Archive for the ‘Modern Culture’ Category

I decided to log in to Japan Q&A today after (too) many months. It’s been so long that I couldn’t even remember some of my posts. So, as you can imagine, I was surprised to see all the inspiring comments readers have posted in my absence. I was truly touched, thank you.

For almost one year – probably one of the most difficult years of my life – I wrote blogs about Japan, my life here, my experiences, and my insights. I posted mostly for myself, to give myself a positive outlet for feelings I was not ready to deal with. When I grew healthy in mind and body, I left my blog behind, a beautiful reminder of how I was able to move on.

But, I have yet to share the most meaningful experiences I’ve had here in Japan, and the most interesting observations I’ve made. Something I had not realized up until this moment was that, by keeping this blog I was able to piece together memoirs of a Japan that I see only through my eyes and that exists only in my mind.

Someday I’d like to write a book, maybe a tale. A coming of age story of a girl who slowly discovers Japan, compares the culture to her own, but instead of contrasting the two, she learns to love both. Let me write about my experiences once again, to piece together the plot for this story. I no longer need a creative outlet for unspent energy, but I do need to remember the unending joy, the loneliness, and even the fear that I have experienced while living in Japan.


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I work in a small but steadily growing company not too far from the center of Tokyo. The job was originally ideal for me: fixed hours that started not too early in the day, abundant holidays, a nice annual bonus, and a great working location. I quietly but quickly moved up the ladder from being a trainee to being a senior staff member. I did the job well, worked tirelessly on improving on all aspects of my work while enjoying almost every minute of it. The longer I worked on the job, the better I got at it or so it seemed. My reputation quickly escalated, my creativity soared, and I received the recognition I reluctantly thought I deserved: the position of 正社員 (せいしゃいん, or welfare worker) .



Working many years as a foreigner in Japan often makes you wonder why there is a huge divide between Japanese and foreign staff members. There was a time I was curious to know what it would be like to be accepted as a member of the Japanese team, what kind of treatment I would get or if being given a permanent job would improve my work attitude. I should have just kept on dreaming…

Now that I look back a year on it, I wonder if all the hard work I did just to get this very much coveted position was all worth it: a world of competition, jealousy, intrigue and self-worthlessness. The hours of fun working time slowly turned into piles of paperwork, endless hours of it’s-all-just-over-my-head meetings, and incessant phone ringing. In the end, I stand a tired employee, too burned out to fulfill my dream of working permanently at a Japanese company.

Was it all just a dream? Or did I slip unknowingly into the dark abyss of a Japanese nightmare?

Blogger’s Disclaimer: The reality doesn’t even come close to mildly exciting so I had to spice up my post to make it more dramatic and somewhat a little more reaction-worthy. Cheers!

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Several guys I work with have married their wives in their home countries but have come to Nippon to live indefinitely. They all give the same reason for leaving their jobs and starting a new adventure here in Nippon: their wives have aging parents and they want to help out with the family business or farm, but mostly they want to be close to their family.

Japanese daughters are all expected to live close to home. While many young Japanese women have chosen to embark on careers, and even work abroad, they still make the customary trip back home as often as they can. A lot even take care of their parents indirectly, as can be seen in this article.

There is a Japanese saying that goes like this, good daughters should live close enough that when they take a bowl of miso soup to their parents, it should still be warm. It got me thinking about all the Japanese girls I know. While still single, they still generally live with their parents. The only real move they make is from their parents’ home to their shared home with their husbands. It’s a general viewpoint in a lot of Asian countries, too, I heard.

I really think Japan has done well to keep their traditions intact. But when I come across articles like this one about adult children sponging off of their parents, I often wonder if maybe sometimes it’s a little too much…

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The last time I checked, I was very green. By green, I mean earth-friendly; mostly because of the rules and stuff I have to follow because I live in Japan.

My carbon footprint, according to this calculator, is small. My trips home and occasional travels are the only factors that show a significant increase in my score. Even in other tests, I usually answer positively, making me somewhat closer to being an eco-person. Here are some reasons I think I am friends with the environment:

  1. I recycle. If I don’t, I’ll get my trash back with a note asking me to do so and probably get a reputation as a non-recycling nuisance to the neighborhood.
  2. I walk and cycle. And I take the train. Since I have little choice, and no real need for an automobile, I get around by the healthiest possible way.
  3. I live in a floorspace less than 200 square meters. Property prices are quite high here, so even if I wanted a larger home, there’s just no real way. I don’t have a yard or garden, either. I’ve also learned how to effectively maximize space.
  4. I do “coolbiz”, which is to wear light, summer clothing. The Japanese government and a lot of Japanese companies have been adopting this program, where they do away with coats and neckties, so they can keep the air-conditioners at about 28 degrees Celsius the whole day.
  5. I carry my own water bottle, or my own thermal cup. Vending machine drinks are expensive if you buy more than a couple a day, so I take around my own bottle. I heard pet bottles aren’t recycled in Japan, so in a way, I’m really helping the ozone layer. I also bring my own chopsticks.

A lot of my green practices are sort of enforced by the society. It would be hard to do it by myself if I had to. I love the Earth and all but I have to applaud people who responsibly do their role to save the Earth. They are real heroes.

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I have a dozen of stories about UFO Catchers… mostly involving people I know who are addicted to them. I’m not that into them myself, but I’m sure if I played it often enough, I could quickly get drawn into the dark side of UFO Catching.

UFO Catchers aren’t a new thing in Japan. In fact, they were around years ago, when I first visited as an exchange student. My friends and I had tried it, but since none of us got anything, we were careful not to try again. One boy in our group, though, had gotten hooked, spending all his pocket money on it, but getting nothing back. He said he kicked the machine, which he claims gave the kid after him 2 toys.

A close friend of mine collects Disney dolls from UFO Catchers. She and her husband play all the time. They seem to have mastered the technique of playing, since they have a collection of over 300 dolls!

My favorite story is about a co-worker who got hooked one day, just out of the blue. He spent hours trying to win, saying he was not going home a loser. So he instead spent a total of ¥6000 playing, taking home all kinds of key chains and candies. When he told us later that his wife gave him a budget of ¥1500/day for expenses, we were all teasing him that it was probably because she didn’t want him spending all his money on the UFO Catcher anymore…

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One of my junior high students wrote about a graduation ceremony at her school. She said that her sempai gave one of her friends a button but this friend didn’t particularly like this sempai. And also that one other friend took home 15 buttons but couldn’t remember from whom she had taken the buttons. Puzzled, I asked some of the teachers about these “buttons”. They all started to laugh, saying that it was common among junior and senior high school girls to ask for the Dai-ni button (第二ボタン, button found second from the top on a boy’s school coat) of a sempai they liked, and the sempai gave it if he liked the kohai who asked.

So then the people in the office started to talk about how they did or didn’t receive Dai-ni buttons. One guy said that he wasn’t that cool at that time so no one ever asked for his Dai-ni button. We were totally laughing at this point (you’d have to know this guy’s history to find it funny, sorry). The talk moved from that to the recently celebrated White Day, of which I asked why it was so popular among young people to have these subtle “I like you” exchanges. One lady explained that generally Japanese people were shy and that without these occasions, they would have no chance to tell each other their feelings. As most things here are left unsaid, but understood by all anyway, and everything is about subtlety, I still feel like an outsider wondering about Dai-ni buttons and gift exchanges…

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I met up with two Japanese friends today. Usually when I meet up with friends, at least one of us is late. It is very common for us to send and/or receive a message saying something like “Gonna be 20 minutes late… I missed my train… sorry!” But I guess this ruins everyone’s perception that in Japan everything and everyone is punctual. But almost all my female Japanese friends are never early.

I was asking the same friends earlier if this was common, and yeah they said, for women. For men, they were rarely early but they always arrived on time. Come to think of it, a lot of things here in Japan aren’t early, they are on time. Trains and buses arrive on time mostly and everything from deliveries and mail packages arrive within the time they said they would. On a related note, a logistics system called JIT (Just-In-Time) where the needed inventory is ordered and arrives at about the time the supplies dwindle down as was forecasted, making it just in time, is widely used in Japan. The Kanban System, which is closely related to JIT, was developed in Japan.

Given that things like cellphone train timetables are accurate and almost all published walking times on navigation maps are accurate, and even things like weather forecasts are included in both items, there really should be little reason for people not to make it on time… but then, we might belong to the 5% allowance given most working systems.

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