it’s me again. 😛 How are you doing? Attached, you may find a lot of photo’s from previous weekend and today (Saturday). Previous weekend, I went to Arashiyama (mountain in the west of Kyoto). I felt very much out of place and alone that weekend, lots of people staring at me (I actually did end up buying a scarf to cover up my hair) and even someone trying to capture me in film without me noticing.
A week ago I had an MSN conversation with Sander and I’ll summarize it below.
My part of our conversation from May 10th:
I’m enjoying myself, but it’s starting to become a challenge. In general, I feel that everyone is very much on their own. Or rather, it’s difficult to mingle with Japanese. And foreigners.. well, they can take care of themselves so they don’t stick together as much. In that sense, I think it may be easier if you’re in an exchange program, because then you’ll automatically take classes with people and it’s easier to get in touch with people. That’s why I’m so happy with my Japanese class, really. I don’t speak Japanese yet, and in 3 months that’s not really possible either. My vocabulary is growing, but if the teaching method were different I think I would be able to learn faster. If the teaching method of this class is representative for that in entire Japan, I must say I’m very happy with the Dutch system.
In short, I was prepared that sooner or later I would see the downsides of Japan. I’d hoped it would be later. I think the following weeks are going to be a challenge. I especially hope that I’ll meet some people that I’ll see more often, because up to now it was only short meetings. Next Friday is another common meal(footnote 1) and 22nd and 23rd of May we’re going on a trip(ftnt 2) with my house.
I’m just trying to see things as they are: Japan’s just different. But I expect to change opinion a lot before I leave here.The first few weeks I had that real holiday feeling, but now I’m starting to see the downsides. People who’ve lived here longer (5+ years) described it as “It’s okay to be a foreigner in Japan, but I wouldn’t want to be a Japanese in Japan.” Keeping up appearance is very important here. You may have heard that the number of suicides is very high here. I’ve been told that’s because they have to perform perform perform and at the same time walk down the beaten path a lot(3). A Japanese person who works for a firm that has both a Japanese and English division explained that in the English company he had to show initiative and brainstorm: If your idea is bad, they’ll just not use it (no big deal) but any ideas are encouraged because they may spawn new ideas. In the Japanese company, this was very much discouraged.
It’s difficult for women with a career to find a husband, because they’re not following aforementioned beaten path (man works, woman stays home with kids). Actually, it sounds very old fashioned.
And I can come up with lots more examples. It kind of starts when you enter a store and you’re welcomed with “irrashaimaseeeee”. A lot of times, they’ll say it on autopilot and I’m not the only foreigner who perceives this as feigned friendliness: If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. But here, you’re supposed to act that way: Thou shalt be polite. Always. And that’s why most foreigners (most likely including me) don’t discover how rude they are being by Japanese standards. Because Japanese people won’t inform you if you are insulting them, because they have to stay polite. Nice cycle, isn’t it? As foreigner, you get away with a lot of things, because we don’t have the same boundaries(4). Whereas Japanese people have many, many limits imposed. Everyone is bound to prefer their own country over other countries, but I think I can be quite sure about this: It’s much easier in The Netherlands. Another example: If a guy wants to date a girl, he has to ask her “tsukuidatte kudasai” or “please date me”. If he doesn’t ask, then it’s not an official date and it can be perceived as taking advantage of the girl.
I have a better understanding now of how foreign people who live in NL feel. Even with an intermediate language like English, there will be customs, experiences and expressions that may be perceived as insulting for either party. Unfortunately for Japan, it’s the Japanese people who pull the short straw if it comes to being offended, because there are just too many ways you can offend them. In some sense that’s convenient, as foreigner you can get away with a lot. But that’s also the problem a little. It’s like pushing someone. In NL you’ll be pushed back. In Japan, the person who’s being pushed will step back and actually apologize to YOU. And that’s too bad for him and handy for you, you may think.
But it can be very frustrating if you were actually expecting him to push back.
- Which I forgot because I was programming. D’oh. 8)
- This isn’t sure yet because at first they charged the guests (short-stay) 10600 yen while the permanent residents could go for free. I then informed them that that had upset me and that I wasn’t going if it was this expensive. However, yesterday (14th of May) it turned out that some permanent residents aren’t going and that this would cause the price for guests to go down (apparently all of the guests withdrew from the trip upon hearing the price, so maybe they’re changing their mind). I’ll ask next Monday what’s the deal with that.
- Nakarin told me that in Kyoto it’s not so bad, but in a different city she had to be present before the boss and leave after and her results didn’t really matter. This really demotivated her to do much. She said that people would even stay at work this long if they have nothing to do.
- Actually, during Aoi Matsuri today, I noticed how it was very, very, very busy, but nobody touched each other, even when leaving the palace. They don’t push or shove each other when you want to get through, there’s no need to because everyone keeps their distance. The circle of personal space is much bigger here, I think. Actually, this has been confirmed by other stories of how it is not normal to touch a Japanese person. They don’t touch.
Right now, I’m feeling better and not so lonely anymore, because some of the people I spoke the first weeks have contacted me again (or I them) and today I went to see a festival called Aoi Matsuri together with Pattama and Nakarin, two Thai women. I gave them Dutch names, Petra and Nienke 😛 because I keep forgetting their Thai names, haha. At Aoi Matsuri, we sat down on the ground to wait for the parade to start. When it started, I got up only to find that behind me there were four very small women. You can imagine their faces as I got up, haha. Everyone, including me, was very surprised at tall I am compared to most Japanese women. We all laughed and I let them stand in front of me.
Tomorrow, I will probably go to Ginkaku-ji temple again, but this time to walk a path behind it, together with Sylvia. It’s apparently a path that’s not too well-known, except to locals. I’m not sure if we’re going in the morning or evening, but if we’re going in the evening, then maybe I’ll spend the morning at a flea market outside Kyoto city hall.
About the photo’s:
- Don’t touch sign: Apparently on trains and public transportation, there are dirty old men who touch women. You can read an article HERE
- There’s a picture in there of Kyoto’s one and only cyclist path! I found one! 😀 I haven’t ridden my bike in a few days now, because due to the too small bike, too small desk and too small chairs, I’ve found that I can’t stretch my legs as far as I used to. So, as exercise, I’ve been walking.
- Aeon Mall: FOUND IT!
Jaa, mata ne! / Nou, tot later he! / Well, see you later! 🙂