Reverse Culture Shock 101: People Care a Lot Less About Japan Here

Maybe it goes without saying, but it’s been an adjustment for me nonetheless. In Japan, after all, everybody cares about Japan. You’ll be talking about flatware or place mats or something and somebody will go, “Yes, the ‘Japanese soul’ dictates that we be meticulous about such things.”

Here, I’ll be talking to someone about cars or what-have-you, and in desperately groping for some contribution I can make to the conversation, I’ll inevitably say something about Japan. “In Japan, this car would be a hard sell. Not boxy enough, see.”

My conversation partner will, most of the time, nod politely. I think when they do this, they’re wondering why I would bring up Japan at a time like this. “We weren’t talking about car exporting.

But I’m still in a phase where it’s hard to do anything without constantly relating it back to Japan. Most of my adult experiences have taken place over there. Somehow it’s become my control in this experiment we call Life. The problem is, this is almost a surefire way to bring a once-healthy conversation to an untimely, blood-spewing demise. It sounds something like this:

Salamatacky: “I was at this party on Saturday, and there were so many people that they ran out of beer in the first two hours, even though there were two kegs.”

Greg: “Wow. You know, they don’t really do house parties in Japan. Houses are too close together and have thin walls, plus everybody’s kept highly considerate to one another through a thoroughly implemented system of shame that transcends any known form of executive enforcement.”

Salamatacky: “Yeah, just a couple of the many reasons I’m not at all interested in Japan.”

Talking to other expatriates in Japan, the reverse scenario was far from true. You be talking about how things are in Japan, and then you’d say “Back in America, it was like this and that,” and everyone else would chime in, “Yeah, we did such-and-such in Australia” or “Oh yeaaah, America was like that! I share your knowledge and experiences and find this line of dialogue highly stimulating!”

That’s the thing about being an expatriate. As foreigners, and as minorities, we all had some amount of common ground, if only because of how we were treated by the majority. It’s like I’ve said before about Asian-Americans. Put ’em in the context of America and suddenly they’re one group. But the term Asian-American itself is profoundly obtuse, attempting to clump more than a third of the entire planet’s population into one ethnicity despite the boundlessly vast variety of cultures in Asia the actual continent. Never mind that China and Korea are famously at odds with Japan; bring ’em all to America and their kids will join the same clique.

In my eighth grade science class, I once overheard the following conversation, which filled me with awe and changed my life permanently:

Mike: “Hey man, are you Asian?”
Will: “Well, I’m half Japanese.”
Mike: “Cool.”

Mike was a Korean-American, who’d newly discovered not his Korean-American identity, but his “Asian-American” identity, which subsequently bleached his perceptions as though he’d been inducted into a cult or overcome by a zombie virus. Will, who was indeed half-Japanese, seemed to identify himself as a “middle school student”. It probably seemed odd to him that by revealing this one seemingly inconsequential detail about his DNA, he’d gone from random guy to “comrade” in the eyes of Mike, who, in Will’s mind, was still just a random guy.

Rest assured, if Mike was with some posse of droogs in real-life Korea and he introduced them to his half-Japanese friend, they probably wouldn’t be so ready to accept the guy as one of their own.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the upside of being an expat in Japan was that other expats were, by default, inclined to be your friend. Here, no such freebies exist (except when you meet someone who’s lived in Japan, which, by the way, hasn’t happened yet). Meanwhile, any attempt to interject with my own personal experiences of “how things were over there” is just met with dead air or a punch in the face. Not really.

Anyway. I think I need to join a club, is what I’m saying.

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