to stay on campus and continue the student lifestyle, minus the studying. Conversations about the future always end with “Well, I’ll figure it out later” or words to that effect.

It becomes hard to tell if it’s the world that’s changed or the viewfinder through which I see it. I go back to the same bars in Shibuya that I went to years ago and see all the same faces. The wild and wacky bartender now seems like a faded actor as he keeps up the same shtick night after night. I see a younger version of myself in the fresh-faced young travelers and feel a sense of guilt over what exactly I’m doing here. Tokyo, a city once so full of endless possibilities and connections, seems so isolating and restrictive after a few years.

Weeks and years pass and it becomes easy to lie to myself even when there’s a clear sense that something fundamental is missing. My younger brother visiting put a lot of this into perspective. He was unafraid to call me up on my self-deception and was the first non-expat non-Japanese person I had spent a prolonged period of time with in about five years. He accused me of going sideways rather than forward with my life. I was taken aback.

“I am going forward,” I retorted. “And anyway, I’m still in my early 20s.”

“No you’re not — you’re in your mid-20s,” he said. I thought about it for a moment. He was right on both counts.

It seems that staying in Tokyo is a means of delaying something for a lot of people — a career decision, the end of a relationship, or even just having to decide on a sense of direction and purpose in life. The overall effect of the daily grind in Tokyo is a numbing one: Emotions gray or become exhausted by the daily intensity of the masses of humanity oozing around the capital. People hang on to the dream that living abroad is a kind of adventure, even though if you were to record footage of the lives of many of the expats in Tokyo, there would be less scenes of beatnik-inspired adventure and more standing around in British pubs nursing beers.

The common expat trajectory I’ve witnessed is that after a period of culture shock, excitement and attempts to study Japanese and ingratiate themselves, these trends taper off, a process that ends in isolation — either through entrenchment with a Japanese wife or girlfriend or regression into the same habits and behavior indulged in prior to life in Japan, oddly including solitary study of Japanese.

Regardless of the day-to-day realities of my life here, I maintain a sense that I’m living a dream on paper. My friends sometimes express envy and family members encourage me to stay out here because it’s an “exciting” life. Even when I call the student loans company or bank about financial problems, the gravity of the issue is alleviated by exclamations of jealousy from the operator. I get a temporary buzz from the imaginary version of my life in the eyes of others.

I had a bizarre experience reading Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” for the first time three years into living in Japan, becoming consumed by the same desire to escape that my own life seems to inspire in others. I’m aware enough of Kerouac’s biography to know where his lifestyle left him — a drunk living with his mother, which, worryingly, could be exactly where I end up if I ever call time on my fake version of a romantic adventure.

If throughout life we are all living our own version of Homer’s “Odyssey,” then life in Japan seems symbolic of one of the big distractions Odysseus faced on his journey. He spent seven years on an island with Calypso, where he wept each day, and another year with a woman named Circe who plied him with food and turned all his men into pigs.

I suppose Japan is closer to the second of these diversions, but at least it’s the fun one. Thankfully, I still have a few years to go before the seven-year point — with its uncomfortable analogy of a weeping adventurer — rolls around.

William Bradbury is a freelance writer and musician in Tokyo. Foreign Agenda offers a forum for opinion on Thursdays. Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Mark Garrett

    “It becomes hard to tell if it’s the world that’s changed or the viewfinder through which I see it. I go back to the same bars in Shibuya that I went to years ago and see all the same faces. The wild and wacky bartender now seems like a faded actor as he keeps up the same shtick night after night. I see a younger version of myself in the fresh-faced young travelers and feel a sense of guilt over what exactly I’m doing here. Tokyo, a city once so full of endless possibilities and connections, seems so isolating and restrictive after a few years.”

    Good grief. After reading that passage I was under the assumption you were turning 40 and having a midlife crisis, not in your mid 20s. There’s no such thing as going sideways when you’re that young. It’s all education and experience. The best advice I ever got was to set aside all my worries about the future until at least age 30. Your 20s are for exploring yourself and the world around you. Take a trip back to that watering hole in Shibuya when you’re 45 and THEN see how much has changed!

    • ScottyP

      Couldn’t agree more. The author had me until the “mid-20s” bit. Give me a break.

      I spent 10 months in Australia at age 25, and didn’t think twice about it. I spent 5 years in Japan until age 32, and didn’t think twice about it. Though both experiences were by and large far from idillic, and posed certain challenges for me upon my return to my home country, I hold zero regrets. Zero.

      Yes, there will be moments of self-doubt, holes in the resume, days when you think you’re (to quote Bono) running to stand still, and continued contemplation about what the future holds. But clearly the author is being conditioned to worry for worry’s sake, without considering how much freaking time (and vitality, and energy, and wherewithal, and options) he truly has. He should relax and enjoy another pint, without reflecting too much on what it all means. I know if I were 14 years younger, that’s what I’d be doing.

      • GaijinBob

        No no no. Don’t have another pint. Have a Lemon Chu-Hi or Ozeki. Do something you would NOT be able to do back home. The whole point of being some place else is to BE some place else. You can order a beer anywhere in the world, but you won’t be able to order a Shochu with fresh squeezed grapefruit back at your hometown pub.

      • crs

        yes shochu is the answer!

      • blondein_tokyo

        Lemon chuhai sucks!! It’s grape all the way, man. ;)

      • crs

        i’ll drink to that!

    • crs

      or 55.

  • Virginia Kouyoumdjian

    I was also rather taken aback by the age issue which makes the argument sound a little precious. I lived in Japan for 20 years and made the decision to leave whilst in my 40s. I enjoyed every minute of my life in Japan and still get a real kick out of going back for visits. BUT…being back in Europe has opened up a different set of opportunities that would never have been possible in Japan. And I have managed to somehow weave Japan into them, in a way that is also making me discover a whole new Japan. If Japan is really part of you, it never does leave you…

    • http://www.jlist.com Peter Payne

      For me, Japan is filled with opportunities, but yes, going where opportunities are is highly recommended.

  • phu

    I get two major impressions out of this. One or both might be completely off base, but I figured it’s worth putting them down, just in case.

    First: I get the impression you’re isolated (more than normal in Tokyo) due to hanging out mostly at gaijin haunts and/or due to a lack of language skills. If that’s the case, the latter is harder to fix, but the former can be easily solved, in addition to resulting in fun, challenging interactions that might revive the experience for you, assuming that’s what you want.

    Second: You’re in Tokyo. Yeah, it’s a concrete jungle, and while there’s a lot to do it definitely leaves a lot to be desired… but that’s not all there is to Japan! Unless you are solely interested in Tokyo (and there’s nothing wrong with that), perhaps spending an extended period of time in another part of Japan could similarly rejuvenate your enthusiasm for Japan. Osaka is still pretty big and fairly different, and then there are places like Fukuoka or Kumamoto that are reasonably sized but definitely different in tone and pace.

    It really depends on what you want. If you went to Tokyo to be in a different place but hold on to the safety net of like-minded, English-speaking people, then perhaps that’s run its course and it’s time to find something else. But if you still want to experience Japan and Tokyo has worn out its welcome with you, maybe it’d be worth looking for a different place to try before you leave.

  • Khaos Cualdawath

    Strange, how the ones complaining and having these problems are those who got all the opportunities at their hands. Sorry, but as a person who lost all of his opportunities to learn and to progress as a young person should be able to, just because of those neasty money issues, like losing the family home, having no jobs available for years, having to support my struggling family, somehow I cant muster sympathy for the writer of the article. I would be doing many many things (only killing and such things are the only things I would not do) to be able to get to Japan, and get just one chace to meet just one of the people I admire there. I aspire to write, I can’t help loving the style and genre elements of modern Japanese storytelling, I want to be able to study japanese, and my dream would be to write novels, or be a partner of a mangaka and write stories, create universes for him/her, but sadly I have to work most of my time just to keep on surviving and supporting those who I love. And I still miss some hours of my sleep to fabricate some of my stories, to keep on writing, to try to get some languages on me, and to try to figure out what to do about the university I had to leave, because if I have no papers, I will have about zero chances to get anywhere in life…

  • orchid64

    The commenters (so far) are missing the point, but that’s no surprise. There is a difference between experiential growth and personal growth. Most of the commenters are assuming that the author lives in a bubble and has no contact outside of a limited range of people and places. That is not what this is all about. It’s about the sense that life in Japan feels like a dream – an avoidance of the real world and the potential for personal growth that comes along with it. Those who are objectifying life and seeing it as a series of people and places to be encountered (which largely includes those who have never actually spent a very long time abroad) aren’t going to understand this.

    Life in Japan offers certain challenges, but it also creates a situation for foreigners in particular in which they are outside of the culture. You will never be integrated. You will never be regarded as an insider. You will always be placed in a special box and no matter how hard you try to get out of it, the natives will stuff you back into it. It is not an act of cruelty, but simply a reflection of the mentality the Japanese possess based on their geography, history, education, and current mentality. Being in that box is often a comfortable place as Japanese people can be so kind and polite, but it also means there are certain personal growth challenges that come from living in a world in which you are the equivalent of a kindly treated puppy that people look after and speak to in a particular fashion. It’s a nice place to live – truly, nice – but it’s also limiting.

    The author is coming to terms with something few people are ever aware of while living in Japan because they subscribe to the fantasy that the author encounters when he talks to people back home. It makes them feel like their lives are more fulfilling, more exciting, and more interesting than they really are and it allows them to stay nestled in their padded box and avoid the reality of dealing with people who don’t want to help them, have no interest in being friends with them based on their perceived “exotic” nature, or being in an environment in which they have to compete for jobs on their own merits rather than on their novelty value.

    If you’ve ever noticed how many mundane and untalented foreigners manage to get onto Japanese T.V. for nothing more than making fools of themselves, then you’re seeing the fact that one can be a big fish in a small pond merely by being foreign. That is just one reflection of the limits the author is experiencing in terms of personal growth – the bar is often so low that it’s trivial to hop over it. Most people aren’t going to understand that, because they’re too busy convincing themselves that the trappings of success are equivalent to psychological growth.

    • Mark Garrett

      “If you’ve ever noticed how many mundane and untalented foreigners manage to get onto Japanese T.V. for nothing more than making fools of themselves, then you’re seeing the fact that one can be a big fish in a small pond merely by being foreign. ”

      Have you ever noticed how many NATIVES manage to get onto TV for nothing more than making fools of themselves??

      • crs

        i love japanese tv !

    • phu

      Thanks for letting us know that we’ve missed the point! I’m glad you’re both better than everyone at reading comprehension AND perfectly aware of the mindset of and experiences of random people on the internet. Without you, we wouldn’t even have any idea what the author was thinking.

      Unfortunately, I can’t properly express the depth of my gratitude, so I’ll just have to settle for rolling my eyes and snickering at your presumption.

      Oops! I broke character…

    • Jeffrey

      “The author is coming to terms with something few people are ever aware of while living in Japan because they subscribe to the fantasy that the author encounters when he talks to people back home.”

      The author states that he’s in his mid-20s but doesn’t tell us how long he’s been in Tokyo. If he came, presumably, as an English teacher (they don’t issue visas for “freelance writers/musicians”), that means he can’t have been there for more than 3-5 years, depending on when he graduated from college (yes lots of assumptions but all one can do with all his vagueness).

      As others noted, Mark Garrett most eloquently, there is a lot more to Japan than Tokyo, though not even five years there can wring that city dry. Has he even been to Kyoto and Nara? And if he hasn’t, is really that interested in Japan? Has he spent any time in the mountains or Hokkaido? What does he do with his free time besides hang out in the same old bars?

      I suspect that he’s failing Japan rather than Japan failing to engage him.

      • crs

        i agree the British pubs in Kyoto are way better.

      • blondein_tokyo

        That’s cause you haven’t been to The Fully Monty in Yokohama! :) LOL.

      • blondein_tokyo

        How can you “fail Japan”? It’s extreme arrogance to put firth the notion that if someone has a different experience than yours in traveling abroad that they’ve somehow “failed” or done it wrong.

        I love backpacking. It’s not for everyone. You won’t find me belillting others who go on luxury vacations or spend their time in spas.

        To each their own.

        And this is aside from the fact that you’re drawing wild assumptions based on absolutely zero evidence. For all you know, the author has been to more places in Japan than you have.

    • ScottyP

      So much of what the OP says here is off base, I don’t even know where to start.

      I spent 5 years in Japan. Not that long, but relationships were built with local people that will last a lifetime. No, I’m not delusional. As time went by, most people I encountered, whether they be parents of my students or the guy at the local izakaya, acted little different with me than they did with anyone else. They opened up, and so did I. Don’t believe me? That’s your prerogative. But I’ll never buy the “impossible to integrate” schtick. That’s loser talk.

    • crs

      ouch!

    • saitamarama

      First of all, the “Everyone missed the point” routine comes off as pedantic as you may find the various accusations of paranoia given by others. I assume that everyone here can read just fine and just disagree with the point we’re seeing. Allow me to be clear – This is not intended as a means of silencing your voice, as you are an eloquent writer and always articulate your thoughts beautifully, irrespective of how I may disagree with said thoughts.

      Now to the main article:
      “It’s about the sense that life in Japan feels like a dream – an avoidance of the real world and the potential for personal growth that comes along with it.”

      I actually agree with this – it CAN feel like a dream but let’s not delude ourselves that avoiding personal growth is somehow the fault of the country which we chose to live in with the understanding that life in a country where you don’t speak the language and lack hard skills that can’t be filled in by a similarly educated local will by definition limit the doors that are open to you.

      This “avoidance of the real world and potential for personal growth” DOES come from the self and our own self-imposed limitations. There are no end of people who try to grow in various in Japan within the various practical legal hurdles and barriers they have.

      No, I’m not saying the Japanese system is perfect and even all that amazing – I’m just saying that it’s a hell of a lot better than most westerners give it credit for.

      “Most people aren’t going to understand that, because they’re too busy convincing themselves that the trappings of success are equivalent to psychological growth.”

      Yes, there IS a danger of getting stuck in a rut of drink and merriment but that danger exists regardless of where you go. Ultimately, it comes down the individual’s responsibility and yes – It can be damn hard to do that in Japan. I’m currently in Southeast Asia where I have done more developing in a year (and a job with a lot more obligations) than I did in Safety Country Japan, and now on my way to developing professionally in yet another country.

      So to end, if I had read this same article even last year, I would probably have agreed wholeheartedly with this. However, looking back on it I now realize that the job of “psychological growth” comes down to one’s own self and isn’t the fault of the country of whatever boxes you get put in – especially when you’re the one putting yourself in the country that’s supposedly doing the boxing! If you feel you got sold a bill of goods – why stay in?

      All that said, Mr. Bradbury here deserves credit and kudos for being so forthcoming with his opinions, but I wish he would also be equally forthcoming on his circumstances – he’s an English-teaching self-proclaimed otaku struggling with a lot of demons. (I say this as someone who fits this exact description to a tee)

      I will take the liberty of giving Mr. Bradbury some direct advice free of any sarcasm or belittling, and I hope he does read this and welcome anyone telling me to go eat crow – go online and get a TEFL certificate (if you want to continue teaching – if nothing else, it’s good to fall back on), don’t renew your contract and take a break from life in Japan. Teaching jobs in Tokyo are a dime a dozen and pay about that much anyway. Spend a few months to a year in a place that REALLY challenges you in a way (save some money so you have an escape plan). This place can be some random American state; another Asian country (except Korea – you’ll just be trading one bubble for another from what I hear); or even a European country if you don’t mind the miserable pay of Eurozone ESL.

      While out there, reflect on your experiences as you try new things. Your Japan experience has been an a wonderful thing and it HAS helped you, despite the Gaijin complex that comes with being an eager expat. As you reflect, find ways to develop professionally whether it be a better job; a degree or taking your music and really trying to go public with it. Whatever it is.

      Then, as you continue reflecting, take a good hard look at yourself and see how much of the problems you have change or stay the same. Chances are they won’t (all) magically go away. This is not a bad thing, because it will show you how of an individual YOU are, regardless of where you go. It won’t “fix” you (is there ever such a thing?), but it may help you confront these anxieties we all face in one form or another.

  • jeremy

    It is about growing up and that is the same in Tokyo as Torquay. I suggest you start as soon as possible

  • Adam

    Try not drinking as much and see what happens. Yes eventually you will probably want to leave, but what you are doing is not less “real” than the “real world” — only if you perceive it that way. Challenge yourself, go to an island with a population of 100 people and figure it out. Try not to slack and party too hard because, honestly, drinking at a Hawaii-style pub in Japan is just one slice of things. And please don’t stay until retirement age having opened an English school, just make the most of the next few years and head home! You can always visit again, truly.

  • David Lee

    I like the description that the author gives of feeling like you’re taking time off from the real world. I felt that way as well, but it is definitely a bit of a age thing. The author is still very young. There’s a sort of ‘mid 20′s malaise’ that affects a lot of people regardless of where you are. You feel directionless, like you’re not doing anything worthwhile. It just seems to be sort of amplified when you’re an expat.

    I spent 8 years all up in Japan, over 2 four-year stints. The difference in experience between the two was huge. I experienced similar feelings to the author during my first stint (from 21 to 25), but the second (28 – 32) was very different. I had grown up in between and possessed drive, a sense of purpose, and a very clear direction of what I wanted to do. That funny sense of alienation and ‘lostness’ was nowhere to be found.

    • Jeffrey

      “I like the description that the author gives of feeling like you’re taking time off from the real world. I felt that way as well, but it is definitely a bit of a age thing.”

      People always go on, as other noted up thread, about how as a gaijin that you’ll never be part of Japanese society. Really? Sweet! While being less party to certain aspects of Japanese society, you are also allowed, within reason, to ignore certain conventions that Westerns in particular find stifling or annoying. So not being in the “real world” just means, in Japan, that you are liberated from certain conventions. The question, then, is whether you can make a life for yourself there under these circumstances.

  • FestivalHockey

    The best decision I ever made living in Japan was to not keep up with the expat crowd. Because honestly, if that is who you hand out with, you aren’t living in Japanese society. You are living in the expat society which, from what I have read and experienced, is dedicated to their own watering holes complaining about Japan.

    -9 years in, Osaka.

    • blondein_tokyo

      I have plenty of foreign friends, as well as Japanese ones, a few of which go back 20+ years. Avoiding relationships with other foreigners is symptomatic of those who have the “MY Japan!!!” superiority syndrome. Do you also speak Japanese at random foreigners to see if they can understand you, and feel happy when they can’t because it gives you yet another reason to feel you’re better than them? That’s happened to me quite a bit.

      Btw, I’m 22 years, as if anyone should give a flying fvck.

  • blondein_tokyo

    The author is someone who came to Japan to have a good time, travel, meet people, and see the world. That in and of itself is a laudable goal. The only mistake he makes is thinking that good times and fun can last forever, and he seems surprised that he can’t postpone growing up. His intention was never to live in Japan; his mindset has always been that Japan is a temporary stepping stone before getting back to “real life”. Now that he has to face real life again, it’s a depressing and rather intimidating prospect. I don’t see anything particularly new or interesting in this, as I think all young people have this mindset at that age.

    What I often don’t like about these pieces is that it is often assumed that this experience of Japan is the experience of every expat. But it isn’t, and shouldn’t be taken as such. While many people do come to Japan just for a few years and always mean to go back home, a great many come to make a life here with the full intention of staying and making Japan their home. For us, there is no “home” to “go back to”. This IS real life and we are living in the here and now.

  • lionsandbears

    Hi, Pat!

    I’m sorry, but Osaka is essentially the same as Tokyo, for number of people. For that matter, Nagoya is also quite busy. When you sign up, I hope you get a good company as an employer. That can be the hard part.

  • http://www.jlist.com Peter Payne

    Interesting views, from an American who’s been here for 23 years. Definitely some people come here as an escape and spend what should be their most important years teaching eikaiwa instead of laying a groundwork for their lives. People who find themselves doing that should re-think things in a critical way.

    This was very well written by the way. Perhaps that’s your calling instead of whatever you’re doing in Japan.

  • Jake Adelstein

    There is some truth in that people can overstay their time in Japan without learning much and just treading water. But I think you can travel thousands of miles and still stay stuck where you are. Because expats tend to stay in Japan for a short time, there is a strange sense of being left behind if you’re here for the long term. 住めば都 becomes true after a while.

    It sounds a bit like you’re having the “quarter-life crisis.” I managed to skip that by going to work for a Japanese company as a 正社員 straight out of college–with the whole employment for life thing. I didn’t have time to ponder my place in society because I was too busy working. :D

    However, it is a very well-written essay and gave me some food for thought. Mostly it also inspired me to rewrite “Piano Man” with a Japanese setting and proper doses of ennui.

    “Karaoke Man” (The Expat Blues)

    It’s nine o’clock on a Thursday
    The regular crowd is all here
    There’s an old man sitting next to me
    Making love to his Asahi Super Dry Beer

    He says, “Son can you sing me a memory
    I’m not really sure it’s popular at bars
    But it’s sad and it’s sweet
    And I knew it complete
    And I think it’s by the Southern All Stars”

    Sing us a song you’re the Karaoke man
    Sing us a song tonight
    Well we’re all in the mood for a melody
    And you’ve got us feeling alright

    Now Taro at the bar is a friend of mine
    He gets me my mizuwari for free
    And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
    But there’s someplace that he’d rather be

    He says, “Akira, I believe this is killing me”
    As a smile ran away from his face
    “Well, I’m sure that I could be an AV star
    If I could get out of this place”

    Now Hiro is a real estate mangaka
    Who never had time for a wife
    And he’s talking with Moroni who’s still at Sony
    And probably will be for life

    And the hostess is practicing pouring green tea
    As the businessmen get drunk real slow
    Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness
    But it’s better than drinking Jinro

    Sing us a song you’re the Karaoke man
    Sing us a song that’s manic
    Well we’re all in the mood for any thing
    And at least this isn’t Gas Panic

    It’s a pretty good crowd for a Thursday
    And the manager gives me a nudge
    ‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been coming to see
    To forget about the boss they begrudge

    And the Laser disc player sounds like a matsuri
    And the microphone smells like red wine
    As they sip their beer and yell in my ear—
    “Can you sing YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE?”

    Sing us a song you’re the Karaoke man
    Sing us a song you old dude
    Well we’re all in the mood for MY WAY
    And you’ve got us feeling so goood

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      You write songs and fiction – a veritable renaissance man, you are.

    • Jeffrey

      Jake,

      You’re a national treasure!

  • crs

    become a scuba instructor in thailand…

  • mariachimike

    I think a lot of the author’s feelings have to do with the reasons for moving to Japan in the first place. Was it a positive choice or was Japan a refuge, a chance to delay challenges and difficult decisions? I’ve met a few who are of the latter and they fit very well into the author’s characterization.

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    Ah, I remember when I was in my 20s and thought I knew it all as well.

    You’ll get over it, and yourself, in good time, young padawan.

  • blondein_tokyo

    Hi Bob! Guess who? ;)

    You’re spot on here. This author is pretty typical, I’d say, of the young and adventurous temporary resident. Make the most of where you are and what you are doing, and have fun doing it – but have *goals*.

    People do get “lost in Tokyo” and wind up directionless and uncertain of their future. Thus is born the legendary “bitter expat” who sits around in gaijin bars complaining to anything who will listen. I personally very rarely meet this type, but they are out there, and I hope this guy doesn’t turn into one.

  • Grumpy Haniwa Figurine

    First came to Japan on high school exchange at 15, now living with my wife in rural Kyushu nearing 38 … absolutely loving the cycling/visiting around here (castles, remote temples/shrines in grottoes, hot springs, beautiful old villages, wonderful scenery), and very interested in the many innovations described in the Japanese or English language versions of the Nikkei Shinbun … respect Japanese approach towards things and seem to be respected in return … Japan is a country with so much to offer.

  • blondein_tokyo

    It’s much, much more than someone wanting acceptance from society. It’s also the alienation that comes with everyone looking at you as an outsider, and the loneliness of realizing that you aren’t much more than a novelty to a lot of people.
    We’re social animals, and *everyone* needs a space where they feel they fit in, belong, and are wanted. It’s a facet of the human condition, and to call this immaturity or looking for approval is minimizing and belittling a very important part of our humanity.

    • Sherryl Custer

      If you’re not more than a ‘novelty’ to people then that’s your own fault. Blaming society for your own failures and living in a made up fantasy world of non-existent oppression is the worst thing you can do. I see this as culture shock actually. Time to get over it and move on.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Really? It’s my own fault I am a novelty in Japan, because, by your logic, racism doesn’t exist and I am making it all up.

        That doesn’t make any kind of logical sense whatsoever.

        1. We know for a fact that racism exists in all countries around the world, so logic dictates that it does in fact exist in Japan.

        2. The feeling of isolation that foreigners get when living in another country is also quite real and is well documented in psychology. Denying this is just utterly disingenuous.

        3. Culture shock is real; but it is separate and distinct from the long-term effects that racism has on people who live outside of their culture for long periods. Again, this effect is well-documented in psychology. All you have to do is Google “psychological effects of racism”

        Basically, you are denying racism exists and then telling people who suffer from the long term effects of it that they are simply imagining their pain and isolation. That is so utterly bereft of both empathy and sincerity that frankly speaking, your opinions aren’t worth listening to or further responding to.

      • Sherryl Custer

        I simply believe your pain and isolation is self-inflicted. It’s obvious from the amount of Japan bashing you do on English language forums. It’s a fairly common malady, often termed a ‘gaijin complex’. Sure I empathize but only up to a point. Common sense dictates that a lot of the claims of ‘racism’ in Japan are anything but.

      • blondein_tokyo

        How much “Japan bashing” I do on “English language forums”? The honest truth is, I don’t belong to any “English language forums”. I very occasionally post on JT, but that’s it. You are either making this up entirely to try to poison the well, or else you genuinely have me confused with someone else. I’m betting it’s the first.

        And I don’t “bash” Japan. I bring up genuine concerns about the country I live in and care about, and all of my criticisms are valid and well-reasoned. What you’re really doing here is labeling any criticism of Japan, no matter how well deserved or logically reasoned, as “bashing.”

        Additionally, this entire last post of yours is nothing but a red herring. Rather than address the actual issue or rebut the points I made, you changed the subject entirely. When people do that, it’s usually because they don’t actually have anything to support their assertions, so they resort to attacking the poster instead of addressing their argument.

        Do you have anything that supports the notion that Japan is the one country in the world that does not have racism? Because if you don’t, then you have to admit that racism does exist in Japan.

        How about anything, anything at all, that disproves the research that has been done on the psychological effects of long-term racism, including feelings of isolation from society?

        If you do have anything that supports your claims, then I encourage you to post it and show me how I am wrong – instead of simply launching ad hominem attacks.

  • blondein_tokyo

    I’d be interested in your definition of “fantasy racism”, and I’d like to see you dissect these posts of mine you claim to have seen and show me exactly how they fit your definition. Then we might be able to have a more informative discussion about real issues.

  • blondein_tokyo

    I have little doubt that there are incidents people perceived as racism that stemmed from cultural misunderstandings, ignorance, or misconceptions. But the ones you listed, and you only gave two very vague examples, are very real faucets of how actual racism CAN manifest. While it is entirely possible that a person may chose not to sit next to a foreign person for their own reasons entirely unrelated to race, it is also entirely possible that they would not sit down because they feel uncomfortable doing so due to xenophobia. Additionally, you don’t seem to understand how closely xenophobia is related to racism.

    And if you want to make a case for your assertion that I personally have indulged in “fantasy racism” then you need to give specifics of things that I personally have posted that show exactly how I indulge in this. And I just don’t think you can, because I have never posted such things.

    This exchange leaves me wondering. Have you ever examined your (I’m assuming, but I do think this is a reasonable assumption) white privilege? Because if you were black, I have no doubt you would have a better and deeper understanding of just what racism entails, and how it can effect one’s mental self-image, comfort level in public, feelings towards the dominant race, and so on. Are these things you have even considered?

    As a Caucasian, I understand that my experiences in the world are going to be vastly different from someone who is black, brown, or Asian. I understand that while in a Caucasian dominant country, I am an equal in most social interactions. In Japan, however, I am not. I am the one whom must be catered to, looked at as being “different”, out of place, etc. And that is the interesting thing- having the tables turned on one. Because even with my lily white skin and blonde hair, being the epitome of the stereotypical American, I have been discriminated against in Japan, of both the subtle, “benign racism” type and the worse “outright racism” type. And if that happens to me, a white person, I then I can only imagine how it is for someone who is black or brown or from another Asian country, and I recognize that I am still privileged.

    Keep this in mind: if you deny others experiences and cannot adequately make your case (as you have not here) you’re essentially being an apologist for racism. If you downplay their experiences, or minimize their importance, you are indulging yourself in white privilege.

  • blondein_tokyo

    Wow. Such a short response, but so, so much to unpack. First off, you didn’t address any of the points I made, including the one where I pointed out that your examples of “fantasy” racism were also actual examples of *real* racism. Nor did you address my question of whether you actually understand what racism really looks like, or if you understand how closely related it is to xenophobia. Finally, if you are going to make accusations like “you have engaged in fantasy racism yourself” then you are going to need to provide EVIDENCE. You did not, so I think it is safe to say that you cannot.

    Look- in any discussion, it is important to discuss things in good faith. And that means admitting when you are wrong, conceding when it’s fair to concede, and providing reasons, explanations, and evidence for your assertions. If you can’t do that, then all you are really doing is arguing for the sake of being contradictory, and just generally looking to butt heads. I must ask, what is the point in that, exactly? It doesn’t get us anywhere closer to understanding each other or unpacking the topic, or finding a solution – and it only creates ill will.

    As for the statement you just made (and correct me if I’m wrong) you seem to be saying that since racism in the country I live is worse than racism in Japan, then I have no right to be complaining, and that I should instead work on racism in my own country before I protest it in another. There is so much wrong in this one statement that it’s going to take three paragraphs to answer. But I’ll try to be succinct…

    1) This argument seriously falls into the false dichotomy trap by implying that a person can only focus their attention on A or B and that it is impossible to express moral outrage over both. In other words, it is absolutely possible for me to decry racism in my own country AND work towards eliminating it there, while decrying racism in Japan at the same time. Further, considering that *I live in Japan and will continue living in Japan* it is not unreasonable for me to be as concerned, or even more concerned, with racism in Japan. It’s also not at all strange that I would be concerned with racism in Japan – It’s perfectly legitimate for me to be concerned with something that effects me directly.

    2) Just because racism in my country is not as bad as racism in Japan does not mean the problem can be ignored, or that it is somehow not necessary to address it. Rather than “Well, you’re ONLY getting a little bit of racism, so shut up about it” it should be “racism in any form is unacceptable.” If you don’t condemn ALL forms of racism, or if you think certain levels of racism are tolerable, then I think you are in dire need of reassessing your moral compass.

    3) “Living in a glass house” is another way of calling someone a hypocrite. I decry racism in ALL forms, no matter where it takes place, and I criticize my own country just as much as I criticize Japan. As you have no evidence to the contrary, this is a completely unfounded personal attack and I very much resent it.

    I will not be surprised if you come back with the intellectual equivalent of “nana nana boo boo” in response to this post, as that is about what I have come to expect from the people here on JT who come out in droves to defend racism in Japan.

    • Sherryl Custer

      Does all the analyzing, criticizing, posting, and remonstrating take away from your quality of life or add to it?

      I stand by my original point. A lot of the hysterical claims of racism made by Gaijin are complete and utter fantasy. It’s a fairly well known phenomenon to those of us who have settled in to Japanese society and pretty much taken as a given.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Yep. “Nana nana boo boo, I can’t hear you.” No surprises there.

      • RonnyJambone

        I’m with you, agree with you entirely, and thought I should tell you. Because you’re not only right, but you make your points very eloquently.

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        “…the hysterical claims of racism by Gaijin are complete and utter fantasy…” Where did you buy your blinkers? Can I get a similar pair?

  • an102

    This is quite a well-written piece, and I think something a lot of expats are reluctant to face or discuss until they really have to. I can certainly relate, for one, having witnessed most of my closest friends depart after three years in Japan, that kind of thing changes your perspectives, and it can be sobering. People are commenting about the author’s age, and I agree in the sense that mid-20s is not necessarily the time to be panicking about not having moved on with your life, but this kind of realization happens at different times for different people, so I don’t think it makes it any less legit, it’s not like he was speaking for every expat in Japan; he was speaking for himself. But most anyone who’s lived here long enough knows what he is talking about. It’s a rare type that stays on for a very long period of time, and unless you’re all-too happy to do so, coming to the cusp of that designation can really make you question what you’re doing.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    Like I said before re: blinkers.

  • David Diaz

    Cut the guy some slack–I’m pretty sure this piece represents a soul search for him, a journey he’s still trying to engage. He’s on to something in as much as he’s noticed Tokyo can be a distraction from that search. Who cares if he’s only in his mid 20′s, he’s obviously keen to subtle changes in his environment and the people around him–changes that remind him he hasn’t been moving in the direction he’d like to. Yes, his world will have changed even more by the time he’s 40 or 50–but that would be true regardless of his life in Japan. He’s obviously not writing the piece for the ‘old timers’ who’ve seen it all and done it all; he’s writing for the dreamers who arrived not too long ago and somehow forgot that their journey started as something more than a seemingly exotic trip to a pub in a foreign land.

    Don’t dismay… Will you ever be “Japanese”?–no. But, you will always be who you are: a bi-cultural member of Japanese society (assuming you choose to engage it on a cultural level) who happens to have come from a foreign land. Be proud of that; it’s who you are. Girlfriends and wives don’t have to be an entrenchment, they can be ambassadors to Japanese culture, soul mates and adventures that allow you to grow as a human being. So long as you keep asking yourself the question, “what is it I can give to Japan?” you’ll be far better off than the aimless floaters and bar hoppers who spend x years there, and come away with nothing more than a few good locker room tales. Just remember, it’s not what Japan can do for you; it’s what you can do for Japan. Make your mark, and if you have to leave, leave knowing that there are people there who’ll remember and miss you.

  • blondein_tokyo

    nana nana boo boo. Your point is moot because your accusations are completely unfounded. You have provided no evidence to support your contention that anyone here, including me (whom you specifically accused) has ever engaged in “fantasy racism”. That hole you are digging? Better stop now, because you sound like a fool.

  • James Reeves

    Zero sympathy here. You’re living in Japan, and the central activity you describe is all-night drinking parties with other non-Japanese? Why are you even there? The problem, dear self-absorbed ex-pat, lies in yourself, not Japan. Get over yourself, return home and do yourself (and Japan) a favor.

  • Samurai Shonan

    Such a shallow article written by a kid.