The weird, the bad and the ugly sides of Japan

I’m leaving Japan. Not for good, but it will be for half a year or more, probably, and only after graduation and future job prospects have been settled will I know for sure. I’m still a student and I’m not taking a leave of absence from school or anything, I’ve just decided that it’s for my better interests to do an internship (or similar) in Singapore than spend a year in Japan doing absolutely nothing. So before I leave in less than a month, I thought I’d write a post collating all the reasons why I’m saying sayonara (for now) and all the downsides I’ve experienced.

First, it’s lonely. Most of the friends I cared about have left, are leaving or in another part of Japan so I never see them at all. The few who are still around are too busy and I don’t want to inconvenience them.

Ah, those were some great times indeed

Ah, those were some great times indeed. But now these people are scattered all over the world.

I can of course, make new friends in school but somehow I’ve gotten tired of the process of saying hello and goodbye. Of trying too hard to make people like me. I am always the quiet person with her laptop in the corner in class who rarely speaks and doesn’t know anyone’s faces. I like doing my own things and I don’t open up to people easily. I know the types of people who I like and get along with and sometimes I just don’t see it. The effort it takes to get past all the pleasantries and the time to get from acquaintances to friends is too long and not worth it. 

Having to say Goodbye over and over again takes a huge toll on me.

Having to say Goodbye over and over again takes a huge toll on me.

Or so those are the excuses I tell myself for not widening my pool of friends. I see different people every single day. Some faces I recognize, names I know, but that’s all they remain as. Familiar faces and names. I don’t know why I’ve stopped just saying hello to people, going to outings and then deciding after I’ll see them again. Sometimes I wish I’d bothered to make more friends, or be a better friend.

It’s easier to stay home and follow the routine and seek comfort in familiarity. I can count the number of people I interact with with my hand. These days it’s my apartment manager and the staff at the conbini or supermarket. If I’m lucky, I get a chat or two with a friend who lives nearby. The rest of the people I talk to are through screens – I spend the entire day on whatsapp and LINE with friends back home, on twitter and Facebook with friends all over the world. I’m not lonely, I tell myself, look I have people I can text at any time of day.

But they’re not physically here and the other day a 45% off Domino’s Pizza coupon had me bummed I don’t have anyone to split a pizza with. Helpful tweets enlightened me to the ability to save the rest of the pizza for the next day so that solved that problem. Then when I have to deal with packing by myself the feeling rushes back all over again. These four walls are empty and the smiles that reflect off the photos on my wall hollow remnants of what once was. My closet friends are back home.

It’s so much easier to breach the wall from friends to close friends elsewhere. Here there are all the false pleasantries, all the reading between the lines and all the ‘yes’ means ‘no’s, ‘this’ means ‘that’ and layers and layers to peel off before you actually become friends with someone. Japanese has so many polite ways to say no. You can’t outright say no to something, it has to be because of a magically appearing errand you have to run and you can legitimately say “Oh I think I will probably have plans on that day” (‘Yotei ga hairisou‘, though it means you’re actually free but forsee there will be plans on that day) as a euphemism for “I’m not interested”. Things become so polite you don’t know if they actually are busy or they’re brushing you off. I wonder if all the niceties are all just lip service.

Sometimes I find it difficult to understand how people think here, how things can be so backward or opposite or how shocking some things are. I once had a conversation with an older Japanese man about relationships. I said I found my Japanese ex-boyfriend too clingy, too needy and just downright annoying. His response was that I, being a strong woman, would undoubtedly only attract ‘weak men’.

Another conversation with another older Japanese man was one-sided insults coming from him. We were at an international party at work and the first thing he did was insult how I looked. “Why is your hair this colour (it was dip dyed blue)? Look your hair is all damaged and bad, look at her,” he says, as he gestures to the Asian lady beside me “her black hair is natural and shiny! It is the best.” and then as I politely nod to hide my grimace he proceeds to comment on my coloured contact lenses. I was wearing grey circle lenses, which I really loved, but he called them unnatural and gave me a look of disgust. Pfft, whatever, I scoffed internally, while continuing to pretend that nothing was wrong.

I’m lucky I don’t get as many creepers since I’m not ‘obviously foreign’ but this one middle aged Japanese guy at the Halloween Party at work filled my quota of weird encounters. I was wearing a Japanese sailor-style middle school uniform as a costume and as all costumes (and well, Japanese clothing in general) go, the skirt was rather short. I wore black stockings and had shorts on underneath. He came over and said “Hi, where are you from?” like everyone else did, and things were fine until he started commenting on how short my skirt was multiple times, how oh no middle school students can’t drink (I was nursing my chu-hai) and I equated that to the alcohol talking. But it got weird, fast. He said I was chubby, but it’s okay, he likes his girls with meat on them, and then that if I had been in the same school with him, he would definitely fall in love with me. Ooooookay??

That's me in my Halloween outfit! With my favourite Naruto and Shishio Makoto

That’s me in my Halloween outfit! With my favourite Naruto and Shishio Makoto

And when I wasn’t creeped out enough he decided to take it a step further. “Watashi to tsukiatte kudasai!” (Please go out with me!) he says, doing the shoujo-manga bow and all with hands outstretched. I politely decline, stating that I already have a boyfriend and he sighs, then pouts, “of course you do…” he says dejectedly and walks away only to come back 2 minutes later and confess his love to me again. Twice. I managed to politely leave and engage a conversation with someone else but not before taking group photos where he happily put his hand around my waist. Ugh.

Lastly, people tell me things like “Wow you have ramen in Singapore?” or “There are Japanese restaurants there? No way!” and I wonder if they don’t realise how easily you can find foreign things anywhere in the world. Just like there are Singaporean restaurants in Japan, we have Japanese restaurants a plenty in Singapore. It surprises me how insular people can be! It’s really not a problem only Japan faces but it is just baffling the extent of just how insular they are.

There are many more things I could continue to write about, like the abundance of drunk people and more about double standards of treating foreigners but that’s enough for another post all together.

Sometimes I wish I could filter things out and look at Japan again with the eyes of a tourist. All filled with starry-eyed wonder and oblivious to the problems underneath the glamour. But I’m sure that when I’m back in Japan, I’ll be falling in love with her all over again.


  1. theandysan says:

    I’m kinda going through the same thing. I’ll be getting out of the Navy in a couple months and going back to the States to go back to college. I might come back to live in Japan, but I’m not sure yet.

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