Friday, December 10, 2004

Why I'm Still Here...

So here it is. My blog.

I've gotten a few emails out of the blue from old friends who say stuff like "Shit, you're still in Japan? One of my housemates is moving out, come to Brooklyn and we'll start a country-punk band and rule the world." But no, I'm still here, (ostensibly) learning Japanese cooking, mangling the langauge and wookin pa nub in all the wrong places.

So WHY am I still in Japan? Maybe this blog'll help me figure that out. Whenever I actually stop think about this, my mind always circles back to Alan Booth's The Roads to Sata. This is one of those books that just about every English speaking ex-pat in Japan has read but nobody in the US has heard of, and can always be found in the English section of a bookstore next to a stack of Abridged Classics of English Literature and "Letters to Penthouse" compilations 1-3. Alan Booth spent most of his adult life in Japan, coming here in his early twenties. He originally came to study Noh, but soon found contemporary Noh in Japan staid and boring. But he never ended up leaving, eventually working as a travel writer. Booth's writing is mostly about his walks through rural Japan, the people he meets, and the vast amounts of beer he consumes. His writing about rural Japan is amazing; totally unsentimental, very funny, and moving at the most unexpected times. At the end of the Roads to Sata Booth stops to consider why he has stayed in Japan for seven years and still can't come up with any particular compelling reason. And all the ex-pats I know who stay without a set date to leave by have the same problems defining exactly what keeps them here. At any rate, my current work visa is up by next year in August, so it comes down to these next few months.

At any rate, lets look at some of the major reasons Americans stay in Japan, see which ones apply to me.

1) With Little or No Experience You Can Get Paid An Exorbinant Amount of Money to Teach English. Teaching English is a devils bargain. The problem is that very few people in Japan actually WANT to learn English. English is more of a status thing than a practical thing. They want to be able to impress their friends or appear sophisticated. But the number of people who have a genuine interest in the language, whether for work or just as a hobby, is miniscule. So you're stuck with the shallow flakes who don't actually put any effort into learning the language, and it drives you crazy, wondering what you're doing wrong, how these people can be forking out $30 to $100 an hour to sit there silently. I left full time English teaching after my first year here. I still teach occasionally to pay the rent, but I avoid it full time, too much crap involved.

2) It's Easy to Score With Japanese Girls. Umm, nope, can't say this one applies to me. White guys (and lately black guys as well) are fetishized like crazy in Japan. But only by lame people. Ironically some of the people with the best English here hold the most stereotypes about foreigners, drawing the strictist line between what is "Japanese" and what is "foreign". And since they already have developed these stereotypes about you, they're interested in the stereotype, not in you. The most interesting people I've met in Japan (both guys and girls) rarely speak English.

3) I Have A Japan Fetish. OK, some of my favorite movies are anime (Spirited Away? Come on, who didn't like it?) And, well, yes, all my first initial reading in Japanese was manga. OK, I majored in Japanese history at school, but not samurai! I majored in post-samurai stuff, looking at serious subjects like labor history and... identity formation. You know, real useful serious academic stuff. I'm no geek, not me. You'll just have to take my word on this one.

4) I Am A Political Refugee Hmm, good ring to it. I wish I'd be doing radical enough stuff when I was in the US to warrant this. I have been enjoying being outside the US during all the bullshit of the past few years though.

5) I'm Just Used To It Even when I was living there I felt the US was pretty messed up, so it wasn't such a leap to come to another messed up and conservative country. Here I feel like I'm constantly learning and growing, there's always more to know, more to learn. It really comes down to the small things, the pace of life, the food, and of course the people.

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