Life in Japan: Fitting In or Giving Up?

Japan has a far different culture than what I grew up with in Canada. There are so many things that are interesting, yet not always easy to understand or deal with. This week’s question comes from barnraised:

Do you ever find yourself just “tired”? Of trying to fit in, to please?

Occasionally. It’s not often, though. There are times that I get frustrated with procedures, but who doesn’t? That happened in Canada (government procedures, long wait times). But remarkably, I found it rather easy to fit in in many ways. My personality type is a good match for Japan, as I am an introvert who tends to enjoy being quiet. On the train, apart from being a foreigner, I look like everyone else with my nose in a book or looking at my phone. I have no trouble shopping, no trouble with work, and I even have no trouble getting my annual health checkup (I know the procedure). I can’t say I’ve become tired of much of anything, except for a few small things.

One is the politeness level in shops. I find the constant “Irasshaimase (welcome)” kind of tiring. But what I was used in Canada was that everyone said thank you, including the customer. In Japan, customers treat the employees without any kind of respect. No thank yous at all. The staff are incredibly polite, but the customers are not. They’re just totally indifferent.

On the trains, I get tired of how some people can be so impatient that they’ll push people out of the way or stand in the middle of an open train door while many others are trying to get out. And then there are the people who hog the priority seats and don’t give them up to pregnant or elderly passengers. This is not Japanese culture, this is commute-induced laziness and rudeness.

Although this is nothing about fitting in, I find it somewhat baffling how so many people in Japan seem to think only Japan has four seasons. And the “We Japanese” phrase that many people use give the Japanese culture a kind of Borg hive mind mentality that I just can’t get myself into. I’m an individual, and I don’t think or even want to say “We Canadians.”  And I actually find that most Japanese are very individual. It’s part of their education that they’re told to just go with what the majority say and don’t think for yourselves.  Creativity and innovation are suffering in Japan because of this.

But there’s one thing I have to say about living in Japan. No matter how long I live here, or even if I became a citizen, I would never actually fit in. Japanese culture won’t allow me to. Everyone will always say I’m just a visitor, and I’ll never understand what it’s like to be Japanese, or that I’ll never understand anything about Japan or Japanese culture. I could become the greatest expert of Japan, know the language and culture better than anyone else, live it exactly how the Japanese do, and yet, I will still be called an outsider who doesn’t understand anything. Also, my daughter, a Japanese citizen, will never be fully accepted by Japan as Japanese. She’ll always be considered a foreigner, even though she is Japanese! Miss Universe Japan Ariana Miyamoto has the same difficulties.

I hope that answers your question. It wasn’t easy to think of how I was tired of anything in Japan, but there were some things I just would not be able to do to fit in.

Have a question about life in Japan? Go here and ask in the comments.

12 thoughts on “Life in Japan: Fitting In or Giving Up?”

  1. >think only Japan has four seasons.

    I don’t think that Japanese people feel that only Japan has four distinct seasons…but, compared to many parts of the world, including many neighboring Asian countries, Hawaii, etc that basically only have one (or maybe two) seasons, Japan’s four distinct, even 1/4 year long seasons are nice! There are other countries that have a similar climate, but it’s nice that Japan does too.

    Maybe it’s cuz I’m from Florida, so I really like that the leaves change color in autumn, it snows in winter, a lot of beautiful flowers in spring…unlike Florida’s “evergreen”.

    1. You’d be surprised how many people have been absolutely shocked to find out that Canada has 4 seasons. But I don’t count any countries that are tropical or subtropical. They don’t have anything resembling winter.

      I don’t think Florida has 4 proper seasons, since it’s subtropical. But any temperate, subarctic and arctic country has 4 seasons.

        1. I’ve heard of stories about American tourists dressed for winter in July, yet they arrive to find it’s 30 degrees (C, not F). Maybe that’s the problem, they always see the temperatures in Celsius, and think it’s Fahrenheit.

            1. Ever see a weather map showing temperatures in North America that has Fahrenheit for the US and Celsius for Canada? I have. It makes it look like Canada is a frigid Arctic wasteland in summer.

  2. Thanks for featuring my question. I really enjoyed and appreciated your answers. When I lived there, I also felt I “fit in” in terms of personality, being introverted and shy. Perhaps it was my shyness though that also made me feel uncomfortable. Of course, I’m a red head that stands out and in a small town, I found after a while the novelty wore off and I just wanted, more than anything, to be able to go into a store or go for a walk without the attention. I just wanted to blend in and not have to feel like I was always “on”. When I lived in Tokyo, though, of course I didn’t feel like such a sore thumb. I just always worried about whether I was being polite or did I forget some formality? I suppose I’m just a worrier! Thanks so much for your thoughts!

    1. You’re welcome! I guess with red hair, you would stand out. Not many people in Japan even know that red hair exists.

      I live near Tokyo and Yokohama, and there are a lot of Americans around thanks to the military bases, so I don’t really stand out so much. I get the occasional look, but if I go to Yokosuka, no one cares.

        1. True. Even though I find Tokyo to be one of the places in Japan where I’m not an unusual sight, I found the largest amount of discrimination against me to happen there.

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