I’ve avoided posting on this blog for a long time because I was being a coward. But not anymore!
The truth is, I’m leaving Japan, and I’ve known it for a very long time. What I’m about to say might come across as… harsh. I might piss some people off, and I've braced myself for potential backlash. But I think honesty is the best course of action, and if you read this all the way through, my ultimately positive outlook should become clear!
So... it might seem a little strange that someone who took night courses on Japanese in high school, took four years of Japanese in university, studied abroad in Tokyo for one year, graduated with a double-major in Japanese and East-Asian Studies, and worked in Japan for two years would suddenly say, “y’know what? Fuck it. I’m outta here.” In fact, when people tell me, “well, at least you can return to the United States and use your Japanese to get a unique job,” I say, “not interested.” And when people tell me I can become a translator, or work in ESL, or tutor Japanese, I say, “not interested.” When people tell me I can use my experiences as a band girl in Japan to find a creative outlet, I tell them:
It might sound sudden, but it’s not. There’s no dramatic story or sudden betrayal that made me decide to leave. It was something that crept up on me slowly; something I was vaguely aware of that felt so right when I finally figured it out. It was like being stuck on a train racing down the tracks and finally realizing, for the first time, that I can fucking jump off. Sure, the landing might hurt, but then I’m free!
Every day, I see people from all over the world sinking their claws into Japan even as the tide tries to drag them away. To them, Japan is not a country – it’s a goal. A medal. An achievement. A badge that says, “I made it, when all those other losers didn’t!” Rather than a country, Japan is an escape. A delusion. A place to run to when the world around us – when our responsibilities – becomes too frightening to manage.
In the underground concert culture, I’m surrounded by this attitude the most. All too often, I see foreign fans attending concerts for every reason except the music. To these people, JRock bands are not bands, they are models. They are not bands, they are hosts. They’re a group of moderately attractive men who smile at you, notice you, and bolster your tarnished ego. They make you feel like you’re important, like you stand out, like you finally matter to someone. Similarly, many foreigners come to Japan to feel special or needed. In their home countries, they are no one. To escape that crushing realization, they come to Japan, where they’re finally considered “unique.” Some people need this feeling so badly, they’ll do any manner of destructive things.
They’ll take out massive loans.
They’ll leave loving relationships.
They’ll quit profitable career paths.
They’ll sell valuable, meaningful possessions.
And Japan eats it all up with a smile. All-too-often, Japan takes self-conscious, complex-riddled foreigners, and wraps them in its strong, comfortable arms. What many foreigners don’t realize is that Japan is secretly reaching into their back pockets and stealing their money, time, and self respect.
Foreigners take jobs they hate, accept living conditions they despise, associate with people they can’t stand, and give up all their power to a country that doesn’t want them. I’ve heard stories about foreigners who are practically abused at their jobs – treated as slaves, forced to work obscene hours, and fired for no reason. Yet those foreigners insist on staying because, for some reason, “being in Japan” is enough. We can’t just blame Japan, because this is masochism on the part of the foreigner who continues to stay.
Even though I’ve been aware of all these issues from the start, I was a willing participant in the system. I wanted adventure. I wanted a niche. I wanted to be part of something unique. I was sucked deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole because I simply didn’t have any other idea what to do with myself. I was afraid to fail, so I did what came easiest to me. I was afraid of America’s poor job market, I was afraid of “not being good enough,” and I was afraid of slipping through the cracks of normalcy like everyone else.
And, in the end, normal and typical is exactly what I became. I became That Foreigner. That Foreigner that takes a shitty job to go to shitty concerts and live in this one, specific country. I was becoming an inexplicable Lifer. I became exactly what I hated from the start. I made excuses all the time. I used this blog to justify continuing my lifestyle, and I used my Japanese studies to justify a career path I knew I could never achieve. I simply couldn’t see another way. I’d come this far, so there was nothing left to do but keep walking straight. If I spent so much time and effort learning Japanese, what choice did I have but to be in Japan using it?
Although I’ve been having such thoughts for awhile, I suppose the turning point for me came at a staff party a year ago. Our faculty was eating at a lousy French restaurant and forcing our company on each other. Eventually, the principal pulled me into a conversation. I smiled politely and indulged him for awhile. The alcohol loosened his tongue, and he started asking me some very sharp questions, such as:
“Why are you here? Why would a girl who is so young, smart, educated, and attractive be wasting her time doing a job like this? Don’t you want a real job? You have so much going for you…”
My own principal was basically telling me, “I think it’s stupid that you work for me.” It hurt, to be honest. I smiled through everything he said, but I went home fuming. How dare he say such rude things to me! It’s not his place to judge my life!
But I knew he was right. I wasn’t angry at him, I was angry at myself for allowing it to be true. Here I am, with all these talents and skills, wasting every day of my life sitting at a desk reading the internet and playing with my iPhone, or standing purposelessly in class, teaching children who don’t need to learn English and don’t want to either.
The devil and the angel were on my shoulders.
The devil said: “You know why you’re here. You only live once! Look around you! Look at all those older people who are so jealous that you’re enjoying your life! They wish they’d spent their youth having fun, rather than focusing so diligently on studying and work! You’re enjoying yourself while you still have energy and time. There’s nothing wrong with that! Sure, the job is lame, but every weekend is spent having fun! You get to go to all these cool, weird concerts! How sweet is that?! And your job is sooooo easy. Enjoy it! Sitting around doing nothing and getting paid out the ass for it?! Who would turn that down?!”
And the angel said: “You enjoy your weekends? Well, that’s great. And five-out-of-seven days are torture. You’ll be an outsider forever, no matter what you do. The teachers won’t talk to you or acknowledge you, and they have no respect for what you do because you do nothing. You’re a plaything to the students, a tape recorder to the English teachers, and an awkward nuisance to the rest of the staff. You live in the middle of nowhere, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. You have no access to upward career mobility or stable relationships. Available friendships are temporary and fleeting. Every year that you spend here, you become buried deeper beneath Japan’s foreigner bureaucracy. You’re in a country with abysmal health care, a failing economy, and a terrible education system. You chose this.”
“But the concerts,” I argued. “They’re so much fun!”
And the angel snickered and said: “Who are you kidding? You never cared about visual-kei in the first place, and you never liked indies music. You hate the people at indies concerts. They’re self-entitled, self-important, egocentric bitches. The Japanese girls are spoiled and desperate, and the foreigners are competitive and hateful towards each other. It’s a beehive of self-confidence complexes and poor self-esteem, and the more time you spend with those people, the more like them you become. Friendships made at concerts are shallow. You hardly like a single band. The music is low quality, repetitive, and unoriginal. It’s a glorified aerobics class. Besides, visual-kei - and Japanese rock in general - is dying. Do you truly believe this system will hold up for another ten years? You’ll throw away all your opportunities just to have fun, and then you’ll find yourself in your thirties with no passion, a terrible job, and the scene will be gone. What will you do then?!”
It was a terrifying realization, but I knew it was true. If I stayed in Japan after my contract, I had two options:
Option A: Join a private English school or another English teaching program and continue teaching with longer hours and lower pay.
Translation: Kill me.
Or, Option B: Improve my Japanese and join Japan’s business world.
Translation: Fucking kill me.
I have no interest in teaching, and no interest in business. Option A means spending the rest of my life teaching, even though I don't enjoy it. What frightens me is how readily I accepted the idea of Option B, knowing full well how much I despise business. I have no skills for business, or any patience for a cubicle lifestyle. Neither option utilizes any of the skills I actually succeed at. In other words, both options mean a lifetime of “never being quite good enough” at what I do, which is exactly what I was avoiding in the first place.
Do you see now why I call this masochism?
Of course, there’s Option C: meet a Japanese guy and getting married. First of all, the likelihood of me meeting a Japanese guy I can enjoy communicating with for the rest of my life is infinitesimally tiny, and marrying for a visa is gross. I’m not a whore, and I’m worth a helluva lot more than that.
I suppose the difference between me and people who are willing to get married for a visa is that I’m not willing to do whatever it takes to remain in Japan. Why should I? Why should I get on my knees for this country? What is the reward, exactly? I get to go to concerts? So what? The bands are temporary, and there’s plenty of music beyond Japan that I enjoy. Is there anything else I like about Japan? Well… no. I don’t care for anime or manga, I don't like Japanese movies or dramas, I have no interest in history or ikebana or kendo. I’m not willing to sacrifice my time, a career, relationships, my family, or my self-respect on a country that will fight me every step of the way. I’m not giving up, I’m taking back my power. Japan and I were butting horns like two rams, and in order to win, I backed away and let Japan fall down. When I handed in the papers that informed the Board of Education that I wasn’t going to re-contract, I felt so triumphant, I bought a small cake.
Of course, I’m no fool. I know what faces me when I return to the United States. I’ll have to (temporarily) give up my independent living situation. I’ll have to (temporarily) take a minimum wage job that makes me want to jump off a cliff. I’ll have to (temporarily) leave my best friend behind. But, in the end, it’ll be worth making the leap off that train. Besides, Japan will always be here. Unless Godzilla sinks the islands, the country’s not going anywhere, and I can always come back.
Everything I’ve said above might sound cynical, but the truth is, I’ve loved the time I’ve spent in Japan. I’ve had an amazing experience, and there’s nothing I would change. I met a lot of wonderful people, made some great friends, and I’m not at all lying when I say I regret nothing about the time I’ve spent here. I accomplished exactly what I intended to do: I had a great time and some awesome experiences and I enjoyed the hell out of myself.
But now it’s time to grow up and move on to greener pastures.
My decision to leave is what’s best for me, but it’s certainly not for everyone. There are many foreigners in Japan finding their own paths to success and happiness. Some of them discover they actually enjoy teaching and want to take it to a career level. Some of them find loving, happy relationships. Some of them use their time in Japan to jumpstart a very successful – even awesome – career in fields beyond teaching. And I think that’s amazing. This world is shrinking and becoming increasingly globalized, and we need more internationalized people to help bring nations together. Everyone has a right to find their own happiness, and if merely being in Japan makes someone happy, well… that’s great for them. I’m not like that, but some people are. Unfortunately, all-too-often, those people are the exception to the rule. Japan isn’t as open to globalization as its foreigners are. Japan tends to see foreigners as a commodity to be used and discarded, and there are only so many times you can be discarded before there’s nothing left to throw away. My cynicism doesn’t even stem from my experiences. I work at a pretty great school with an awesome salary, friendly staff, and fantastic working hours. I have a really great situation, to tell you the truth, and I'm not ungrateful. But I look around me, at the people in my life, and I see what lies in the rapidly approaching future. I see what I might become if I stay. Some people need a Japanese boyfriend, or they need to go to concerts, or they need to run away from their families. But I don’t. Those things don’t make me happy.
I can honestly say this blog was one of the best parts of my entire Japan experience. It was years ago that I realized I actually enjoyed writing on this blog more than I enjoyed going to concerts. The people who commented or sent me emails or said “hi” to me at shows made me so happy. The truth is, it’s this blog that finally made me realize what I want to do with my life. I’ve toyed with the idea of becoming a writer since I was very small. The only problem was that I was ashamed of my writing, and never thought it was good enough to be seen. Since I was old enough to type, I’ve horded literally thousands of pages of unseen text. But this blog finally gave me the courage to let my writing be seen, and it allowed me to hone my skills and test the waters without excessive fear of repercussions.
The realization dawned on me while I was studying for the JLPT N2: I have no interest in learning Japanese. After all this time, I finally realized how much I don’t care. The reason? Because I love English so much. I don’t say that because it’s my native tongue – I say that because English is one of my few passions. It’s an amazing language – an amalgamation of the languages of the world – pliable, flexible, and ever-changing. I love it. If I could, I would fill a bathtub with English and soak myself inside it. I want to write. That’s all I want to do. It’s what I should have turned to in the first place. I don’t get paid to write on this blog – it’s a hobby. Writing on the side doesn’t make you a writer. Anyone can write. Recently, a wonderful friend of mine encouraged me to participate in National November Writing Month. I completed NaNoWriMo’s fifty-thousand word goal several days early, with ninety pages of material.
And then I kept going. An actual book is forming! I’m going to return to the United States, and I’m going to work on getting into writing and getting published. I’m not going to waste any more time in Japan avoiding what I love because I fear not to succeed. I’m going to return home, grab life by the reins, and ride that bitch into the sunset. Japan asked me to get on my knees and beg, and I uppercut Japan in the nutsack and ran off with my dignity still clutched in my arms.
It’s been an awesome three years, but it’s time to go. I’m scheduled to leave in August. I’m still going to concerts on the side, and I’m still having a great time. I want to be present on this blog again, but it’s hard to find time between work and writing a gigantic, out-of-control novel. I just wanted to let everyone know what happened, and why I faded away. I’m not dead, and nothing dramatic or terrible occurred. Unfortunately, I wasn’t abducted by aliens or anything exciting like that either. I’m hyper-focused on writing a book and gathering up the pieces of my life, and it doesn’t leave a lot of mental power for this blog. There’s not much left to say about concerts around here, because I see very few bands, and those bands don’t do anything particularly worth noting at their shows. Oooh, so-and-so has new pants. Edgy.
For now, I’ll either shift this blog’s gears in another direction, or make a new one. I’m not entirely sure. I have a couple concert reports – half-written – that I could possibly post here, but it might be counterproductive at this point. Basically, I want to start doing something a lot more serious than Twisted in Tokyo. Whether that means writing a book, or professionally blogging, or freelancing, I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure all that out. But the “not knowing” is half the fun of the adventure! All I can really tell you is that I’m alive, and I haven’t forgotten my wonderful readers. You guys are amazing, and you didn't deserve my unexplained absence. I'm truly sorry I was being such a coward. I’ll be around as much as I can be, and I’ll try not to vanish. And whatever I do move onto, I’ll let everyone on this blog know! :-)
I hope the people in my life, or the people who read these words, will understand. My true friends will support me, and my shallow friends will scoff, and that will tell me all I need to know.
Until the next time I haul my lazy ass around here, I bid you adieu.
~*~ Kita ~*~