A lovely view of Kyoto.

When you think of Japan, the words; politeness and friendliness seem to be synonymous with the country but is that really the case?  Is Japan really all about sunshine and cupcakes?

Well perhaps if you yourself are Japanese, then the day-to-day living of your life will seem normal or uneventful, yet here in the West, Japan is still looked upon as a land of mystery and technological brilliance.  For many Western otaku, Japan may appear to be the Holy Grail of their lifestyle, whereby the source of their obsessions flow like water.  Yes, many Western otaku (though generally we’re refered to as ‘geeks’) wish to either visit Japan or even emigrate there in order to ‘live the dream’.  Unfortunately, ‘the dream’ seldom lives up to reality as many foreigners will tell you.

I, myself wish to go to Japan, but only to visit.  If you stay in the country for a few days, or a couple of weeks, you will probably enjoy your stay. I would probably check out Tokyo first to get a taste of the high-tech (albeit overcrowded) capital, visit the various famous districts like Akihabara, and then check out some of the more traditional towns like Osaka or Kyoto, all the while taking thousands of photographs to reminisce over later when I’m back home.  However, if you stay for a year or longer (the easiest way is probably to become an English teacher), you will begin to see past the ‘happiness & tranquilty’ as the true cracks of society begin to show.

The fact of the matter is, that the Japanese people, mainly the older generation, are extremely xenophobic.  The younger generation embrace change and will generally accept foreigners, but it’s the elders who are pretty much stuck in their ways, I guess having two H-Bombs dropped on your country will result in deep-seed disdain for foreigners .  Even if you are fluent in Japanese, If you have not completed a level one proficiency test and you’re trying to apply for a job, the odds of you being employed are next to zero.  The Japanese will simply ignore the fact that you are fluent in the language because you do not have a piece of paper telling them so.  Basically you will be treated as a child.

A level 3 certificate, presented after completing the test.

Use of the word gaijin is also quite prevalent, it is a derogatory term for foreigners meaning ‘outsider’ and is used when referring to a non-Japanese person.  If you do intend on moving to or visiting the country, ensure that you arrange to stay with a family (check the internet, you should be able to find various advertisements of families willing to offer you food and board at a reduced rate) as hotels are extremely expensive and the last thing you want to end up in is a gaijin house.  A gaijin house is basically a derelict old house, older than ten years that is kept aside for foreigners.  These houses are generally unsafe and are horribly overpriced.

The other thing to bear in mind is that food is also pretty expensive, especially meat, which is why a lot of rice and noodles are consumed.  While you and your friends may sit down in a ’sushi bar’ at home, you need to realize that the average Japanese native doesn’t eat sushi as it is a delicacy and thus expensive.  You are able to purchase ‘ready-made’ sushi in plastic containers though I’d strongly advise against that.  The best shot you will probably have at becoming a permanent resident is to get your level one proficiency certificate and teach English, an acquaintance of mine has chosen to go that route and I’m interested to see how it all works out.  He’s one of these deluded weeaboos who thinks that living in Japan will be exactly the same as the anime and manga stories that he reads.

The Japanese police force are also notoriously racist and harsh towards foreigners, including incidents where people are arrested for no reason other than sitting on a park bench and then detained for months on end while being denied access to a phone.  That’s pretty scary if you think about it, I mean you go to Japan for a holiday and end up behind bars with no way to contact your loved ones, or a lawyer for that matter.  And this is a big problem for the country as many foreigners will think twice about visiting and Japan relies on exports and foreign currency to remain afloat.  Not too long ago a massive (costly) campaign was launched in order to revitalize Japan’s tourist industry and for their sake I hope it works.

I’m not trying to dissuade people from going to Japan, I just want them to realize (and this is mainly for the otaku’s benefit) that the idea that they have of the country isn’t the same as reality.  Reality seldom lives up to one’s fantasies and Japan isn’t an exception.  Like any other country, Japan has its fair share of problems; natural disasters, racism, sporadic economy and so on, and it’s the otaku sub-culture who need to realize this.  I love anime, manga and video-games (PS3 ftw) but I’m not in denial, I realize that Japan isn’t perfect and am not a mindless Japanaphile who will argue to the bitter end that paradise does in fact lie in the East.  If you intend on using anime and manga as a reference of life in Japan, you will be sorely disappointed.

Even though I have not yet visited the country myself and have yet to experience these things first-hand, I do however have plenty of knowledge on the subject through years of research and first-hand accounts by friends and fellow bloggers alike, check out this site for an idea of what you’d be in for.

Anime and manga; not exactly an accurate depiction of Japanese people...

Hopefully this article will provide you with a bit of insight into the truths of Japanese society, if you can come to terms with the fact that there will more than likely be a difference between your idealized version of Japan and the actualized version of the country then you will probably enjoy your stay there much more.  As I said before, Japan has its problems but if you embrace the truth you will uncover a wonderfully unique and quirky country, specially if you’re an otaku.