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08 March 2010

I'm moving to Japan next week, and this post isn't helping. [More:]

I think all my angst comes from two things:

1) My fairly awful experience in China (I know, not the same country);

2) Unfamiliarity with the country and culture...

... you know, outside of anime and video games, but that to me is like the Chinese basing their knowledge of America on Prison Break (which they loved).

Anyone here have any positive living in Japan stories? I won't be in Tokyo; I'll be up in Iwate Prefecture, in the largest village in the country. Any tips? Anything at all?

One plus: The boy will be with me, so unlike my China experience, he'll be 30 minutes away, not 18 time zones.
post by: gc at: 13:48 | 21 comments
Unless I'm mistaken, you will be living somewhere safer than any location in the entire United States.
posted by Joe Beese 08 March | 14:25
Both gomichild and flapjax at midnite live in Japan... there may be others I can't bring to mind at the moment.
posted by BoringPostcards 08 March | 14:28
Yeah, the guy who wrote that post is a douche. For every thing he complained about, there will be ten really wonderful and neat-o things.
posted by Specklet 08 March | 14:34
It's great, you'll like Iwate-ken, I have friends in Morioka and Iwate-shi. It's probably true of most places, but definitely in Japan, I experienced periodic swings of temperament wherein I would hate absolutely everything about Tokyo, where I lived. I think the dude who wrote that piece is probably dealing with that kind of thing.

Culture shock and its aftereffects can be pretty serious, especially since Japan has so many Western-style things that aren't necessarily imitations per se, just a strange reworking of something ostensibly familiar to a Westerner, but catered to the Japanese taste. Which is an important concept: references to Japanese tastes especially as opposed to perceived Western tastes are ubiquitous.

You may grow weary of having similar conversations with Japanese people again and again in which they tell you how Japanese people feel about whatever, and ask you to elucidate how Westerners feel about it. Especially up in the Northeast, where Westerners are less common than in Tokyo or Osaka. Whether you want to be one or not, you will be a cultural ambassador to many of the people you will meet. I enjoyed it, as an American it was fun to destroy people's assumptions about my country and me.

If you have any qualms about bathing with strangers, I recommend you get over them. Onsen are the best, and you'll be in a region with plenty of nice hot springs. Specific to Iwate-ken, in Morioka-shi, there's a huge (not hot-spring fed, but who cares) public bath complex called Mars, with a real variety of baths in it (don't worry, sexes are segregated in the naked places), among them is the most awesome thing, a bath about twenty feet beneath a wide bamboo pipe that sends a constant thick stream of hot water onto your shoulders as you sit immersed in the bath, like a hot water massage, oh it's heavenly, really.

Also, get to know your fishmonger, or greengrocer. Don't do all your shopping at supermarkets. People with whom you have daily transactions will warm up to you, and if you try to learn some Japanese, ask some questions about what's freshest, what's the best way to cook such-and-such, suddenly the whole market street will open up to you and your neighborhood will become a place where you can relax and feel at home.

I loved being in Japan. I think someday I'll go back, but I don't know, things get tangled and disappearing becomes difficult. Have a great time! I hope you love it, too.

Also, I have loads of travel information and would love to answer any questions you might have, including book recommendations and stuff specific to Iwate-ken. My email address is in my profile if you're interested.
posted by Hugh Janus 08 March | 14:35
Also, get to know your fishmonger, or greengrocer. Don't do all your shopping at supermarkets. People with whom you have daily transactions will warm up to you, and if you try to learn some Japanese, ask some questions about what's freshest, what's the best way to cook such-and-such, suddenly the whole market street will open up to you and your neighborhood will become a place where you can relax and feel at home.

Quoted for truth! Everywhere I've ever lived abroad, this has made a world of difference. Food words are some of the easiest to learn, too.

Good luck!
posted by mdonley 08 March | 15:47
Umm... OK, I haven't finished that little Kotaku screed, but it reminds me so much of the American movie, Office Space. It's one of those anthropological principles, where things seem strange and wrong because they're being done by foreigners in a foreign language.

I'm not saying that Japanese business culture doesn't have its own idiosyncrasies, and that these idiosyncrasies don't exclude a certain percentage of the population. I'm just saying that it's true for everyone - we just have a hard time seeing the idiosyncrasies of our own culture that might be exclusive.
posted by muddgirl 08 March | 16:00
For example, the "irasshaimase" thing: the author has clearly never been at one of those food establishments where the employees are forced to shout BIG TIPPER or the like every time they get a tip. Even when it's just the change from a dollar. Or fucking ring a bell or something.

Many of the words used perfunctorily in the Japanese language have both useful purposes and cold, hard semantic meanings.

What, you mean like "Good Night"? Or "How are you?" Does this guy think that Americans seriously want to know how he is every time we say that phrase?
posted by muddgirl 08 March | 16:06
He's probably just having one of those frustrating moments in Japan. The fact that annoying things are universal doesn't make his current annoyance any less real, though. I see what you're saying, muddgirl, but it sounds more like he's experiencing a long-term symptom of culture shock than that he's a douche or a bad person.

Perhaps he shouldn't be giving vent to all this in public; he'll probably regret it in a month or so, if experience is any guide.
posted by Hugh Janus 08 March | 16:34
I just don't think anyone should read that article and assume that "Tim Rogers" is an expert on a Westerner's Experience in Japan, and that they won't like Japan because Tim Rogers has a bit of wanderlust. I don't think he initially intended it to be that way, but we humans can't help making patterns.
posted by muddgirl 08 March | 16:48
we humans can't help making patterns.

Or whining. :)
posted by Melismata 08 March | 17:00
(I meant the blogger, that is.)
posted by Melismata 08 March | 17:01
Not to mention patterned whining like my ex.
... or my whining about my ex. heheh
posted by Ardiril 08 March | 17:16
Oh he's doing a major vent. There are lots of blogs and stories out there about the positives aspects of being in Japan.

I've been here over 13 years and I wouldn't have stayed if I hated it and it was awful.

There are things which are stressful and annoying - but you find that in every country.

Iwate won't be as full on as Tokyo is - you'll probably find people more chilled and friendly.
posted by gomichild 08 March | 17:20
I just don't think anyone should read that article and assume that "Tim Rogers" is an expert on a Westerner's Experience in Japan

Oh, definitely, that's for sure. For such readings, bearing in mind that all these experiences are individual and predicated by an individual's circumstances and history and above all, timing, I'd recommend books by Donald Keene or David Price; for a somewhat anachronistic but nonetheless historically rich view, try Oliver Statler.

There are some real classics on village life, not really up-to-the-moment but that doesn't matter so much if one is simply trying to enrich understanding; John F. Embree's 1937 ethnography of Suye Mura is made complete by his wife Ella Lury Wiswell's journal, compiled and edited into a book called "The Women of Suye Mura" by Robert J. Smith. Of course, these are prewar studies; regardless of age, they build a framework for understanding the concept of furusato (a nostalgic hearkening to generations-old village life) that commonly pops up in conversations with Japanese people (a nostalgia which is for better or worse mirrored in many cultures). And since gc plans to live in a village, if it isn't particularly useful, it might be interesting.

I'm not terribly familiar with internet-based chronicles of Westerners' experiences in Japan, but I've come across a few articles here and there. There are blogs other than Kotaku that might be more interesting, depending on the reader.
posted by Hugh Janus 08 March | 17:33
We're going to Japan in 3 weeks for "spring break" and that FPP freaked me out a bit too.
posted by Obscure Reference 08 March | 20:13
Thanks for the advice, guys! I'm excited and terrified at the same time. I'm doing the teaching english thing, and my Japanese is slim to none. Don't worry! I plan on speaking it; it sounds like I'll have to being in a village, rather than a city. Once I get good enough, I'll absolutely make friends with the fishmonger and greengrocer.

The company I'm going to work for sounds a lot better than the company I worked for in China (which, anything would be better than that company). That, and I'll have a real visa (don't ask, China again, long story), they're already doing 10 times better than the Chinese company ever did.
posted by gc 08 March | 20:43
I live in Japan! Faaar away from Tokyo, but the opposite direction from you.

I was reading that yesterday but didn't get all the way through before I decided I'd rather sleep. However, there are a lot of things he encountered that I have never encountered in my life here working for a pretty gigantic company (2000+ employees). A lot of his things are very very Tokyo-centric. I was never forced to drink something (although I'll generally get one drink and sip it throughout the evening). I was never forced to go to a work party, although I would say it is a relatively important part of the work culture. My division only has about 3 a year, though, so it's not as if I have to go to one every week.

Movies in my area are 1000 after 6 pm. You can get a nice little apartment in my area for around 50000 a month. You can get a bigger one for that price if you live just a little further away.

Being a vegetarian is definitely tricky, and most restaurants do not offer many (if any) vegetarian options. Vegetables in general at restaurants are kind of few and far between. Make your own food! Sure, produce can be expensive. Just buy it anyway, factor that cost into your budget.

My main complaint about Japan is the stinginess with days off. And the lack of restaurant vegetables and proper bread for sandwiches. Otherwise it's good fun.

posted by that girl 08 March | 22:46
that girl:

The drinking was my biggest concern. I'm using to having to say "no" more than once, to the point where I'm not really concerned about upsetting people anymore. That doesn't mean I wouldn't hang out in a bar with people and talk. I was surprised at how much he has to deal with it. As for the vegetarian thing, it's not a concern. And the smoking and crappy bread is pretty consistent with my experiences in China. I am looking forward to canned coffee, though.
posted by gc 09 March | 00:15
I would suggest at least getting a ginger ale or something so that you at least have something to drink, even if it isn't an alcoholic drink.

I think . . . most things come down to the crap shoot of coworker/manager types. Some are nice, some are awful, but that isn't in any way particular to Japan. Standing up for yourself is probably always the best course of action!

I am always happy to be a source of information about more-rural Japan, although I can't guarantee that my Kyushu experiences will match up with your Tohoku experiences. Yours, for example, will likely be much colder!
posted by that girl 09 March | 02:53
That Rogers article is stupid, and should in no way influence you or make you freaked out about moving here. Like gomichild above, I'm a long term resident (16 years in Tokyo), and it suits me just fine.

On the drinking thing, I know lots of people here in Tokyo who don't drink, and I've never seen or known it to be any big deal. They just order their oolong-cha and everything's fine.

That Rogers article is stupid, and should in no way influence you or make you freaked out about moving here.

If you happen to be coming to Tokyo sometime, drop me a line at MeFiMail, and good luck with your new adventure.
posted by flapjax at midnite 10 March | 18:35
Hey, guys. I'm in YVR right now. I just wanted to thank everyone who posted. I'm really excited, and I find having the boy by my side helps tremendously.
posted by gc 18 March | 12:59
Feral houses. || Hope me, technically-inclined bunnies!