For my final tip I’ve decided to bring this series full-circle. I know I said in tip #1: Don’t be you, and I truly believe by discarding some of those things that you thought were so essential to being you you can enhance your experience here. Japan will surprise you and maybe even broaden your horizon if you stay here long enough and give her half a chance. But, in the end, you will never be Japanese, no matter how hard you try (even if you become a Naturalized Citizen). You will ultimately still #10 be you. So, just relax and have fun!
It’s Christmas time in Japan, y’all. Nobody does Christmas like the Japanese do Christmas. The above video captures Xmas here so well I had to share it with you guys. I’m not Christian and neither are the Japanese, so Christmas is just another work day after which you go eat chicken and cake…and if you like Xmas lights (like I do) you can go check out some cool illuminations (that’s what they call them anyway.)
The above is this year’s Illumination Show in Roppongi Hills. It’s a field of lights! Makes the certain constellations, and even a shooting star…Cool, ne. Like if the Hayden Planetarium light show were on the Great Lawn in Central Park. The Japanese go all out with their lighting. On my block back in Brooklyn, my neighbors were very competitive with their Xmas lighting schemes and designs. And, I loved it. People used to drive through my street slowly to admire their labor. It seems the Japanese are competing with Manhattan and Paris…and holding their own in many cases. It ain’t as garishly clever as Santa scaling down the side of a house like a burglar while all of the reindeer (full-sized) and the sleigh sit on a roof looking like their ready to speed off as soon as Santa returns with a sack of loot (my neighbor did that theme one year) but it’s kawaii (cute) and that’s the Japanese aim.
Anyway, back to business…
It can get a bit stressful adjusting to life in Japan (the biggest understatement of this entire series) especially during the holidays. So foreigners here, in their efforts to maintain their sanities, are known to do a lot of things the Japanese sometimes object to. Yep, in order to blow off a little steam sometimes you gotta rock the boat a little…or in this case the train.
Most Japanese people do not approve of steam releases like the Yamanote Halloween Party Train. The Japanese rarely if ever break the law, or rules, or guidelines, or even approach the appearance of breaking them. Mainly because the penalty for crimes in Japan are very severe and social penalties are stiff, too! And they always have been, so it’s ingrained in the culture now (the penalty for any crime back in Japan’s good old days was death.) The Japanese even go out of their way not to do anything that would disturb anyone else (anyone Japanese that is.) Thus Japan is an extremely rigid, anal, yet safe country. However, most Japanese believe that foreigners do not share the same respect for the law, and rules and guidelines as they do (thus jeopardize the safety and security and status quo of their country) so they are very afraid of foreigners. Especially if a large group of foreigners decide to get drunk and raucous in public.
And even some foreigners here believe that such events are a blight and go against their endeavors to live here in peace. These events also make their efforts to assimilate more difficult. They believe, with good reason, that if Japanese see or hear about such behavior they will use it as an excuse to further ostracize foreigners, themselves included. They feel that their fellow foreigners here need to live by, at minimum, the same standard or up to a higher standard than they did back home. Some feel that we should, ideally, aspire to an even higher standard than the Japanese in order to make strides towards equal treatment and social acceptance.
I think it’s reminiscent of the African American struggle for civil and equal rights in America. The way African Americans initial inroads into acceptance were through over-achievement in education and overly puritanical and pious behavior in order to show whites that they were worthy of social acceptance by even white standards (which is ironic, since their former enslavers standards became their aspiration.) Followed by over achievement in entertainment and sports to show their artistic and athletic prowess as well as their marketability and profitability. In other words, to prove we were equally human. Because of this similarity I don’t blow off the disapproving foreigner’s concerns as simply puritanical nonsense. Maybe they’re on to something. Maybe there are some Japanese people sitting on the fence trying to decide if foreigners should be respected and treated as human beings with the same foibles and need to release (sometimes even in public) their rage against the machine (so to speak,) same as Japanese people are, and, if so, events like the Yamanote Halloween Train push them off the fence into the decidedly, “no, they are baka kimoi gaijin” (no, they are stupid disgusting foreigners) yard. It’s very possible.
But, I suspect, that’s what makes it more fun for the party people. I’ve never done it…a little lame for me, but I understand the desire and need for it entirely. It’s a chance to be anti-establishment thereby releasing some steam and having a little fun at the Japanese
expense. If their behavior comes off as a little obnoxious by Japanese standards, like they say, syouganai jyan. Besides, if foreigners only did things Japanese approve of, personally, I don’t think it would make any difference. Most Japanese currently hold me responsible for something a couple of soldiers did on Okinawa to some little girl a few years back (there’s actually a new revenge movie out about it called “The First Breath of Tengan Rei”) and my being a model citizen (recently anyway) has not changed public opinion much.
So, I’ve decided to be myself (as much as I can). And if I was the kind of person that partied on trains back home, or the equivalent, I might join the party on Halloween, but that’s not my style at all.
Individually, the possibilities are great. I have met Japanese individuals here who are totally capable of tolerance, and then some. But, in general, I personally believe Japan will probably never be gaijin-friendly enough to satisfy gaijin and foreigners will likely never be Japanese enough to satisfy Japanese people. Their need for predictability, their style of intuitive communication, and their propensity to stereotype (among other issues) precludes the likeliness of Japanese ever becoming tolerant of those from a different background. I think the best that can be expected, at least for a long while, is what we have now: A small number of open-minded people who are so wonderful that they make a good number of foreigners’ stay here amazing experiences despite the treatment they receive from the public at-large.
But, maybe I’m being a little pessimistic…I’m a work in progress. (-:
I mean, if you asked an African American even 30 years ago if there’d ever be a black president they would have laughed at you the same way my Japanese student laughed at me when I asked him did he think there would ever be a Half-Chinese Japan-born Prime Minister in Japan.
I used to blow off steam by making Japanese people feel as uncomfortable as they made me feel. Kind of ridiculous, I know, but I wanted to teach them a lesson, and not an English lesson. A morals lesson; A you reap what you sow lesson…Something about the people here had unleashed something in me. Something that had been dormant for years. I’m usually pretty rational. I am the type of person more likely to try to resolve problems with words than with violence. I really believe the pen is mightier than the sword. But, I know that there is also a self-righteous rage inside of me, angry and sensitive, impatient and intolerant, and I have to take care of it, like some vicious dog kept chained in a basement., with absolute loyalty to it’s owner and absolute contempt for people who it feels has wronged its owner. It kind of scares me.
I’ve always managed to leash him myself. Occasionally, he’d peek his head out of my soul’s basement and let people get a glimpse of him and that would be enough. They’d back down or scurry away. So I guess you can say I’ve had a pretty blessed life. My sense of right and wrong is rarely spat at. At least not in person. Not until I came here.
But, living here, I’ve been fortunate enough to learn how I had been able to keep myself in check. In NY I had a circle of friends around me that supported me. I could talk to them and sort out complicated issues like right and wrong and all that gray in-between. Also, I had fun in NY. I had an assortment of ways to release. My anger is fed and empowered by self-righteous pressure built up without release. This pressure kind of pushes it out like a contraction pushes a baby out into the world. It needs release periodically. And harassing Japanese doesn’t quite do it. Nor did my sexual conquest in Japan. Nor did my sitting, drinking and complaining in Gaijin bars. Nor would drinking and gallivanting on Halloween do it.
I needed to really have fun!
My favorite ways to have fun are: writing, reading, studying, watching movies, playing basketball, going to Onsens and hanging out with friends. Pretty simple, huh? Staying sane in Japan is just a balancing act. The most important thing is to know yourself and be true to yourself and that’s difficult in any country. I’ve only found that here in Japan who I am is thrown into even starker relief, and thus I am able to appreciate and get more in touch with who I am and what makes me tick than at any other time in my life.
I can be me and have fun and that’s how I keep it together.
Well, that’s my top 10 list. I hope you’ve found it a useful and entertaining read. It was a lot of fun to write. And, sharing my thoughts and feelings with you guys is the ultimate way I keep loco at bay.
…so thanks a bunch! (-:
And, oh, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Xmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah,
Yoi Otoshi wo 良いお年を,
Akemashite Omedetto Gozaimasu あけましておめでっとございます,
and all that good stuff… (-:
PS: Here’s a little something that always makes me smile, from those two comic geniuses Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy