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  • Discussion: As a person with NJ roots, is your future in Japan? An essay making the case for “No”.

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on December 19th, 2010

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    Hi Blog. More woolgathering on the past decade, as the end of the year approaches:

    I’m hearing increasing discontent from the NJ Community (assuming quite presumptuously there is one able to speak with a reasonably unified voice) about living in Japan.

    Many are saying that they’re on their way outta here.  They’ve had enough of being treated badly by a society that takes their taxes yet does not respect or protect their rights.

    To stimulate debate, let me posit with some flourish the negative case for continuing life in Japan, and let others give their own arguments pro and con:

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    It’s becoming increasingly difficult to expect people to want to immigrate to Japan, given the way they are treated once they get here.

    We have racial profiling by the Japanese police, where both law allows and policy sanctions the stopping of people based upon having a “foreign appearance”, such as it is, where probable cause for ID checks anywhere is the mere suspicion of foreigners having expired visas.

    We have rampant refusals of NJ by landlords and rental agencies (sanctioned to the point where at least one realtor advertises “Gaijin OK” apartments), with the occasional private enterprise putting up “Japanese Only” signs, and nothing exists to stop these acts that are expressly forbidden by the Japanese Constitution.  Yet now fifteen years after effecting the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination, Japan still has no law against it either on the books or in the pipeline.

    With recent events both with the Northern Territories, the Takeshima/Tokdo rocks, and the Senkakus, we have a rising reactionary xenophobic wave justifying itself upon creating a stronger Japan to “protect sovereignty” through anti-foreign sloganeering. This is is very visible in the reaction to the proposed suffrage for Permanent Residents bill, which went down in flames this year and is still inspiring people to ask their local assemblies to pass “ikensho” expressly in opposition (I was sent one yesterday afternoon from a city assembly politician for comment).  Bashing NJ has become sport, especially during election campaigns.

    We have people, including elected officials, claiming unapologetically that even naturalized Japanese are “not real Japanese”, with little reprisal and definitely no resignations.

    We have had the NPA expressly lying and the media blindly reporting about “foreign crime rises” for years now, even as crime falls.

    And we are seeing little future return on our investment: Long-term NJ bribed by the GOJ to return “home” and give up their pensions, and the longest wait to qualify for the pension itself (25 years) in the industrialized world. With the aging society and the climbing age to get it (I have little doubt that by the time I am old enough, currently aged 45, that the age will be around 70 or so), and Japan’s postwar Baby Boomers soon qualifying themselves, looks likely there won’t be much left in the public coffers when it happens.

    Yet we still have little acknowledgment by our government of all that NJ and immigrants have done for this society.  Instead, the image of NJ went quite markedly from “misunderstood guest and outsider” to “criminal threat to Japan’s safe society” this decade.

    Why stay in a society that officially treats its people of diversity with such suspicion, derision and ingratitude?, is a case that can be made.  Especially other NJ are getting the message and leaving — the NJ population dropped in 2009 for the first time since 1961.  As salaries keep dropping in a deflationary economy, even the financial incentives for staying in an erstwhile more hospitable society are evaporating.

    That’s the negative case that can be made.  So let me posit a question to Debito.org Readers (I’ll create a blog poll to this effect):

    Do you see your future as living in Japan?

    1. Definitely yes.
    2. Probably yes for the foreseeable future, but things might change.
    3. Uncertain, is all I can say.
    4. Leaning towards a probable no.
    5. Definitely no.
    6. Something else.
    7. N / A: I don’t live or will not live in Japan.

    Let’s see what people think. I’ll leave this up as the top post until Tuesday or so, depending on how hot the discussion gets. Arudou Debito

    58 Responses to “Discussion: As a person with NJ roots, is your future in Japan? An essay making the case for “No”.”

    1. Bob Says:

      I’m not sure how accurate your poll results can be after putting it all behind your essay on why to give up.
      In response, I have seen positive progress in my time in Japan. All Japanese people I know personally accept and welcome me as part of society. The only people who have overtly rejected my existence are old crazy people who aren’t worth anyone’s time and landlords who lose out on my rent money – their loss.
      I acknowledge that many of the issues you raise above are real problems that I have personally experienced and that Japan’s government and people should act on. However, anti-foreigner sentiment and nationalism are on the rise all over the world, yet despite that I believe in Japan we are seeing moves in the right direction, in particular, the move to ease the path to citizenship and permanent residency for immigrants under a point system or treaties to extend visas. Also, demographics make improvement inevitable in the long run, because apart from the aberration year of 2009, foreigners continue to increase both in number and share of the population as do the children we have both among foreigners and other foreigners and among foreigners and citizens.
      Japan continues to make significant progress and for the first time in modern history has a pro-immigrant party in power, including a “naturalized” or, more accurately, citizenship-restored Minister.
      I’ll stick around, and I hope you all do too. We can make Japan better not only for foreigners but for Japan as a whole; we can probably have more positive influence here than anywhere else.

      – This is why I posited such a strong “No” argument. I wanted a strong “Yes” argument back. Thanks for it. Keep discussing, everyone.

    2. CVF Says:

      My answer, after two decades here, is No. 3.

      Another disturbing argument put about by politicians here recently is a restriction on property ownership by NJs to “protect national interests.” The irony of this will not be lost on anyone who remembers Japan Inc.’s overseas acquisitions during the bubble period. This call to protect Japan’s interests is undoubtedly targeted at the Chinese, but will have a negative impact on the economy. A case of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

    3. Bucky Says:

      Put me down for #2. But only because of professional circumstances. I do not otherwise have any great affinity for the way of life here, nor for the way I am treated by most Js with whom I (attempt to) interact in my daily life. Neither do I harbor any illusions about myself or any other NJ ever being “accepted” in this culture (whatever that means, exactly). I am basically only here for the job, and because I am intellectually stimulated by analyzing what I observe here and by sharing my knowledge with colleagues and students (both NJs and Js). But “Home Sweet Home”? No. Never. My first few naive years I was here I guess I thought I’d be the one gaijin in the history of gaijindom to be an exception (if I learned enough kanji and keigo and learned how to bow properly), but the reality of decades of seeing otherwise has long since put those illusions to rest.

    4. Jules Says:

      1. Definitely yes.

      Japan has been (and continues to be) very good to me. Perhaps more importantly, the alternative is living in the UK!

    5. PKU Says:

      I’ve invested 15 years and bought two properties and committed to looking after my Japanese family and I have kids on the way. I’m too far in to leave as I live in a sort of parallel state- Japanese friends, Japanese family, no bother.

      But it’s the official BS- the non-stop pounding away at common sense by the government and the police and reactionary media creating barriers between gaijin and Japanese people that gets to me. The only way is find non-violent ways to confront the issues through action, publicity, and pressure.

      I want to work towards an environment where my child (on the way, hopefully) where my kid won’t be a half and I won’t always be a gaijin, but a person and a member of the community. The most distressing thing for me is the prospect of facing discrimination even if I do naturalize (assuming I am allowed to).

      At the moment my definitely yes is qualified by the fact that I want to spend the next 20 years engaging the issues at a pace and in a way that I can with my limited time and talents.

    6. Pat Says:

      I left — after blatant discrimination at my uni job and a garbage can load of unfulfilled promises, I left. I was tired of the assumption that (1) regardless of training, degrees, or language ability, a foreign “professor” could only be expected to teach intro level conversation classes; (2) that any Japanese, regardless of a lack of training, degrees, or language ability would immediately get tenure and be assigned higher level and graduate course to teach, and (3) that I should be so extremely pleased to get any research money crumbs that fell off the table regardless of being the best published member of the department … old story, and I’ve heard and read it everywhere. I left, I now teach graduate classes in my content area, and my career path is open …. there is life beyond Japan, and it’s actually pretty good. Vote with your feet.

    7. ken44 Says:

      Is my future in Japan?

      No and I plan to leave when I reach age 60.

      I’ve only lived in Tokyo and outside of winters (which I can do without being from California…) Japan has been pretty good to me. I’ve not encountered too many problems and those I have never bother me much. However, I’ve never thought of Japan as my home and to be honest I pretty much forget the place when I return to the States during my winter/summer holidays.

      Still, when the day comes and I leave I’m sure I’ll have good memories given my over-all experiences have been positive.

    8. AJ Says:

      Well, I’ve decided to leave, despite having a pretty good job here, and having been here for quite some time. My reason(s)? All these little ignorant things that we are beating our heads against brick walls to change, if we bother at all? Nope.

      The economy here is going down the toilet. Has been for years, and is getting worse and worse, and the people in charge do what seems like nothing, or do the impractical, and are heavily resistant to anything but carrying on doing what they’ve always done, that got them into this mess, at least in part.

      I’m lucky the economy in my home country is still doing quite well, so it’s time to follow the money. There just isn’t going to be any here, and no real career opportunities for any kids I might have that might be born out of applying themselves in school here. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s all about the jobs and the ¥¥¥¥¥

    9. OG Steve Says:

      1. I’m staying here for the rest of my life, no matter how bad the racist laws, racist actions, racist words, and racist thinking is, because to me this country has an unbeatable relative advantage compared to other countries: Japan has (in my opinion) the LEAST chance of me personally being mugged, assaulted, tasered, imprisoned, raped, shanked, then killed (that’s the order in which it can happen (in my opinion) in the country I happened to have been born in, the USA.)

      I have the honesty to see and admit the reality that (in my opinion) Japan is racist: anyone with less than 100% “Yamato” DNA will ALWAYS be seen as a Gaijin (Outsider) or a Haaf (Outsider) or a Quarter (Outsider) for the next 500 years.

      Eventually, (in my estimation) in 500 years, when the number of “100% ‘Yamato’ DNA” carrying people has dwindled to just 10% of the population, then and ONLY then: the Outsiders will have enough power to erase the racist laws, erase the racist actions, erase the racist words, and erase the racist thinking.

      According to my “un-scientific un-provable un-research-paper-linkable” opinion: the Japanese are one of the MOST racist (racist to me is especially defined by the deeply held secret feeling of, “Don’t have children with an Outsider, let’s keep our blood pure forever!”) groups remaining on earth.

      For balance, the OTHER group which I must admit still holds this feeling (in my opinion) is my own: my Father is Jewish, my Mother is a Goy=NonJew=Outsider, thus the Jewish people consider me to be a Goy=NonJew=Outsider.

      Just as my wife is Japanese, I am NonJapanese=Outsider, thus the Japanese people consider each of our children to be a Half=NonPure=Outsider.

      So when it comes to preventing my FEELINGS from being hurt, and the FEELINGS of my children, neither Israel or Japan are good places to live, in my opinion.

      The bottom line for me is, when it comes to preventing my BODY from being hurt, and the BODIES of my children, Japan is the best place to live, in my opinion.

      PS – Hopefully, instead of trying to disagree with any personal opinions being shared, the people who decide to post in this thread will simply share their OWN personal opinions. Meaning, instead of trying to argumentatively claim that others’ opinions are “wrong”, it makes much more sense to simply share your own opinions which you feel are “right”. :-)

    10. Padraig Says:

      I have been here for nearly 20 years and I would like to stay a lot longer but it’s not easy. I don’t have many job opportunities and a lot of the public doesn’t seem to like, accept, or to be comfortable with people who don’t look Japanese.

    11. Steve Says:

      #1 for me, from the Poll so far #1 is at 28%, it’s interesting.
      Japan has treated me very well, own my own property, have a family, and my fridge is full.
      Live debt free people, peace!

    12. jonholmes Says:

      A wide range of experiences so far;I ll share mine. The first time I came here was in the 90s, but it was when I came back here a couple of years ago that I got a weird reaction from some old friends (at least I thought they were my friends). Various people said a remarkably similar thing “I don’t feel like I need to know you anymore” which made me think that this was the microcosm of a society turning inward on itself, and no longer welcoming to foreign “guests”.

      People above who ve been here a long time,e.g. Padraig, AJ, did you feel it was better in “the old days”?

      My take on it was that back then there was an odd dichotomy in which you were welcomed and seemingly treated well but kept at arm’s length. You could have a good time but every now and then someone would say “I m sorry, that particular person doesnt like gaijin, so we’ll go somewhere else”.

      Contrast that to now where we are not welcomed AND kept at arm’s length. You cannot have a good time, either.Or can you?

      I’ m not 100% convinced by my own argument because things like personal experience, bad luck, paranoia, lack of realistic goals, etc might play a part in my perception, which is why I am so interested to hear from others who were here during the bubble, or at least the post bubble 90s.

      Did you ever have it better?

    13. Jeff Korpa Says:

      Hi Debito:

      “With recent events both with the Northern Territories, the Takeshima/Tokdo rocks, and the Senkakus, we have a rising reactionary xenophobic wave justifying itself upon creating a stronger Japan to “protect sovereignty” through anti-foreign sloganeering.”

      Question: Assuming that PRs an/or naturalized NJs can enlist in the 自衛隊, wouldn’t that serve to undermine the anti-foreign rhetoric?

      -JK

    14. Dan Says:

      #2 with the caveat “things will change.” I have a US passport. I live and work in Japan, but have physical, familial, and emotional ties to both places. The best option for my family is to be where we are.

      The formal education environment for my children in Japan is favorable to that on offer in the US. I’m not referring only to government education opportunities.

      Japanese society does not offer or demand any more or less than what we would have if we lived in the US:
      1. Taxes are a given both places, and my rights are equally disrespected (by government) in both places.
      2. The nature of the police state in both countries is different, but real and growing.
      3. Both economies are in the dumpster, but the US economy is going to get far worse. Salaries may be dropping here, but I’d rather be paid in a fiat currency that still has some value, which the US dollar soon will not.
      4. In a post-petroleum world, Japan will be much more adaptable.
      5. I don’t have the right to vote here, but probably participated in that farce for the last time in 2008.
      6. I don’t have a jyumin hyou, or a registration of address, which makes me a gaijin, an outsider to the government. I prefer that to the “citizen” designation. That contrasts with my status in the community where I live as an uncontested insider.

      Be happy. Be free.

    15. jonholmes Says:

      and @Bob, its not just “crazy old people” who reject my existence. If anything, its younger people, which is really sad.
      Back in 1988, someone said to me “We Japanese tend to think that the people who associate with foreigners tend to be stronger than the average person”.

      Has this really changed? There is still the lingering mindset that “dealing with “gaijin”” is a personal lifestyle choice.

      “That person/real estate agent/government officer/guy or girl in bar/talent agency/company/cell phone provider etc doesn’t do/like/deal with/have interest in gaijin, so sorry gaijin san, let me suggest another one (which tends to be more expensive)” I have heard this said by all of the above, and though fewer nowadays, it still happens. I ve just learnt to avoid certain places.

      And our feelings don’t come into this equation.

    16. AJ Says:

      JonHolmes, in so far as economics goes, as that’s my number one reason for heading for the door soon, I am certain that at least I, and any other foreigner working in eikaiwa, and probably most other domestic industries, had it better off in the good old days.

      Even when I showed up in early 2003, you could still get a gravy train eikaiwa job, and name your price for private classes, and quickly build a successful eikaiwa of your own. I’m glad I didn’t.

      Working for a dispatch company loyally and holding onto a few moderately well paying private clients and getting promoted has insulated me from the annual jobs merry go round most foreigners teaching face annually, especially those whove found themselves enjoying teaching like I do.

      But the money drops year on year for school jobs with govt education budget cuts, and those who put all their eggs in the eikaiwa basket are hitting hard times almost everywhere.

      The locals are losing jobs, hours, bonuses and pay rises hand over fist year on year, and the economy continues to spiral, slower, but downward still. This means less money for non essential hobbies like english classes.

      Even universities are feeling the pinch and looking forward to a future of higher competition and less students to enrol by cutting costs, classes, wages, teachers hours, all making it harder to get by, before we speak of actual professional treatment on the job of foreign language teachers.

      So there you have it, for foreign teachers everywhere, the outlook is bleak, bad economy, locals with less disposable income stopping classes, or willing to pay much less, poor already and worsening job security at all levels of the industry, and this is just the trend of my eight years. I remember a better time even up to as recently as 2007.

      I’d hate to imagine the deterioration those of you who’ve been here twenty years have seen, and I hope that some, indeed most of you, like I, have a viable plan b.

    17. sri Says:

      Me, im out of here as soon as my property sells( the reason for buying it was I`m self employed and its a bitch to get a rental.) The last few months I spent in various S.E Asian countries and have not been stopped once by the police.
      Racism , discrimination is everywhere you go, but aleast people in S.E asia generally smile more.
      It`s warmer, my money goes a lot longer, and the economic future is far brighter then Japan.
      Real bonus is I can wear short sleeves and sandals all year around.

      Interesting thing is I met several Japanese expats in Malaysia that say they have no desire to return to Japan. They see their future outside as well.

      Put me down for #5

    18. James Annan Says:

      Whenever I have considered leaving, I have quickly been persuaded that I’d basically have to work harder for less money anywhere else, and probably with less autonomy too. The overall quality of life here is pretty good too. Spent the summer in the UK, enjoyed the visit but wasn’t tempted by it for the long term. But once the current job ends, I don’t expect to look for another one here.

    19. Tensigh Says:

      Definitely yes for me.

      For all of its problems, Japan is my home. I haven’t encountered much of the discrimination that many others have with the exception of housing. I actually hate to say it, but the discrimination actually rules in my favor. I don’t like that but it’s reality. I’ve seen NJ of Asian descent whose Japanese is better than mine but when I speak it well I get a chorus of “Nihongo wa jouzu desu ne”, even though the Koreans and Chinese who speak it better than I do are virtually ignored (incidentally, I politely point this out to Japanese when it happens and most of them are pretty good about it).

      Japan has its problems to be sure, but there is a lot of change in Japan and I think the worst thing to do would be abandon it. I miss the States to be sure (my kingdom for a burrito!) but this is my home. My state just re-elected a failed governor from nearly 30 years ago anyway so it makes me miss the US less and less.

      Japan is changing more and more and from my viewpoint it’s improving. For me, I keep getting treated more and more like a Japanese which is tougher than being treated differently, and I wonder if that’s what a lot of people object to. I’m no longer given the “affirmative action” treatment anymore. If I speak Japanese, they expect me to read, write and perform in Japanese and I get in trouble if I don’t. This isn’t treating me like a foreigner — it’s treating me like a Japanese. It’s been a struggle to NOT complain about it (‘Look at this form — it’s full of Kanji!’) but I can’t simultaneously complain about the language barrier while saying I want to be treated equally.

      I ignore the politicians – I can’t stand Japanese politics anyway. Couldn’t they throw punches like they do in Korea, or just flat out ignore voters like they do in the US?

      My company actually pays me for overtime now. I would never get that in the US on salary, and it’s true for ALL employees (there are only about 2-3 foreigners per 100 Japanese at my company).

      Okay, let me get down from my soapbox.

    20. jazz2020 Says:

      The fact that being NJ disqualifies one from having access to many rental housing properties, being exploited in termsof Job contracts, being continiously stopped by the Police in what is supposed to be a random check, having to repeatedly have bicycle registrations verified etc.. sort of humiliations are a part and parcel together with the aisatsu and courtious speech. This is what Ralph Waldo Emerson has to say …

      “Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

      The most galling fact is the authorities are not even trying to address any of the above problems. Even though they have so much time and energy to do bicycle checks for every NJ.

      If Japan want`s it`s opinion to be taken seriously in the International Arena, it must try harder to uphold and defend the United Nations directives on Human Rights of which it is a signitory.

    21. Anton Says:

      I don’t know enough to say much about the general situation for foreigners in Japan. Here’s just my personal opinion, from Stockholm, Sweden.

      I guess I am (will be) a #2, for professional and private reasons.

      There are a number of reports saying that the Swedish economy is going extremely well. And as many posters above have stated, the Japanese isn’t. Unexpectedly, my job opportunity situation is not correlated. I’m about to graduate as a PhD (chemistry) from a university in Sweden. An older student from my lab went unemployed for almost a year after he graduated, and he’s not alone in being highly educated, yet having a hard time finding a qualified job. Lucky me, I spent a few years doing research in Tokyo and now I have a job offer from a Japanese company, starting just after I’m supposed to finish here.

      The company I will go to had an “Only JLPT1 applicants, please”-policy and since I haven’t accompliched that I didn’t think I had much of a chance. But, they took me in for interviews, listened to my ideas, and gave me a chance. I’m not naturalized, not a PR, I’m not even fluent in Japanese (what ever that means) so I have to say that they were quite accomodating. I’m hoping (and thinking) that this is a new trend.

      I am married to a Japanese woman, and indeed that helps in getting a visa. But naive as I am, I believe that if you’re employable any company would gladly help you out. As for refugees, I’m not convinced that the Japanese government is doing its best. But that’s a different story, and not for now…

      And Tokyo is almost always about 10C warmer than Stockholm!

      So, there it is. #2.

    22. Selena Says:

      I can’t really make up my mind whether to stay or go. I have been here for about 20 years. Things were definitely better in the 90’s. I had a nice job then and a good life. The company I worked for went bust some years ago and I haven’t been able to find another job. It is not easy in rural Japan. I bought a house here and it is fully paid. Maybe it was a mistake buying it because it is what holds me back here. My husband is working but his salary is very low. Eating became a problem and going to a restaurant happens rarely now. The older you get the more of a problem it becomes. Nobody seems to hire anyone over 40 eventhough my qualifications are excellent. A few years ago, I went back to Europe where I got a job. I was surprised at how much racism is going down the line there nowadays. Living costs have become extremely expensive and the cops were constantly doing road checks. There were so many rules there. I felt really restricted and I didn’t feel European anymore. Even my old friends had become very materialistic and selfish. That company was very happy with my work and they offered me a nice position but in the end I decided to come back to Japan. They leave me alone here and I can breathe. Ironically, I have been a victim of crime twice here and didn’t get much support either. Yet, I’d rather be poor and free than going back to Europe again.
      I think that immigrants aren’t treated well wherever you go, maybe except immigramt countries such as the US, Australia, Canada etc. I have some Korean friends in Europe and they are going through a much worser ordeal. There you can really say that they are treated like slaves. I am glad that I opened the eyes of some for them to get a slightly different treatment now. They really made me cry.
      Japan has never treated me in such a manner, the problem here is that I feel completely ignored most of the time as if I was transparent. Will see what happens in the future…

    23. Kimpatsu Says:

      I’m a 3; ambivalent at best. I’m self-employed and so can work anywhere in the world, but nowhere feels like home anymore. Everywhere is filled with corruption and authoritarianism, with weak, venal, and racist politicians failing to deliver on promises. I hate the racist Japanese police, and start to shake with anxiety and righteous anger at the thought of being subjected to racist fingerprinting at the border every time I return. I hate the fact that without a juminhyo I’m invisible to the authorities, despite paying taxes. Further, my original reason for immigrating some 18 years ago no longer exists, so I really don’t know anymore. I don’t suppose Martian colonisation is an option, is it?

    24. redballoon Says:

      I think Tensigh hit on a very good point. The Japanese society is an extremely difficult one for Japanese and us NJs have had a lot of the pressure to conform taken off us.

      The longer I am here the less I want to be here but not because I’m a foreigner, more because this is a depressing society if you look at the big picture. On the individual picture, it can be very comfortable, if that is enough for you.

      It’s the security at a cost question, one I ask myself more and more. Since we are all heading for the grave anyhow, I suppose the answer depends on what you want to do in the time before that.

    25. redballoon Says:

      Jonholmes, I hear what you are saying about the apparent decline in “reaching out,” but I don’t attribute this to anything on our part (NJs). I think it is wholly brought about by the decline in economy and the uncertainty people, especially young people, are feeling about their future. When things are rough financially and the world looks bleak because of it, people (including myself) tend to turn within. Socializing, hearing others’ stories more often than not brings on jealousy. Knowing this is not right, to feel this way, but inevitable, makes me isolate myself more. I think this is happening now. When you’re scared and worried, it is natural (though perhaps not advisable) to turn away from others and kind of go into somewhat of a fetal position.
      Yes, yes, I know it’s irrelevant and all but that’s just they way it is. And remember, a lot of the English speakers here still have a huge advantage in the marketplace over many Japanese. There is a lot of unspoken jealousy even for someone making 2,000 yen an hour teaching English when a lot of Japanese are working for 850 yen an hour (less outside the big cities).
      I was here in the bubble and the outpouring toward foreigners was huge, but it wasn’t really any more or less sincere than what I feel now if you approach and talk to people as equals and really try to understand their positions.
      The gaps within the Japanese are bigger now, something you didn’t see 20 years ago, or even 10. Now, it’s getting ugly and, naturally, this is having an effect on the Japanese/non-Japanese relationship as well.

    26. Giant Panda Says:

      I still haven’t made up my mind. In many ways, Japan has been good to me. I have invested a good 1/3rd or more of my life in learning Japanese and studying this country and culture. I have made, and continue to make, a good return on this investment. I have encountered all the usual annoyances and prejudices, but to a large extent I get a “pass” because I have the correct skin colour, speak good Japanese, and have a respected professional qualification. On the other hand, now that I have children, I wonder more and more if I am being fair to them to bring them up in this society. I want them to be free and wild, and learn to have their own thoughts and opinions.

    27. Rob Says:

      Uncertain to probably not. I lived for five years in Japan but left earlier this year, albeit with a Japanese wife. The economy in Japan has been mismanaged to an almost criminal extent and the current set of politicans have mastered the impossible task of being worse than their predecessors.

      There are no easy answers to dig Japan out of it’s irrevocable slide into penury, but the politicans seem content to simply manage this decline gracefully. It might be ok for another five-ten years but over my lifetime I don’t want to live in the Japan that will exist in twenty to fifty years time.

      I still have strong ties to Japan, a Japanese wife and half-Japanese child but I can’t say that I will be able to live in a country so terribly mismanaged for so long.

      All the people who think Japan is safe now will feel differently in twenty years when the economics of a shrinking workforce paying for an older retired generation finally stir up real social problems.

    28. crustpunker Says:

      “If you can’t change the world, change yourself.”
      Put me down for #3

    29. Marius Says:

      “Assuming that PRs an/or naturalized NJs can enlist in the 自衛隊, wouldn’t that serve to undermine the anti-foreign rhetoric?
      -JK”

      You’re not allowed to enlist in the army. You can’t even join the firefighters after naturalization. That’s what I were told.

    30. Chris Says:

      @Jules

      Have to agree, if your alternative is living in the UK, the choice is an obvious one in favour of Japan:)

    31. Chris Says:

      Sure everywhere has its problems, but injustice of one kind of another is rife in most countries. Most of the negativity in Japan towards NJ is limited to a few bitter old people (and only a few), and some right wing nutters who would be nutters of one kind or another even if there was no right wing. I still feel strongly that Japan has a lot less of these unpleasant people than many other countries. I guess if you live in Japan long enough you forget the relative difference.

      Still, just because Japan is a great place to live overall doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement, but just imagine how amazing Japan would be if it could just meet some of the more basic progressive successes of other western countries while maintaining all the areas where it leads the world?

      This might seem a bit cold, but I think Japan will see a significant positive shift in attitude when the current generation of senior politicians and the current generation of senior voters dies off and even more so if coupled with a revitalised economy, which is so long over due. This progressive shift can only be aided by NJ who live in Japan and work positively to help enhance Japan as well as Japanese who have worked, studied or visited abroad and can bring that experience back to Japan.

      I think Japan has high potential for an even brighter future.

    32. Paul H Says:

      I’ll be here until I retire at least I guess. 25 years of teaching here makes me pretty much unemployable outside Japan, unless I retrain. Plus I have a dog to look after.

    33. Yontan Says:

      I’m staying for the long haul. I came from a crumbling, drug-infested town in the States that had no opportunities while I was still in college, and Japan has become the only place I have known as an adult. Dealing with people that often down-right hate you for their own invented, nonsensical reasons on a daily basis makes it a harsh life here sometimes, but you only receive what you make yourself. Japan is stuck with me whether they want me or not. I am blessed to have Japanese in-laws who actually care about me very much, so it might have been different if I was braving it all alone. I don’t intend on leaving because it would mean starting over from scratch anyway, so I’ll fight it out instead of running away.

      Sometimes you can still love a country even if you don’t always love the people. It’s strange, but that’s how I feel.

    34. Yontan Says:

      And about enlisting, etc., the Nationality Clause (国籍条項)limits certain jobs like those above to Japanese nationals (日本国民) only. If you naturalize, you effectively are a Japanese national. Although I’m not a legal expert, the person who told you that you could not ever have one of these careers even after naturalization probably 1.) isn’t well acquainted with naturalization (I have not met one Japanese person yet who even believed it was possible to naturalize before I told them yes, it actually is, and this includes a sadly very broad spread of people…), 2.) may not view/want to view foreigners who naturalize as true Japanese citizens, or 3.) may just hate the idea of an ethnic foreigner entering any role deemed vital to the nation.

      If someone actually does know if there is some sort of legal exception banning even those that have naturalized from Nationality Clause-protected laws, I’m interested to know as well…

    35. Joe Says:

      @Yontan
      As far I know (and I believe it was somewhere on this site that I read it), the only difference legally between a naturalised Japanese and and otherwise is that the naturalised version isn’t allowed to act as a sponsor/guarantor for a foreigner in any capacity (I suppose someone in government has visions of some cunning fiend sponsoring hundreds of aunts, uncles and cousins and swamping poor old Japan). Which implies that service in the armed forces shouldn’t be a problem (legally, of course).

      To those good folk who are planning on leaving because the economy isn’t doing as well as it was, please leave, the sooner the better. Those of us on the sinking ship doing our best to keep it afloat will benefit greatly from the loss of the weight of the rats.

      Obviously enough, I’m a “definite yes”.

    36. Steve Says:

      In the twenty or so years I have been living in Japan, I spent a few miserable ones in the Tokyo megapolis where I met all of the worst of Japan as mentioned above. Now, however, I am back in my small city in a comfort zone of friendly people. Here, I have not been harassed by police, or anyone else. I have become Japanese even though I don’t look much like my Japanese neighbors. Most of the people I encounter enjoy being around someone that looks a lot like Santa Claus and I repeatedly am asked to take on the role for city events, department stores, and kindergartens.

      I guess how one is treated depends to a great extent on where you are. Here, I have had no trouble renting apartments, getting home loans, or buying houses or condos. I haven’t been refused service anywhere for looking foreign. I did have a major dispute with a former employer, but that was resolved in my favor by the courts. By all recent reports, that employer has improved his practices. Even the sharp eyes of Debito didn’t spot any “Japanese Only” signs around here.

      I am not going anywhere.

      – This is a district which elected Etoh “The Nanking Massacre was a fabrication”, “comfort women, what comfort women?” and “one million foreigners are murderers and thieves in Japan” Takami to the Diet repeatedly, and elected his chip-off-the-old-block son before daddy died in a Saigon hotel room under swirling rumors. Glad people around you are more open-minded than the people they elect. I guess it’s all a matter of who you associate (or are forced to associate) with.

    37. AJ Says:

      Joe, Thankyou for raising the discourse.

      It’s not because the economy is in the tank that I’m leaving, nor because it’s worse than it was, but pure and simple, better opportunities lie elsewhere for I and some others of us who’ve posted here.

      While I’m sure many of those who are leaving, or have left, have much they love about Japan. Indeed there’s much I’ll miss when I’m gone.

      Others don’t feel they have that same feeling that they’ll be better off from wherever abroad they came from, and will stay, and good on them, perhaps even lucky them.

      Let’s get back on topic, and share our stories and thoughts in what I think has been a fascinating thread, and give the flames a rest huh? It’d be mighty dull if we all thought the same.

    38. bill Says:

      Giant Panda:
      >but to a large extent I get a “pass” because I have the correct skin colour

      Just out of interest, what is the ‘correct’ skin colour in Japan?

      I would probably choose 4 (Leaning towards a probable no), not that I want to leave. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy here (not to mention the amount of money I’ve paid as taxes and pension, and learning the language), the country’s been good to me on the whole, and most importantly of all, my partner is Japanese (and doesn’t want to leave). However, I can’t see myself getting a suitable job in the future (not even with my PhD). It was great when I first started, but wages have dropped and I am tired of being put on annual contracts. Plus, all the problems mentioned on this site. Many don’t affect my directly, but I just get the feeling that this country doesn’t want foreigners who stay long-term.

      When I finally got my PR this year, there was a feeling of relief (2nd go, and it took 6-7 months of waiting). But I have to say, I wasn’t in a party mood. Frankly, I felt more joy when I got my JLPT level 1! To me, it all boils down more to financial security. And with pensions (if I ever get them here) being a big problem for the future of this country, how is the quality of life going to be here? Crime is lower, service is good, and the people are generally friendly, but how will that help someone who is struggling financially?

    39. E.P. Lowe Says:

      I’m a 4 – probable no, leaning towards a definitely no.

      This would not have been the case in the past – but the past few years my family have experienced (and witnessed) a litany of discrimination and stupidity courtesy of Japanese Society:

      My wife gets made redundant just before her maternity leave is due to start.

      I get made redundant because my supervisor (I was a ALT) wanted an English Speaker from North America. Instead of saying this she gave me a poor review, though largely in hard-to-measure areas like “Entering into the spirit of Japanese Schools”, I could not be faulted on more appropriate areas of assessment. Whilst this was bad, two Black ALTs I knew were unceremoniously dumped after one year with the admonition that they couldn’t speak English ringing in their ears.

      The icing on the cake was a recent hospital stay our son had to take. He had an abdominal X-ray prior to admission (stomach bug), was discharged too soon, and on re-admission was given another abdominal X-ray and a chest one too. All this happened quickly, and with no chance to query the doctor. My family and friends in the medical profession back home were pretty much flabbergasted by the fact my son had been given three X-rays in the space of a week, and said that given his symptoms not even one was advised. Whilst I have been willing in the past to shrug off the snap-happy attitude Japanese medics have to X-raying everything that moves, despite the strong evidence that their X-ray culture results in a much greater risk of developing cancer later in life (5 to 6 times greater than the UK, according to Berrington de González and Darby in the Lancet, Jan 31st 2004). The irony is that survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are used to provide a baseline to measure the effects of medical radiation…

      I’m now working part-time, and the job outlook does not seem to be rosy in our area – so as soon as an opportunity arises overseas we will be gone.

    40. AJ Says:

      Out of interest…

      For those of you leaving, or who have left with Japanese significant others, what were their feelings? Did they/are they throwing up resistance?

      Mine’s trying desperately to convince me to stay, knowing that work is why I’m heading for the door. Every week she comes up with a new Japan based suggestion for something I can do, none of which are stable long term options for any potential family man, my baseline criteria.

    41. James Says:

      Definitely no, no way, get me out of here as soon as possible.

      One look at this site alone is reason enough to head for the door. Life is too short to waste on closet racists and their myopic views. Add to that the general misery of the japanese populous and the gaijin bubbles and you have a recipe for something foul tasting.

      I would rather work more for less and be around more open and generally happier seeming people. Plus I’d have the added bonus of just being, rather than being “us” and “them”.

      I cannot wait to leave.

    42. Brooks Says:

      I think it depends on if your spouse is good at English or not.
      My wife got a perfect score on the TOEIC so she has no reason to worry.
      Actually she has wanted to go to America more than me. The American economy worries me.
      If it goes well, the wife will get her green card in a timefly fashion and will teach Japanese.

      Since last year, when I was let go by a high school I worked at for about 8 years, I have been a university teacher.
      However my pay is much less, and I was forced to move. My rent has gone up. I am sick of the high cost of living in Kanagawa.

      I am planning on leaving next year. I will make less money but I will have a better quality of life, and won’t be a second class citizen anymore.
      I won’t miss my horrible commute or the unfriendly Tokyo people.
      I have almost no Japanese friends.

      I am a teacher, and things are getting worse. There are fewer students. Some universities will be forced to close.
      I think I would rather teach high school students in Japan, but it is too hard to get a job at a private school.
      I find university teaching to be tough and I get sick of bad attitudes, absent students, and the general laziness.
      I wish Japan would push vocational education and have more junior colleges. Many students are clearly not ready for higher education.

    43. David B Says:

      I am in the process of leaving now. However, as my wife is Japanese and my son is both Japanese and Australian we will almost certainly come back at some stage.

      We are leaving in the hope of getting a better work / life balance than is commonly available in Japan. Work also plays a part as my new position will provide more opportunities for me in the future even though this first year at least I will be worse off financially. I considered moving to another Japanese company but I would like to work in a different business culture for a while. With respect to discrimination, other than some owners not wanting to have me as a tennant I haven’t noticed direct discrimination against me. In general I like Japan but it seems difficult to get close Japanese friends.

      From before we were married, my wife knew that we would move overseas at some time and she was in general looking forward to it provided it was a nice location. However, as soon as it was decided to move the worries about living overseas and everything being different came to the surface in a big way. After researching a bit and talking to Japanese where we are moving to she is again looking forward to moving.

    44. Tatsumaki Says:

      4, leaning towards no. I lived there for two years in the mid-2000s, first studying Japanese (eventually passed 2-kyuu) and then working in IT.

      I experienced much of the same racism that is common for foreigners (“no foreigner” housing, police hassles, refused entry to stores for being foreign, etc.) Not as bad as some of my friends, like being picked up for murder because someone reported “foreigners” nearby (a Japanese person later confessed and was convicted.)

      Regarding work, the pay was lower and the hours longer than in the US. This was Tokyo, so the cost of living was also much higher than I was used to. But the kicker was the treatment from employers and immigration. Despite all the negatives I just mentioned, they were doing ME a favor by allowing me to stay in their country.

      I had enough. Now I live in Taiwan. Loving it and have no plans to leave. Friendlier people (Japanese are more polite, there’s a difference), less racism, low cost of living, better immigration policies, and I’m less afraid of the police here than in my own country.

      Still, there’s a place in my heart for Japan, but they need to improve their treatment of foreigners before I could consider going back. Right now, they are heading in the wrong direction.

    45. Joe Says:

      @Tatsumaki
      Where do you get the idea that being “refused entry to stores for being foreign” is “racism that is common for foreigners”? Never happened to me, or anyone I know. And when it does happen, there’s plenty of fuss made about it (rightly so) on sites like this. Do us all a favour and avoid overplaying this particular card. It only invites ridicule.

    46. Hoofin Says:

      A bit late to this thread, since I myself just left Tokyo.

      The question in the post itself assumes that the typical NJ has any control over their future in Japan to begin with, where the clear answer is “no”. It’s more like: do you think that Japan will let you continue in Japan throughout your future?

      That one’s clearly a no, isn’t it? The number of hurdles put in the way, mostly indirect, make it likely the people can only stay 3 to 5 years. When I saw the expression on the face of the border patrol worker who looked at my ARC when I left, he seemed surprised that I had made it to five-and-a-half.

      What I worry about is how many Japanese are going to continue to want to emigrate to America. When I have told people about my Japan experience this week, one of the common responses is how we let Japanese into this country. I really don’t have the answers to that, but there are six times as many Japanese in America than there are Americans in Japan.

      This means that for every one job an American presumably takes in Japan, SIX jobs are being filled by Japanese in America.

      I really think that the issue of futures for NJ in Japan go to raising questions like these back in home countries. If Japan can’t play fair, why should anyone be generous?

    47. ken44 Says:

      AJ writes:
      —For those of you leaving, or who have left with Japanese significant others, what were their feelings? Did they/are they throwing up resistance?—

      My J-wife can’t leave fast enough. Me? Well, as long as the yen stays this strong and I have a full teaching schedule I want to stay. There’s no way I’ll ever earn or save as much as I’m doing these days.

      However, should I start losing classes and the yen suddenly crash in value we’re gone.

    48. Outlier Says:

      “I really don’t have the answers to that, but there are six times as many Japanese in America than there are Americans in Japan”

      The answer is simple. When the Governer of Michagan or some SE state is in Japan, what do you think they are doing? Bringing USA companies to Japan? Wrong. They are working hard to get Japanese companies in their state. If there were hundreds of USA companies, say in Kanagawa, you would hear all kinds of protest, but travel to many states in the U.S. and see hundreds of Japanese companies there, all met with lovingkindness. Why can a Japanese company set up in the U.S. but a domestic company finds that to be cost prohibitive? There is a demand for Japanese goods there, and its more economical to put the factory there instead of here. In this case, America is its own worst enenmy. U.S. companies dont even try to break in over here and politicians arent doing much to help things except possibly with the pharmacuticals or agriculture industry.

    49. TX Says:

      I am definitely #5.

      For many of the same reasons pointed out by previous posters. My main reasons are lack of job opportunities, lack of career track/mobility, having to constantly push and being seen as an outsider, difficulty of finding true friends here instead of ones who just want to parade you around a few times per year to their (real) Japanese friends to show off how “international” they are. I doubt that I could ever start having a family here either. The thing is I have Japanese heritage and I wanted this to be my second home. I realized long ago that I’m merely the stepchild. I’m out of here.

    50. Edward J. Cunningham Says:

      Hoofin says: “What I worry about is how many Japanese are going to continue to want to emigrate to America. When I have told people about my Japan experience this week, one of the common responses is how we let Japanese into this country. I really don’t have the answers to that, but there are six times as many Japanese in America than there are Americans in Japan.

      This means that for every one job an American presumably takes in Japan, SIX jobs are being filled by Japanese in America.”

      You’re assuming that every Japanese person that comes to America remains a foreign citizen. What about those who become American citizens? Then every job they earn (not TAKE) goes to an America.

      There are already racists in my country like “Virginia Dare” who will go to Japan, experience all the racism NJ receive and yet not get the message. Guys like VD honestly believe Japan is doing things the right way and that America should emulate her, becoming a country only for white people or “European Yamato.”

      I can understand your point of view, but I can’t agree with you about barring the door to Japanese. I want my country to become LESS like Japan, not more.

      – I’ve looked up “Virginia Dare” and don’t see this historical figure’s relevance.

    51. Edward J. Cunningham Says:

      Debito wrote “I’ve looked up “Virginia Dare” and don’t see this historical figure’s relevance.”

      I’m not referring to the historical Virginia Dare who was the first English person born in the New World.
      I was referring to the guy who set up the group VDARE and sometimes will sign posts on the internet as
      “Virginia Dare.” His reference is to a story he wrote about a new Virginia Dare who was the last white woman
      in a future southern California. The guy I was referring to might have been Peter Brimelow, but not necessarily.
      In any case, I believe all members of this group hold similar views and I believe they are big fans of how Japan
      runs things.

      This should give you more information:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VDARE

    52. JB Jones Says:

      I came here in April 1977 and I’m leaving in April 2011. That’s a long time. I’m headed
      to California to get my medical card and kick back. Yes, there is some life after Japan.
      Glad to leave. Good luck to those who stay!

      JB

    53. Russell Watson Says:

      I am definitely a 5. Initially, I lived here for 17 years and grew sick of all the usual things that make people want to get out. I returned due to having a dull job back in the UK and being offered what looked like an excellent one back here. The job was a dud, but by then I had bought an apartment and my wife was reluctant to uproot herself yet again. So now we have been here for 6 years this time.

      All I can say to those who elect to stay and “try to make Japan a better place, etc etc” is good luck! I sincerely respect Debito and what he has acheived but I am worn out by working nearly every day by the continual noise and crowds of Tokyo. Most of all, my jaded feelings come from knowing that even though I speak passable Japanese and understand the culture pretty thoroughly, I will never be accepted. I will always be a guest that is no more than grudgingly tolerated. This was the same attitude that saw the Oyatoi Gaigokujin hired to transfer skills to Japan during the Meiji Era but mostly packed off back home as soon as their three years was up. The fact that half the people in Tokyo backed Ishihara for Governor even after knowing what kind of person he was and his vile views regarding foreigners tells me that xenophobic feelings are not confined to just a few nasty old septugenarians in high places.

      Life back in the UK will be hard, I made the mistake before of assuming it would be so much better. It will have its pluses and minuses but on balance it can only be better than the thankless and mirthless grind of life here. I’ll have less money but at least I will be able to walk down the street without my ears being assulted by mindless blaring noise and ill-mannered cyclists and pedestrians treating each other like something to be shoved out of the way. I’ll be able to finish work while it is still light and find something inexpensive to do in my free time. I’ll have to adapt to less cash in hand, but I am already extremely frugal since I am saving up for the time I leave here, hopefully in 2012, just two more years to go.

    54. Mike Says:

      @Jonholms,

      I have the same feeling, that is Japan has changed for the worse when it comes to acceptance of foriegners. Granted this is a dated thread but even with the disaster/crisis these things will resurface. I can remember in the 90s when I came here, there were foriegners everywhere, we used to joke about the thousands of Iranians who met up in the parks, allot like you see all the filipinos meeting in HK in parks. There were foriegner street performers, and gaijin everwhere on the trains. “The Gaijin Zone” was a popular club in roppongi and packed with foriegners. Those were the good days, they are gone. When things are well in Japan, they are tolerant, when they suck, uglyness comes out. It has been difficult for me to not generalize, I admit. You can find a niche or group of friends, and just like in the states, still experience bad things. Its hard to draw a line in Japan however from the constant remarks, gawking, and closed mindedness, it can eat away at you. So, yes, I agree that the 80s, 90s were best. Will this crisis change anything? I havent seen nothing to show otherwise.

    55. Mike Says:

      I was watching some of Debitos documentary videos on You Tube when he had just bought his house, 1st marriage etc, that looks like the 90s, thats when I came here. Japan was a different time then, and actually wasnt so bad, I have good memories. Things are really different now.

    56. jonholmes Says:

      Responding to the last 2 posts, this is just our feelings so of course we cannot prove it, but for me there were a couple of clearly signposted turning points, or “warning signs” in some cases. 1993, in the wake of the bubble bursting is a provable one. A couple of years after that, cell phones changed social dynamics, ie. people no longer had to go through the family phone-this had pluses and minuses as regards to how “gaijin” were treated, I ll just say my ex’s parents hated gaijin calling up and said so on the phone.

      Still, the 90s were ok, thats when young people tried to follow their dreams, and often this involved an interest in going abroad or doing business with overseas.

      Around 2000 though, we had Koizumi and Ishihara rearing up and shouting nationalist slogans that basically amounted to “Its back to hard times for the sake of the nation (not a real quote, obviously).

      On a personal note, when I came back to tokyo in 2007 I actually experienced 3-4 people saying “why did you come back? I don’t feel like I really need you/your friendship/your business”.

      and that last one is a real quote, sadly.

      I think I outstayed my “welcome”…

      – I think the true turning point came with Ishihara’s Sangokujin Speech in 2000. See my round up of the past decade in human rights from my Japan Times article last January.

    57. Padraig Says:

      Just to throw my two yen in, but I have been here since 1990 and I think that it was better for NJ back then, too. People seemed friendlier then.

    58. jonholmes Says:

      Padraig, I can relate as I moved here in 1990. I d visited at Xmas 1988 and was blown away by Tokyo, so dynamic, so futuristic, so clean and also a lot of fun. It promised much…

      Having said that, I ignored (or chose to ignore, as some people seem to do) a couple of fundamental issues. When I first started meeting Japanese people in Oxford in 1988, they were great friends but occasionally something odd would happen, like they d apologize for their monosyllabic friend or other half by sayings things like “I m sorry, they arent interested in gaijin”, or “that place/hobby etc tends to be for Japanese only”, or “You re interested in Japanese or Okinawan traditional stuff? Henna gaijin, haha”

      I naively put this down to “cultural differences”, but as years went on I realised there was a huge gap between the image of Japan I was being “sold” and the reality I was experiencing. And I was to put up with much.

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