Living in Japan does strange things to a gaijin. Not only do most gaijin appear and behave in a way that is on the extreme end of different to the Japanese, we are also legally referred to as aliens and generally looked down upon from a society that still beareaucratically believes it is a far more superior civilisation.
People of all ages will out and out stare at you on the train, and there are times when bank tellers, ward office staff or even restaurant waiters will pretend not to understand you - even when you are speaking Japanese.
And if you want to look at it the other way, the Japanese are so policy driven that going from A to Z requires passing through points B to Y along the way. If it is not in the manual or rule book, do not ask because the frustration that follows can be hard to shake - at some point, most gaijin have tried to add ketchup/mayonnaise/tomato a McDonald's hamburger only to be told this is impossible. Or just try asking for soy milk at Du Tour Cafes.
So why am I so desperately homesick for the place?
As I say to my friends and family, Japan is a country that has to be seen to be believed. And even when you are in it, you are still constantly shaking your head with an incredulous "Shinjiraranai!! - I don't believe it! From a culture with so many layers that peel away like an onion, only to reveal another layer that will make you cry out of either gleeful joy or unnerving frustration, to the Japan-only brand of crazy that affects fashion, fads, language and people alike, living in Japan opens up endless possibilities. It is a country that constantly challenges you and one in which you can definitely learn something new form every single day.
Japan is not for everyone. It does take a tough skin and an open mind. Whether that involves trying the food, experiencing festivals, gaining an understanding of the way in which society works in both a professional and working environment as well as a social one, you need to be constantly ready for the uptake. It is also the polite thing to do and the right thing to do. I have had so many conversations with foreigners who hate the place, have nothing better to do than pick on the country and people with a false sense of superiority and do not want to go beyond their comfort zones - even going so dar as to refusing food offered to them in business and social settings, making an active decision not to learn the language and approaching everything with the attitude of "Why bother?". I then often ask them why they are here and why they do not go home. Japan certainly does not want people like that and neither do the gaijin who love living there.
i am going back to Tokyo tomorrow after nearly 4 weeks away and cannot wait to get back in the hustle and bustle of it with my fiance (my missing Japan has not been helped either by the fact that he is still there while I have been in Melbourne). We love spending our free nights wandering around different parts of the city and soaking it up with our cameras and each other.
Like I said, living in Japan does strange things for a foreigner. It gets under your skin like a dream you suddenly remember having, triggered by a sense or a smell, the memory of which gets stronger and more vibrant as time goes on.
Labels: Japan, Osaka, That's Japan Baby, Thoughts of Sorts, Tokyo