See the introduction to this series here: Letting The Chips Fall Where They May
OK let’s go…
I think the last two paragraphs of that post pretty much sum up why I find that post problematic to the point of regrettable now. They are:
“We’ve all brought our ideals with us to this land and we assert them in everything we say and do. And, if Japan didn’t want to learn of them they shouldn’t have allowed us in or in some cases invited us. We have the inalienable right to be ourselves! Trust me, I know how you feel. And, you know what? THAT’S OFFENSIVE to them! So, do yourself a favor, and don’t be yourself.
I know, I know…it begs the question: Who shall I be then? That’s up to you, but if you live here that person had better be someone less disruptive to the status quo or loco awaits. Personally, I chose to be the happiest, go luckiest, friendliest, non-threatening-est, shyest, playful, joyful gaijin they’ve ever met. (-: I deserve an Oscar!”
I was being facetious, in a very angry, demeaning and ultimately clumsy way. I wouldn’t retract all of that post, of course. For the most part, I didn’t mince words. I just laid down the truth as per my observations and experience. Only, when it came time to wrap it up, I bollocksed the conclusion, so intent was I on pissing on those Japanese I’d come to detest (and calling it rain) particularly those whose intolerance and xenophobia make living among them such a crucible at times, while using the same urine stream to not-so subtly mock those foreigner folk who are well-aware of the pervasive indecency and indignities of life here (for foreigners in this case) yet tacitly endorse it through denials, belittling those who speak out against it, rationalizing / justifying / apologizing for or dismissing it in any way.
I was clearly in a great deal of psychic and emotional pain when I wrote that series, and probably a bit depressed as well, and was merely trying to write my way through hell! Even re-reading it forced me to revisit that extreme anguish.
So, yeah, not surprisingly, my conclusion was rather regrettable.
In particular, that last line: I chose to be the happiest, go luckiest, friendliest, non-threatening-est, shyest, playful, joyful gaijin they’ve ever met. (-: I deserve an Oscar!
The fact is, prior to writing that series, I did indeed attempt to be that guy who, despite the ugliness going on around him at every turn, retained a perma-smile and a certain joie de vivre. I clung to platitudes and recited inspirational quotes in my head, like this ditty from “The Honeymooners”:
But, I failed…bitterly. I’d walk down the street and see Japanese people who’d only pause from their joyful banter and carefree frolicking long enough to inform me, through some gesture or slight, that my presence was cause for trepidation and apprehension; or I’d see some foreigner, black or white, gallivanting around apparently in a state of oblivious contentment, insensitive or desensitized to slights, or in spite of all this fear-tinged energy looked for all intents and purposes like the happy wanderer in nirvana, and I’d feel a hardly containable rage.
I’m feeling a little better now, thanks. I’m in a slightly better place.
For one, at the time of the writing of that series, I had no idea that my thoughts and feelings were shared by so many. I’ve since learned that I’m not alone. Misery loves company, sure, but what that saying doesn’t say is that often, in the company of others, particularly those who commiserate yet are solution-oriented, one can find the support one needs to make it through the tough patches here in kawaiiland. And, to hear myself — a man who thrives on solitude — say such a thing is proof positive of the remastered tip #1 way NOT to go Loco in Yokohama: remember that you cannot allow yourself to become this stagnant thing, “you” is a fluid concept.
Of course, you’d like to hold on to those core values…the ones that have managed to help you navigate life prior to arrival on the shores of this moral proving ground, but don’t make the mistake of being afraid to question those values and mores. What worked for you there might not work for you here.
I’m from New York where we cherish the Sinatra-ism: “If I can make it here I’ll make it anywhere!” OK…but, keep in mind that “I” must retain a certain amount of flexibility, for without it you’re essentially going against nature, the very essence of which is change! And, in doing so, try to think of going through changes like going skydiving, and your core values like a parachute…assuming you desire a controlled landing, it’s best to keep that chute maintained.
To state the matter plainly, upon arriving in Japan, westerners are likely to be inundated with ideas that challenge your general sense of propriety. There’s no way around it…you will be treated as a perpetual outsider, you will be shamelessly stereotyped, and depending on your ethnicity, height, weight, etc… you may even be subject to criminalization and other utterly unacceptable behavior on a regular basis. These are consistent issues that most any foreigner here will attest to.
So, the question becomes how to respond to it, if at all.
As I wrote in that 2008 series:
“I’ve listened to hundreds of Gaijin from all over the western world speak about their ideal, and their reactions to Japanese behavior vary from “How dare the little yellow savages treat me like a second class citizen!” to “I know exactly how they feel and I agree: Gaijin will sooner or later destroy what little culture and tradition this country has managed to retain,” and everything in-between.
Well, this is where keeping “you” fluid comes in handy.
See, the “me” that wrote that first series held in considerable contempt the Japanese culprits of the above behavior, but my response was generally to grin in their xenophobic grills and pretend to be above it all. “Your petty ignorant cruelty doesn’t trouble me, you piss poor peasants. I exist on a higher plane, respond to a higher calling. I’m enlightened.”
Anyway, that was all bullshit. I was really harboring an intense anger and a burgeoning hate that would later manifest itself in many forms, several of which impacted my well being (back pain, weight gain, increased inability to maintain patience even among friends, etc) not to mention microaggressive (and not-so micro) retaliatory assaults on the natives.
Case and point, tip #1 of that first series.
My conclusion could basically be paraphrased as: the natives here are like children or social invalids, so do yourself a big favor and think of them and treat them as such. Modify your moral compass to their magnetic core, and you’ll be successfully warding off change (and insanity) with an unhealthy dose of condescension and compassion under the guise of assimilation. Sure, it goes against what you know to be in the best interest of mutual respect, cooperation and tolerance, and may be doing irreparable damage, disabling you in ways that at present, in this environment, are difficult to know, but self-preservation is the first law of nature, right? So, why not…
Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and strike that!
Hell, Japan, like any new environment, has its joys and challenges. and these will change you, perhaps in equal measure.
Embrace that idea.
But, the charm of Japan, which (at least for me) makes it unique, especially when compared to New York, is that twilight zone effect. Here in Kawaiiland, you’ll find there’s a mind-numbing morality laced with a lush lasciviousness, a tranquilizing tranquility born of an unnatural neutrality (though believed to be otherwise) wrapped in a quilt of harmonious phoniness that assaults the senses and puts into questions many of the things you thought you knew about reality and human nature. So, you slip into this zone…or rather dive in, cuz the water’s clearly warm and everyone around you is having the time of their lives. And before you know it, so are you. But, the thing is, with this cultural amusement park — that is, once you’ve decided or been lured into staying — the price of admission is not paid upon entry, nor do they slap you with the bill when you’re exiting…you should be so lucky.
Nah, it’s collected while you’re actually still on the ride! While you’re still intoxicated on endorphins or incapacitated by pleasure.
And, the price is a tiny piece of this fluid concept called “you,” and the ideas you held dear before coming here. The trick is to replace the piece with something of equal or greater value, something that keeps your soul an integrated whole and intact, and you flowing down the river of change…
Preferably, something real.
God knows you’ll need it!
PS: Check out my book: Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist, available on Amazon here and at most online book shops around the world! You’ll be glad you did, and so will I.