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.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. ctolle
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 02:45:02

    Brilliant. Sheer magic, here.

    Yes, you are THAT guy with the Man/Legend shirt. Awesome image.

    “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.”



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