Japan Times – Western Men Trapped in Japan

Yokohama at Night

Yokohama at Night

I normally steer well clear of the Japan Times, a well-known rag of a paper, but as I was sent the link to this article from a friend, I thought I’d make a post about my thoughts as I read it.  So here’s my feelings in real-time.

“But instead, he got married to a Japanese girl and already had children by the time he graduated.

…it’s difficult to see how he will ever have the money or mobility to realize his dreams.”

So he wanted to go to grad school but instead had kids and needed to support them, so now he has a job teaching English.  That was a decision he made.  It’s not sad that people’s lives change from how they envision them; that’s just normal life.  If he was so dedicated to “his dreams” he would have pursued them whole-heartedly.  The fact that he didn’t just shows that he wasn’t all that keen on them in the first place.  I’m not shedding any tears for someone living a nice middle-class life with their family just because they didn’t wind up being an astronaut like they wanted to be when they were six.

Next we have bad social science at work.  First, we’re meant to believe that Japanese workers put in the second longest hours in the world right after Mexico, but the source for this is some blog-post looking thing from “Insider Monkey,” a website that looks like its run by the lolcats Cheezeburger network.  That article mentions something about the OECD, but doesn’t provide any actual sources, and, oddly, measures work in terms of minutes per day.  Every other article I have read about working hours measures in terms of hours per year, and Japanese workers generally come behind Americans on this scale, though they usually rate in the top ten.

Then we have this gem:

“Karoshi — death from overwork — is such a prominent problem that the government passed a bill last year aimed at tackling premature death and illnesses caused by overwork, apparently the first of its kind in the world.”

That means the issue is being taken particularly seriously by the government of Japan compared to other governments.  It is not evidence that it is actually a bigger problem here than anywhere else.  You might as well say that my house must have been burgled many times before since I always lock my front door.  In fact my house has never been burglarized, but I do try to take reasonable steps when confronted with an issue.

“(Japan), a nation that has not seen sustained growth for over 20 years”

Actually Japan has had sustained growth of about 1-2% over the last twenty years.  It goes into recession when the rest of the world does, but still on average experiences growth.

The author then goes on to compare two surveys in a way that would make a social scientist’s head explode.  First, the two survey’s ask completely different, and only marginally related questions.  Second, one survey was conducted on about 2700 people while the other on only about 500.  Third, one is a serious nation-wide survey done by Pew, with pages and pages of information generated, and the other is an online survey done by an internet shopping website of people who just happened to be using them to shop online!  These are not comparable in any way whatsoever!

Then we are to feel sorry for a guy who was dumped, supposedly for lack of career prospects since his only work experience appeared to be that of being a soldier.  Yeah I’d dump him too.

“Marriage has little to do with romantic love.”

“Japanese women (suddenly become) physically distant from their husbands”

See this doesn’t sound to me like a lack of romantic love is all on one side of these relationships.  Maybe some of these women were just in the relationship for stable income and someone to sire their children, but when the men’s main complaint is that their wives won’t sleep with them anymore it rather sounds like they were only in it for regular sex.  What goes around comes around.

“No wonder Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world”

Yes, Japan does have a higher than average suicide rate, but what the hell she presents no evidence at all that this is somehow connected to a lack of romantic love in marriages.  Suicide is a real thing, and there are lots of reason for why one country might have a higher or lower rate than another country (whether or not you think it automatically sends you to torture in hell for all of eternity might be one factor, for example).  But this is a serious topic, and I personally find it sick and offensive to just throw suicide victims in to try and hold up your shaky and completely unrelated arguments.

It’s like if I was looking at the price of meat in the supermarket and said, “No wonder there’s so many suicides here.”  That would be really wrong and inappropriate, no?  [Although, to be fair, at least in this example I could be supposed to have been going for some sort of black humor that fell flat, whereas our author is seriously trying to make this connection.]

“…achieving a balance between work, family and personal time is seen as extremely important in contemporary European and American societies, but Japanese corporate culture does not support it.”

This, like everything else in this damn article, is simply presented as fact.  No evidence needed.

Then we have a couple of one-sentence stories of some white men experiencing a fact that all minorities and women have known since they were babes:  you have to work harder to be considered just as good.  The only thing I find surprising here is that they were surprised.  Following that is someone complaining about not getting on with their in-laws (that never happens in America), and someone who doesn’t understand that they’re supposed to learn on the job.

“A couple’s expectations of marriage and family also might not match.”

Again, if you haven’t talked to your wife about these sorts of things long before you ever got engaged, let alone married, then I’m not convinced you were in it for the “romantic love.”

“(Foreign men) often find themselves with fewer opportunities than women to engage in social activities and make friends with Japanese.”

“Although openly aggressive racism is rare, discrimination can be cloaked in the form of polite questions regarding a foreigner’s country of origin and ethnic background, their time of arrival in and departure from Japan, praise of their language and chopstick skills, and even unsolicited explanations of culture, food, tradition and so on.”

Japanese coworker:  So, where are you from?
White man:  F— you, racist!

White man:  I have trouble making friends with the Japanese. 😦

“A woman knows she is not alone; a man does not.”

I agree with the point that misogyny hurts men too, but I’d bet there are quite a lot of women out there who feel, and largely are, alone.

The article ends with this advice:

“Having non-Japanese friends and co-workers helps a lot. Not only can you use your native language, but the patterns of communication, expectations and levels of self-disclosure tend to be quite similar, and therefore it is often easier to build and develop relationships. The fact that we are all foreigners here “in the same boat” is a perfect icebreaker.

But perhaps the most important thing is to admit and fully accept that we can never fully assimilate in Japan. We can never become Japanese, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Ken Seeroi, the author of the popular blog Japanese Rule of 7, writes, “It seems you can either spend a lifetime trying to prove you’re as good as the worst Japanese person, or opt out and just be ‘foreign.’ ”

Embracing your non-Japaneseness, just being yourself, exploiting the “gaijin power” your outsider status affords you and simply enjoying the ride are the best ways to avoid the trap of loneliness and misery.”

Wow.  That has got to be the worst advice I’d ever read.

OK, first of all, if it is so important to be able to communicate your feelings in your native language, and so much easier to “build and develop relationships” with other foreigners, then why would you marry a Japanese person in the first place?  Seems like a lot of the problems expressed in this article could have been avoided.

In any case, if you have only foreigner friends your prospects for long-term happiness in Japan are pretty bleak.  Foreigners, by and large, go home.  Your friends will leave; this is not their home.  This will only make it more likely that you too will leave.  That or remain here isolated and alone.

Also, your Japanese language, cultural, and social skills are not getting any better hanging out with foreigners all the time.  You’re not improving your situation, you’re just soothing yourself temporarily.  And if you go around ‘gaijin smashing’ your way through life here, you will not be ingratiating yourself in the hearts of your Japanese coworkers, relatives, neighbors, or fellow residents.

I’d like to end on some sort of summation, but this article was so all over the place there’s not much to sum-up.  I will say that Japan is not half as bleak as these sorts of articles try and make you believe.  Japan is an open and welcoming society, full of fascinating things that are different from the home you’ve become accustomed to.  But if you are not interested in doing things differently, my advice would be to just stay home.

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