Archive for the ‘People’ 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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A Comeback

What I’d planned originally as a short leave of absence from blogging turned into a blogging sabbatical. It feels like I haven’t blogged in years, but in reality it has only been nine weeks.

I’ve had to contend with new job responsibilities, mostly involving a new job site, a change of address and a relatively new change of perspective, mostly with regards to repositioning myself into Japanese society. Not exactly a revival, as I’m still set to move this blog to its own domain, but for the meantime… Japan Q&A wants to make a comeback.

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A few months ago, I blogged about still being a Gaijin in Japan, in this post: Take the Gaijin Test. Recently, I have come to realize I’ve been doing a lot of things I swore I’d never do, and which I poked fun at in the first few months/years I’d been in Japan. Embarrassing to admit, but here are the Ten Reasons I think I’m Turning Japanese:

1. I sleep on the train (sometimes).

2. I do the bow and single-hand cutting combination to cut through lines and get people to move over in public transport.

3. I take home my “gomi (trash)” in a plastic bag and recycle it.

4. I feel uncomfortable if I’m not wearing stockings or socks, especially when visiting a home of a Japanese friend.

5. I make pretty bento, and own more than three pretty bento recipe books.

6. I do sudoku.

7. I carry two or three bags on the crook of my arm.

8. I don’t get bothered by terrible English signs (but in my case, anymore, as it just got to a point where it ceased to be funny).

9. I understand and use the expressions “natsukashii”, “mendoukusai”, “bimio” and “mottainai” but still can’t properly translate them.

10. I do the head-bending and sucking in of air when asked a difficult question I’d rather not answer…

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Shinjuku Gyoen is another popular Tokyo Hanami destination. It is a large park with three garden types: a traditional Japanese garden, an English landscape garden and a symmetrical arranged French garden. It would take an estimated hour and a half to fully cover the gardens.

When I got there, there were already people enjoying the blossoms. People were picnicking on the wide lawns and a few were even painting pictures. The Shinjuku skyscrapers could be seen beyond the cherry blossoms, and it made for a pleasant view, instead of harming the landscape scene. Too bad the weather wasn’t the greatest…

A lot of people also had there cameras out, though, most of them with huge lenses and heavy-duty tripods. Unlike the other parks, there was a lack of crowds on that day I went. Although there were a lot of people, it was less than I anticipated.

After the cherry blossoms, I expect the garden will be covered in other blooms. The closest station is probably Shinjuku-gyoenmae. But there are exits to Sendagaya and Shinjuku, too.

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