So, it happened again: you meet up with some gaijin friends, and it turns into a big Japan-bashing fest. Every thing that’s been bugging them for the past several months comes flooding out, and the back-and-forth between gaijin experiencing similar issues brings the criticism to an uncomfortable peak. The evening has become less of pleasurable conversation and more of a giant therapy session.
To be sure, living in a foreign country, even a 1st world country, can be a frustrating experience. Technology followed a slightly different path of advancement, and you find yourself loving convenience stores and pay-by-phone vending machines but hating the lack of insulation. Being a foreigner, you have to jump through extra hoops to do basic things like getting an apartment, opening a bank account, or getting a job. And with such a different culture, you find yourself unsure of when to be insulted or to laugh, how to make a joke instead of insulting, or how to correctly navigate a myriad of other “simple” social situations.
But there’s a reason my wife and I live in Japan: it happens to be an awesome place to live. To my gaijin friends having trouble getting settled, here’s why you should be happy to be here.
- Food. Food in the US may seem great because you grew up with it. I happen to miss decadent ice cream and peanut butter M&M’s, big steaks and bacon cheeseburgers. However, we’re all fat and sick because of the way we eat, and we have no idea how to change. The problem we have is that we don’t make our own food from fresh ingredients. Every fruit and vegetable at most supermarkets was bred to ship well and has sat in a silo for a year, and thus tastes horrible. Americans think “healthy” is a cuisine that sacrifices happiness for the good of their bodies. This is all wrong. America, unfortunately, has no cuisine, and makes up for it in quantity. Japanese cuisine is tasty and good for you, and when you really want a sweet-tooth fix, there’s plenty of chocolate at the convenience store and high-quality sweets at the bakery. Japanese people just don’t eat as much of it because they can feel satisfied after eating a good meal. So go buy some mikan and eat a few after your meal. You might not need a candy bar after that. P.S. Good restaurant food in the US is often very expensive, especially after tipping. Good restaurants in in Japan are generally decently priced and you don’t have to worry about the tip.
- Transportation. Yes, in the US most families have two cars. But you have to have a car to go anywhere. Personally, I find that prohibitively expensive and rather inconvenient. I’ve never owned a car in my life, and in Japan I can finally go anywhere I want. I’m saved the expense and inconvenience of random break-downs, and I don’t have to worry about gas prices. Trains are often faster, too!
- Peace. I don’t just mean that Japan doesn’t go to war; I mean that individuals are polite and don’t argue over things simply for the sake of “having an opinion”.
Living in a foreign country really provides the perspective that you need to understand your own culture. I understand that Facebook might not be a good representative of an average day of conversation in the US, but it is still quite disconcerting to have your feed filled with raging of all sorts. The funny thing is that the raging comes in waves regarding particular trending topics, so that most individuals who think they are being righteous and counter-culture are really just caught up in the flow of raging. The most American thing seems to be to have an opinion and to duel with words, intelligent or not.
On top of that, in US culture we always seem to need a villain and a hero: this is reflected in every movie that comes out of Hollywood (which I do enjoy), and it is reflected constantly in political rhetoric. People blame the hicks or the rich, the Evangelicals or the gays, the politicians or the immigrants. And of course the politician playing the blame game makes themselves out to be the hero.
If any of this ever stresses you out (hello there, introverts and Seattleites), Japan will be a welcome change. Controversial topics are avoided in normal conversation because contention is a Bad Thing. We can leave it to its proper time and place, where it is actually required to find a solution to an immediate problem. Japan is a nation state and they place great importance on being united, trusting eachother, and showing consideration for the feelings of others.
So there you have it: in Japan I have good food and health, freedom, and peace of mind. What more could anyone ask for? You can still have your Snicker’s bar, you just have to bike to 7-Eleven to get it.
Now, I understand there are exceptions to every rule, and that there is a giant barrier to getting to this point: getting used to Japan and learning to speak Japanese. I may post on these another time.