It’s been a year…

…since I’ve moved here. Again it’s another review-less week, and I thought I’d do an introspective post instead. I actually had a draft somewhere which I never published because it was too messy, but I’ll try to tidy things up. As long-time readers of this blog would be aware, I have been living in Japan for a year now. Instead of blogging as usual, I went on a six-month hiatus after moving here where I lived a rather simple life without writing about it or about toys in general. However when asked about my impressions of life here I found it hard to collect my thoughts as I never wrote anything about it.

From my personal experience, I think that Japan is a great place to have fun in, but if you’re a long-time resident, you might face a few difficulties. I’m not sure if this has been discussed to death on other places already but I’m just going to spew my personal thoughts about this.

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“Robot Restaurant” in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho red light district

I’m sure many people have the impression that the Japanese are a well-mannered people. As a foreigner or tourist, you meet people who are really courteous, and they try their best to help you even though there’s a language barrier and I believe part of it also stems from their culture of hospitality. Should you understand Japanese, you’ll also be aware of the spectrum of politeness that Japanese speech comprises. (and is real tough to learn) I for one was really impressed by the service quality here, and got used to it really quickly. Of course, you’ll meet the occasional high-school part-timers at convenience stores that drone monotonously in shorthand polite Japanese but hey.

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Trees along the road near where I live, during autumn.

And if you’re into Japanese culture, there are so many things you can enjoy. After all, my humble little blog covers only the tip of the iceberg that is Japanese pop culture. Japan is a place where modern technology and traditional culture mingle, making it a much-loved country around the world. (and I guess disliked too, especially if you want to bring up Japan’s history with other countries, but that’s not the point)

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Morning commute to work, in the winter

If you know about Japanese history especially during the 19th century, you’ll hear stories especially from a Western perspective about how Japan used to have an “isolationist policy” and things like that. While I’m not here to debate about it, to me this policy is part of the greater part of Japanese culture, which is the “insider/outsider” mentality.

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Torii gates at the Fushimi-inari shrine in Kyoto

To greatly generalise and simplify things, it means that everything can be classified into one of the two relative to yourself and the current context. This mentality comes up everywhere, and influences many aspects of Japanese life, such as language and behaviour. And this is also what makes Japan both a great and not-so-great place. The great parts I’ve already mentioned above, because as a tourist you’re an outsider in every way and the Japanese will be courteous towards you.

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Life-size Gundam statue at Odaiba, Tokyo

Once you stay for long and you stop acting so much like a tourist and begin to dig beneath this immaculate veneer of courtesy and hospitality, things take a turn because old-fashioned mindsets take over. I can’t come up with a comprehensive list of things as my life here has been rather simple, but not doing much apart from working I feel like interpersonal relationships here are a seemingly insurmountable barrier. Besides having an Asian appearance means I can blend in and pretend to be Japanese until I start speaking.

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Fields in Yoro Keikoku valley, Chiba prefecture

Maybe it’s because everyone is in the midst of working life and can’t be bothered to expand their social circles, but I am inclined to think otherwise, as new Japanese employees don’t appear to face this. It’s hard to think otherwise when everyone appears uptight and unapproachable and you have to go out of the way to hound everyone about anything and everything, like when you want work to be assigned your way, want to learn something, or just want to ask about some questions about living. Most of the time, the only way to open these people up is to ply them with alcohol.

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Summer fireworks display at Makuhari Seaside Park

I really hope I don’t sound like a bigot at this point as I’m running out of steam and having not written anything remotely intellectual for over a year, I seem to be losing whatever writing ability or lack thereof. Of course, I’m not trying to overgeneralise here, but so far the more approachable and friendly Japanese people that I know and have spoken to (that means more than just hi’s and byes) have lived overseas for quite a bit before, and they’ve given me their own interpretations of the matter. In contrast, I tend to get responses like “no one talks about these things” when I ask a more “traditional”
person. Anyway, having spoken to both “types” of Japanese, I got to experience myself firsthand how the insider/outsider mentality works, which I used to explain/rationalise my experience here.

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A view of Tokyo from the Bunkyo-ku Civic Centre near Tokyo Dome

I once heard a rather crude expression, saying that while Japan is in its Heisei era, her people are still in the Showa or even the Meiji eras. I could be opening up a can of worms here but explaining this sentence might warrant a separate post and I’m not qualified when it comes to Japanese studies. To put it in another way, it means that in an era of globalisation and connectivity among people brought about by the revolutionary internet, Japanese people are still behind, and I feel like this could be the key to get their economy out of stagnation and its “lost decades”. After all, my home country is a sterling example of the opposite in practice; welcoming foreigners with open arms for the sake of relentlessly powering the locomotive that is the economy, even perhaps at the expense of its own citizenry.

So yeah, I guess I might edit and revise this post over time as I collect whatever scattered remains that are my thoughts, and I will resume normal programming next week as I have yet another 1/6 outfit on the way. The photos I put in this post are a few of the many I took here. I put their descriptions in the captions field so I’m not sure whether you’ll be able to see them. The rest I uploaded on my Facebook, but I’m not sure whether to make it public as I’m not an internet celebrity.

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