5. What do you know about Japan, Japanese culture and language?
What do you know about Japan? If your thoughts are something along the lines of, “I love anime!” or “Sushi is delicious!” but without any depth, or real knowledge, seriously reconsider. Yes, anime is fantastic and there is an innumerable amount of merchandise to find, your love for anime can be satisfied by just visiting Japan. How about sushi? Yep, also amazing. The sushi, sashimi, yakitori, tempura, and every other food is outstanding. Japanese food is probably the best food I’ve ever eaten, yet that can also be experienced by simply being a tourist. In fact, probably better experienced as a tourist since working here with minimal pay means largely cooking your own food and not eating amazing food every day. Suffice to say, if you truly want to live in Japan, your knowledge of Japanese culture and language should be exceptional. You need to be more than adequately prepared.
4. Do you like children?
Do you absolutely love being around children? Have you worked extensively with children before? If you haven’t worked with children previously or even feel somewhere in the vicinity of neutrality towards children – think again. While it’s assumed from an Anglo-Saxon point of view that Japanese children must be as polite as Japanese adults, the opposite is true. Japanese children are terrors. I’m not making this up. Why is that, you may ask. Well, the culture of raising children in Japan means believing babies are basically gods, and they can do no wrong. Hence, Japanese children are allowed to do whatever they like without being reprimanded. Yes, they are spoiled. They lack discipline. So how do they turn in to intensely polite adults? Through rampant passive aggressive shaping to invisibly force each child into eventually learning that being part of the group is the most important aspect of their lives. They acclimatize to the notion around the time they reach the age of majority.
3. What do you know about the company?
You should very carefully pick the company you’re going to work for. While it is incredibly difficult to know what the company is going to be like from purely perusing their website or visiting rambling reviews or blogs on the matter, I would make a couple of suggestions. Don’t believe all the propaganda the company sells – they can and will exaggerate for their benefit. Most companies will have you believe they are doing great things for you, but the fact of the matter is, you’re doing them a favour and not the other way around. English teaching companies are big in Japan and highly competitive, they’re all looking for fresh meat to put through the grinder. The biggest problem with private companies is that they are unmistakably profit driven. That means employees are put on the back burner, especially in Japan. Customer service is of the highest significance, and expect no reward for going the extra mile – it’s simply expected. It can be incredibly stressful when dealing with finicky parents and undisciplined children. I would suggest finding a company that teaches adults, or one that hires for the public board of education. Less pressure, more time with fellow employees and never having to deal with parents. (Want my advice? Check out Interac or JET. Avoid ECC or iTTTi.)
2. How well do you deal with isolation and being away from home?
As a Gaijin, you will always be an outsider. After having spoken with many other Gaijins from various nations, and living here for various amounts of time – they all report the same. If you appear anything other than Asian, expect to be treated like a perpetual alien. Japanese people are notoriously xenophobic. I cannot stress this enough. There will be times when people will be afraid of being near you, or you’ll receive judgemental stares. You can feel the cold aura all around you. Be prepared to feel isolated and alienated. This is even truer if you happen to be female. It takes a long time to develop friendships with Japanese people, and sometimes their intentions are only to be friends with someone non-Japanese, like a novelty. That’s not to say there aren’t Japanese people interested in having authentic friendships, but you’re more likely to find like-minded people in a metropolis. Rural areas can be unwelcoming at times.
1. What are your expectations while living in Japan?
My last point ties in with my first point again, since I believe it is once again the most important. Before I arrived in Japan, I perceived Japanese culture to be one aligned with beauty, and simplicity. While Japan is beautiful and clean, the only type of simplicity that exists is perceived simplicity. Japanese society does its very best to appear uncomplicated and consistently beautiful. It is however, the exact opposite. Honesty does not exist in Japan. I’m not trying to be callous or inconsiderate, but brutally truthful. No one in Japan will tell you the truth, and if they do, you would never know it. Everything is hidden and veiled behind thick curtains and multiple walls of civility. The only aggression that exists here is passive. If someone doesn’t like you, they’ll never reveal their true feelings or intent. Instead, they’ll continue to be dishonest and passive aggressive.
Perhaps I sound intensely cynical or jaded. You could argue that my experience is singular and I’m largely affected by my placement with this particular company, in this particular area. That might be true. I might be an irregularity. In that case, here’s my closing statement. If you do choose to go to Japan despite my warnings, please keep the following in mind. Choose the area you want to be placed in – I recommend near or in a large city. Do some research and find out what interests you the most about Japan, then aim for living near that area. If crowds are not your thing, and you would prefer a smaller area, consider that it will be infinitely more difficult to make friends and communicate (unless you’re fluent in Japanese).
Ultimately, I would suggest just being a tourist in Japan. Touring and sightseeing will satisfy all of your casual needs like delicious food, interesting cultural oddities and tonnes of awesome shopping. Living here will drain the life out of you. You slowly conform to the robotic culture of work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep, drink heavily, and work some more while pretending that it’s your favourite thing to do. What’s different from any other place? Trust me, the Japanese work ethic is intensely different. You’re expected to work as hard as possible without any sort of praise, (or for that matter overtime) and be grateful for it. If you even raise your voice to mention the possibility that you’re at all unsatisfied (even if you’re prompted), you will be judged extremely negatively. Expect to be reprimanded.
Japan is a fascinating nation with a truly bizarre and magnificent culture. There are many things I’ve enjoyed while living here, but the things I’ve enjoyed most about Japan have come from my brief times spent while behaving like a tourist. Time off is usually spent trying to unwind from a stressful work week, so when vacation time finally rolls around, it’s the best time in the world. I had the chance to visit Hakone, Tokyo and Nikko. Beautiful and quintessentially Japanese locations – but only appreciated off work.
That being said, living in Japan has had some truly positive outcomes. I’m more confident and self-assured than I’ve ever been. A lot of my fears have dissipated – although not entirely, I’ve experienced a noticeable difference. However, I don’t think that travelling to Japan is necessary in order to achieve these kinds of positive results. I think living in other countries would be just as satisfying, if not more. If I could recommend somewhere else that is similar to Japan but friendlier, I would say South Korea. It had been suggested to me numerous times but I was stubborn and insisted on Japan (for numerous reasons). Regardless, I can only offer my personal experiences and advice. Decide on your own if Japan is right for you – if not, please visit! It’s worth it to have an adventure – see the sights, eat the food, and enjoy the culture.
I know that I haven't been updating as frequently as I should but due to present circumstances, I've been overwhelmed by a myriad of conflicts.
I thought as a courtesy for my readers and as a cathartic gesture for myself, I would share a little about what's going on in my life presently.
My relationship of over three years has ended. As I've mentioned before on a previous post, "If you love someone, you must let them go". I can say in all honesty that I will always love them but I can also say that we're not meant to be together. At first I had a hard time accepting it but I suppose that's rather normal. Eventually I realized that it was much better to be apart than together. A sad lesson to learn, I suppose but a necessary one. Everyone deserves to be happy, whatever that means. Sometimes that means you have to break up.
I feel lucky in a number of ways. One of them being that I don't hate them. I can truly say that my love for them is unconditional. I also feel lucky that they said what they did and ended things when they realized they didn't love me. I don't want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't love me. That would be doing a great injustice to both parties involved.
Now that I'm single again I can honestly say I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel like I have my wings back and I'm no longer trapped in a tiny cage. Despite admitting to a few close confidants and the pages of my diary that I was unhappy in my relationship and wanted to leave, I could never seem to admit those feelings to myself. I kept denying them. I wanted to believe I was happy because I loved them. Yet I think we all know that at some point those buried feelings will surface, again and again. I would just take it out in my diary. I looked back on things I'd previously written and I realized how tortured I felt. I never felt loved and perhaps that truly was the case.
If someone is unhappy with themselves, they'll never be happy with someone else. Love or no love, it's not going to make a difference. I desperately wanted to believe that if I loved hard enough that I could make someone happy but I forgot the key to happiness, "Only you can make you happy". Any effort on my part was sadly futile.
My relationship was like living in a barren, arctic wasteland. Every day I sat trapped in an icy cavern and I desperately tried to think of ways to manifest some warmth. I hoped that my own body heat would reverberate back to me, yet I was unaware of the many drafts that sucked out every last bit of heat and only made me colder. Sometimes the wind was so fierce that it howled through the small crevices and sounded like voices, then I didn't feel so alone. Over time, without my acknowledgement, the cavern's structure began to fail. One day the ceiling collapsed and exposed a bright, blue sky. I stared, uncertain. What was out there? I hesitated, comfortable with the familiar. At least I knew the cavern but I could not remember the sky. So I tried to stay. The entire cavern began to collapse around me, surrounding me with rubble. Some pieces hit me, bruising my tender body. Without another thought, I ran. I lifted my head towards the sky and raced for the only exit. I climbed furiously over remnants and finally reached the top. I closed my eyes and jumped. I expected my body to fall briefly before meeting an early demise. Yet I was lifted. Higher and higher, into the brilliant blue firmament and into the reaches of the sun. The warmth enveloped my body and suddenly my memory was restored. Flashes of a life long forgotten pressed on me. I forgot that I could just fly away. For a brief moment I looked down to the cavern. It had been completely destroyed. I had escaped with my life and I was grateful.
Today is my younger brother's birthday, he is 21. In honour of his birth I will be discussing a condition that is very important to me, Down Syndrome (DS).
My little brother has Down Syndrome. It is a condition present even before birth. There are prenatal tests to assess the possibility that a fetus has Down Syndrome. What does it mean? Down Syndrome is a chromosomal condition where there are too many copies of chromosome 21. Babies can be born with any number of chromosomal abnormalities or mutations which result in infinite possibilities. Down Syndrome just happens to be the most common.
The effects of Down Syndrome are typically mild. They might take a bit longer to learn something but once they do, they don't forget. Most people with Down Syndrome function quite normally in their day-to-day lives. They have responsibilities like working and cooking but they also share meaningful relationships with those around them.
It's funny to think that something so simple can affect someone so much. I'm not necessarily referring to slower cognitive abilities but the attitude surrounding their condition. What makes me particularly sad is the fact that mothers who carry a baby with DS often choose to abort. That sort of attitude only reminds me of other narrow minded beliefs such as aborting female babies because males are more desired. Of course I do believe in the right to choose but I'm hoping that choice is not based on something as superficial as sex or DS.
My mother was aware that my little brother had DS and chose to keep him. I could not be more grateful. He has brought more light and love into our lives than anyone ever could. He is sweet, compassionate, thoughtful, wise and most of all, funny. He is my favourite sibling by far (and I have 5). What hurts me are the attitudes and behaviour of others. However people find out my brother has DS, the reaction is usually the same, judgement. They'll make a sad face and tell me they feel sorry for me, going on about how it must be hard. The only thing that's hard about it are their reactions. They shouldn't feel sorry for me because in all honesty, I pity them.
They don't know the joy and love my brother shares with everyone. They don't know what it feels like to be unconditionally loved no matter what. He doesn't judge, he doesn't hate, he isn't negative and he'll always be on your side. How many people can you say that about? None? The vast majority of people are just the opposite; they're quick to judge, they hate easily, they get down on themselves and everyone around them, and you can forget about them being on anyone's side but their own. I wouldn't call that "smarter". I would say that they're more susceptible to human fallacy.
Therefore I put forward that my brother is smarter than the average person. In fact, I wish more people were like him. Perhaps then this world wouldn't be so filled with hate and fear. The next time you see someone different than yourself, stop yourself from judging. Everyone makes snap judgements, the trick is to find where that judgement is coming from. Is it coming from a place of knowledge or fear of the unknown?
If you ever have the pleasure of meeting someone with DS, don't be awkward. They're people, like you and me. They have feelings just like we do. The best thing you could do is be yourself. Honestly, as a general rule, you should never stop being yourself.
I would like to recommend one of my favourite books about DS: Our Brother Has Down's Syndrome: An Introduction for Children by Shelley Cairo. It's short and sweet, offering a simple explanation and concluding in a similar fashion. I'm very lucky to have such a fantastic brother.
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