Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

The Japan “Not to Do” List

When I first moved to Japan back in 2000 I’m sure I had a fairly long list of things to do, especially since I was only planning to stay for a year (I ended up staying for six).  Said list probably included things like becoming competent in the language, taking a Japanese calligraphy class, wearing a kimono, and eating fugu (never did the last one, way too expensive and I just never developed a taste for sashimi).  I read a lot of books–L. Robert Kohls’ Survival Kit for Overseas Living (very helpful), Rex Shelley’s Culture Shock! Japan (not helpful at all, and ridiculously sexist to boot), and Murakami Ryu’s Coin Locker Babies (not really helpful unless you want to know how to keep a pet alligator in a Tokyo apartment and release gas into the city that makes everyone want to kill each other). 

Back then I was 23.  Now I’m 33, and the to-do list isn’t so long, especially since (most likely) I’ll only be there for a year this time around.  But looking back on the six years I spent in Japan–most of which were pure joy–I do see a few things that could be done differently.  So I think I’ll make a list of things that I’ll try NOT to do this time around, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep to it.

1. I will not hyper-feminize.  Coming from Texas, where jeans and T-shirts are appropriate attire almost anywhere, I was initially overwhelmed by how dressed up everyone seemed to be in Tokyo.  Feeling like a slob in comparison, I quickly went shopping for frilly pink dresses, high heels, suit skirts and jackets, and sparkly accessories.  I wore make-up more often than I ever had before and started wearing contact lenses.  In the end, though, I started to feel silly–not because there’s anything wrong with dressing in an overly girly way, but because it just wasn’t me.  I also tried to adopt a more girly and childlike manner, raising my voice a few octaves, giggling a lot, and embracing the hyper-feminized culture that surrounded me every day.  It was all too much work, and in the end I still felt like a failure in comparison to the perfectly coiffed, impossibly thin, Gucci-wearing women that seemed to surround me every day.  So this time around I’m not going to bother.  Sure, I’ll keep myself well-groomed and probably won’t dress as casually as I would in Texas, but I’m not buying anything pink and my voice is staying low. 

2. I will not whine about men in Japan having no interest in non-Japanese women.  I don’t think I did *too* much of this during my last stay, but I definitely took part in occasional bitchfests on the topic.  I analyzed why it was so, I scoffed at the shallowness of anyone who would choose a partner based primarily on some Orientalist stereotype, I felt genuine hurt & disappointment when men who seemed interested in me quickly hooked up with Japanese women with whom they shared no common language.  The whole conversation’s just not productive.  Men will take an interest in you or they won’t, and if they specifically don’t take an interest in you because you’re not Japanese, well, there’s really nothing you can do about it.  Moving on. 

3. I will not live in a bubble.  From 2000 to 2006 I became almost completely disconnected from pop culture and politics that wasn’t strongly connected to Japan.  Part of this was because I didn’t have internet at home (that won’t be the case this time), but it was also because it’s very easy to shut everything out when it isn’t constantly staring back at you from a newspaper or TV screen.  Sometimes it was a relief–I really didn’t need to hear what Paris Hilton was up to every other day, or learn that American Idol had taken the country by storm, or obsessively follow every development of that crazy new show Lost   (don’t attack me, Lost fanatics, I’m sure it’s a great show, I just gave up after coming in in the middle).  But I also wasn’t part of a lot of very important and interesting discussions–the politics of 9/11, the aftermath of Katrina, the Florida recount.  And I rarely volunteered or donated to causes I cared about.  I really can’t afford to do that this time.  So I’ll be sure to get a fast internet connection and subscribe to an international newspaper or two so that I can stay in touch with the outside world.      

4. I will not make a habit of eating at Tenya, MOS Burger, or Yoshinoya.  The first two are yummy, but they’re not good for me.  The third one’s just gross. 

Hopefully these resolutions won’t be too hard to keep, though a big bowl of Tenya’s tempura shrimp and veggies over rice with that special sauce sounds pretty amazing right now…


6 comments on “The Japan “Not to Do” List

  1. Jennifer
    May 22, 2010

    But…but…it’s MOS Burger! I definitely made a bad habit out of going there too often, but it’s soooo yum.

    I have one for you: don’t let yourself get caught up in the gaijin conversational vortex of complaining about Japanese people. Some of the ones who’ve been there so long don’t realize that they don’t really hate Japanese people. They just hate people. (Far be it for me to make fun of someone for hating people; I hate people, but at least I know it.)

  2. gradland
    May 22, 2010

    Haha! Oh yes, I love MOS Burger–I just had rather bad eating habits while I was in Japan, and having improved them a bit I don’t want to backslide too much. And yeah, the “one thing I hate about Japan is…” conversation gets old very quickly, and when you’ve been in Japan for a while you start to forget that the things that bug you in Tokyo would likely bug you wherever you lived.

  3. Shiruko99
    May 22, 2010

    great post. I totally hear you on the popular culture front – I’m still catching up on music/films/tv shows from when I lived in japan!

    One question – when you changed your voice, was that when you spoke In English or just when Fu-fu-Fu giggling in Japanese?

  4. gradland
    May 22, 2010

    I know that my voice mysteriously got higher whenever I spoke Japanese, but for a while there I think it was higher in English too…I gave up on that one pretty quickly, though, hurt the vocal cords too much.

  5. legalgenie
    July 8, 2010

    Completely agree with this post! My first furlough in Japan, I did all those things too–hyper-feminize, scare away Japanese men, live in a Japanese bubble, and stick to “Western-friendly” food. The second time around, I stayed true to my roots: kept my comfortable, California fashion; got myself a Japanese man who loves me as well as my nationality; subscribed to news blogs, and ate some weird stuff and liked it!

  6. gradland
    July 22, 2010

    Good on you–hopefully my second time around will be equally fruitful!

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This entry was posted on May 22, 2010 by in Japan and tagged .
Anne McKnight

writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)

A Modern Girl / モダンガール

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