Recently I read an interesting article by Khatzumoto at AJATT and he writes about having bad experiences when living in Japan. Obviously, this advice applies to anyone living in any foreign country. However, if you look online, there expats who complain endlessly about Japan being racist, xenophobic, etc. If you listen to these people only, you may get a negative impression about places like Japan or Korea that have so few foreigners.
I think Khatz makes some really good points:
You know, every now and then, here in Japan, I’ll meet someone who’s a jerk, and I’ll think “what am I even doing here? why did I even bother? Japanese people are so X”. But…that’s unfair; it’s unfair of me to slam all of Japan and Japanese people because of the occasional drunken middle-aged man, or housewives who stare, or even the lady at immigration who is, in fact, a retard [you can talk to her in keigo, and she will respond in baby talk; she is clearly a first-degree retard], or whatever….In the vast majority of cases, it seems to me that if someone is a jerk to you [for being a foreigner], they are generally jerks to fellow countrymen, too — this is a fact. When Momoko and I were trying to get married here (looong story), there was this…creature…at city hall, and I had my Japanese friend T-star talk to him to see if City Hall Creature could be tamed, and T-star calls me back after attempting to negotiate with City Hall Creature and says: “Khatz, that guy…he’s…a richardhead; I have never had to deal with someone so unreasonable. Japanese people aren’t supposed to act this way, and don’t take him as an example for the whole country”.
But I think the key to success in a foreign country is really, really learn the language well (which is the point of that article). Based on Khatz’s experience:
Most of the time here, old women are telling me that I’m a “nice young man”, more than once older guys have randomly said: “Khatz, you can’t leave Japan! You know so much about it now, it would be a huge waste. You should just stay here forever; you’d be a good Japanese person.” One time, a schoolkid came up to me and went “Harro (hello)” and I said “欧米かっ？！[stop trying to be American!]” and we had a huge laugh about it. I’ve only bought rice twice since I came to Japan because T-star’s family sends me HUGE bags of fresh rice and vegetables from their fields. People will *thank* me for speaking Japanese because they were worried that they were going to have to use their rusty English. The taxi drivers by my train station always take the time to say hello, and update me on what’s happening in Prison Break. The people at the Japanese Consulate in Denver processed my visa with incredible speed, and then said “good on ya, kid; ganbatte in Japan” to me. The other week, I was pausing from a walk to read manga, and a random man stops his minivan and goes: “[You can read Japanese manga?]” and I’m all “…yes?” and he says: “Good job!” and then drives off.
In my limited experience, I have the same experience with people being happy I can speak Japanese or “good job” because I read Japanese manga on the train. Unlike Khatz, my Japanese isn’t very good, but I can survive walking around, asking questions, etc. When I do this, I can see some people are relieved. If a big blue-eyed foreigner like me walks up and can’t speak Japanese and suddenly starts speaking English, how might you feel?
Finally Khatz says:
So…if you really put your negative experiences into perspective, you’ll probably find that they are easily cancelled out by the positive. Perhaps it’s time to recall what made you want to learn the language in the first place.
The secret I think is to really make the effort (not “weekend warrior”, full-time) effort to learn and blend in, stay positive and remember not to take some things personally.
P.S. Part 1 is an old post I wrote 3 years ago.