Japan – Let’s enjoying!

One reason I started this blog was that I wanted to give advice/inspiration/things to think about etc. about Japan and ju jitsu.  Ju jitsu has been put on hold, frustratingly.  I caught a cold in Tokyo, which kept me out last Tuesday and then holiday plans with the girlfriend kept me out Friday night.  So, tonight was supposed to be the start of commitment but my cold has resurfaced.  I woke up with a very sore throat and it hasn’t improved over the course of the day.  Doing something that will cause dehydration doesn’t sound great.  So, let’s focus on the other.

I’ve wanted to make this post for a while so here we go.  It is by no means exhaustive but it’s a start.

Most people who have interest in Japan want advice before setting out on a journey of living here.  Is it right for them?  What should they know before coming?  How do they go about getting a job?  These type of things.  Let’s address some of these FAQs.

How can I find a job in Japan?

These are a dime a dozen.  A quick google search will yield a crop of results.  Really, the question is more like how can’t you find a job in Japan.  Jobs are everywhere here for foreigners.  The real question is really “how can I find a legitimate job in Japan?”  That is an entirely different question.  Yes, jobs are plentiful here; however, more often than not they are…. shady.  The best way to confirm the legitimacy of something you find online is to ask someone who lives in Japan the reputation of said company.  Also, do extensive google searches on the company.  Websites like gaijinpot are great for finding out information about Japan from insiders.  The key is to do your research and use the tools at your disposal.

What kind of person should move to Japan?

This, of course, really comes down to personal preference.  However, I do think there are some characteristics that help survive in Japan.  Patience is a big thing.  This is a slooooooow country and little, if anything other than portable technology, ever changes.  Someone who doesn’t think their home country is the greatest place on earth since Jesus built his first house.  Pride is great; I encourage pride in something.  But it helps to realize positives and negatives in order to keep things in perspective.  Finally, typically someone who has some interest in Japan outside of hooking up with J-girls.  Even if that is a priority, there needs to be at least one other major interest.

Do I need to know Japanese?

In a word, no.  But, this question is actually one that made me want to start this blog.  I have read one blog too many that say Japanese is not essential to getting by in Japan.  This particular advice seems to be written solely by people either living in the greater Tokyo area, only been here a few months, or on the JET programme.  Possibly a combination of all three.

In a word, no; in a sentence, to move here you need none but to live here it becomes somewhat needed.  I see so many blogs that say you don’t need Japanese, after all said blog’s creator gets by with very little Japanese.  That’s great if your goals are to come to Japan and travel the hell out of the country/asia.  Many people come here, stay a year or two, and don’t do much else other than travel around with other foreigners.

You can always find another foreigner who has capable Japanese.

However, if you value things like going to the bank, getting gas, mailing a letter, not getting a plastic bag for buying gum at the convenience store, and other taken for granted things then you need to learn Japanese.  It is true that you will likely find yourself in a situation with some interpreter somewhere around that will be assigned to help you (provided you listened to the first advice and found yourself a half-way reputable company).  I came with 0 Japanese and my interpreters were invaluable for things like simple grocery shopping.  However, 1) said interpreter might not have too much availability (many companies assign one for important things like renewing visas etc.  Helping translate how to use an ATM isn’t high on their priority list) and 2) you really don’t want to depend on another person to pick up toothpaste for the next few years, do you?

Not only is this a bit demeaning to you, but it’s terribly intrusive to your helper.  Even basic Japanese will go a long way.

I see so much nonsense about how “many Japanese people know enough English to help you anyway.”  You need to throw that BS out of your head right now.  In Tokyo, yes people will know some English to help you out.  Out in real Japan (i.e. anywhere that doesn’t end in “okyo”) you’re unlikely to find even a handful of people who understand anything more than “how are you?”.  Japanese people on average have very limited English skills, if any at all.

What this all comes down to is you don’t need any, at all, to get over here.  Once here you’ll survive like a baby with adult reasoning skills until you can get some good Japanese under your belt.

Is Japanese a really hard language? I’ve heard nightmarish things.

No.  Those people are dumb.  Ignore them.

Will I be able to eat Japanese food?

Yes.  Although whether or not you’ll want to is another story.  I ate bee larvae and grasshoppers last month.  I’ve also eaten raw horse, raw whale, chicken hearts, cow tongues, intestines, bone cartilage and pregnant fish.

The key to Japanese cuisine is to have an open mind.  Put it in your mouth and see how it goes.  Some of it is really tasty, other things make you gag upon contact with your taste buds.

 

Ok, let’s stop there for now.  Mostly because I’m hungry and I want to eat, partly because this will give a chance to digest what else I want to include.  If you read this and can think of other questions please let me know.  If you read this and know someone who wants to come to Japan show them the blog.

I have a cold, I’ve decided McDonald’s is the meal for tonight.  When I choose to I really fail at life.

Layoff

Wow, talk about a long layoff.  I know, it’s only been not even a week but I feel like it’s been forever.  This was the first week since I arrived that I was actually busy at work.  So, all my productivity took a dive.  This week needs to rectify that.

Tokyo was pretty nice.  I was there for 3 days when I first arrived the first time in Japan.  Everything was so new and bizarre, not to mention being seen through the eyes of jet lag.  I came away not terribly impressed with the city.

I had quite a bit of fun.  I’m still not sure I “like” Tokyo, but I definitely came to enjoy it more than I did previous to the trip.  I think I could go back some more and venture around.  The people though….. Oh there’s nothing like the shallowness of big city folk.

The worst part about the trip was the weather.  Saturday was practically a typhoon, and I packed for sun.  So, I ended up buying new pants and new shoes on Saturday to adjust for my foolishness.  It wasn’t that bad I guess considering I’ve been planning on getting a new pair of jeans for a while.  Shoes not so much as I don’t like wearing shoes.  I’m a Vibram man.  Still, I got some Converse Allstars for $30, which I felt was an ok cost.

Here’s some Tokyo Castle time in the rain.  This is what I understand to be THE famous bridge leading to the entrance of the royal family’s home’s grounds.

Tokyo Castle Bridge

You can see the gloominess and rain in the picture.  The weather was really miserable.  Both of us ended up getting sick by Saturday night and I believe the girlfriend even ended up taking off work on Monday.

In Tokyo there are many temples, but perhaps none is more famous or important to Tokyo than the main temple in Akasuka.  Our hotel was right down the street from the temple and we spent a good deal of a nice Sunday late morning/early afternoon temple looking.

Temple Gate

Gates to the temple courtyard

 

Shopping Street

This is the famous street leading from the front Torii (gate) to the inner gate.

For some reason the woman felt like sticking her head into the shot there.  Like most Japanese historical sites this one, too, has been overrun by tourist traps and shopping.

There’s a few sites from Tokyo.  I actually ended up taking a bunch of videos for the folks back home rather than pictures; therefore, my picture content is a bit slim even though I planned on uploading pictures.

Really though, who are we kidding.  This is Tokyo.  A quick google search will yield much better material than I can ever come up with.  I will say that there were some pictures with me in them but they are currently not in my possession.  When I manage to get those pictures I will put them up here.

So much

So much to cover.  First thing is first:   How do you identify spam comments on here?  It auto-filters just about every comment as spam, but there are 2 or 3 that seem like they might be genuine.  Some are…… shall we say “less” genuine sounding.  One criticized my spelling as “distracting” because it’s so bad.  This has to be spam because my spelling is nearly impeccable in my blog posts.  Or just someone who spells horribly but thinks he/she is the only one who is right in the English-speaking world.

If someone asked me what one of the most difficult things about living in Japan is, I would respond that it’s the cultural differences that you don’t think about.  Obviously, there are many differences; however, many of them you are very aware about.  They are on your mind constantly.  Something like how girls wearing basically underwear for shorts is A-O-K but I’ve never once seen a girl with a short shirt (like a halter top, of any length).  Butt cheeks = ok.  Belly button = national crisis.  Ok, I get that.  It’s a little weird but I get it.  I see it every day.  I have no problems remembering this difference.

What is very difficult are the things that you just don’t think about because you’ve lived in a culture for 20 some years (or more?) that just doesn’t address the issue all that much.  This happened today.  I wore khakis and a nice sweater with a white t-shirt under the sweater.  I didn’t tuck in my t-shirt because jumping and dancing around I find very uncomfortable or practical with a tucked in shirt.  Also, just in general I don’t like my shirts tucked in.

Several people commented how my undershirt was peeking out from the bottom of my sweater.  I just said something like, “I know.  Isn’t it cool?”  Now, of course I know it looks kinda lame but it’s better to tease yourself with other people than defend your lame dress.  For me it comes down to comfortability and practicality.  Well, little did I know what was really being said was, “you’re not a very good employee.  You’re a sloppy person.”

This brings in two things.  First, Japanese people are VERY particular about many things, one of them being dress.  And when they are particular about something they will judge your entire personality based on that one thing.  So, to a Japanese person a shirt coming out from your sweater isn’t just “funny looking”, but rather it’s rather insulting to them.  Yes, insulting.

Now, I’m an American.  I’ve never really given two thoughts about how my dress appears to other people outside of when I’ve had an interview, an important meeting, or wearing a “Guns ‘N Roses was f#ing here!” shirt.  Or my favorite “The Man (up arrow), The Legend (down arrow) shirt.  Yeah, I’m THAT guy.  Outside of that clothes are clothes.  There’s more of a you know what’s not acceptable, and everything else is OK.  (Teaching at a high school – don’t show up in a miniskirt and a tank top.)  If someone doesn’t personally like my style, that’s their problem.  I’m comfortable.  I’m good to go.

In Japan, their thoughts of you is your problem.  If you aren’t comfortable because they want you to wear something particular, that’s your issue.  You like loose jeans?  Well… prepare to be chided into wearing tight fighting girl-style pants.  Why?  Because Japanese people like (read: think that’s what good people wear) tight pants, so you better conform to that.

I don’t think about this.  I don’t put a lot of thought into whether other people like my personal style.  I have nice clothes on, everything else is personal.  Yes, I know the difference exists because I’ve been told about it (and experienced it a few times) but it’s just not something that is really on my mind until it happens.  Then it becomes “oooooohhh, that’s right!”

The other part of this is dealing with people who ask you questions but are really telling you something completely different.  For example, a Japanese person walks up to you and asks you “do you like white shirts or red shirts?  I like white shirts.  What do you think?”  That person doesn’t give a damn about your opinion.  What they are actually telling you is “wearing red shirts is bad.  Please wear a white shirt from now on.”

Can you see how this would be difficult to deal with?  Is this something you deal with in your day-to-day life?  I’m guessing it’s not.  And since it’s not, it’s just not something you consciously think about.  So you answer the question.  “Ah, I like red shirts personally.  White shirts get dirty too easily.”

“Ah, I see,” says the person.  “I think your opinion is right.”

Well, 4 months later you sit down in a meeting and come to find out your supervisor is really ticked off at you for wearing so many red shirts.

And no, this particular case has not happened to me.  🙂

This is difficult to deal with, these things you might know about but don’t actually ever think about because you’ve spent so many years never thinking about it once.

So, if you plan to move to Japan be prepared for this.  It’s not the noticeable, big culture differences that will spell disaster for you, it’s the things you don’t think about that will be most difficult.

This post is rather long.  Tokyo and its pictures will wait until the next post.  I have latin to read for now.

Pictures

Just a quick note about pictures.  I really want to upload some pictures of things here.  Not a bunch like one would with Facebook but enough to give readers some visuals.  However, Japanese people are very paranoid and I’ve heard of people getting in some deep trouble posting pictures of kids on public sites.   I imagine this might go for the school as well.  One of the safest countries on earth and people are absolutely paranoid about predators stalking their schools.  Maybe I’ll ask around to see if it’s ok.

For now, I’ll try to get some pictures up of the town, Tokyo after this weekend, and various things.  Possibly myself although to be honest I rarely appear in pictures.

Been a bad boy

Yes, I’ve been a bad boy.  I’ve done some wicked things this week.

I skipped ju jitsu. 

There was a reason behind it but as I mentioned in a previous post there really is nothing to note other than I didn’t go.  So, I’m going to be the stereotypical loser/procrastinator/non-doer and say “I’ll start next week”.  Except, I actually will.  I find myself dreaming about ju jitsu, which means it’s high time I get back to training consistently and as often as possible.  I can’t go tonight or Sunday because the Tokyo trip is taking place of all that.  So, next Tuesday will be my “from now” day.

Oh, and I’ve been extremely lazy on speaking English.  I’ve used entirely too much this week (counting Saturday and Sunday).  I did read some really good blogs yesterday about not being a perfectionist when speaking a foreign language, something with which I struggle quite a bit.  That post will have to wait for a different day.  It helped spur me back into Japanese mode.  For now since yesterday I’m back on track to “no English”.

This all gets me back to a goal I set a long time ago, after about 4 months in Japan.  I figured that after 2 years living in the country I could function sans English without problem, minus something extremely technical like appliance repair over the phone.  This means I have about 6 months left.  I’m not sure how to factor in the 8 months I lived back in the states when I used Japanese about 5 minutes a week.  I forgot quite a bit.  Still, I think 2 years is a good goal and obtainable. 

If I could speak Japanese like I do after drinking a bottle of sake then I think I would already be at the 2 year goal.

Interesting insight into Japanese culture

If someone says the following to you what meaning do you derive from it?  “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

In Japanese it goes like this:  転がる石に苔むさず。  Or, if you want the romaji version:  korogaru ishi ni koke musazu.

There is a shortened/alternative form of it, but I don’t really know it.  That is, I would know it if I heard it but I don’t actually know the entirety of it.  Either way, this is the “proper” way to say the proverb.

In America, we understand this to mean that staying put or becoming content is a sure way to become old and stale.  Keep moving, keep progressing and you will avoid “gathering moss”.

For Japanese, the meaning is the complete opposite.  Apparently, Japanese people think of moss as a really neat thing.  It’s beautiful, and like water over a long course of time can be extremely difficult to halt the progress of.  This explains why many traditional Japanese gardens are green – sometimes mostly by moss.  So, the Japanese WANT the moss, they WANT to be the rock that doesn’t move. 

The proverb is sometimes used to chide someone into staying put in their life.  Want to find a better job?  Well, be that rock, man.  Want to move out of Japan and discover the world?  Moss man, M-O-S-S!  It can also be used by someone to explain why they’ve slaved away a very dull life without doing anything to “improve” their station.  I put improve in quotes because that would be the Western/American understanding of it, to a Japanese person it might be a downgrade to do something less dull/not the same.

Spend a few minutes and ponder the ramifications of all this.  I’ve heard people say Japan has a very similar culture to America minus the big obvious things like chopsticks.  I’ve always disagreed.  I think it’s completely different in many fundamental ways.  Think about how different your life would be if your country embraced the idea “staying put is best”.  Likely, it’s a very different world.

Things like this answer the question why am I here.

I’d rather forget today

 All 3 preschools worth of 5 year olds came to the elementary school for their pre-entrance physical evaluation. I was asked to go to the meeting room and keep all 90-100 of them occupied. At once.

Yes their parents (read: moms) were the…re, but that mattered little once the first one spotted me.

5 year old kids get extra, extra genki with a foreigner around, especially one they know. Essentially this involves about 20 kids swarming you at any given moment. This UNQUESTIONABLY involves getting punched in the nuts repeatedly, getting fingers up the ass, having one or two kids trying to pull you in one direction by your shirt while another 2 pull on the opposite side of your shirt, often resulting in stretches or tears to your clothing, having several kids hanging on your legs ensuring you can’t move, another kid or two climbing on you somehow, and there is a high likely hood of getting fingers in your mouth/nose/ears at any given second. The rest of the kids get into little kid physical pushing matches to see who can molest you next.

All of this is a bit overwhelming, to say the least. The over excited kids I can deal with. My groin and ass being invaded like I’m a boy at Catholic school can not. I also only have a finite supply of clothing and that stuff is expensive here! My strategy is to find a wall, stand with my back against it, do my best to scout upcoming nut shots in advance in order to block them, grab kids hands before they can get your clothing and generally just survive the onslaught.

What annoyed me was when, after 15 minutes or so of my balls being fondled by 5 year olds, my sweater sleeves being stretched out, and one girl crying because she was violently pushed to the ground by a much bigger boy, I decided to get out of dodge and my supervisor chided me about how I need to “play” with the kids. Apparantly I hadn’t been doing that since I was just standing there (seriously, for you who don’t know look up “kancho” and tell me you wouldn’t adopt a stand-against-the-wall strategy”) and playing jungle gym with the kids. When I had a free second I would try to give them boosts for a big jump and whatnot. Also, I was supposed to stay in there and take the abuse for at least another hour, to which I responded I’m not really up to that and got an evil eye.

I guess it’s just my silly American sentiment talking but there’s only so much invasion of personal space and damage to my clothing I can take before I’m checked out. Not to mention physical fights breaking out simply because I’m in the area and kids don’t have access to me in lieu of the dozen other kids crowded around me.

For those of you not in Japan, for some reason kids prodding your nether regions is perfectly acceptable. They have to sit a certain way at all times when sitting otherwise they face strong scolding, but sticking your finger up someone’s bung is behavior worthy of being laughed at by all adults present. So, it’s not quite like I was going to get rescued by parents. Well.. that is except the few nut shots that actually landed flush and the anguish on my face told the mom maybe letting her kid wail on my sac while two other kids occupy my arms isn’t so enjoyable for me. After those blows they seemed to have a concerned look on their face ( I could see it through my tearing eyes), but still did nothing.

I guess I’m just selfish. At least by Japanese standards.

(note: the above rant is 95% accurate)

Update:  So I took a breather, and went back about 25 minutes later.  There were about 10 kids in the room.  My supervisor approached me and said, “it’s pointless for you to be in here now.  There are not so many kids around.  You don’t need to be here.  But, when many kids were here, you were absent.  That isn’t so good.”

Excuse me!?  Absent?  I was there for 30 minutes during the peak time.  Yeah, I realize it wasn’t THAT long, but I didn’t see anyone else being treated like a human pinata in there.  Plus, according to supervisor my previous efforts weren’t up to par anyway.  My irritation went to a “f# this” fairly quickly. 

Japanese have a word for this kind of thing – putting up with a situation that you feel is either below your dignity or you really despise but putting your full energy into it anyway and acting like you enjoy it.  To my knowledge it has no English translation. 

Sorry about a “bitch post”, it’s not really what I want to do with this blog but this whole thing irked me something bad. 

So much so I didn’t even bother checking my grammar or spelling.  A rarity.

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