Tim, man, how’s it going?
We’ve never met, actually, but we both live in Tokyo and we both write about video games and we both have a lot of game industry experience. I’ve been following your work for a couple of years, back when it was all on insertcredit.com. Dreaming in an Empty Room is one of my favorite examples of honest-to-goodness real, insightful, video game journalism.
So, as one white guy in Japan to another, we’re cool. You’re not the type of guy who avoids the natives at all costs. I can tell you’re not the particular type of foreigner to arrives in Japan looking for a girlfriend and a job teaching English and leaves a year later with the comfortable sense that Japanese people are all crazy and your home country is infinitely more enlightened. You don’t spend your nights at The Hub and you don’t hijack every conversation with comments about how hot the girls are or how stupid the guys are. You speak Japanese; in fact, you put significant effort into learning the language. In short, you’re a foreigner in Japan with an open mind, somebody who’s here to learn, somebody who has a sense of respect for the locals even when their behavior doesn’t make sense. You are, therefore, part of the minority group of foreigners that I refer to as “not assholes.” We’ve never met, but I can tell. So, we’re cool.
But Tim, man, I gotta talk to you about your article about Japan. Not the article itself; I’m mostly in agreement with your complaints. Smoking really bothers me, I’ve sworn never to work for a Japanese company, I don’t drink alcohol, and the TV is pretty bad (although, if I had to choose, I would have personally taken the people-eating-food shows to task before comedy). No, the problem here is your very thesis:
“I haven’t changed. Japan hasn’t really changed, either. Something else, however, has.”
Dude. You’ve changed. Let me restate this thesis for you in a way that, I think, sums up your problem more succinctly than your 15,979 words.
“I’ve slowly come to the realization that my initial understanding of Japan, my corpus of knowledge about the country that brought me here originally, is woefully incomplete and, in some cases, idealistic and naive. And the more I learn about the Japan, the more mundane and flawed it appears. What originally looked like a theme park has proven to be just another country, with all the warts and problems that every country and culture has. I ate the forbidden fruit of knowledge and now Eden looks a whole lot more like a highly landscaped pile of moss.”
It’s cool man, everybody goes through this stage. That’s right, it’s a stage. Some people hit it earlier, some later, but eventually everybody who spends significant time in Japan passes through it. The good news is, it’s the second to last stage. The earlier stages, which consist of wide-eyed awe, then short-lived self confidence, then utter confusion, and finally anger, are all behind you. Now you’re in reconciliation, which is a rough point to be, but like I said, it’s second to last. The next step, which is the last step, is acceptance.
Japan is a culture with a lot of history, but just like any culture in the world it has positive and negative aspects to it. If you choose to live here, you get positive and negative input in equal doses, just like in any other culture in the world. Ifyou return to America now, after living here for so long, you’ll find a whole lot of negative things about American culture that might have forgotten about. A whole lot of positive things too. Not more or less than Japan, just different things.
I don’t mean to get all zen on you here man, but reconciliation is about changing from within. You can either adjust your perspective or you can leave (or, option three, stay and be miserable and complain all the time and move out of the “not asshole” group). Adjusting your perspective doesn’t mean you have to like all the things that bug you about Japan, it just means that you accept some of those things as normal operating behavior and not some aberration of common sense.
My suggestion, dude, is to separate your complaints into two categories: stuff that bugs you because it makes no sense, and stuff that bugs you because it makes it hard for you to live your life the way you want to. The latter category is probably things like “it’s hard to be a vegetarian here,” or “working late every night for no reason is a horrible way to live,” or “I cannot afford to live here.” These issues could be deal-breakers, and if you can’t satisfy them somehow, you should probably consider moving to a different country. The former category, however, doesn’t really have all that much to do with you; businessmen screaming drunkenly at night is weird, but only because your definition of “normal” doesn’t include it (and, I imagine that many of the locals would agree with you on this point). Common sense is not, in any way, shape or form, common. Letting that former category go and realizing that It’s Ok Even If I Wouldn’t Do It That Way is the first step to the acceptance stage.
That’s not to say that anything goes, or that you have to like everything you see. Au contraire, when you reach acceptance it’s easier to separate the real problems with the society from the flamboyant-but-non-representative actions of vocal minorities.
Personally, I live in Japan because it requires me to learn constantly. The volume of information that I do not understand about the language, the culture, the history, and the people is infinitely vast. There’s lots of stuff I don’t like about Japan, but I live here because it requires me to keep thinking, to keep learning. There was a time when I didn’t know why I wanted to live in Japan, and another time when I thought I wanted to live in Japan for the wrong reasons. So I know how this feels, man. When I leave, it’ll either be because a better opportunity comes along or because one of those lifestyle deal-breakers rears its ugly head.
So Tim, dude, I gotta wrap this up before it turns into my own little novella, but please, take this to heart: it’s you who is changing, and the change isn’t random. It’s a natural progression and it’s the direct result from living and learning about a foreign culture. Love it or leave it, but don’t blame the locals for odd behavior that doesn’t conform to your internal correctness barometer. If you’re going to take Japan to task about something, make it a real issue, like the treatment of women in the workplace or the status of Japanese people with Korean heritage. Figure this out and move on or drop out and find something less challenging to do with your life. Seriously, that’s the junction that you’re at right now.
Alright, I’m getting off my high horse now. London Hearts is on in 5. I’ve got some Deadly Premonition to catch up on, too.
Talk to you later,
PS: If you haven’t done it yet, try getting out of Tokyo for a while. Out of Kanto, I mean. In my limited experience, every other part of Japan is very different than Tokyo. People are jerks in Tokyo.
PPS: If you want to hang out some time and swap game industry war stories, drop me a line. I know a good tan-tan men place in Shibuya. Oh, right, you don’t eat meat. Do you eat fish? How do you survive here, man?