This is based on a video I made several months ago on my BusanKevin YouTube channel. That video got a lot of traffic and a very positive response from many. I’m sure there were others who were disappointed with what I said as well. I think there were people who had a certain image or idea of Japan and I may have burst their bubble a little.
People watch my videos on YouTube for many reasons. One of those reasons is the fact that I live in Japan. People who watch my videos have a chance to see what the place looks like. I don’t try to make videos through the eyes of a tourist. They are anything but travel videos. The production value is not polished and I try to show folks out there the “real” Japan as seen by me. I don’t try to sell my videos as a “foreigner’s perspective” on Japan. They are my personal perspective. I am a foreigner in Japan of course, but all foreigners have a different perspective on their lives here.
Many people who are so called “Japan fans” have very different ideas of what Japan is and has to offer. There are those interested in studying in Japan. There are those interested in working in Japan. There are those who are fascinated by Japan’s rich history. There are those fascinated with Japan’s females! There are also those who are fans of manga and anime who actually think living in Japan is like a “real life” anime.
From time to time I get messages from people who watch my videos telling me how much they yearn to come to Japan. Some tell me that they want to be a teacher like me. Others say that they want to come here and travel and my videos give them a glimpse of what they want to see. Some people, however, tell me that they want to come to Japan to improve their lives.
Coming to Japan for some may be a great way to improve their lives. Those new to Japan will have a chance to enjoy travel, learn a new language, learn about a new culture and enjoy wonderful food. Living abroad in Japan can open your mind to the way people from a different culture live their lives. It’s a fabulous opportunity to become more open-minded.
I think that my time living abroad has given me a more global perspective on life and I am definitely less judgmental. I have come to learn that people in other countries do things in different ways. Those ways may not necessarily be wrong, but just different from the way things are done in my home country and culture.
Let’s get back to some of those expecting a little too much from the land known as Japan:
People have said things like, “Kevin, I’m going through a rough breakup with a bf/gf right now and if I can get to Japan everything will be better. How can I come to Japan?”
“I get bullied a lot in school. If I could get to Japan I know my life would be better. Can you help me get to Japan?”
“I always have trouble making friends. If I come to Japan I think I could have many friends and be much happier.”
“I want to come to Japan because women in America are too bossy and full of themselves. I want a woman who will serve me and do what I say.” (no joke…several men over the years have written similar statements to me)
First of all, although a cool place to live, Japan is by no means a cure-all. Changing one’s geographic location alone won’t fix the problems someone may have in their life. Often, problems people have, such as lack of self-esteem or becoming more responsible with money are changes that must be made within the person. They have nothing to do with where you live. For example, if you’re shit with money in England, there’s a solid chance that you will still be shit with money if you come to Japan.
Now coming to Japan to get over a breakup…that may work. I suppose every situation is completely different. That was part of the reason I came to Asia many years ago. I had been itching to travel and add some excitement to my life, but the fact that my Canadian girlfriend who I was madly in love with, lost interest in me and dumped me also added to my decision to leave Canada. There was really no point in hanging around. Just a few years later I would meet the woman I married and have a family with. In my case, I suppose it did work, but again, everyone’s situation is different. I suppose meeting the “right one” isn’t so much about location, but about timing and good luck.
The same goes for someone who gets bullied in school in their native country. Coming to Japan or being a student here won’t fix that. Bullying is rampant in Japan in both schools and the workplace. It’s often worse because of the cultural concept of enduring through hardship. Often, instead of fighting back, people just “take it.” Just taking bullshit thrown at you by a bully of course only encourages them to continue their bullying. I see it every day in the Junior High School I work in. I see the same kids dishing out shit to others and no one does anything about it. The teachers don’t stop it and other kids don’t take a stand.
Another question I pose to those who want to come to Japan and be a student so as not to be bullied: Do you speak Japanese? That’s an important factor in being a student in Japan!
If you want to come to Japan because you cannot make friends in your own country, you may be finding yourself in an even more challenging environment. I found it MUCH easier to make friends back home in Canada than in Japan. Of course! It’s a no-brainer. In Canada, everyone speaks a common language and comes from a common culture. I’m of course part of that culture and speak that common language.
In Japan, however, you have to work against several things. First, if you want to make Japanese friends there is the language barrier. Most Japanese people cannot speak English so unless you learn to speak Japanese, it’s difficult to form true friendships. Also, the massive cultural differences prevent deep friendships from forming. As a foreigner in Japan, you will always be considered that a foreigner, like it or not. You will always be a guest and never truly accepted. I’m not being cynical here, that’s just the truth of being an outsider in a homogenous culture.
If you are expecting to make many foreign friends, that may also be a problem. If you are living in a more rural part of Japan, there may be very few if any foreigners aside from you. That could prove to be quite lonely. If you are in a big city there may be many foreigners who you can meet at expat bars and meet up groups. The problem here is that most people who come to Japan as students or teachers come and go. The majority of expats only stays for a few years and then moves on. You may make some good friends, but be prepared to say goodbye to them.
Where’s my docile WOMAN!??
For the men out there who think that they can come to Japan to find themselves submissive little Japanese ladies, be warned! The myth you have floating around in your mind is pure bullshit! In public, Japanese women may come across as being meek and subservient, but in reality, they are anything but that. Most women in Japan are tough. They also normally don’t take shit from their partners as well. When I normally see Japanese married couples, it’s pretty clear to see that the woman is normally the boss! The woman normally runs the house, doles out a small monthly allowance of spending money to her husband and no matter how dainty she may look, wears the pants in the relationship!
I’m not writing all this to shit on your parade folks. If you want to come to Japan do it. Come on over, the water’s fine! I think Japan is great and I’ve had fun living here. My life in Japan has given me an endless supply of fodder for blogs and vlogs. It even inspired me to write my first book, “Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal.”
What I am saying in this post is that a geographic place alone cannot fix life’s problems. Often you have to work on those yourself. If you have a serious issue in one place, you’ll probably continue to have it if you move to another.
Here is the YouTube video I shot earlier in the spring that I based this blog post on:
(Originally posted on another blog I wrote – September 13th, 2013)
Kevin O’Shea is the host of the Just Japan Podcast. He is also the guy behind JustJapanStuff.com. Kevin is a Canadian educator who lives in Beijing, China with his family. Kevin called Kobe, Japan home for 10 years.
Follow him on Twitter: @jlandkev