People often ask me what it’s like to live as a foreigner in Japan. I’ve got to be honest: it’s a pretty sweet deal. Japan isn’t like other countries. “It’s more like Disneyland”, as an English teacher who has been here for 9 years recently put it.
How so? It’s not like anyone’s running around in a Mickey Mouse costume. Nor do groups of people suddenly break out into song. But people are really quite positive. Japanese people seem to be inclined to say something like ‘Try your best!’ or ‘You speak Japanese really well!’ rather than saying something negative.
Will speak English for food
Also, foreigners are treated with a lot respect generally (more than is deserved in some cases!), and there is often much interest shown in you and your background. Sometimes this is just for the sake of getting a free English lesson out of you – I’ve been bribed by Japanese people with wine, sake, ballpoint pens, and all manner of goods to continue speaking English – but sometimes it’s out of genuine curiosity.
Another way Japan is like Disneyland is that the rules don’t always apply (it’s all part of the ‘magic’) and a lot is left to interpretation. This can be frustrating when it comes to visa applications, renting apartments and other matters involving bureaucracy that eventually seems to come down to the whims of the person sitting behind the desk. Nowhere is perfect, though, eh!
The dark side of Disneyland
Although Japan has decidedly become a more dangerous place in recent years, it’s still a comparative stroll in the park. I could leave my door unlocked and go out shopping, safe in the knowledge that my apartment will be left untouched (note to any potential thieves in the area: I don’t leave it unlocked, I just said I could… if I wanted to).
There is a dark underbelly to all this, and Japan is known for some sinister problems with racism, organized crime and pressure to conform in school and at work, but the day to day running of things is… well… like Disneyland!