See the introduction to this series here: Letting The Chips Fall Where They May
Click Here to check out tip #1: “You is a very Fluid Concept”
And here for tip #2: “Man the FUCK up!”
In the original 2008 series, tip #3 was Learn That Japanese (If you’ve never read it, here’s a link) where I advise the foreigner taking up residence here in Japan to learn the language spoken by the natives here… Which is kinda like advising someone moving to Alaska to look into getting themselves some warm snow boots and snow tires.
Yes, it was a rather long (entertaining and informative) overstatement of the obvious…at least it’s obvious to most people. Some people think they can skate through life in Japan on English and a few Japanese buzz words and often used phrases…and they’re mostly right, if they’re headed for someplace like Tokyo, or my beloved Yokohama. In the countryside, not so much…
I did slip some insights into the challenges you’ll likely face here, as it pertains to language, into that post, and these I’m pretty proud of and continue to stand by. Such as:
“The Japanese, in general, do not care whether you study or speak Japanese, I’ve learned. I used to think it was because they considered their language a dead, dying or useless one. I later learned that, in fact, in most cases, the assumption is that we foreigners do not or cannot learn their language. Why? From what I could gather they believe that our foreign brains are too limited to handle such a complex language as theirs; accustomed, as our brains are, to the simplicity of (in the case of English speakers) a 26-letter alphabet and what not. So, of course we are forgiven well in advance for not even attempting to accomplish the virtually impossible. No offense taken. We understand. They’ll dish out offenses like these in heaping bowlfuls. And, I used to believe they were aware of how offensive this position is. It spurred me to study harder and prove them wrong, so I’m kind of glad I misunderstood.
But, you know what? They are oblivious….really…I’m not kidding, and I’m not exaggerating or defending Japanese. To them, obviously, Japanese is more complicated than English…I mean, look at Kanji compared to the alphabet. Those simplistic stick figures we use to make words as opposed to those perplexing pictograms they use. And, obviously that means that Japanese brains are more complex than Foreigners’. Obviously moisture collects in the atmosphere and falls to the earth in the form of rain or snow. And obviously E equals MC squared.”
Yep. it was true 4 years ago, and it’s true now.
So, for this re-mastered list of tips I’m going to forgo this bit of superfluous verbiage and replace it with a tip that did not make it onto the original tip list because I wasn’t in a place where I could advise this at that time.
But, I’m ready now…I’ve lived and learned.
The majority of the foreigners (from the west, that is) you’ll meet in Japan will be language teachers. Most of the people here I’d call associates spend a good portion of their lives cramming Western thoughts into Japanese minds via their mother tongue. Why? Well, for the most part, you don’t need an advanced degree in Education, or any particular certification or accreditation…or even Japanese ability. Just a university degree (if that) and come from a country where the language you want to teach is known to be the national language. In other words, it’s the simplest way to get a working visa to stay in Japan.
That’s all well and good if you plan to stay here for the short haul…a year or two, at most. Beyond that, unless you have a love for the profession of teaching and get your rocks off actually getting paid to do what you love, the longer you stay here the more you’ll see the necessity of tip #3.
The Talking Heads explained it pretty well in this little eighties ditty:
Before you know it days become months become years, private students come and go, those cute first-year junior high school kids you adored are coming to visit you and thank you, for they’re headed to some prestigious university like Waseda or Keio or Columbia and, as you stand there smiling, inferring from their implications that you played a critical role in their success, you also try to figure out if this visit was a Japanese obligation like the souvenirs your co-workers (many of whom haven’t said two words to you in English or Japanese in three years) bring you back from their vacations, or is it genuine, because, frankly, you barely recognize the kid; but you decide to accept this gratitude as genuine because otherwise what the fuck are you doing besides letting the days go by???
Or, the student was just in the neighborhood, walking down Memory Lane (which just happens to be the address where you spend eight hours a day imploring kids — only half of which are paying you any mind — to “repeat after me”) and popped in to say, “Hi!” to the Japanese teachers they remember fondly, yet act all awkward around you because, well, they’re proper adults now and that’s what Japanese adults do: act all awkward around you.
And you might ask yourself “Am I making the most of my life? Or just serving time?”
You might answer, “Yes Sirree Bob! I am where I belong. This is what I’ve always wanted. To live abroad in an exotic country and teach exotic children my exotic (to them) language, and assimilate (as much as they’ll let me) into a new culture and communicate in a new language and have cute/handsome foreigners fawning over me (or knocking each other over to avoid being near you), responding to stereotypes about you that precede you wherever you go, even lying sometimes just to see the look on their faces: Hiphop? What’s that? Can I dunk? No, but I’m one heck of an equestrian! My horse could probably dunk!” etc…
If so, then you, my friend, have a life!
If not, you best do yourself a favor and get a life, for doing so is crucial to not only keeping perspective but truly, sanely, making the most of your time here.
Maybe you’re saying to yourself, this new tip is as obvious as the original tip #3, Learn that Japanese.
Perhaps it is…to some. It wasn’t obvious to me.
I mean, until you’ve been here for a while and see for yourself how easy it is to fall prey to the predatory zeitgeist where being polite, overly tolerant, not rocking the leaky boat you’re sailing in, or going against the contaminated grain, is valued over truth and humanitarian reciprocity, to simply serve time with a smile that reflects the plasticity of the smiles around you… until then, it’s not exactly a hellish existence at all. For most of the guys here, at least, it doesn’t even look like a rut. Sure, you’re not getting rich but, between teaching in a public school or Eikaiwa and a handful of private students or other various side gigs utilizing English you can get easily here (for example, you can be a mock man of the cloth and pastor weddings — Japanese don’t give a shit about christianity, — if your Japanese is up to snuff, translating documents, interpreting, hell, I’ve had Japanese clients who pay well just to have me pretty up their English on emails…) you’re making enough money to handle your expenses, get your groove on in the weekends, even save a little, if you’re so inclined or don’t have student loans to pay off. And you got enough girls giggling around you to keep you well sated and feeling like (and, from afar, even looking like ) THE MAN!
If you are an unambitious, uncreative person, shit…you could do worse.
No, the rut that Japan offers is not entirely revolting, especially when compared to other places.
It all depends on what you want out of life, what you feel to be the best use of the time you have on this planet, and how many stanzas do you intend to add to the epic.
For me, life is empty and serves no purpose without creativity…whether it’s writing, or photography, or even doing the study and research necessary to excel at those endeavors, I try to stay in a constant state of creativeness…even with my choice of friends My closest friend in these parts, DJ Ronin, will soon establish himself as the best DJ in Japan and perhaps beyond (Peep his groove here). My other close friend is a kickass marketing maven for a huge company in Tokyo. A third runs a bakery with his wife out here in Kanagawa, producing sweets that would bend your ears back. Hell, even my girl is a talented writer, approaching 50000 words on her first novel. And, the list goes on. I’m drawn to people who are putting their creativity to work, making time serve them and not vice versa.
It took me a while to actually make time serve me. I was stuck (unbeknownst to be, I thought I was having fun) in that servile state described in the above passages for a long time. It was Don King who said that during his years in Jail (IMO a metaphor for life without a creative outlet) for manslaughter he’d had “an epiphanous experience of pure religiosity.” (As only Don can put it.) I too had — not to over nor understate this — an epiphany. One that inspired and uplifted me, and if you’ve read my book, then you know how this inspirational moment compelled me to write, and get even more creative than I was before coming to Japan.
Don King may not be the most savory character, but wisdom can be gleaned from some unlikely sources sometimes. He gave us all some words to live by:
“I didn’t serve time. I made time serve me!” Don King
PS: And if you haven’t read Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist yet, what are you waiting for? A personal invitation? Get yours now…don’t let the days go by! Find out why it was number #1 in The UK yesterday, and number #1 in Germany last week! It’s available in paperback and E-book version here).