Discussion: Why do NJ have such apparently bipolar views of life in Japan?

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Hi Blog.  I received a very interesting comment yesterday from Icarus:


I think the responses in this thread bring up a very interesting point that probably warrants looking into. It seems to me that the foreign community living in Japan is split right down the middle in terms of outlook on Japan.

I wonder what the factors are for this divide. Is it related to work? Is it related to the location where each person is living? Is it related to political beliefs in the country of origin? Is it based simply on personality, or maybe on language skills? Does the period of residence in Japan have anything to do with it?

There are seemingly infinite numbers of possibilities, but I find it strange that there is no middle ground – i.e. the people that are sort of ambivalent to the whole experience of living here.


I suggested this become an independent blog entry and the notion was seconded. So here we are.

So let me ask: Why do NJ have such apparently bipolar views of life in Japan?

I of course have my own pet theories, but for the purposes of this blog entry, I will try to have no real stake or angle in this discussion (NB: except unless respondents, like an attack blog or two are doing, try to blame me for somehow leading innocent people astray with allegedly biased or mistaken impressions of Japan; in my view, given how certain elements, always sourced, make criticism of Japan so easy, that’s merely shooting the messenger. So I ask people to leave me out of it–I’m not that important a factor.)

I do acknowledge that Debito.org will naturally attract more than its fair share of the disgruntled and disaffected, and that may be biasing the sample thus far of commenters. But let’s try to have a civilized discussion of why people seem to have bipolar views of things over here. It can’t all be, to put things in a very rough bipolar spectrum, “honeymoon-period guestism” vs. “culturally-ignorant whinging”, now, can it?

Fire away. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

43 comments on “Discussion: Why do NJ have such apparently bipolar views of life in Japan?

  • Interesting point, I do disagree with Icaras regarding there being no middle ground. The middle ground rarely comes through in blog/forum discussions that tend belong to the extremes that yell the loudest.

    I would have to put myself squarely in the ambivalent category – I’m happy with my lot but I also have some complaints – just as I would at home, or anywhere else in the world. I’m definitely past the honeymoon – not that I really ever noticed there was one.

    The middle grounders are there, but the middle ground is terribly difficult to argue for 😉

  • yes we have noticed alot of different views on this website, because some NJ in japan do not have to deal with the same issues that are faceing most NJ in this country so they try to act like these daily kinds of discrimination in japan do not exist, such as housing dicrimination, credit card discrimination, phone purchase disrimination. etc,etc, so some NJ in japan tend to live very sheltered lives. it is easy to say that japan is a great country for NJ, when your making 12 million yen a year and you live in azabu and drive a porsche. yes then you dont have to worry about the daily life situations that most of me and you have to deal with. the (randys) of japan are the minority…

  • I don’t like the generalization of “because some NJ in japan do not have to deal with the same issues that are faceing most NJ in this country”. If anything it would tend to point out that the experience and viewpoint of people is polarized in terms of job/income/etc. in that those who have good jobs making a lot of money are going to have a fundamentally different experience than those who don’t.

    I don’t think they do. I think the vast silent majority has a wonderful time, the old “if you’re happy you’ll tell 1 person if you’re not happy you’ll tell 10” in action.

    And I think that you get out of it what you put into it. If you came to Japan thinking it was going to be a certain way and it wasn’t you’ll naturally have a much worse time than someone who came with no preconceived notions and just “went with the flow” so to speak.

  • Giant Panda says:

    I think that the bi-polar love/hate attitude often exists within the same person. And the reason is that it is those of us who have invested so much of ourselves in Japan, and given it so much of our attention and yes, even love, these very same people are the ones who are most offended and hurt when Japan fails to return our affection.

    Excellent example would be Debito, who obviously cares deeply for this country, and has invested so much of his life in it, even consummating the relationship by taking Japanese citizenship. Because of this deep relationship, every slight is magnified. Every ID check is like a slap on the face.

    And I, who have mastered Japanese to the level of translating laws that even the natives cannot easily understand, have to fight back the urge to snap at the postal worker who praises me in baby Japanese “joouzu ne!” when I can write my name in katakana.

    We have worked so hard to be acceptable to you Japan, we have mastered every test you gave us, we have re-made ourselves in the image you wanted, and still you do not accept us. So our love turns to hate. Only those that truly do not care can be indifferent.

  • Honeymoon period is long gone, and “I don`t want to live in Japan forever” period is over too for me. I kinda like Japan, even though there are problems… but when I compare Japan with my native country (Italy), well Japan wins by far… maybe it will be the other way around for other westerners, but for me, everything considered, Japan is still a great country (and no, I am not letting it get away with it just because I like it… I will still complain and try to make it better)

  • Living here in Japan has really opened my eyes to the hearts and minds of the minorities here in Japan (myself included), and the immigrants back home in the States. Before living here in Japan, I would from time to time make a wise crack or two about certain minorities back home due to how they always “stuck together” and always spoke their foreign language in the presence of “us Americans”. “How rude of them to speak that language so loud in public when we can’t understand”, I remember myself saying to my friend in that grocery store line not too long ago. Now I am in the “ethnic minority” category, and I find myself doing the exact same type of things that those minorities were doing in the U.S. which annoyed me and my friends so. When I realized this, I felt terrible, and decided to alter my thinking to a more proactive and positive disposition. Only through blood and sweat can one realize fluency in reading, writing, and speaking Japanese. Once one has come to terms with this unalterable reality, then half the battle is won. Effective communication in all its forms within the Japanese construct is the only key for 99% of those who strive for a fruitful life here.

  • I think some people who are not used to being seen as the “other” in a society (a phenomenon that is well documented and exists practically everywhere), tend to react by overemphasising the degree of discrimination. Of course there is discrimination in Japan and of course it should be resisted, but often people see racism when there really is none. This then gets reinforced through venues populated by people with much the same outlook (gaijinpot, etc).

  • I think this happens with foreigners in every country. There’s just a mix of great and stupid everywhere.

  • There are some really good points here. I guess I never really thought that the middle ground does exist, they just don’t post on the blogs.

    I’ve always thought that the ultimate deciding factor for enjoying life in Japan was learning the language. I’m far from being fluent, but by knowing the language, it has allowed me to get a job using Japanese, I’ve studied martial arts with Japanese instructors, I can go to museums and understand what is going on, etc.

    I’m also generalizing here, but I I’ve also always thought that those that complained the most were the ones who never tried to acclimate themselves to the culture, i.e. learning the language, etc.

    Is language the key, or is it just a factor?

    Also, somewhat related to language, I’ve also seen that many people who are successful and very happy are the ones with lots of Japanese connections. You always hear about those people who make it big by using those connections, and I’m wondering if the people with more connections are the ones who know the language better.

    As a disclaimer, I still run into people who have been here for 20 plus years who know absolutely no Japanese – they seem happy, but it’s just very strange.

  • I`ve been a broke student in Japan, an English teacher, and a high earning professional. I`ve had good experiences all around.

    My expectations changed. I didn`t expect to get a credit card as a broke student. Now I don`t expect to be turned down and I`m not. Realistic expectations is a biggie.

    For me, apart from learning Japanese, I think that a big part of enjoying life here is to resist the easy temptation to blame everything that goes wrong on discrimination. If you are broke, find that your skills are not in demand, etc. I think that you should look in the mirror instead of lashing out. Who would you blame if you found yourself on the skids back home? And let`s be honest, a lot of people are in Japan because they don`t like thier chances back home.

    I also think that James N`s point is right on. In some instances, the discrimination that foreigners do suffer in Japan is exactly what those same foreigners were themselves engaging in back home. It takes honesty to say it, but when you do, it makes it a lot easy to engage with people rather than building up a bubble of anger.

  • This is a topic that my mates and I often talk over a couple of pints down at the local.

    In my case I came over here knowing basically zero about Japan, and came over here for a “temp” expat role. This was back in 2001… I’m still here, and fairly happy here, and why wouldn’t I be? I make good money, learn something new every day, and happen to like the fast pace of life. For me, the good outweighs the bad. I’ve never really been on the recieving end of racial discrimination here, well, nothing significant anyway.

    In my case, I busted my arse studying Japanese over a 2 year stretch, forking over 40,000 yen a month in tuition and giving up a lot of my time. Personally, I found it rewarding (and still find it rewarding, because I am still learning). However, a lot of my mates who didn’t study Japanese and have a fairly limited grasp on the Japanese language (reading and writing) still love it here.

    I noticed that the “Japan otaku” types are typically the quickest to get jaded and leave Japan fairly quickly, however I would say that it’s case by case, there is no exact “type” that either loves or hates Japan, and that’s what makes it interesting.

  • Middle Grounder says:

    No, we don’t usually publish on the blogs. You make no friends in the blogosphere saying, “Well, yeah, Guy With Case A has a point, but on this other topic, Person Who Feels Strongly About B has a valid question, too.” You get creamed from both sides. Blogspace is just a big ol’ playground, and the big boys rule. Us middle-grounders who don’t take sides – or, more accurately, won’t take one side or the other consistently – are targets if we speak our meek, mixed voices.

    Just because we do not align with one side or another does not make us inconsistent. We can usually see two (or more) sides to an issue and recognize that – mostly – each side has valid points, and we make our decisions accordingly. To use an old, tired analogy, we are like Switzerland in a Cold War standoff, siding with neither the US nor the Soviet Union. Except, we’re nowhere near as rich. There’s both good and bad in Japan – as there is everywhere – but to blog something like this would be near pointless.

    Our esteemed host is an interesting case. (No offense, Arudo-san, but it’s an observation and, in the spirit of freedom, let this post remain intact.) He obviously loves the country and has made a lifer commitment here – and I, too, am pondering the idea of switching nationality and doing the same – but all I hear from him is the cranky activist side. I’ve never once heard Arudo-san blog, “You know what I like about Japan…”, or, “Isn’t it cool that in Japan, you can…”.

    Anyway, back to my fence. Y’all can go on and continue. Thanks.

  • I‘ve never once heard Arudo-san blog, “You know what I like about Japan…”, or, “Isn’t it cool that in Japan, you can…”.

    Hey Middle Grounder, Debito here. I warned ya — you mentioned my name (bespeak of the devil 🙂 ), so I just had to jump in… But I’ll do it as an independent comment so as not to come off as a moderator:

    For what it’s worth, I have blogged good news about what’s going on in Japan here. And I’ve also recently written a column for the Japan Times along the same vein: “Good News from the Grassroots” (which looks as though it doesn’t have a separate blog entry. I’ll fix that in a minute.)

    As for blogging what I “like” about Japan, such as the food, the language, the women, the adventures, the epiphanies, what have you, well, that would make Debito.org a blog for personal musings about Japan, and they’re ten a penny out there… It’s a bit humdrum and ho-hum.

    As for apparent crankiness, I just added this to my intro page the other day, to show the attitude/bent kinda goes with the territory. FYI:

    What is this BLOG for?

    At the risk of sounding pretentious, let me quote a famous philosopher: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without direction from another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolve and courage to use it without another’s guidance. Sapere aude! Dare to know! That’s the motto of Enlightenment.” (Immanuel Kant, from “Critique of Pure Reason”, as cited in Francis Wheen, “How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World”, page 2).

    The point is, by blogging this information on a daily basis (which some people say can find depressing), we are daring to know and inform ourselves of the condition of human rights in Japan. It necessarily means we hear the bad news before the good news, become aware of how to convert bad into good, and celebrate the small but hard-won and incremental victories over time. For this field, that is the process of Enlightenment. Still, if you just want to see the good news, click here.


    Now don’t mention my name again or else you’ll get another essay! 🙂
    Debito in Sapporo

  • Pretty simple for me. Either your in the know or your not. You either work on a base, your a diplomat, an English teacher or in some other shielded profession or you work for/with Japanese at a company here in Japan. If your a diplomat or somebody that the Japanese see as different from themselves, that is they dont have to deal with you, then life here is almost an utopia. Your shielded from the Japan that most Japanese would rather not talk about. So when you hear other foriegners “whinning” about how bad they got it here, you just cant understand. For a reality check, quit your English teaching job or whatever it is your doing, go down to Hello Work Shinjuku and register at the employment for foriegn workers desk. Wait your turn and get an interview with the counsler. You will then see for yourself what is going on here. I was there awhile back and there was a black dude from the states that would come in and they always gave him the same answer- Shigoto Nai. he would storm out, knowing it was because he was black. Ive sat behind or besides Chinese, Peru, Indian, Pakistani, etc. and they always got the same mess. Once I was so “lucky” (the counsler was all giddy and shouted “Yokata ne!”) when I landed a job with a furniture mover. They then turned me down latter because they said they worried about what their clients would think about a gaijin face. No lie. The counsler said it was shogunai and he then introduced me to some other hell job nobody (Japanese) wanted.

  • At the root of many issues is that many Japanese don’t mind having NJ around, but don’t altogether feel comfortable that they’ll be staying. The concept of a multi-ethnic or multicultural country is not part of their neurological infrastructure. (Much less so for the rigid administrative system.) A friend of mine calls them “trams, not buses!” So, in the people’s tolerance for hooligans during the FIFA event and protesters at the G8 who parachute in and then leave, as opposed to the ruling elites’ absolute intolerance for same, there is a certain give and take.
    Institutional Japan is inflexible and exclusionary, while the average Taro and Sakura are nonplussed. Their resignation is indicative of a surrender to the system, by which the live in their own version of peace.It’s not malicious, just uninformed. In my case, I’m planning an exit, while enjoying favorable tax concessions here and now. I dare say that I’ll facilitate a few sane Japanese friends’ escape in a few years, but feel a sadness about a looming slump in the archipelago, beyond my control. And if I COULD avert this, the good ship Japan is heading towards many rocks at full steam ahead, while the captain sleeps below decks, and doesn’t want my (or your) help anyway! What to do? Sorry to bristle Debito, but Alex Kerr summed it up perfectly when he said that Japan was a post-industrial society with pre-industrial goals, essentially legislatively/administratively and creatively locked into the early 1970’s. I think he’s bang on.

    –For the record, Alex and I are good friends. We spent a full two days together earlier this month in Niseko, and got along famously. We don’t understand why people say “we locked horns” etc. It’s not that way at all, and never has been.

    Don’t believe the idiots who manage the Arudou Debito Wikipedia entry… I’ll get to that this summer.

  • and another thing that i have noticed in japan is that we are treated differently as NJ, depending on where we live in japan. for example when i lived in tokyo i was treated alot more friendly by the locals and they were more respectful to me on a daily basis. but when i moved to osaka i thought that things would even be better because osaka is suppose to have a reputation for friendliness, but i found out that the friendly reputation only applys to other japanese people not NJ..in fact i found the complete opposite to be true., i think that the reason for this is because in tokyo they are used to having foreignors around them and in osaka which has a heavy chinese and korean population they tend to look at foreignors alot more suspiciously and negatively..these are both big cities but it seems like they are worlds apart on how they treat and respect foreignors,..just my experience..

  • Carl, I’ve been here for quite a while working for a Japanese company in totally normal working standards (overtime, senpai/kohai, etc.) and I have yet to see these things that you’re mentioning. There are adjustments to working and living in Japan but it’s definitely not the hell that you mention. I recommend using the newspapers and internet over the Hello Work office – it is simply an unemployment office, after all.

    But to get back on topic, maybe you can explain how you started to feel this way about Japan? Perhaps it will shed light on this discussion. Was there some kind of traumatic event or did you start to feel this way over time?

  • I think this bipolar phenomenon isn’t really restricted to Japan. In my mind, it’s just human nature for people to take sides on an issue and defend it vigorously. But on Japan…

    Personally, I see Japan as just another country with things that I like and things that I don’t like, just as I feel about my own country. I love Canada, but I still think that there are ways it could be better.

    I met a lot of good people in Japan, and a lot of not so good people. I’ve seen women who were afraid to approach me, and a 72 year old lady in Katsushika Tokyo with whom I ended up walking together and taking the train together for a few hours talking about life and philosophy (we walked together in isolated areas… obviously she didn’t see me as a bad guy even if I’m white). I’ve met people who didn’t want to talk to me at all and salarymen who took more than 20 minutes of their coffee break to take out a map of the city and help me find my way to places.

    I think a lot of people are frustrated with Japan because they start by thinking it’s a paradise on earth with fountains of honey and things like that, then when they see it’s not perfect they begin hating it because they feel their illusions are betrayed. Others hate Japan because of World War II and refuse to see the good side. I suppose it really depends on people.

    I think some people also interpret things differently if it happens in Japan than if it happens in their own country. There was a media investigation in Calgary, Canada recently and they found that black people had a very hard time getting into bars because they were often turned out at the front door (the videos of the incidents are on youtube), and they even had private security guards preventing the blacks from getting in. That doesn’t mean all Canadians are racists… it just means that there is a problem somewhere that needs looking into.

    I would suppose that if the Minshuto manages to get elected in Japan they might tackle some legal loopholes that have allowed things to happen that shouldn’t have happened. Perhaps they need a reform to make judges more independent, for example. But then again I’d rather live under Koizumi than Pol Pot.

    But appearances are sometimes misleading. Has anyone seen the Otoko wa tsurai yo movie “Haru no Yume”? I think it’s number 24 in the series, and its one of the funniest. In this movie, Tora-san finds an American being given hospitality by his family and reacts by calling him a “kaiju” and saying very racist things. Then he mellows up and the two become good friends.

  • Jim you are wrong.

    I live in Osaka and speak Japanese with pretty much a native Kansai accent. I get along with people fine in Osaka not because of what I look like, but because I am accustomed to rules and cultural mores of the area. Sure there are people who will give you the stare of death, but for everyone of those there are plenty who will not.

    In contrast when I go to Tokyo I am given the cold shoulder in almost any situation.(of course I have only been to Tokyo for a total of two days and am moving to Saitama in September.)

    It also does not have to do with how adjusted people are to foreigners because I do not recall even been stared at once in many different Inaka. (Except for this one salary-man on the train in Hiroshima when I started getting all kotekote)

    In Osaka, when I screwed up on a Job by taking the wrong train and ending up at the wrong station (worked through a hakengaisha for a while) the boss yelled at me like crazy and told me if I wasn’t at the location in a specified amount of time it would be me last Job. Never during the (extremely loud and one-sided) conversation did my appearance (white) or references to my home country (Canada) come up.

    Working part-time and have done things from Conbini to Haken. The only thing that ever got in the way of me living a normal life in Japan was that I had to have an Inkan made despite not having a legal Japanese name.

    Japan has it’s problems as the mere existence of this page would suggest, however, Japan is definitely where I (and many other NJ) will likely choose to die.

    Furthermore, please don’t say “We NJ”.

    I think that request speaks for itself.

  • Speaking to the difference in Osaka and Tokyo. People tend to try to lump all Japanese people into one group. Culturally Osaka and Tokyo are as different as NYC and Dallas TX. Much like people who didn’t grow up in the US tend to want to apply cultural labels and generalizations to everyone in the US it is equally dangerous to try to apply them equally across a culturally and ethnically diverse population like Japan (while they might not admit ethnic diversity ask someone from Tokyo or Osaka if they are kansai or kanto Japanese…).

  • so some NJ in japan tend to live very sheltered lives. it is easy to say that japan is a great country for NJ, when your making 12 million yen a year and you live in azabu and drive a porsche. yes then you dont have to worry about the daily life situations that most of me and you have to deal with. the (randys) of japan are the minority…

    I do not make 12 million yen/year, live in Azabu, or drive a Porsche (I do drive another Italian import, but it only has 50% of the wheels of a Porsche, and about 5% of the cost). That said, I have found generally positive experiences in Japan. That’s not to say that I feel that Japan is a land of sunshine and happiness and ponies where nothing ever goes wrong. It’s just that whatever bad thing has happened to me, I know that, realistically, I’m still in a position of privilege here compared to other foreigners who come from poor countries (“Boo hoo, I had to show extra ID to get an iPhone” “Well I work for 18 hours a day in a sweatshop and my monthly salary won’t even let me pay for an iPhone”).

    In terms of my attitude… I wonder if it has to do with why I’m here. I chose to come to Japan on a working holiday (with the intention of finding full-time work so I could extend my stay). I wasn’t working full-time for the first 7 months so most of my free time went to studying Japanese (I steadfastly refuse to consider “not speaking English” equal to discrimination — you knew what language they spoke here before you came here). And because I wasn’t here for work or to follow a girl, I had to be pretty self-sufficient and learn how to get stuff done on my own, from opening bank accounts and getting cel phones, to buying and registering a motorcycle, to the more mundane tasks like getting groceries. Not having the feeling of helplessness that I think a lot of NJ have, has gone a long way to change my attitude.

    Once again, do I think this country is perfect? Absolutely not. But I just know that I have got it pretty good here. To tell the truth, I think that the NJ community, shile still focusing on things like what form the alien card takes, or how hard it is to get a cel phone contract or whatever, should also think about more serious issues like women kidnapped and forced to work as hookers, foreign labourers from poor countries working well below accepted standards of living, children of international marriages kidnapped to Japan with support of the government, etc.

  • alex you are wrong so speak for yourself, like i said in my comment that i posted (this is my experience), everyone has different experiences in japan..if i had a choice i would prefer to live in tokyo..in osaka ive noticed that when i needed help for example when i was lost people would ignore me or just act like they cant understand my japanese, but when the same thing happens in tokyo the people really went out of there way to help me and they are actually sincere..i guess the people here in osaka try to and want to live up to there image of a hard blue-collar gangster city, i sure feel like they are that way..its like night and day how most NJ are treated, and i have heard the same similar situations from other NJ that live in osaka..and i wonder why japanese people tend to speak for the entire country whenever they say something, like for example (WE JAPANESE) OR (in japan), Im american and as an american we never speak for the entire population or country.!!
    again alex this is just my experience dont get carried away and have an emotional breakdown..

    –Jim, if you’re going to comment, please refrain from these “stream of consciousness” posts from now on. They’re little different in tone from the flames I get on a daily basis and ignore.

    You might counterargue (and have in the past) that this is just a blog. Yes, but it’s my blog, and I feel that this sort of exchange cheapens the discussion. Final warning. Debito

  • Icarus,
    Ive experienced some pretty bizarre things here in Japan, and I wont mention them here as to keep those who wish to do harm or retaliate at bay. Some things I brought on myself, others were just part of the Japan experience. There are things that I have figured out about Japan, and these things are solid with me. I hate the blind conformity and everything being decided by somebody way up on top of the hill so to speak. Working at a company has its good points, its not all bad, but you have to compromise alot of your own self. Once you get back around your own people do you then realize how much you have changed. I sometimes feel like Im on a treadmill running full speed but going nowwhere. I dont like the mask people wear and the lack of friendliness on the train. I dont think there is really such a thing as a Japanese friend if your not Japanese, your just an object of interest.

  • “Im american and as an american we never speak for the entire population or country.!!”

    Yet you try to speak for “we NJ”. As if to say there is an “Us” that encompasses anyone who doesn’t have in their clutches the red passport.

    Furthermore this statement extremely contradictory in the sense that you say you never speak for your country yet you never do so “As an American”? Replace “(WE JAPANESE) OR (in japan) ” with your “(WE AMERICANS) OR (In America)” mentality and it appears there is not much that seperates you from the Japanese you claim descriminate against you, at least on a level which construes either of you to be phycologically inept to refraining from comparing yourself to the “other”.

    If you were to travel back to the states (or Canada) you would probably realize like I have done on my trip back, just how preveilant prejudice and bigotry are even in North America. The only difference is you probably are not likely on the receiving end.(Yes, EVEN in self-proclaimed salad bowls like Toronto)This is not to say descrimination in Japan doesn’t make me angry.It just means we have to be patient. Sometimes being patient and holding out is a plausible course of action. If this weren’t the case, Debito-san would probably have been long gone by now, don’t you think?

    If my post was the result of an irrational emotional breakdown, Debito-san would not have Ok’d it. I am sure even you can understand that.

    “i have heard the same similar situations from other NJ that live in osaka”

    Maybe your problem is you hang out with too many NJ too often, where the discussion is largely dominated by the topic “what blows about Japan and the Japanese”. You know what they say, it is easy to gather with other foreigners whilst another country because you can say whatever you want about the people who call it their motherland. People do it in your country too.

    Do you have any idea how misguided your generalizations are? Debito-san is Japanese, and not once have I ever heard him say “We Japanese”. Not once. There are plenty of people in the Japanese population who will accept you for who you are if you play by the rules, and, unless it [racism] prevents you from persuing a normal lifestyle (i.e. Actual descrimination based on race.) You should suck it up and be the adult.

    I have no interest in arguing with somone online in this fashion, so I will refrain from posting in this particular thread from now on.


  • To look at what many of the posters here have said another way (conflicting experiences for the same person, sheltered life…), it really depends on what you are trying to do, I think. That might change on a daily basis, and also depends on your equally changing expectations. Seems to me the simple fact is if you’re settled in and doing your thing, regardless if that’s working at a large company or teaching english, on a daily basis you can enjoy Japan _if you choose to_. And the cops might hassle you, but you knew that. If on the other hand you’re dealing with (say) the Ward Office today, and you don’t live where there are a lot of us NJ, you’re a little more likely to have a Bad Japan day. Or if you go out of your way to make a note of being slighted, which you _will_ be able to notice if you’re looking.

    What this means I think is that there is an institutionalized problem. Sure, some older folks can be heard muttering racial slurs on the train from time to time, but mostly it’s Government, Police and Corporations that cause the problem. Landlords too. If you hate Japan as a result, everyone looses. They might think they “won” if you’re pissed or demoralized, pack up and go, but then all of Japan is poorer for it. On the other hand, if you’re totally insulated from those sorts of experiences (that is, you’re not having them from time to time), I would think you’re not trying to integrate.

    In my opinion, the balanced place to be is enjoying your life here while looking for ways to contribute… including looking for ways to be an agent of change for the better when “reminded” by some nonsense of one’s not being Japanese. That’s what Debito’s here place is for.

    “Esiliato Says:
    …I kinda like Japan, even though there are problems… but when I compare Japan with my native country (Italy), well Japan wins by far… ”

    Exactly, balance. Not denying the problems, and certainly not acquiescence, but not jaded either.


  • “if i had a choice i would prefer to live in tokyo”

    So who is forcing you to live in Osaka? I’ve had many pleasant experiences living in there, and I enjoy the ‘earthiness’ of the population. I agree with the comment on this post that after living in Osaka, Tokyo feels a bit cold and univiting. But perhaps it is not for you, so, why not move? If it is because of family circumstances, well, it is a choice that you decided to make. I would assume that someone who has the resources to move across oceans and/or continents has the resources to talk things through with the wife and/or catch the shinkansen.

    “Im american and as an american we never speak for the entire population or country.!”

    You just did.

  • I would say be very careful when choosing the brush with which to paint your impression of what you consider “Japan,” “Japanese,” or “Foreigners’ views.” There are a whole litany of factors that could be seen as “reasons for the divide.”
    The answer resides in the question:
    Is it related to work? Could be.
    Is it related to the location where each person is living? Sure, why not?
    Is it related to political beliefs in the country of origin? I’ve seen that come into play.
    Is it based simply on personality, or maybe on language skills? Maybe not “simply” on personality, but it does play a part. Language skills are definitely a plus, but being able to understand and be understood does not necessarily equate to liking or disliking.
    Does the period of residence in Japan have anything to do with it? Yeah, sure.
    There are seemingly infinite numbers of possibilities. Exactly

    To claim it is merely a location issue (i.e. Kansai vs. Kanto), an employment issue (i.e. working in a Japanese office vs. teaching Eikaiwa), a language issue (i.e. the more you understand the language the more you will understand the psychology/culture), etc. is far too simplistic an answer. For some people it may just be one thing, for others it could be any combination of innumerable variables.

    How people assimilate information, formulate consensuses and other psychological patterns (i.e. the self-fulfilling prophecy, frozen evaluation, etc.) has a huge impact as well.

    Take all things into account and we may be near an answer for one individual case (or a small sample from the pool).

    Also, keep in mind that some people’s perceptions of other’s attitudes toward Japan (positive or negative) may be taken out of context. Very similar to the comment above about Debito’s blog; if the only information about Debito to go off is his blog, people could conclude that his only interest in life is political news/issues; however, I doubt this is the case. Similarly, if you get together with foreign friends from time to time over a few drinks for a good old fashioned bitchfest, then you shouldn’t necessarily draw the conclusion that that person hates everything about Japan. Sometimes it’s just nice to let off some steam when they may like,love, or be indifferent to the vast majority of other things that aren’t brought up over these periodic get togethers.

  • Bjlink, I think you’re definitely right. It’s very important to recognize that each person has different experiences, and these experiences can in turn cause different reactions based on any number of factors.

    I think what I’m trying to gain here (I was the one who originally posed the question), is some kind of basic understanding of why someone with so much hatred directed at Japan would choose to live here, and more importantly, how they actually got to that point. I read a lot of the anti-Japan comments by posters here and since they run so extremely contrary to my own experiences, I assume (maybe stupidly so) that there has to be some kind of tipping point – some kind of factor that I’m not taking into account – for how they got there.

    And I agree with your last point that sometimes venting is probably a necessary evil of living in a foreign country, but at the same time, continued venting seems to me as a path of self-generating anger. You complain about something, someone else complains about something and the situation just continues to escalate.

  • Icarus just because your japan experiences have been different from other foreignors does not mean that the people are anti-japan, i think that you are completely missing the point. i talk about my own experiences and some of them have been negative but in fact i would not live in japan if i hated this country, im only speaking of my own experiences so that i can bring awareness to others that have or have not gone through similar situations, so Icarus dont get carried away and take it the wrong way, i think some people on this blog are overly sensitive when others try to talk about the good and bad of japan. no country is perfect..and japan still has along way to go, again this is just my view from living in japan since 1988.

  • I think it’s a question of attitude. I don’t think it matters if your a an Eikaiwa teacher, a factory worker on awful pay in a grimy factory, or driving a Porche and earning 12 million yen a year in Tokyo. If you act positively and focus on the good things then you should be able to enjoy your life in Japan. Sure, there are bad times, and bad people, but those times and moments should make you appreciate the better times. There are times when I don’t want to be here (especially when it’s 35 degrees outside!) but I try and acknowledge my own negativity and turn it into something positive (a cold beer tastes great when it’s 35 outside). Being negative is the easy option. Being positive is harder but more rewarding in the long run.

    So in answer to the original question: Why do NJ have such apparently bipolar views of life in Japan? I think it is directly related to attitude, both positive and negative.

  • Jim, I have no problem with you relating your own experiences, even if they’re negative – that’s honestly much better than what you have been doing so far. In my view, there is a huge difference between saying, “I was refused housing by ABC company even though I had a guarantor. They told me it was because I was a foreigner and it pisses me off,” and, “Gaijin only get the slums. Check out www. yourtypicalbulletinboard .com and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Guess that’s SHOGANAI!”

    Also, I wasn’t referring to you directly with my last comment, but maybe saying hatred towards Japan is a little too strong. What I’m trying to do is to get the generalizations to stop. There have been too many posts lately trying to convince all of us that Japan (as if it was some kind of person) is out to get all of us gaijin and that it’ll never change so we might as well pack our bags and head home. This isn’t productive, and especially doesn’t belong on a blog that promotes activism in Japan. At least try to suggest something positive – if it’s your home, why not try to make it a better place to live for you and your family?

  • As an asian (don’t know if other asians blog here too), I must concede that eastern society, like Japan, heavily relied on connections to get favorable (or even preferential) treatment.

    Try this: If you have troubles obtaining something, bring a Japanese friend with you, and you will see the difference.

  • Almost everyone I know or have met that has been in japan for a long time has the same attitude as me. Most of these people arent Americans either, most are Filipinos or other nationalities. I dont understand the warm and fuzzy responses I see here. Ive seen some foriegners act so Japanese when they are around me that they will treat me like a gaijin. Perhaps some of the people posting here are like that. You know that type, the ones that when they are asked to talk to you by another Japanese, they will say…eto, Eigo dekimasen. Ive actually seen that. I saw one white guy at Yokohama come into a store I was in asking directions and he was making all kinds of contorted facial expressions asking for directions in Japanese and acting like he was so lost and dumb. I was thinking dude do you know how stupid you look? I was standing right there and he wasnt even ashamed of how he was acting. Even the Japanese lady was smirking when he left the store. My point is no matter how hard you try to be a Japanese, they know your not and think its weird when you act that way. I have asked for directions in Japanese and always get the answer in English so I dont even bother with the Japanese speaking anymore. The Japanese want something that is different than themselves, they struggle with each other all day and when they experience talking with somebody who isnt like themselves, they get some stress relief.

    –It’s getting on in the discussion now, and posts like these are starting to make it go around in circles. So let me ask posters to try to go beyond the, “gosh this ‘Japanese phenenomenon’ has happened to me constantly” (which nobody can debate, except to say “your experiences are limited/unusual/uncommon/unindicative/irrelevant” and start making pronouncements on your gripeyness and psychology), and try to expand away from cause and into effect. That’s the point of this blog entry, after all. Thanks.

    And PS: In my experience it does get better as your language abilities (and air of confidence in being able to speak the language) improve. I see very few cases of what happens to you or your friends anymore, and even when it does it wears off in about a minute max as the conversation continues. Debito

  • “You know that type, the ones that when they are asked to talk to you by another Japanese, they will say…eto, Eigo dekimasen. Ive actually seen that. I saw one white guy at Yokohama come into a store I was in asking directions and he was making all kinds of contorted facial expressions asking for directions in Japanese and acting like he was so lost and dumb.”

    Carl, have you ever thought that the guy in question might not actually speak English? What if he was French, or German? Being caucasian doesn’t automatically mean speaking English.

  • Uh, yeah but what does English got to do with it? It was the way he was acting, not even ashamed of it either with another foriegner (me) standing right there. Ive seen allot of NJ here do it but they dont know that the Japanese are laughing behind their backs about it. Its like they are trying so hard to be accepted by people who dont want to do it in the first place. My point is why bother with it. I can speak and understand Japanese well but I dont see how it has helped me. Actually Ive seen NJ who couldnt speak as well as me who are doing much better. Dont get me wrong, I can get used to it here in Japan and just associate with only Japanese, but its not comfortable for me, its like your always under them or you have to play dumb. Thats a waste of time and effort for me but if thats what your into, I wont judge you, it just dont work for me.

    –Part of the problem, I believe and as others have pointed out, is seeing people as a “them”. Ultimately it is a very blunt instrument of social analysis and does not help in understanding the situation.

  • Zig Justice says:

    This is a very interesting topic for me as well, for a number of reasons.

    First, please forgive any disjointedness in my posting here; the heat has fried my brain, it’s getting late, and I’ve only eaten one meal today (the heat has also fried my appetite, apparently).

    First, I shall agree with the general statements that people have a tendency to polarize, be more vocal and outspoken about the negative, and generally complain about whatever problems happen to exist where they happen to be (grass is greener).

    But, at least for a lot of foreigners from North America and perhaps a fair amount of Europe, I would speculate (note my attempt to avoid drawing sweeping conclusions; not sure how well it works) that a large causative factor is indeed cultural.

    Fundamentally, the cultural history of Japan (and many Asian countries) is significantly different from many Western countries like the U.S. and many European nations. And I think that there is a disconnect between knowledge of cultural differences and experience of cultural differences.

    Forgive me for getting anecdotal; I came to Japan for the first time fully aware that I would be in a country with a culture that is different from my own (I’m American). I was also aware of some (a rather limited set) of the ways in which the two cultures differed. Even still, that did not prevent culture shock. I have lived here for over 7 years now, and I still experience culture shock from time to time. And I think that this contributes a great deal to my disgust with certain aspects of this country (please do not misconstrue this as a statement of hatred for this country, because it is not).

    Let’s take for example the cultural concept that Japanese have a preference for the preservation of harmony in the group over making certain members of a group feel uncomfortable. I have observed this to be generally true (but by no means universal, which is a separate problem). And so, some of the consequences of this cultural preference are incompatible with my worldview. I think to myself (work related), “Well, who cares if those people get upset if making them change the way they do things results in a better product?” But such changes are unacceptable to management for the very reason that it would disrupt the established harmony.

    So I start to wonder, if I were to push for changes, would this make me guilty of cultural imperialism? It’s similar, in a way, to the whole politically-correct movement; is it trying to insert a kind of equality or does it end up distorting and sugar-coating? If I am honest, I must say that it seems to me that certain cultural elements are more…advanced? desirable? beneficial? than others (perhaps “beneficial” is the best choice here). But in so judging, am I by default saying that some cultural elements, and by extension cultures, are inferior and others superior? Isn’t that also a kind of cultural imperialism?

    I have read and been told that it is not good to try to judge cultures against each other in terms of positive/negative or inferior/superior, but instead to simply study the ways that cultures differ. Which makes me wonder if that isn’t a kind of politically correct methodology.

    For example, I don’t think that it is wrong to think, “Screw that senpai-kohai horsecrap; if the senpai’s an idiot yet they try to boss you around just because they’re your senpai, tell them to go do rude things to themselves and don’t put up with that garbage”. But I wonder if I should be thinking that it is wrong to think that. If you follow my meaning. I prefer to try to puzzle out the (philosophical) truth of these things, and then change my thought patterns if necessary.

    With a lot of the comments and issues that I read about on this blog, I get enraged, not because any of it has yet affected me directly, but because I am a person of principle. Yes, racism is not yet uncommon in the U.S., but there are a lot more people actively working on reducing it, and there is legislation in place to help people get justice. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot further along than the state of things here. But by the same token, that progress is a product of the culture of the U.S., the established cultural virtues of freedom and equality.

    I don’t think that it’s a contradiction to say that in some locations, racism is culturally accepted. If this is the case, wouldn’t it mean that efforts to stamp out racism in those places are a kind of cultural imperialism? And if so, wouldn’t that mean that not all cultural imperialism is bad? (Please note that I abhor racism and systems that support it.)

    Anyway, I’ve drifted around a bit. Sorry. I hope my comments are sufficiently relevant to the topic at hand, and interesting to those who have bothered to read them. Thanks, and apologies for the long wind (it’s already my bedtime already it is).

  • @Carl: Let me see if I understand your story properly. You were embarrassed for the other foreigner because he was speaking Japanese to the store clerk (and doing it poorly)? You thought that he ought to be ashamed of himself, moreso because the presence of you, another foreigner, was more cause for shame?

    I must say, I’m far more embarrassed when someone marches up to a store clerk and starts barking at them in English. Anyone who is making an effort (no matter how effective) to speak the national language is doing OK in my book.

    As for not knowing how speaking and understanding Japanese has helped you… Well, I suppose it opens up the possibility for communication with 98% of the country, but you seem like the sort of person who is not interested in communicating with that 98%.

  • @Carl: Let me see if I understand your story properly. You were embarrassed for the other foreigner because he was speaking Japanese to the store clerk (and doing it poorly)?

    Uh, no dummy. Please reread my post. Im never embarrassed for anybody, the whole point of the post was that all your efforts here in Japan to assimilate usually amount to nothing so why even bother with it. Japanese dont want to speak Japanese with you, they want to speak something different because your different. So if you go out of your way to act like them, it gives them the creeps. You need more boots on the ground experience. Before I was like you, going to the Japanese language schools, trying so hard to do everything right. After I experienced what life was really like here, I said the hell with it. I get more respect when I speak English.

    –We’re not making any headway with toning down the “us vs. them” thing, I’m afraid. And we’re digressing too far from the original question as posed. Continue the discussion without pursuing this tangent further, please.

  • I think the bipolar attitudes sometimes stem from the reasons people are here in the first place. Some people come and stay because they were interested in Japan in the first place, or grew to like it, and some people are here because, for instance, their partner just happens to be Japanese, because they know they couldn’t get a job back home, because they are running away from something back home, because they’re trapped (or feel trapped) here for some reason, etc. The latter group, I find, tend to hate the place (and find it harder to learn Japanese).

    I guess probably the more you feel you have a real choice to be here or not, the more you’ll be open to enjoying it. Personally, I feel trapped. I’m here because my partner is Japanese, but I also feel I should be at home, because my mother is widowed. The combination of the guilt of not being there for my mother and not being able to persuade my partner to leave Japan (or at least make a commitment to leaving at some point) makes me more sensitive about everything Japan has to throw up.

    I do also think that some people are ‘fixers’ who want to change things and make them better, and some people are ‘accepters’ who adapt themselves to situations. I think that also makes a difference to how people react.

  • I know I pledged not to post in this thread again but Carl has gotten the best of me.

    Carl, you are completely wrong.

    You have sunk to the exact level of those you consider to be “them”, in that you are no better (at least in the context of this thread. You might be a great guy but I have only your posts to judge you) than those whom you claim look down upon you.

    I can only deduce from your posts that you harbor a complex that makes you jealous of the people who do pull it off. There are TONS of foreigners who hate people like Daniel Kahl. It is likely because they are angry at themselves for their inability to be like him.

    Moreover, although this is a generalization, most people who “hiku” towards those “hen na gaijin” are usually Americans who only recognize the English world as a standard for even those whom they wish to portray in an exotic light (The Japanese). It is typical of the Orientalist North American to look at “Japanese-ness” or “Asian-ness” as something that can never be aquired by a white skinned person, while at the same time their prejudice and bigotry tells them that Chinese or Koreans can because “they look similar”.

    The Indian-looking senpai I mentioned in my previous post, what language is he to speak infront of you or other fellow Japanese who do not know he is a born and raised Japanese citizen? In what manner is he to conduct daily life? His mannerisms, attitude, everything about him is Japanese except for the colour of his skin. If “regular” Japanese do not “know” he was born there, what makes him any different to you than the so-called “fresh off the boat” foreigners whom you look down upon? After all, he “looks” pretty foreign.

    What is so wrong with “acting” Japanese? It is Japan, after all.

    I am proud that my personality is so-called “Japanese”. I am Canadian, but at the same time this country is also, I feel, an inherent part of my identity as an individual. I can pass for Half-Japanese 100% of the time and to avoid the hassle of explaining myself I often tell people I am. But you know, If I ever encounter you I hope you don’t mistake me for “half”, so I can see the disgruntled and insecure look on your face created by superiority complex towards the Japanese, and your inferiority complex towards foreigners who seek to assimilate into society.

    There are probably many people who look at you in such a way in your own country, just you have nothing to prove to them so you don’t care. In Japan you have something to prove, so you feel frustrated and insecure at the first sign of rejection.

    I seriously hope you are not older than me, because it would be a shame if I, a student, would have to tell you to grow up.

    Lastly, I don’t know what you mean by “what life is really like here”.

    Life for an immigrant is tough. Deal with it.

    Go obtain that red passport.

    So what if there are “some” people who will not accept you as Japanese (or a Japanese-like resident foreigner). You only need acceptance from the people that matter to you.


  • Ah but here is a point no one has brought up. People state that you cannot see them as them, but so often japanese people will say, we japanese do this, or we japanese do that. It is well know that japan attempts to work in a harmonize society where everybody thinks and acts the same, to the point to where if you have natural brown hair in school, some schools might make you dye it because it sticks out. Even my wife makes the comment we Japanese do this. So when you have Japanese people themselves making them them vs us factor, how can you prevent foreigners from doing the same thing?

    So I have to partially agree with Jim regarding the them ordeal. Americans are based on individuality, so the them do not apply to us. So you usually don’t see people say we americans, because we value an invidiualistic attitude. In Japan, it’s the group mentality. Hence why in Japan, if one military person makes a mistake, the entire military should be punish. It’s because they also associate others in groups because they also do that to themselves.

    So, while there are some Japanese people I have met who are rather “different” from the normal, mostly everyone tries to stay the same. So when they say themselves, we japanese, it makes it difficult for foreigners to associate them individually when they always consider themselves a cohesive group.

    –I still think you need to get out more…

  • Oh I do not label them as them, because I will always see them as individuals, no matter how much of a hive mindset some seem to protray. However, I can see why others see them as “them” because they always refer to themselves as “we japanese.” So this was merely a response to those who attack Jim for stating them as “them” instead of thinking them as individuals. If they wish to appear as one cohesive unit, that is what some people (including jim) will view them as.

    But maybe some Americans might refer to as we Americans, however, I have never seen any until today. (Jim)

  • It is an interesting place to live but it is not forever.The culture has some interesting aspects, the food is interesting, lifestyle is interesting. Plenty of things to learn and consider here but it is not home and can’t be as everything is in favour of Japanese whether they planned, know it or want it, that’s the way things are and will probably never change. As a NJ you have to either accept this or leave.

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