I read this blog post by my friend Monica at Learning To Love Anywhere, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the same topic as her, but more specifically regarding living in Japan and loving Japan. I had been through a lot of the same experiences as her, but my story is also a bit different as well. Here is part 1 of my story, and why I still love living in Japan.
I had always been fascinated with Japan, ever since I read my first manga and watched my first anime back in middle school. I even directed my own language education in High School and studied Chinese for 2 years, just because I wanted to study Japanese in university. Before I moved to Japan in the Summer of 2012, I had been to Japan 5 times on trips that varied in length from 10 days to 4 months. Through these trips, I fell in love with the land of the rising sun, and by the end of my study abroad experience at Kansai Gaidai University, I knew that I wanted to move here for an extended amount of time.
Kansai Gaidai was an interesting experience for me, as I went through a lot of culture shock, especially around Thanksgiving. There was also the added pressure of graduation looming on the horizon and being scared about making the wrong decision for what I was going to do with my future after graduation, but all in all I believe that the 4 month study abroad really pushed me over the hurdle of living life in Japan. It was like I had been building up to the big move itself with all of the trips that I had taken. I suppose I can say that the rose-colored glasses were partially off by that point, or that I was just more tolerant than other people to culture change than I thought I was.
the Move and Graduate School
I eventually made the decision to apply to Doshisha University’s Global MBA program, and after returning to Japan in August of 2012 to study there, I began to tackle a whole new set of issues. I basically had to live all by myself in a new country, with no help at all. I had to find a place to live, pay my own bills (health insurance, rent, gas, electric, etc.), and it was all in a new language…. all when I had never even done it in my own home country. I knew how to speak Japanese, but learning how to tackle all of that with all new vocabulary really skyrocketed my Japanese skills. I can safely say that at this point in the story, I really didn’t have any huge culture shock experiences that I can remember. My anxieties mostly came from the concept of working in Japan and not knowing how to get a job there, except for english teaching, after graduation. They really were not directed at living in Japan, so I was happy where I was and hardly had complaints about cultural issues at that point.
While I was used to life in Japan, I also felt very lonely living in Kyoto. Graduate school is a totally different experience than undergraduate education, with no real groups and circles that you can join. Though I had friends in Japan, they did not live in the same city as me and though Kyoto is close to many cities in the Kansai area, my obligations to school and my part time job kept me busy inside the city and I only made trips out to Osaka on the weekends or national holidays.
I also felt kind of separated from the rest of my classmates, whom most had never lived here before or were older Japan veterans with their own things going on. They each dealt with some of the culture shock of Japanese bureaucracy and regulations, like not bending the rules for an international program, handing in lots of paperwork, and just the general aversion to risk, in a very different way than me. In the end, most of my classmates moved out of Japan and returned to their own home countries for work, except for a handful of them. This made me wonder if I was just used to the culture more than they were or of I was just more tolerant than they were to these specific culture issues, and it would continue to be a theme throughout all of my experience to where I am now.
So, I dove head first into the pop-idol culture in Japan (which I still love to this day, and am a HUGE fan of the business. GO NEWS!!), consuming as much as I could to curb my loneness and to keep my mind off of, again, the looming thought of graduation and the next step after that. My parents kept pushing me towards an internship in my second year, but I was so scared to do anything and I felt they didn’t know what they were talking about, as they never lived in Japan and didn’t know the working culture, that I rejected most of what they suggested to me. I thought they were just trying to get me to move back to the states, when I felt like I wasn’t done in Japan by a long shot. I think I was just overanalyzing the situation and wanting my “perfect job” right out of graduation, when I hadn’t even paid my dues yet.
Once I finally got the courage to look into internships and jobs, I eventually found something that I thought I could “handle” and could get me into working in Japan after I graduated. This is where the story with my LONG battle with working life in Japan begins.
Long story short, I was offered an internship at a hotel and I thought that would give me the foot in the door for a job there if I worked hard. My expectations were that I would have to do the “intern” work for the 6 weeks internship, and if I did a good job, I would work in sales and marketing there afterwards. What I did not expect was that this international hotel was a lot more Japanese in operation than I had thought it was, and that the hotel industry in general did not just let you “pay your dues for 6 weeks and then go into back office jobs”. I remember during orientation for the internship, I was told I had to dye my hair back to my natural hair color of dark-brown, when it was blonde at the time. It was only when I showed my passport and resident card to the HR personal, that they realized my hair was not naturally blonde. Before that point they had no idea. I was extremely disappointed, as I had taken over 6 months and hundreds of dollars to get my hair blonde, and despite negotiations, it was ruled that I had to dye it back to brown. Now, this is not rare in Japan to have your hair dyed back to your natural color when job hunting, as blonde is not a natural hair color for Japanese people for the most part. But, as a westerner my natural hair color could have been blonde and it did not look unnatural. In this particular case, I did not think that they had dealt with female foreigners like me before, so I sucked it up with the thought that I would have to work here anyway, so it would be worth it. Maybe after a while they might even let me go back to blonde, once they knew me and my work. When I look back at it now, I made a bigger deal out of it than I should have, but it really surprised me that I was foreign but it was still enforced upon me. I had this “super-foreigner” syndrome I suppose, I was a foreigner thus different than them.
After 6 weeks of rotations, from the restaurant, to housekeeping, to being a bellhop, to finally sales and marketing, it was left open-ended as I went into graduation. While I was traveling in Japan with my parents, I wrote 2 reports for them to make the decision for me to have a job there and in the end, I was rejected. I had never felt more hopeless in my life up until that point. I had graduated and I had no job in Japan, with less than 2 months until my student visa was up. At this point, I could have felt screwed over by Japan and left the country to find a job back in the US. It truly was an option at that point, and to be honest I almost took it. 2 years was enough in Japan, right? My play time was over. It was time to grow up and get a proper job. I had some very long and in-depth discussions with my parents the final 2 days that they were in Japan, and through hours of tears, I decided together with them to continue on in Japan and if Christmas rolled around and I still did not have a job, I would return home to America. So, I extended my visa for 6 months with a “job hunting visa” and got down to serious business. It was the beginning of October, and with my mind a bit more open to what would be coming by working in Japan, I began my job hunting.