February 12, 2004

Osaka, year one

How does a foreigner who is grateful to be a guest in this country write objectively about his host? You don’t. That is one of the things I have learned while being here. It is very important to look at things in a positive light, so that we find solutions when problems arise. Back home, we praise sarcasm, the negative slant, cynicism, and constant bitching and complaining.

It is different in Japan. People here are people like anywhere else, but there are many factors; which have formed their societal rules. This is a country in which the group has as much value as the individual, or perhaps more depending on the context. It is also an ancient country, which has been undergoing transformations and renewals constantly for the past two thousand years. Rapid industrialization and modernization, urban density, a feudal past, imperial rule, and other factors have shaped the inter-personal rules of social intercourse. For one, the architecture of the cities must be noted. For dwellings, the walls are very thin and fragile. You can punch a whole through them with a dirty look. I’m talking about the walls between apartments (reminds me of the movie “Office Space”). The development of a strong need for privacy is something I’m not quite sure how it comes about, but people here have less privacy than back home. All you have to do is get a lover and you’ll see how hard it is to get some privacy (for free that is). You get used to silent or whisper lovemaking very quickly, unless you favor the “love hotel” option, but that is something I can’t write about because I have no experience with them yet. But you can get a coupon booklet at the convenience store in which the region’s love hotels make some sweet deals (10% off your kid’s daycare fees, shit like that)

Back home anyone and anything is fair game to our open criticisms (founded or not) unless of course these criticisms are based on race, religion, sexual orientation or national origin (Caucasians, Catholics, Heterosexuals, and the French are the seeming exception).

We pride ourselves of being an open society who is tolerant; and whose main strength is its diversity. That is very true. In an open democracy in which equality is a goal we constantly strive to achieve, one can forgo and dispense with ceremony, decorum, tradition and even, politeness.

But here in Japan, my experience has been mixed so far. I have been told many things about how the life of a foreigner develops here. My experience has been somewhat similar to back home, with the exception that in japan, I have been forced to face myself much more than back home. Here, although I feel right at home, interactions at work, outside of work, and at home are challenging. Here all your support comes from your bones, and all your protection comes from your skin. Both foreigners and locals are tough amongst themselves and with each other. At the same time it’s a finely tuned society, it is also a very dangerous jungle. You’re stripped of your remaining innocence when you move to a foreign land by yourself. You are forced to make drastic adaptations to survive. How does an individual like myself make it here? I’m not sure. I still love this country and its people. What you realize is that people are people wherever you are, regardless of any visible or cultural difference. There are good people and bad people wherever you go. I have made some very good friends here, and others I thought were friends and loved ones turned out otherwise.

Most foreigners I have met here don’t like it here. The foreign women complain at every opportunity. The local women don’t speak. The local and foreign men get drunk and laid whenever possible, and women are happy to oblige.

You grow up pretty quickly here. You have some time to think, but not too much, most of the time you have to act. You are competing for space, for rank, for attention, for money, for time. You have to think on your feet. You have to learn how to read and write quickly, you have to learn to speak a new language, learn new rules, make sense of a new world on the fly.

The charms of Japan are countless, and its challenges are no less numerous. There is no time to fold, give up and go home, not for me. Many do that. I know there is something good for me here, I know it deep in my heart. To make it you have to be tough, but not bully type tough, tough on the inside, very deep inside. Emotions, impulses and desires have to be curved, and for someone like me, that is very difficult to do. Its not that you have to be an asshole, but you have to become shrewd as soon as possible. Employers, students, friends and women all have strong and demanding expectations of you. There is little time for bitching about this or that. You do. You act. You make. You break. You move. And you have to move forward.

I realize now how easy I had it back home. How comfortable a life I led there. With all its stresses and challenges, it was still a comfy life. But life here is better for me.

Encouragement has to come from within, and from your beliefs. Your strength cannot be derived from anywhere or anyone else. I smoke, I drink, I eat, I fuck. But true pleasure, comes from the inside, when you have overcome a huge obstacle at work, at home, etc. when you see that you can make it. Its not just pleasure, its true self-realization. The chore itself is irrelevant, it’s the fact that you face it, and beat it. You do get used to disappointment here, but every time it affects you less and less. Slowly but surely, happiness begins to seep out from within you. With everything you do, you feel more solid, more capable, stronger, wiser.

There are things you will face time and time again in your life. Work, relationships, responsibilities, duties, etc. you learn to deal with them. And as time elapses, your skills are honed. You perfect your abilities till they are strong as steel, and razor-sharp. I’m not there yet, but I see now how it is, and how one needs to evolve as a man to make it. There is no time to be weak, but some days it’s hard. Some days you cry yourself to sleep and you never really sleep at all. Your dreams are filled with friends and family, the places that meant something to you, and good memories are replayed in your head time and again.

But you doubt whether you can make it. You doubt your resolve in those cold nights. But then, the next day, you help someone unlock a door to a new world of ideas. And they love you for it. You help someone get closer to their dream. And there is your reason for being here. You forget about the shitty issues, and relish in the fact that someone you taught has opened a door to a new world with your help. You can’t beat that with a stick.

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