Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The English Eigo complex.

If there is one thing I could name that has amazed me the most here, it is the "Eigo complex" (or English complex) that Japanese people have. Now initially, I did not really think much of it when I entered the country. English is just a language, so what more is there to think of it?

People here will cower from you if you speak to them in English. It is not because they dislike you, but it is because they are intimidated. People here study English from a young age and are taught that it is a very valuable skill, therefore it is highly valued. If you take a look around, there are advertisements for English language schools literally everywhere. As a career, I am unsure of how it is perceived, but I know that having that ability is very sought after here.

The image associated with English-speakers here are that they are White.. not Asian, not any other race. If you happen to be a White-American speaking both English and Japanese fluently, you have quite an advantage here. Just from witnessing the experiences of others, I have seen your typical White male suddenly become popular overnight. Case in point? If you fit the bill, perhaps you might have a chance out here to do something (hopefully not just teaching English).

As for myself, I am an American born Japanese. My Japanese is nowhere near native-level, but it is more than enough to get by. Everyday is a study session for me, whether it is me learning new words, learning harsh lessons, or understanding the different ways of thinking. The only downside to this is that I am frequently mistaken for being Japanese. Is being looked at as "Japanese" a good thing? Yes and no.

  1. Japanese people will hold "Japanese" expectations of you if they consider you as one of their own. Most people cannot fathom the idea of a Japanese person growing up outside of the country, let alone not being able to speak their language fluently.

  2. If you one day you make some kind of mistake that completely offends someone Japanese, you won't be able apologize and get away with it like a "foreigner" can.

  3. You won't be quite as sought after. It could be just treated as 'special.' It may be a good or bad thing, but your image won't save you here. The best you may get are stares from other people walking by wondering, "Why is this Japanese guy speaking fluent English?"

Now this might be a nice argument to defend myself with, but one has to consider the view of how 'non-Japanese' might see their experience here:

  1. Japanese people will not hold "Japanese" expectations of you, therefore, they will just excuse you from pretty much anything. This also means they won't take the time to explain to you what anything means.

  2. If you one day make some kind of mistake that completely offends someone Japanese, you may get away with it easily.. but somehow you don't feel right. In a way, you want to be treated more as 'one of them.'

  3. Be prepared to get the stares and the funny looks. You fit the bill of being the 'foreigner,' but now you have a lot of 'show and tell' to do. Be prepared for the best or the worst.

I guess there is no real 'middle-ground' here, so to speak. If you are mistaken for being Japanese, you'll get the full harsh lesson on what it is to be. If you are not, people may never take the time to show you what it is, nor accept you as one of them. What would you choose?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Age and Respect in Japan.

Hi everyone,

Today I will be discussing an issue that has interested me a great deal ever since I was educated on this subject.

Now, I am sure that all of you reading this blog have been told at some point 1.) You are still young, so that's why you don't know, 2.) You don't understand, because of your age, 3.) You have to grow another few years to know. Whether it be Japan or America, we've all been taught to "respect our elders." While it might be more loosely viewed in the US, it is especially strict out here in Japan. Today I'll discuss how prevalent this mentality is out here. To start off, I'll explain just how much it impacts society.

Just within everyday society, the Japanese are taught to respect those who are older than them, even if it is just by a few months! The idea that you have lived a few months longer, equates to a greater experience and maturity level. This also means that you, the younger one, must change your language to be more respectful of their status (despite it being earned only by the time you were born).

As a working citizen in Japan, if you are in your 20's, it is common to make an income between 25,000 USD to 45,000 USD. Your salary is assumed to increase about 10k per each year passed. However, when you reach your mid 30's (or work 10 years at the same company), it is assumed that your income will suddenly more than double or triple. This system is enforced to promote company loyalty and pretty much keep your life set in one path. Your age alone has just promoted your job status and income level!

In the US, you can make about 100,000 USD a year just depending on your job experience, abilities, and 'salary haggling' skills. This makes attaining a high-paying job achievable even in your early to mid-20's. This does not, unfortunately, guarantee your job stability at one company for greater than 10 years like Japanese companies do. Your life path is what you make of it, therefore, you are able to freely switch jobs more flexibly.

Just from this example alone, it is pretty easy to see how impactful "age" and "respect" are in Japan.

As traditional as it may be, there are good and bad sides to this mindset. First, it teaches children and adults how to respect people. The Japanese do this very well and with class. Living here, I have learned how to express that respect better to people I am communicating with. I do not feel that this type of 'respect' is as prevalent in America, because individuals treat each other more or less equally.

Perhaps in the US, people feel more inclined to 'respect' people for what they have done or what they have truly learned or experienced in life, as opposed to respecting them for reasons such as age? Or maybe they accept people more for how they choose to live their life, rather than judging them based on their age alone?

One must stop and question .. 'Does the actual "time" that one has lived equate to one's maturity level or experience?' After a certain age, shouldn't it be assumed that everyone has a different path in life? Or that experience and maturity depends on how that person chooses to grow (or not grow)?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Romantic closeness level - US Vs. Japan.

Hi everyone,

A friend of mine one day brought up the subject of her Japanese friend in the US, who is casually dating an American man. Today, I'd like to discuss what determines your romantic 'closeness' level to someone in Japan.

To make this understandable, let's call her friend "Ami," and the American man "James."

Ami is convinced that she has shown her interest level to James by spending time with him together (just the two of them), giving him a gift, opening up her personal life to him, and making a lot of time for him. James takes Ami out to dinner, pays for the meal, opens up to her, and spends that time with her as well. One day, however, Ami realizes that James has not been as receptive to her advances, nor has he shown any signs of greater interest in her. Why is this? Could it be that James never realized she was interested in him at all?

Here in Japan, there is a certain level of 'closeness' (or proximity) that can be understood by your language and how you respond to them. The Japanese language itself has several levels that make it clear for you to know whether you are just an acquaintance, a friend, or someone much closer to you.

If someone made the advances such as Ami did in Japan, it would have indicated that 1.) they are interested in you, 2.) they want to spend time with you, or 3.) they want something more. Had Ami not shown any interest, she would have not spent time with him alone, not opened up her personal life to him (especially to another man), and lastly, not made any time for him. In America, however, this could be still read as just being a "good friend." Why is this?

In the U.S., communication is more open and free, but the 'friend' and the 'romantic interest' are much harder to decipher. Everyone treats each other as an equal. Unfortunately, speaking as an American, this is a very common misunderstanding amongst people in the US. Figuring out how close someone is to you, or whether that interest is there or not is very difficult to understand. Even if Ami knew these facts, it would not save her from the "American" stress associated with this circumstance.

Had their relationship become more serious, meeting others may also be an issue. Ami will not be meeting other men (even just male friends), but James may want to meet his other female friends. While doing this in the US is is not considered terrible, it is still problematic. Doing the same is equal to being unfaithful to your partner in Japan.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Expressing one's care and love in Japan.

Hi everyone,

Today, I'd like to talk about expressing love and care between Japanese people. I think it also depends on the style of the two people, but the Japanese have a unique way of doing so.

Ever since I was a child, I could not understand why my mother always spoke badly about me to her friends. She was always talking down to me, she never told me she loved me, she never complimented me, and I always felt she worried too much about me. Being of Japanese descent, I was always envious of my "White" friends whose parents constantly complimented them, babied them, or let them do what they wanted. I always thought, "It's not fair! Why does my family always treat me like this? Why can't she just let go of me?" This is something I could not understand for many many years, until I finally came here.

I did not realize a lot of this, until I actually met my girlfriend (who coincidentally, reminds me of my mother). A lot of the times that we are together, she is always worried (or "sinpai" siteru) about my health, my looks, everyday life, and well-being. This resulted in the following:

  1. She tries to improve my physical appearance.

  2. She tries to take care of all my immediate needs (food, clothes, etc.).

  3. She tries to take over my responsibilities.

  4. She refrains from showering me with compliments and talks down about me in front of others when we are together.

  5. If she does compliment, if I get too excited about it, she will deny it completely.

To your typical American, this might be considered "annoying," "controlling," or "bossy." What is misunderstood here is that Japanese women won't be as expressive about their love to you in words.. instead, it will be through their actions. Even if they are angry or even complaining about how difficult it is to take care of you, it is their way of showing you how much they love you. Being able to look past the expression on their face and reading their true mind and heart is important to understanding the gestures of anyone Japanese. This is just common-knowledge here in this country.

In terms of a romantic relationship, a woman knows they can change your "looks" and appearance to fit their needs fairly easily.. but if they can feel that you focus only on them, that is everything they need. The woman is always thinking about how to shape their lives around yours and make you the center of their life. The responsibility of a man is to make sure they always feel taken care of, safe, loved, and that they are mostly happy. While this is not applicable to everyone, especially with the clash of modern vs tradition views, this may apply to a number of women here.

While I am not your typical "American" or "Japanese," I feel that going the extra mile to let people know how much you appreciate them, both in words and actions, will bring you more than enough love and affection back. Make sure you are as honest as possible, because they are sensitive enough to read past your words and know when you are not. Understanding this type of affection and unspoken communication is crucial to being with someone totally Japanese.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Communication in Japan.

Hi everyone,

This is my first blog entry.

Here I will probably discuss a lot of the cultural differences I am experiencing here in Japan compared to the US. I just moved here 3 months ago, but I wanted to keep a record of the things I am noticing here during my stay. This is both for sharing my experiences with others and my own personal growth.

On the surface, it does appear to be very different, but there is an even deeper difference (or perhaps, "Ura" in Japanese) that you won't see. To start off my first entry, I'll just discuss some major differences I've seen with the way people communicate here.

I'd like to highlight the fact that Japanese people here are extremely intelligent in regards to reading people's emotions and feelings, even if its not outwardly expressed. They have an uncanny ability (or sixth sense) to read people just by scanning them on a train or just by passing-by on a street. It is something I feel that a lot of Americans just don't do very well, or at all for that matter.

There is, however, a negative aspect to this. Japanese people are shunned from expressing an opinion or having one, thereby causing a lot of stress to be held in. Many of these people have difficulty articulating why they feel a certain way, what causes them to feel that way, or describe in detail why it is so. When it comes to conflict resolution, many Japanese people want their minds to be read (or "Kuuki wo yomu koto") because of this. This does not exactly foster good communication between two people, let alone promote conflict resolution. Much of this issue completely stems from the societal upbringings and mentalities here.

My girlfriend and I initially had issues with this too, but it is starting to really improve drastically. Either I'm becoming more Japanese, or perhaps she is becoming more Americanized? We shall see.

What are your thoughts on this?