Many, in fact most of my thoughts during these last days in Japan revolve around the people and things that will surely be missed when Florida is called home, and Japan far over the horizon. A great number of things I love about this country have never been mentioned in these recollections, either for lack of space or absence from my thoughts at the time of writing. But it would be a little odd, and maybe even false to pretend that everything weighs on the good or positive side.
I have described earlier the rosy view that filtered my observations and perceptions during the first few years in Japan, a perspective that covered all but the most extreme experiences in a pretty camouflage. In time, the camouflage lost its effectiveness little by little and I began to catch glimpses of cracks, sharp edges, and the occasional unpleasant sight or encounter. Nothing unique about the phenomenon; given time it happens in all countries and societies.
Yes, Japan has its warts and dark shadows. Still, to be fair, admittedly one man’s bilge is another man’s champagne, and perceptions can be different depending on the individual. I am sensitive to certain customs or behavior that may leave another observer unmoved.
With that condition in mind, where then are the lumps in my Japan? Not all, but most foreigners living in Japan will tell you that true acceptance into a group, or view into the inner mind or thoughts of a Japanese person is very rare for a non-Japanese. Basically, we are as the Japanese word for ‘foreigner’ describes, forever the gaijin, or ‘outside person.’ There is always in Japan the concept of inner and outer, and all but a small few gaijin live irrevocably in the outer circle.
Individual opinion is scarce in Japan, if only because the average person fears being different, or at least seen as being different. It is a group society, and group opinion rules.
Public manners in Japan are sadly out of shape, and growing ever more hard to find in present day Japan. Most of the courtesies that oil the workings of daily life in a big city are by and large ignored here. More than often it’s a case of each person all for himself, since the crowd around him is unknown and operating in the same egoistical way. Trains, buses, streets, inside stores, in public gatherings—too little consideration for the other person.
Japan and its people have been lauded for their kindness and their politeness. There’s no argument on the fact of widespread kindness among Japanese people. My experience is full to the brim with the genuine kindness of these people. On the other hand, politeness here is often confused with a well-rehearsed pretense. There is often a hollowness or blank look behind the polite expression of many, something that is well described by the word, tatemae, or ‘outward show.’ Politeness can be and is often superficial.
Despite my own doubts, I do get tired of being told after the simplest line or two that my Japanese is very good. It’s much the same as being told that I can use chopsticks very well. The implication in both is that these are difficult skills where competence for non-Japanese is rare. My impression is that more than anything else it’s merely a naive viewpoint. Nonetheless, it gets tiring.
With all that, I think enough has been said on this subject. Yes, Japan has its warts and dark shadows, but whatever they are, I owe a debt to the country and its people, who have treated me well over the long years.