Biggest Struggles in Japan

Recently, over a beer, or two, I had a conversation with some other exchange students in Japan about things that we are struggling with. I have been debating with myself, whether or not I should publish this, but ultimately, I want to get this off of my chest.

For most of us, our daily lives are not the struggle, it’s just the little things that keep piling up that tug on us. Japan is very different from most of our countries, but because we all have an interest in Japanese culture and language it is fine. We are willing to accept most things, but also because the people I was talking with want to be, or are already teachers as well, there are of course things that we wish would be different, for ourselves and for our future students.

There are always people that are different, even in a society that says being different is not okay… However, this is about the population as a whole in Japan in general.

1. So freaking reserved, shy

Outside of the tutor group that interacts with international students, a grand total of ONE person has initiated a conversation with us. Anything else, outside of class are people connected to the International Office in some way, mostly tutors. This makes forming friendships very difficult, and no one responds to emails about being interested in clubs/circles…so joining clubs is difficult as well– probably will just wait until next semester at this point. We have conversations with people in our classes, but none of them express interest in hanging out with us outside of class (even though we see them all the time @Yuuki –who does not read this, but still).

2. Afraid to be different?

Not really sure if this is 100% accurate for everyone. I have definitely seen some people break away from the mold. Also, guys like to show off their skills like anywhere (talking about all the guys in my soccer class).

However, when I visited a high school two weeks ago we had conversations with the students. One of the questions I asked all of them was what kind of music do you like? All the guys in the group had the same answer. That’s just weird to me. How do all of them like Justin Bieber and One Direction…? Also, when asked what food I should try… “Udon” or “Sushi” was everyone’s answer. Which could do more with them being famous Japanese food, but just trying to get an authentic answer out of them was so difficult.

3. Sexist related things

Of course sexism goes both ways. However, being a girl, I can really only speak on the sexism that I have experienced since arriving.

Mostly regarding my sports class:

~It’s hot. No one wears tank tops here in sports class. So, okay, I should follow those cultural norms… So I try to do so. However, one day I came straight from the train to class, not having time to stop by my room to grab a workout shirt. The only thing I had from the day before was a tank top and a cardigan, so while we were warming up I wore the cardigan, but then we got to playing soccer seriously, it was hot and of course a cardigan is not ideal clothing to play in, so I took it off. Immediately the girls start making comments, like “you’re not cold?” “It’s cold.” “You’ll get sick…” “Sexy.” The guys on my team asked me one time if I was hot (because you know we were playing soccer and running), I said yes, and we moved on. However, the girls would just keep making comments, which really rubbed me the wrong way. I understand this is a cultural difference, but it is just something I have such a hard time accepting, that some how showing my shoulder’s skin is a sexual thing… It is definitely not, yet it has been ingrained into Japanese girls brains that it is inappropriate. If you are hot, do not continue to wear your jacket. If someone else is hot, allow them to dress as they wish. I will forever make an effort to try to wear a T-shirt, but on the occasions that I do not want to, or forget, I just wish that I could be allowed to in peace.

~If a girl can pass the soccer ball, the guys will be thoroughly impressed, amazed even. When playing a game “Volleyball soccer” (the actual name, I do not know), but the girls move closer to serve. The size of the soccer field is different between the guys and girls too. The girls will play shorter games.

~Coach will say “Because you are playing with the girls (females), play easier/more gently” to the male students.

I hate that so much. Maybe it is from playing Co-Rec soccer growing up, but I do not believe that is a good attitude to have for either gender. Playing “gentle” will not allow the girls to improve their skills, also it just perpetuates the idea that girls are “weak” and need guys to help them. I experienced this kind of attitude before of course, but in the US it is not accepted by women and we can speak up about this kind of attitude.

However, in Japan, if I were to say something to the coach about that, I am sure it would not go down right, which has to do with my next thing:

4. Inherent belief in authority/older people (not sure how to word this one)

My music teacher made me realize that this is still something that Japanese students do naturally without thinking. He said something that to me was obviously incorrect. However, the Japanese students absorb this information and do not question it. Which is why I think it is so harmful when someone in that position teaches things that may create negative stereotypes or images about people. Due to the fact he is actually an American, I feel that I can address this with him. However, in other situations I cannot do such a thing.

For example, a linguistics professor from Arizona State University came to Osaka Kyoiku University came to speak. Her talk about linguistics was great, actually allowed me to learn new things as well as remember things that I previously studied in my other linguistics class, and I think what she spoke about was accurate. However, she was quick to become defensive when a question was asked– in a completely non-aggressive way–regarding linguistics. Then, she was asked some questions about differences between American and Iranian universities. In that talk, she showed her privilege and her lack of experience understanding other walks of life. Basically saying that in the United States, if you do not speak English that you cannot get a job. Her definition of a job was probably different from mine and my friend, but for her to imply that if you cannot speak English, you cannot succeed in America is not true. It is more difficult so I agree to a point with her, but just in general her attitude seemed to be, rather negative. Also, she bashed universities that were not “premium quality”. Of course, there are many differences between the quality of education you can receive at different universities, but I think she needed to word what she said a bit more carefully.

5. Weight

This is something I just need to get over. I will never be as skinny as Japanese girls, or guys for that matter, but it seriously bothers me of their view of skinny. Someone that is my height, “ideally”, should be less than 110 pounds– from videos I’ve watched and conversations I’ve had. I am probably a good 50 pounds more than that.

Since arriving in Japan, I have been more active than I was in the United States, playing soccer at least twice a week, trying to go running three times a week (not always succeeding). Also, just beginning to eat healthier foods. I do not really have snacks in my room, so that is already an improvement. So what I eat for snacks tends to be healthier than what I would eat in the US, especially over the summer taking care of two kids, my diet was quick, pretty unhealthy foods, but now I have time to cook, and the ability to obtain these foods– fruits, nuts, yogurt. So, I definitely do think that I am becoming a better me. When I look at other girls, I see that I do not look like them. I do not like myself. In America, I dealt with such self-esteem issues from 4th grade on. However, I thought I improved. I thought I reached a point where I could love my body no matter what it looked like, but I was wrong. Being in Japan made these feelings come back. I have to be more conscious about what I wear… There are days where I just don’t care. Those are the days I allow myself to just be myself. Hopefully, I will reach a point where I can be conscientious about Japanese cultural dressing while still being myself, but right now it’s an either or for me. Either I am me, or I am fitting the mold that I feel that I should be.







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