5. Houses aren’t insulated
Insulation in housing pretty much sucks. It gets really hot in the summer, and really, really cold in the winter. I do have A/C in my house, but it’s only in one room, and it’s really expensive to use. Whereas back home in America, my house would be nice and cool on a hot day without using air conditioning.
4.Microaggressions and being stared at/being judged
Japan is incredibly xenophobic. So while it’s easy to get a tourist visa and come over here to experience Japanese culture (which the Japanese adore–they love when tourists come and see historical monuments or want to meet a geisha) or even a long-term visa to work as an English teacher, it’s incredibly hard to be accepted into Japanese culture. People stare at you because of how you look. They’ve never seen thick brown hair like yours before! And your eyes, they’re a different shape! And your nose is different, and you dress differently, and act differently, and how is it you speak Japanese? Japanese is so hard, only a Japanese person can speak the language! Hair salons refusing to service you because “they can’t handle gaijin hair.” Going to a summer festival and taking a break on a park bench only to have a small child run up and stare at you the entire time you’re looking at your phone, making you uncomfortable. Saying literally ONE WORD of Japanese and having everyone praise you for “how well you speak Japanese!” Using chopsticks at school and having all your teachers praise you for “oh you use chopsticks so well!” But the worst culprit of all has to be landlords refusing to rent you apartments because “we don’t allow gaijin.”
These all seem like little things, for the most part, so if it was just one or two things happening, or maybe once in a while something like this happened, I wouldn’t mind. But it happens nearly every day.
But Corinne. that’s what Latino/Latina/black/Asian/non-white Americans feel like all the time in the States!
Which is why I’m pointing it out here: it has to stop. Japan has to stop judging foreigners just as much as we have to stop judging non-white Americans.
Everything has to be approved by everyone. Everyone needs paper copies of everything, everything has to be pre-approved, and Japan, despite having the image of a technologically-advanced country because of places like Tokyo, is very much a country run by old men. Fax machines are common here, and rarely do classrooms have much technology of any sort. Take, for example, my school’s copy machine.
My school’s copy machine is amazing. It’s the latest model, and it can do tons of stuff, like copying, faxing (actually, those are about the only two things it can do, LOL). It also has a USB port, and can print .pdf and .docx files–I make a lot of my class worksheets using MS Word, so that’s absolutely perfect for me! However, my vice-principal came up to me one day and told me this: “You can’t connect the USB to the copy machine anymore because it’s connected to the school phone line and your USB could have a virus that would infect our phone system.” So he directed me to a different machine that could print stuff, only this machine doesn’t like to print out anything except JPEG images. So now, when I make worksheets for class, I have to save them as a JPEG (not terribly hard, just takes a lot of time) and make sure that it’s optimized for an A4-sized paper, because otherwise the machine will print it out horizontally and I can’t use it.
Japan doesn’t know how to use computers, doesn’t appreciate or value technological innovations, and is run by old men who require that everything has paper documentation.
This video explains Japan’s love affair with bureaucracy better than I ever could.
Credit kawaiijutsu via Youtube.
2. Fear of natural disasters
Japan is part of what is known as “the ring of fire,” and it’s no stranger to large earthquakes, typhoons that cause flooding, tsunamis, etc. And it’s very scary here, living in Japan.
But Corinne, that happens almost anywhere. Natural disasters can happen anywhere at all, right?
True. But in California, I never really experienced any earthquakes, except for one relatively big one the night after I got back from my first trip to Japan. Apparently we did have earthquakes a lot when I was living in California, I just never felt them or registered them. So here in Japan, living in an apartment that moves back and forth in order to absorb the shock of an earthquake, is really triggering for my anxiety. We’ll have a shindo 2 earthquake (the weakest one that can be felt by humans) in the middle of the night and it’ll still wake me up. The only comforting thing about this situation is that specifically because Japan experiences so many natural disasters, there’s safety measures in place in case a large one happens.
1. My downstairs neighbor
Some of you are probably reading this going, “Wait, what?” But it’s true.
My downstairs neighbor is a grumpy old guy who does not at all appreciate living below a young, single female. Let me tell you a story…
When I first arrived in Japan, over a year ago, it was blazing hot and very humid. We were brought to Iwaki at about 4 PM, and after a brief visit to the downtown Board of Education, we were each driven to our individual apartments. One of my senpai met us at my apartment building and showed me and my two fellow ALTs various things of importance in our apartments, like the gas stove, the hot water control, the circuit breaker, etc. Then she told us that she was going to take us to get some food and show us the local grocery store so we could buy things we needed. We should meet her outside in front of the apartment building at six so we could walk to the restaurant and make it in time for our reservation.
I was so overwhelmed with everything, so tired from the long bus ride from Tokyo and then subsequently the long car ride from nearby Koriyama where we had first gone for a brief ceremony, and so stressed out, that I did not hear the doorbell ring. I walked past my front door and was scared almost out of my skin to see an old guy standing there in my front entrance way! He scolded me for “walking too loudly” and didn’t really seem very receptive to the fact that I had just arrived, was very overwhelmed, had no idea what was going on, and anxious because at that point I was going to be late meeting everyone for dinner.
It wasn’t until later, when we arrived at the restaurant and met my predecessor that I heard the whole story from her. (My predecessor meaning the girl who had my job before me and lived in what is now my apartment).
He doesn’t like foreigners, and he would often come and yell at her even when she wasn’t doing anything wrong. He would accuse her of making noise when she hadn’t really done anything that was excessively loud, but at other times, she would have friends over and they would be talking in normal voices and he wouldn’t come upstairs. Since it had been a few days since she’d moved out, he’d probably gotten used to not having anyone living above him, and was therefore not pleased about having someone live above him again. It was also at that point that I learned that in Japan, the genkan (front entrance) is considered “public space” if you don’t lock your front door. In Japanese homes, there is a “genkan,” which is a small dugout space where you remove your shoes. So since this guy was standing in this lowered bit of floor, it wasn’t trespassing.
(Makes me wonder if someone could steal my shoes and get away with it if the door was unlocked and I’d left shoes there. Knowing Japan, probably.)
That episode left an enormous effect on me, and ever since then, I’ve been very vigilant about locking my door anytime I’m not actively entering or exiting the house. But after another episode a few months later in which I tripped and fell in the kitchen and he came upstairs and rang my doorbell, I answered it because I thought he was being neighborly and checking to make sure I was okay. But he started yelling at me about how much noise I was making, insisting that I “listen to so much loud music all the time and I need to stop” (despite the fact that I wore headphones 85% of the time I played music in my apartment and the other 15% of the time I played it from my computer but never let the volume go above 20 or so). And there was another time when I banged my leg against the table. A few seconds after that, I heard him storm up the stairs, and then he rang my doorbell over and over again. I knew it was him, and I was not in the mood to deal with it, so I just didn’t answer the door. When he rang the doorbell six or seven times in a row and I didn’t answer, he started pounding really loudly on my door, banging on it so hard that I thought he was going to break it down. Eventually he realized I wasn’t going to answer, and so he left again.
The main reason I told that long, long story is to get to the point: the sound of my doorbell ringing or someone knocking on my door gives me panic attacks. A while ago, I ordered something off Ebay, and it said it would be delivered on the 21st. So on the 21st, my doorbell rang. I knew with pretty much 100% certainty that it was the mailman, but my heart started pounding really hard and I started shaking. I looked out the peephole and saw that it was, in fact, the mail guy. But then after I signed for the package and he left, I realized I was trembling, and then when I registered that, I broke down in tears because I realized that I am now scared of answering my door no matter who it is.
Taking a tip from my predecessor in that she theorized that he didn’t tend to bother her when she had people over, I started pretending that I was living with someone. I started saying “Tadaima” (“I’m home”) when coming home, and “Ittekimasu” (“I’m leaving”) when going out. And apparently, it worked. He now seems to think I live with a boyfriend of some sort and doesn’t come upstairs as often. But it still causes me undue stress, and my downstairs neighbor is the #1 reason I hate living in Japan.