Thursday, September 12, 2013


Dustin and I have just passed the two year mark on our Japan adventure. We are at a turning point in deciding where our next adventure will take place. When discussing it with friends I heard a funny comment,

Japan sounds like utopia. Stay there!

I realized that I may have inadvertently focused this blog on all the fabulous aspects of military life in Japan. I should clarify. I have not discovered a utopian society where I think everyone should live. I often write about our amazing adventures, but I find I have been misrepresenting my host country. Sorry, Japan. You are not perfect.

Japan is generally safer, more polite, and cleaner than most areas in the U.S. The culture fits perfectly with two self-proclaimed geeky introverts. But there are some people that believe that living in Japan is all mikan, Pokemon, and stellar technology.

Racism is a strong disease in Japanese culture. There are no equal opportunity laws that ensure each individual is employed or served regardless of their race. There are beaches, restaurants, stores, and spas that will refuse entry to foreigners. Unfortunately this is based entirely on appearance. A person who has chosen this country as their home and speaks fluent Japanese may still be denied entrance. Generally this is not the case, but it does exist.

English-ese, that strange mixture of English and Japanese, often can produce some surprising or offending comments. We have found many times that the meaning is there, but the American focus of making everything politically correct has skewed our perception of it. For example, a local radio station plays “Old Black People Music” i.e. R&B.

Many Japanese, men and women alike, spend enormous amounts of money and time on perfecting their physical appearance. The topic of one’s physical appearance is not taboo in Japan. While most of the comments are good natured, “Your hair is like golden straw!” some of it can be hurtful. Women that are big and tall may be asked to model for pictures and hear things like, "You the biggest person I've ever seen! Godzilla!"

I have written about alcohol use in Japan. It’s a large part of society from business culture to family celebrations. Unlike in the U.S. there are no public intoxication laws in Japan. Seeing very drunk people, usually men, is a regular occurrence. Most of the time they are “fun drunk” - singing songs in the train station. Sometimes it is closer to peeing on themselves and stumbling down the sidewalk. The trains do not run all night so often the first train of the morning is the “walk of shame” back home.

Another aspect I have not glossed over in previous posts is the general acceptance of public bodily functions. As an American this startles and disgusts me, but upon research have found that it is not so uncommon. I have seen many men pee on buildings, in alleys, and (once!) in the middle of the sidewalk. A coworker described a man vomiting into his laptop bag on the train and the people sitting on both sides of him didn’t move or even acknowledge. I should mention that train seats put you very close to either neighbor.

To conclude, I love living in Japan. Warts, toots, and all. We have been blessed with the opportunity to experience a different way of life. I try to describe to my readers the experience of living in Japan but find that comparing Japan-life to U.S.-life is difficult. As the cliché goes, apples to oranges and all that. I find it hard to verbalize my Japanese experience into the American mind-frame. As a whole, this country is amazing and different and exciting. It may not be utopia, but it is my home and I am happy to experience it.

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