English Bubble

I’ve written about this in brief before.

This Sunday the largest foreigner get together in my prefecture is happening. In my village. That is saying something because foreigners are always in large groups. This confuses me a great deal. It also irritates me to some extent.

I have no idea why this is the case. Foreigners are almost always found in giant herds of mostly white faces doing whatever it is foreigners in Japan do, which, let’s be honest, is drink 90% of the time. I don’t understand the mindset of always wanting to be in a giant group whenever you’re doing anything. What is wrong with doing an activity with 2 or 3 people?

Even more confusing, is why so many people find it worthwhile to pack up their life, move half way around the world, and then hang out almost exclusively with the same groups of people they just got done moving away from. This makes 0 sense to me. If I wanted to hang out with foreigners and spend all my days speaking English I would have stayed in America. Why come to Japan to repeat something you can do back home?

This is the confusing part. It just makes no sense to me. I don’t understand the appeal of it and I don’t understand the rational reasoning behind it.

Here’s the irritating part.

JETs are the most common to be found hanging out in giant foreigner herds. Not coincidentally I would say roughly 60% of all the JETs I’ve ever met have only a limited grasp of Japanese even after 3 or 4 years in the country. Another 10-15% have only a somewhat more advanced understanding, capable of fudging their way through an easy conversation about the weather or sports.

It’s astonishing how many foreigners you can meet in Japan who know almost no Japanese despite having resided here for sometimes 10 years or more. As above, it never comes as a surprise to learn these people’s entire social networks consist of foreigners. Lots and lots of foreigners.

In America speaking English is a rather big pet peeve of most people. There are many different nationalities and many get upset when someone can’t speak English. It seems only a respect thing to try to speak as much a language in a country as possible. I don’t understand the mindset of people who can’t speak a word of Japanese after 1 or 2 years.

I find it irritating when someone can live in a country for several years and doesn’t know the language. At that point I feel you have to be going out of your way not to pick it up.

So, if you’re coming to Japan do yourself a favor: get out of the foreigner bubble. Or, if you decide you absolutely must hang out with giant herds of foreigners on a constant basis you might want to think about saving your money and staying home. Yes, you will see some sights in Japan, as many foreigners do. And you might even get a few nice cultural experiences out of it. But you’ll speak almost no Japanese at the end of it all, have drunk a ton of alcohol, spoke a lot of English, and seen a lot of western people. Doesn’t that sound like your life at home? Moving to Japan can cost a lot of money. Why spend it to do what you’re already doing?

By staying outside the bubble you’ll start to develop a more accurate taste of Japan. More importantly, you’ll actually start to develop some language skills. This will only open Japan up more, give you more options, and allow you not to feel like a baby in a country on a regular basis.


More “Is Japan For Me?” Stuff.. And Stuff.

I  have a bunch to cover so this might be a multiple post day.  Or there might be a string of posts the next few days, which will hopefully result in a little traffic to my insignificant blog.

This weekend was Christmas Setup Weekend (Monday included).  We set up the tiny Christmas tree last night.  It was the girl’s first time ever decorating a Christmas tree.  The idea, in theory, was for me to cook some spaghetti and for us to decorate together while it cooked, all while listening to nice Christmas music.  The reality was, however, me running back and forth between cooking, taking pictures, and making sure Christina Aguilera songs weren’t popping up while the girl became so entranced with decorating she forgot about the “together” part of everything.  Yes, my main contribution to decorating the christmas tree was plugging in the lights.  Still, it was a really great night and I was able to recreate to some extent a feeling of Christmas in a country that completely lacks anything other than a cursory knowledge of the holiday.

Pictures will follow soon.

This got me thinking about a followup or two on the Japan FAQ.

Q: How different is Japan?  Will I adapt easily?

First, let me state an anecdote or two.  Now, there are those who claim that Japan really isn’t that different than *insert western country here*.  I beg to differ.

First, see above.  Imagine a country where almost everyone you meet has never put up a single Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter etc. decoration in their life.  Heck, you can easily find people who have never seen a movie where people decorate a Christmas tree.  Obviously, this is just a holiday.  However, the simple fact is in the west we live in a world where there are a ton of shared experiences.  Many of these don’t exist in Japan.  Live somewhere in the north and associate winter with shoveling your driveway?  Most Japanese people don’t even have a driveway.  They park in an extended area of their garden, which is almost always in front of the house between the gate entrance and the front entrance.  And it’s public property, which means anyone can stroll through without being considered rude. (In theory.  In practice I haven’t seen this done too much).  Japanese people who live in apartments might associate winter with everyone going out at 7 am on a Sunday morning and shoveling the parking lot together.  For the record, I never plan on partaking in this tradition.

Have you ever gone over to a friend’s house, stopped at the door, extended your hand and used either the doorbell or knocked?  Many Japanese people (delivery men included) don’t bother knocking.  See, the entrance to your apartment/house, otherwise known as “no shoes beyond this point” spot, is also considered public property.  It’s not out of the ordinary to have someone open up your door and yell to see if you’re around.  The point here being that commonplace shared experiences might not be shared.  Even if this is trivial like knocking it extends to many things in life.  BBQing brats, hotdogs, and hamburgers out on the grill with friends.  Not here.  Going to the pool and going down the big slide as a kid.  Not here.  Take several of these and you start to feel like a fish out of water.

Today I watched a video with the kids.  A Mr. Bean Christmas video.  He plays with the manger scene and toys around with baby Jesus and the animals.  So, I asked the teachers if they knew who the baby was.  No one knew.  I said “Jesus”.  Still, no one knew.  So, imagine being in a place where it’s difficult to find someone who knows who Jesus is or what he looks like in various forms.  Different.

The point here is that it is quite different.  It’s not a bad different, just one that you might feel a bit isolated.  This is a big reason people stay put in the dreaded English Bubble. (see below)

You can adjust.  You will adjust.  It takes time.  It also comes and goes in terms of enjoying it or not enjoying it.  The main thing is to immerse yourself as much as possible but as comfortably as possible.  If you’re afraid of/not strong at swimming don’t jump into the deep end immediately.  Sometimes you have to wade toward the deep end, possibly while wearing an embarrassing ducky floaty. 

For the record most Japanese girls at a beach wear a floaty while walking around on the beach.  They take it off when in the water.  To them it’s neither embarrassing nor odd to wear one when walking around.

Q: What is the English Bubble?

The English Bubble is the fat kid that keeps popping your ducky floaty with a pin every time you get near the deep end because he’s jealous you’re progressing and he’s not. 

It’s impossible to live in Japan, heck possibly anywhere English isn’t a native language, and not hear about the English Bubble.  Let me rephrase that.  It’s impossible not to hear about it provided you aren’t immersed completely inside the bubble.  Essentially, The Bubble is what keeps many foreigners from progressing in their Japanese ability or be unaware of many Japanese customs or events.  The basic premise is that you surround yourself with other English speakers in an attempt to feel more at home. 

As odd as it might seem I’ve met numerous people who have lived in Japan 3,4,5 or more years and barely know more than the basics.  This is because their day-to-day life is enveloped by English. 

Whether or not The Bubble is a good thing is up to each individual person.  What’s important is to be aware it exists and what the disadvantages and advantages to it are. 

Q: I’ve heard Tokyo is expensive.  Is this true?

I wouldn’t know.  I don’t care about Tokyo and really don’t know much about it. 

I think I’m going to end every Q&A blog on Tokyo.  In my “research” to figure out common questions and what other people were saying about the subject I was unable to find more than 1 or 2 non Tokyo-based blogs about life in Japan.  This infuriates me to no end.  The perception that Tokyo = Japan is rampant to anyone who doesn’t know much about Japan.  But the fact that people actually living in the country still make the same mistake in thinking is bewildering.

I’ll reiterate something I said last time.  Tokyo is not Japan.  If you plan to spend any significant amount of time in Japan there’s an extremely high likelihood your life will be far removed from Tokyo.  It’s important to realize that before you come and understand what that means.  Things like “Japan is the most technologically advanced nation on earth” stop applying.  Or anything you read on the internet that starts with “girls in Japan wear…” or “many Japanese people like to do…..”  or anything similar.  That’s not saying you won’t find those things around wherever you end up, but what happens in Tokyo is often times confined to Tokyo.

And yes, Tokyo is expensive for a nation that is already ungodly expensive in my experience.  However, I’ve also found the cheapest things and best deals in Tokyo.  If you walk into a store and there’s more than 2 foreigners around or 5 Japanese teenagers chances are it’s going to be pricey.