Great article. Shosenkyo is a great place to visit, and is highly recommended as a part of any trip to Yamanashi. For the sake of reader understanding, however, it would be helpful if you clarify that the ”Arakawa river” that runs through Shosenkyo is a very small tributary of the Fujikawa, and not the big river that flows through Saitama, Tokyo and Chiba
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"I think one of the biggest mistakes some foreigners make is trying to live their lives as if they are not foreigners. "
Living in Japan as a non-native Japanese is always going to pose some unique challenges. That's true any time you move into a new culture. Its always best to remain open to new cultures, and to try to "fit in" as best you can, but it is also critical to accept that you ARE an outsider, and you always WILL BE an outsider. And most important of all, that there is absolutely NOTHING WRONG with being an outsider. If you learn the language and customs, you can actually "fit in" very well in Japan, to the point that most of your regular acquaintances will start to view you as "uchi" rather than "soto". Nevertheless, even if you manage to become a "Naijin" in some settings, it is important to come to terms with the idea that you will always be a "Gaijin" in Japan -- especially for people who have never met you.
Speaking as someone with a Japanese-sounding name, and 20+ years in the country, it doesnt matter if I can sometimes fool someone over the phone... theyre still going to see my face some day, and the obvious truth is that my face DOES make me a foreigner (or at least, it makes me "different"). The problem is that some people pretend that there's something wrong with people noticing the differences, and take it as a sign of "ingrained racism" or some such. The truth is, people notice these differences in every country on earth . . . and if you dont realise that for the fact that it is, all it proves is that you are a white, middle-class North American who grew up in a predominantly white middle-class cocoon and never had a chance to see how the real world functions until you got to Japan.
The question is how you deal with being "different". If it bugs you so much that you find yourself complaining all the time, and storing up frustration -- GO HOME. Some people just cant adjust to a different culture. There's no shame in that, but if you simply cant handle having people treat you differently, save yourself the frustration of prolonging your stay. Go back to whatever place you DO fit i.
For those who decide to stay, your life will be a lot less stressful if you learn to laugh about the cultural hiccups, or at least to keep them in perspective. For example, if you get tired of hearing the same lame questions every time you meet someone new, turn it into a teaching experience. When someone asks you "O-kuni wa doko?", tell them: "kuni ????? . . . OH! kuni! . . . Boku wa Musashi-no-kuni no mono. (or Sagami-no-kuni, Kai-no-kuni, Yamashiro-no-,kuni . . . etc.) Then you'll have the opening to explain both the inanity of the question, and the fact that an increasing number of non-Asians are now born in Japan, so the question may actually be unanswerable AS WELL AS offensive.
The question is whether you actually care enough about your adopted "home" to try to make it a better place (by teaching people more appropriate ways of interacting with foreigners), or whether youre just here for a paycheck. If you want to feel like you "belong" here, maybe the first thing you need to do is start acting as if you belong. Its fine to point out things about Japan that are unpleasant or could use improvement, but there are constructive and destructive ways to address these issues. If you do your best to choose the constructive path rather than just bashing Japan every chance you get, chances are youll be a lot happier.
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