Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.danieletrevisani.com
I wasn’t really sure about the topic of today’s article, because there are actually too many things to say about being a foreigner in Japan, but I decided to list some pros and cons that had a special impact in my daily life there.
The first thing I must underline is the fact that I’m Italian, so please note that my point of view may be different from yours if you do not come from the same culture as mine. Furthermore, everything is based on my personal experience as a working student, so be aware that my list of advantages and disadvantages can be considered incomplete by those how had a different experience.
First of all, I would like to start with a negative issue: being accepted in Japan can be very difficult.
This doesn’t mean that people make you feel unwelcomed, maybe some people do, but there are very few of them. What I mean is that they will always see you as a foreigner, even though you speak their language perfectly or you own a house and car and have lived there for more than 20 years.
The worst thing is that there is nothing you can do to be fully accepted, because it is impossible to have the requirements: being born and raised in Japan by Japanese parents, or, in other words, being a pure blood Japanese.
The good thing about all of this is that, since you will never be considered a real Japanese, you won’t have to put up with social pressure, trying to live up to the expectations of Japanese society, which are very high.
As it is well known, Italy is one of those countries with a high level of petty crime. When I have to go the station or when I have to go out alone during night hours, I’m always scared of bumping into some pickpocket, that wants to steal my bag. When I was in Japan, I always felt safe when walking down the street, even when I had to head home from work at midnight.
Another example to explain this incredible fact is the following: when I went for the first time in a food court inside a shopping centre, I noticed that people left their bags on the tables to occupy them without anyone to check on them.
That really surprised me, because I couldn’t believe they weren’t afraid of someone stealing them, but that’s how Japan is and it’s great.
Here comes my Italian side. People in Italy are usually very direct: we are used to openly express our emotions and ideas, without fear, while Japan is totally the opposite: people do not speak their mind and interpreting their thoughts is a hard task.
Creating long-lasting relationships was the most difficult part of my experience. The truth is I made many friends, but no one was Japanese. I had Chinese friends, Korean friends, Italian and American friends, but I couldn’t make a single true Japanese friend.
But as I explained before, maybe that is something related only to my personal experience and nothing more.
Cleanliness and Punctuality
This is probably something you have heard more than one time about Japan. The Japanese have enormous respect for society and social harmony. For this reason, it is unacceptable to leave a place dirty or to fail one’s word, failing their duties by arriving late.
This is why everything is always clean and punctual.
It may happen that, for example, a train arrives late, but usually it is due to some major problem, like accidents or poor weather conditions.
During my stay in Japan there was only a time when my train was late and that was when a big snowfall created some damages on the trainline. I remember that I took the train at 11 p.m. after finishing my work and I arrived at home at 2:30 a.m… I was devastated, but fortunately I didn’t have to repeat that experience for a second time!
The Japanese Language
This is the last, but not least part. As I said before I was a working student in Japan, so I was there to work and learn the language. I must say that at first, I couldn’t speak Japanese quite well and for that reason, many things appeared more difficult than it actually were.
If I have to use one of my experiences again, I would choose the first time I went to an hospital, 2 days after my arrival in Japan.
I wasn’t very lucky, that’s true, because I contracted a kidney infection during the flight, that caused me many problems.
I clearly remember it was Sunday and hospitals were closed, so I had to call an ambulance to have an immediate complete check-up. The people on the ambulance didn’t speak English, so I couldn’t well explain how I was feeling and, at the same time, they couldn’t understand what my emergency was.
Fortunately, my Italian flatmate, who later became my friend, helped me, coming with me to the hospital to mediate. This way, I could overcome the language gap and cure the infection.
After improving my language skills there were no more problems like that, so, for those who decide to go to Japan, please remember that you may be lucky and find someone who speaks English, but usually if you do not know the language, you may encounter many more obstacles, than necessary.
To conclude, being a foreigner in Japan is not easy, but if you begin your experience with an open mind, ready to find a different world made of different values and a different language, you will be able to overcome all obstacles and maybe find a new place to call home.
Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com
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