There is a very violent Japanese animation I watched a long time ago called Ninja Scroll. In it the main character has an awesome quote he says:

"People are people no matter where you go"

Before I moved to Japan I used to think that Japanese society was the best. As a social scientist I spent a lot of time criticizing American society and seeing all of its flaws. I was looking forward to a change and thought Japan is going to be better.

I ended up finding that it's not better just different. 

At first I found that awkward shyness of everyone relieving. No one gets in your face so everyone must be getting along right? Wrong! What I found was that although no one gets in your face they will simply ignore you when they don't agree. This leads to a type of social isolation that is unprecedented in the U.S.

I recently said goodbye to some good British friends I made that were in Japan for a little over a year. They said that they loved Japan and really enjoyed the culture. I asked them while you were here how many Japanese friends did you make? The problem was that although they were surrounded by Japanese people, they could never really seem to get close to any of them. Now I should make it clear that this was not the reason they moved. But it was something that occurred that is not uncommon to people who stay in Japan short term as an Expat. 

In its design Japanese culture has clubs and clicks that are impenetrable to Gaukokjin (foreigners). No matter how much Japanese you learn, or how much you know about Japanese culture, you will always be a foreigner. 

Now there is exceptions to this. I mean obviously I have lived here for 3 years and my wife of 10 years is Japanese. But even she tells me, about how amazed she was, at the way Western culture facilitates close friendships with people that have nothing in common. In Japan the friendships are facilitated by work,school or some other type of social club. But in places like the U.S. they form in more random circumstances. 

Now I think the problem is me. I critically analyze everything so I am starting to believe that you can put me anywhere and I will find the good and the bad in any society. But as time passes I have learned to accept that living in Japan means making some friends you never knew you would make. For example one of my good friends is Japanese Ex-gangster and Pro MMA fighter. We get some funny looks from people when we hang out. But I hang out with him once a week. He was surprised about our friendship and told me that one of the things he likes about me is that I don't judge him. His past and tattoos are fascinating to me. 

Saying goodbye and having reunions are the way things work

Another good friend of mine was recently transferred to Yokohama and works for an Import/Export company. We meet once or twice a year and have dinner at a mutual friend of ours restaurant in Kobe. The point I am trying to make is that my problems are not just unique to me being a foreigner, but to everyone in Japan. Japanese people have a hard time forming close relationships because of the nature of their business culture transferring  them all over Japan. Even my MMA friend was gone for a year because of being transferred to train and fight up North.

Which brings me back to the people I left behind in the U.S. It is the same difference. 

"People are People no matter where you go"

But I'd like to add that this is not a bad thing :) 

Social Gelo with Angelo 

Angelo Ferrer (M.S. Psychology) 

 

1 Comment