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I Love You, I Love You Not: My Love-Hate Relationship with Japan

Editor's Note: This post was written before the beginning of time. The contents may no longer be relevant or accurate. Please investigate thoroughly before taking any advice or embarking on any adventures based on the information herein. 

Japan is indeed an intriguing place which often enchants visitors and foreign residents alike. The bright lights of Tokyo, the temples of Kyoto, the tropics of Okinawa, the care-free nature of Hanami and Matsuri season, would make anyone simply love the land of the rising sun. I have been here a little over a year and a half and constantly find myself loving this place more and more but also, at times, feeling immensely frustrated with it, in fact, sometimes hating it all together. Why then would I choose to continue living here? Good freakin’ question. I ask myself this every time I am stressed out due to my surroundings. Speaking to other JETs, I am not the only one who suffers from this love-hate relationship with Japan. The trick to coping (I think), and why I’ve managed not to pull my hair out, is finding a healthy balance between two such extreme emotions.

So the honeymoon phase ends, you’re settled into your apartment, you’ve made friends, and you’re getting comfortable with your new surroundings. All is well and good in Japan-land. You’re learning new things, trying new foods, soaking in everything that is around you. But, for me, the euphoric feelings that Japan initially injected into me did not last. As time went on, I found myself getting more and more annoyed with aspects of Japanese culture: “Didn’t your mother ever teach you it’s rude to stare?”; “Why can’t you just say ‘no’ or ‘that’s wrong’ or even ‘you suck’?; “Why is good cheese not an integral part of the Japanese diet?”; “[email protected]! Kyuushoku and its 1000 calories!”; “If I hear “eigo wakaranai” one more time, I’ll flip my sh!t!”; “Yes, I am aware that my nose is big, must you constantly point it out?”; and “If I hear shoganai or gambatte one more time….ajklah#[email protected]@#!!kafh!!!!!”.

Other common complaints that I’ve heard amongst the foreign community include: it is acceptable to lie in certain social situations; cars spewing out advertisements on megaphones at 8 am; taking forever to back into a damn parking spot; driving on the side walk; the concept that there is only one way to complete a task; conformity as opposed to individuality is often encouraged; lack in the use of logic at times; ‘japanification’ of western foods (mayo; corn and seafood on pizza, Japanese rice being used for risotto, where is the real sour cream?!?!?!); why must you clip your nails in public?!?!; why is there no central heating?!!?

At JET orientations these feelings would be referred to as culture shock, but in my opinion “true” culture shock travels somewhat logically through the “honeymoon”, “negotiation” and “adjustment” phases. I can safely say I have not adjusted to my surroundings. My feelings of discontent come and go like the wind. All that is usually needed is one miniscule incident to set off a chain of dissatisfaction with Japan. Mind you, this intense distain for Japan only lasts a week or two and then the blooming sakura, a weekend trip to Tokyo, or some awesome negitoro don, make me realize that this place isn’t half as bad as it seemed the week before.

So how to deal with massive mood swings such as these? Well, accept that Japan is going to “boil your piss” every once in awhile. Remember that we are so lucky to be here. Not everyone would take the opportunity to submerge themselves in a culture vastly different than their own and attempt to make sense of it. Trying to understand Japan definitely breeds patience and makes you appreciate where you are from. Plus, learning about the world in any capacity—through travel or extended stay in one place—expands your mind and makes you more tolerant of difference. You should take what you love about Japan (and there is a lot to love) and focus on that when all else frustrates you. Laugh instead of foaming from the mouth with anger. Learn the language (I’m guilty of being extremely lazy on this point). Find a hobby that makes you love being here. I, myself, joined a dojo in January and it has made a great difference in my everyday life here. The “complaints” listed above are simply pet peeves that are not necessarily Japan-specific. I have no doubt that if we lived in any country, other than our homelands [and I’m sure even our own countries sometimes breed complaints], we would likely find something “wrong” with that place as well. We are out of our element here. We just have to realize that we may NEVER fully understand Japan and its people. But you know what? We don’t have to. We just have to respect the differences, not conform to them.

Embrace your frustrations because they are a part of the experience of living here, but don’t let them govern your life. If you do, they will cloud your enjoyment of all that is wonderful in Japan and disallow you from fully embracing an opportunity rarely experienced by others.

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