Settling in Japan as a Foreigner

It has been almost ten years since I left Japan for graduate schools and I never really lived in this country since then. This summer I am restarting my life in Japan almost from scratch because I had no working bank account, no Japanese credit card, and no cell phone. My only Japanese ID, a passport, was going to expire as soon as I arrived in the country, too. I had to go through the process of establishing my existence step by step.

At the passport center, they rejected my photo because I was smiling in it. The bank probably knew how to deal with foreigners better but seemed not to know how to deal with a Japanese citizen who does not have ordinary things like set income sources or a cell phone number, but has too many of unusual things like home addresses. At the cell phone store they could not understand why I was not a customer who is switching from another cell phone company. They looked at me as if I had been an alien who had suddenly landed on the earth. At an electronic store, I asked where the section of wireless internet routers, and he laughed at me because I pronounced “router” as “ラウター.” He said, “are you talking about ルーター?” Wait. I am getting a feeling of starting over in a foreign country. I thought I was in the country where I grew up.

Turning on the TV, I find that 40% of the TV commercials are about “skin whitening” cosmetics. Hirosue Ryoko, somehow still one of the most popular actresses, tells you, “White — that’s the pure color you were born in. Please do not contaminate it.” I cannot believe this is broadcast without any political uprising.

People are nice and food is good here. I do not mean to criticize Japan. But it certainly became a lot more mysterious than before.

Category(s): Japan

5 Responses to Settling in Japan as a Foreigner

  1. I was never in Japan for more than 2 years at a time, so I never had this kind of reverse culture shock coming back to the US. It must be kind of surreal.

    On the whiteness though, wasn’t white==beautiful the general formula for women even long before the inundation of western culture, since untanned skin was a sign that you were wealthy enough to stay inside all day?

    On a more general note, what is your quasi-outside-looking-in opinion of Japanese TV in general? Observations I usually make when I see Japanese TV are:
    1) How can a morning news show consider itself respectable when all it does is show photographs of that morning’s newspapers?
    2) Why do they write everything that everyone says as 字幕 on お笑い TV shows and such? It’s nice for gaijin like myself that don’t have perfect Japanese, but I hardly think that’s that reason they do it.
    3) Pasting magnets on a board to convey information hasn’t been done on US TV for 30 years. Why do they still do it in Japan? Considering #2, they certainly have the technology for computerized text on the screen.
    4) All the ワイドショー、お笑い、variety shows, etc. all seem embarrassingly low-budget, even on the major networks.

  2. As for the skin whitening, I don’t think it was any “westernization” effect at all either. It is just amazing, though, how anti-diversity they are.

    Don’t even let me start on the Japanese TV shows. 99% of the shows are a waste of time. I don’t know if this is because I grew up or they have far lower budgets right now. I have heard of the reasons why they have jimaku things in the “variety” shows before but I don’t remember clearly. It was something to do with making it easier for the audience to know the moments of “you should laugh right now” and filling in blanks (literally, blanks on the screen). Even TV dramas are stupid. No grabbing actresses. Even comedians cannot speak well. UGH.

  3. Sayaka,

    I am an American who I lived in Japan for four years, South Korea for a year, England for two years and other time here and there. There is an expression “You can never go home” and it’s quite true. When living away from your own culture so long you can not go back to just accepting or even doing things as expected. Japan makes this extra hard because it demands “us Japanese” do things the same. So, your smile int he photo (which I was guilty of too) is shocking to most Japanese. Even when I could speak Japanese fairly well, often Japanese people would look at me as if I was unreal or incomprehensible.
    My solution, throw my hands up, smile and make the best of things. Good luck!

    About research–
    I’ve done a bit of research around the world and every place is different and they all make up unpredictable rules. The US being a get things done type culture is aimed in that direction, but others, such as Russia were very strict and formal (you need a few letters of introduction to see primary sources most places, even though much of the information so closely guarded no one would be interested in anyways). Japan is quite an orderly place, so on the one hand finding materials is easy enough, but rules and more rules shouldn’t be a shock.

    In the famous last words of Hello Kitty *I heart cute~* That pretty much sums up the value of Japanese television. Oh, and then the depressing fact that Japanese watch the most television of any other peoples in the world!!! Yikes Smilie: :-)

  4. Benjamin, Thanks for sharing your thoughts here! I totally agree. Sorry for my late response.

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