Half a year has passed so quickly. Now, I automatically say "arigatou" instead of "thanks", and walk on the left side of the road without much consideration. I guess it's true what people say that time flies when you're having fun. But is living in Tokyo all fun and games? Unfortunately not, but the same can be said of any city or town. No place is perfect, but many people talk about Tokyo like it's heaven on earth. 24/7 entertainment, delicious food, jobs for (almost) everyone, cool gadgets for every small task you can imagine, and kind people that have exceptional manners. Even though I've had some wonderful experiences while living in Japan, I have also witnessed the downsides of big city life and rule-based culture. We have all read infamous stories about depression and insane work hours in Japan, and what that can lead to, but I did not fully understand the system and how it affects people until I moved here. I have learned a lot during this period and found myself completely outside of my comfort zone on numerous occasions. After 6 months, I feel it's finally time to share some of these experiences.
Sometimes it's nice to just blend in
Recently, an old friend of ours from Hawaii was visiting Japan and we met up one afternoon for coffee and some sightseeing. He was thinking of moving to Japan and when I asked him why he told me that he likes the fact that in Japan you do not have to make a big deal about yourself. The conversation got me thinking, and I realised that in a world obsessed with individuality, it is refreshing to focus on others instead of your own wants and needs. Not saying that people shouldn't express their own opinions or that everyone should dress alike, but I think maybe the western world has gone too far with the me me me way of living. These days everyone eats a special diet, has customised everything, and only participates in activities that bring them satisfaction. Japan is different. Here people do not boast about how special they are, and tend to go with what is best for the group. Even though, I've always been considerably keen on expressing myself, I find it relaxing to just sit back and go with the flow. I no longer force a big group to eat at a different restaurant just because I do not eat lamb, but instead I order something else from the menu. After all, one not-so-fantastic meal is just one of the thousands of meals that I will have during my lifetime, and I can let it slide.
Japan has a long way to go on gender equality
Coming from the Nordics I was perhaps a bit naive to think that most developed countries were on the right track when it comes to gender equality. While Finland had one of the first female presidents in the world, and Iceland recently made it illegal to pay women less than men, I was rather surprised to see that the technologically advanced Japan was ten steps behind. The whole system in Japan seems to work against women in the sense that combining a successful career and raising a family is almost impossible. In Japan, the business world in general is also noticeably geared towards men. While Japanese people are one the most well-mannered people on earth, after a few beers their behaviour changes completely. I have been called cute, beautiful and barbie-like during business meetings, and while it's nice to be complimented on my looks, I do not ever wish this in a business setting. The sad part is that a lot of important connections are made over drinks and that is when I go from smart to cute and from an employee to my husband's wife. Additionally, sexual harassment is also a substantial issue in Japan, and on one of my previous trips I experienced what it is like when someone grabs your derriere in a crowded train. Japan's solution to this phenomenon has been women-only train carriages, hotels, spas and gyms. Is it just me or do others notice that these solutions are only dealing with the symptoms, not the cause, and instead of tackling the errors in the system and teaching men correct behaviour Japan is locking women into silos. This to me sends a message that men cannot help themselves, and thus it is best for women to stay away.
Work isn't everything
Every morning and night you see thousands of people in their dark suits commuting to and from work and napping whenever they can. It does not matter whether they are standing up or sitting on a bench, it is always possible to catch some much needed shut-eye. In Japan, these people are called salary men. Just from looking at these people on trains and talking to friends I was quickly able to tell that long work days are the norm here. While I applaud the dedication and hard-working nature of the Japanese people, I can't help but wonder whether this is healthy. While living here, I often have to remind myself that work isn't everything. It is difficult when everyone seems to always be at work, and you feel like a loser for leaving at 4. I am a firm believer that one should follow the rules of the country that they are living in, but when I look at the people napping on the trains and on their desks, I adopt the Nordic mindset. Family, friends, free time, rest, hobbies, and exercise should not be forgotten and with every passing day I am more and more certain of this.
I can survive anywhere
I have lived abroad before, but I am rather sure that the experience was not as difficult for me since I already spoke the language and was familiar with the culture. Moving to Japan on the other hand was a much larger adjustment. I did not understand the language, the culture seemed foreign to me and the fact that I would be working instead of studying made me jittery to say the least. In the beginning, everyday was different. One day I would be excited, and the next I would be ready to pack my bags and give up. Knowing that I have not only survived, but thrived here makes me feel empowered. If I can manage everyday situations in Japanese, work in a company where I am one of the few that speak English, make friends and be able to enjoy myself, I can do anything and I can survive anywhere. I have also realised that the place does not matter as much as the people, and one can be happy anywhere as long as one surrounds themselves with people that make one's life meaningful.
ElinaDeli on elämänmakuinen blogi, jota kirjoittaa Tokiossa asuva parikymppinen nuori nainen, vaimo, koiramama, pallontallaaja, some-intoilija, itsensä ylittäjä, ja kaikesta mahtavasta ja jännästä innostuja.