You might remember last week I wrote a post called “What’s up, loco?” where I invited readers to ask Loco a question on anything related to Japan or on anything else for that matter. I’ve received several so far and have either responded or told the reader when they could expect a response. Here is the first question I think required a post to answer thoroughly.
It’s from Jason. He wrote:
What’s up, Loco?
You wanted questions, so I thought I’d give one a stab. I know you’ve mentioned it here and there across multiple articles before, but I thought a concise answer might be an interesting/useful read. What things do you do to help with culture stress, and do you know any good coping mechanisms for the depression that comes with it that work well here? Back home I’d go for long walks, but here if I go outside I’m surrounded by one of the main sources of my stress: staring Japanese people.
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” -Richard David Bach
First off, thanks for reading Loco in Yokohama. Secondly, thanks for bringing your question this way. I can tell by the wording that we share a bond not unlike the bond Bach spoke of. (Thanks for the quote btw. It’s a keen one!) The bond that most foreigners share here in Kawaiiland. The bond of being the other. I hope I can do your query justice and offer something useful, but I don’t have much confidence that I can.
You’re a reader of this blog so you know well that this question is at the heart of a good number of my posts. I have come at it from many directions, dissected it, and broken it down to to some very fundamental compounds, and still it taunts me.
It’s the question that launched this blog, in fact. My very first series, 10 ways NOT to go Loco in Yokohama, (which put Loco in Yokohama on the map, so to speak) was my first, fledgling attempt to address this cultural stress. I’m proud of that series and stand by it. However, I think there are a number of things I have learned since then that if I had known at the time I would have added to that list or would have replaced a couple of entries with.
For one, I believe writing this blog has changed me. Two years have passed since that series. Two years spent searching, through my writing, for this elusive coping mechanism you’ve inquired about.
Culture stress…ugh! Depression…ugh! ugh!
Here’s the thing about the staring, though. And stop me if I…wait a minute, you can’t stop me, can you? (-: Ok, please just bear with me.
I’ve grouped Japanese behaviors into two categories. The first includes acts I consider to be reasonable, acceptable and tolerable. And the other is the much shorter but more intense list of the unreasonable, unacceptable, and intolerable.
Staring is one of those typical behaviors encountered here that can fall under either listing at any given time. Dependent almost solely on my mood at that given time. I mean, it’s such a constant that if I’d found myself unable to put it in the tolerable column most often I’d have gone plum mad by now. It’s as much a part of the foreigner’s experience here as encountering unreadable or erroneous signage, ducking your head through doorways (or risk slamming into them if you’re over 5’9) or trying to squeeze your huge ass feet into tiny slippers that seem to have been designed with your discomfort in mind, little built in lasers that target sensitive corns.
You tell yourself that NOBODY likes to be stared at because they’re different. That this is certainly something ALL humans can agree on. There’s no way these people staring at you would take kindly to being the target of a set of probing, curious, judgmental eyes. Not to mention 100 sets. No fucking way. Doesn’t the fundamentally human rule (at least we think so) of “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” apply here?
See, this is the problem with staring for me. It’s not the act itself that upsets me. It’s what goes through my head when I encounter it. The thoughts I ascribe to them when they do it. I try to imagine I am one of them doing the staring, that I’m the kind of person that compulsively and obtrusively stares at people as they do, as well as a number of other despicable acts 10 times worst than staring in my book that they do on a daily basis. (Acts I have spoken about extensively on this blog.) And I can’t help but conclude that their thoughts are, to put it nicely, unflattering.
And, it’s not so difficult for me to accomplish this feat, to slide my size 13 feet into their shoes. You know why? Because I stare at people.
Always have, always will.
As a writer, there’s no way I can create characters with the detail needed to bring them to life without studying people, to an extent. Sometimes I see something interesting about a person’s face. A mustache, a mole, one eye a little larger than the other. A protruding snaggletooth. Whatever. I stare at it for as long as it takes to get the image plate I need on my not-so photographic memory, then I move on. I always try to keep in mind the person’s dignity though, and I’m always wary of how rude it is to do so, and so I try to do it as inconspicuously as possible.
But, I do do it.
This is part of how I cope with staring, believe it or not. I tell myself that staring is to be expected for I am unusual. Very much so here. And these people have very little experience with the unusual and thus find me irresistibly fascinating.
And, I simply ignore it…whenever I can.
Of course, sometimes I can’t.
Sometimes, when I’m in a particularly shitty mood where even the longest walk (or in my case a stress relieving bike ride) would do little good, I don’t feel that the energy behind their stare is one of fascination or mere curiosity, but one of ostracization or negative judgment, or even a conscious calculated effort to provoke me. Thoughts so pervasive, so ingrained, I am virtually powerless to affect them in any way without humiliating myself.
At these times, over the course of 7 years here, I have been prone to act out in various ways. The milder tantrums would be the ones where I’d be inclined to use words not unlike those mentioned in this very interesting post written by Border Breaker. The relief is immediate but temporary, like taking a couple of Tylenol for a brain tumor. I’ve also been known to address this stress inside some kawaii-ness more than willing to be the recipient of my release. But, again, this offers only temporary relief and is as much a treatment for this particular brand of stress as methadone is for heroin addiction.
Jason, my man, do you know why I write so much? Because, I discovered that writing is my coping mechanism. It’s my long walk, my bike ride, my therapy session, my methadone and nicotine patch, my chat with a lifelong friend, and my power source. It is the only activity I do (aside from playing basketball) that can utterly cancel out the ball of stress that gets up in me sometimes and suggests to me that that staring asshole wants me to smash him with my elbow in his fucking mouth. “He’s asking for it! Give it to him,” it tells me.
But, the Creative Force within admonishes me with a shaking pointed finger saying, “now, now, Loco. Temper, temper…You’re not a God in that world, but here, in your world, you rule. You’ve got the power!”
I sit at this computer sometimes ready to rant, to get it all out. But, the rants don’t come. Rants don’t do it for me. Rants always leave me wanting. They depress me as much as this powerlessness to convey, without humiliation, that I come in peace and mean you no harm. So, usually, I sit and think things through, and really get at the reasons why I not only let staring people trouble me, but why I let anything that people who are otherwise inconsequential do provoke me to harm myself.
Yep, I believe depression- when it isn’t the result of some chemical imbalance, something Prozac can remedy- is a self-inflicted ailment that can be managed by changing the way one processes experiences. How does that phrase go? “When life hands you lemons make lemonade” or some hokey shit like that. Well, there’s some truth in it, like in most cliches.
I sincerely hope you have or find a similar outlet. Something you do that makes you feel the power I’m sure you possess, because we all do. That much I’m pretty certain of. And if it happens to be something creative (as most truly powerful endeavors tend to be) all the better.
So, yeah, sure, most often I can be found hiding out in my room or in an Internet cafe like some kind of recluse or Japanaphobe. But, the way I see it, I’m taking that stress, the ugliness that is part of life here (and everywhere else for that matter,) and churning it into something that can benefit not only me and mine but others as well.
And if that ain’t coping I don’t know what is.
I hope one day it won’t be such an ordeal. That these people will miraculously pull their heads out of their asses and smell the world outside this tiny island group…and that people everywhere will learn that change and differences are not to be feared but are inevitable and to be embraced but, you know Jason, in a way, I don’t expect it to ever happen (which, ironically, is also helpful for coping).
I’m kinda grateful for the intensity of the shit I endure here. Perhaps because I have taken to heart the romantic notion of suffering being an integral part of the creative process. I only hope that I haven’t gone as far as to exaggerate that suffering in my mind.
That would be some twisted self-serving shit, now wouldn’t it?
And that’s what’s up!
PS: Thanks again, Jason, for the question and I hope this was useful. If any of you have questions for What’s up, Loco, don’t hesistate. My inbox is always open!