This is a post I wrote while sitting in Guangzhou, where I changed flights to my new destination – Auckland in New Zealand. Beware of “best-of” pictures under the cut 🙂
I know there are a lot of people who don’t like criticism about Japan. I have a kind of hate-love relationship with this place, and I also think that there is no country in this world that is perfect, not even Japan, so I share my criticism openly.
Since this is based on the experiences I made in the past year, you are invited to leave a comment below to share your own experience about Japan.
I have landed in Guangzhou, the stop in between Narita and Auckland.
Everything is strange and unfamiliar, before I could talk to people in their native language, making sure to be understood and to make my point and to make things more smoothly. Now I can’t. The Chinese man behind be talks loudly in Chinese, a language I can not make sense of. It has been a time since I was lost in translation…
Japan has been wonderful and terrifying at the same time. The Japanese way of doing things has left its imprint on me, my behaviour and my way of thinking. Total immersion does that to you. Nevertheless, I will never be one of them, never be Japanese and never fully be able to do things the way they do them. I am just too different, too German for that. The Japanese are all about rules and hierarchy, two concepts that have to be followed strictly and never questioned. Never.
I thought it would come easy to me. But I learned to my own surprise, that I am too much of a freedom-seeker, too much of a practical person, too much of a person that questions hierarchy. I learned that I am a person who is satisfied when a solution works and works well, being less concerned about the perfect design of things – form follows function for me. Instead of spending endless hours to make things perfect on the first time, I like to go ahead and just start or do something and figure the rest out as I go, adjusting on the way. I am too much of an autonomous worker to handle micro-management well.
The more I came in contact with and the more I bumped into the Japanese way of doing things, the more I learned about myself. But here is the thing: The Japanese don’t like to have people bumping into them, asking them questions of why they do things the way they do them.
Don’t ask questions and follow the rules! Don’t bump into things, don’t you see you are destroying our harmonious togetherness?!
I have encountered a lot of passive-aggressive behaviour. People avoiding me and ignoring me because they were afraid to approach me, afraid of having to use their English and afraid of losing their face this way, or making me lose face. Sometimes even avoiding me to a comical degree and then being immensely astonished when they notice I can speak Japanese.
Why? How can a foreigner speak Japanese? How could she possibly have learned this language? If you are a foreigner speaking Japanese, it will get mentioned daily. After a while it even becomes a good topic of conversation…
One thing that seriously upset me was the Japanese criticism concerning other nationalities. I encountered this especially from people, who otherwise seemed to be perfectly nice and normal. Nothing strange about them, they were not evil or mean, or anything else. But talking to them in normal, everyday conversations and hearing them talking sh*t about other nations as if it was a normal topic to discuss, like the weather or sports, really astonished me.
The more I heard some Japanese people talking sh*t about especially other Asian countries (I was told to beware of “diaper stealing Chinese” people – wtf?! At first I didn’t understand, I thought they were joking or that I must have misheard them or that my Japanese was failing me or something, but then they said it in English, so I am definitely not mistaken about the content of this story. Apparently the Japanese make the most superior diapers in Asia…), the more I was glad about having grown up in a multi-cultural environment. Glad about being German, even though or maybe even because of our horrible past and other nations making sure to teach us so that this will never happen again. Glad because I have visited countries other than Germany plenty of times. Glad that where I grew up, a different country is just a 3 hour car-ride away. Glad about having learned so many languages and having been taught to be open about other cultures and countries and looking at them as equals. It is a pity that most of the Japanese don’t seem to be able to do that, because they lose so much by thinking that they are superior to everyone around them. Or maybe they just think they are superior because they make such beautiful things like golden pavilions, as you can see below.
By the way the beauty of the Golden Pavillion is not that it looks golden and that it glows beautifully in the sunlight. In my opinion, it is the way it is put in this particular spot in this particular landscape, the way it fits into it surroundings perfectly, sitting there as if it belongs there. The way it makes its surrounding nature more beautiful, not only drawing the attention to itself but giving back attention to the surrounding nature, making the landscape even more perfect, more beautiful than it was before.
Nevertheless, I also encountered some very nice people, Japanese people as well as foreigners who made me feel welcome and couldn’t have been more friendly and understanding about my German way to bump into things.
I think I will definitely come back to this place, next time with more money and more time to enjoy travelling on my hands. There is so much that I still haven’t seen, and haven’t eaten. Also, I will keep practicing my Japanese, I already go a few books that I started reading, now that I can read for pleasure in this beautiful language.
Good-bye Japan, I will see you again!