Any foreigner who lives in Japan knows them. They’re sitting in the corner of the foreigner bar, complaining about their job, their Japanese wife, the way people stand on the train and why there is “no common sense in this god-forsaken country.” The Hateimus Japanicus. Approach with caution.
I take the term from Sora News’ hilarious article Five types of foreigner you’ll meet in Japan. They define the Hateimus Japanicus as, “A character so riddled with anger and distaste for all things Japan that you’d be forgiven for wondering why he doesn’t just go home.”
My question is, after 3 years in this country, have I become one of them? Am I that bitter gaijin moaning in the corner of Shinjuku Hub? Do I hate Japan?
I’ve noticed a change in myself in recent months. Things that used to charm me about this country now produce a shrug or actively irritate me. There is a point where “working in Japan” just becomes “working.” I mean, day to day, my life isn’t that different than it would be if I were in London. I get up, get on a commuter train, work in an office, go home to my boyfriend and my flat and then sleep. Yeah, I’m a freelancer some of the time and being able to perform is a privilege but to be honest it’s been a while since I did a quirky Japan event that made me think, “Wow.” A couple of months back my agency put me through to an audition for a reporter gig for a big deal network. It was a fantastic opportunity but when I was sitting with the other girls auditioning (and of course, they were all beautiful girls) I was just so disheartened by the questions and their answers. “What do you like about Japan?” “What Japanese food can you not eat?” “What Japanese customs do you not understand?”
It was just so boring. I just felt like I was repeating myself. Needless to say, I couldn’t muster the required genki and I didn’t get the gig. Or maybe my tits weren’t big enough. Who knows.
It’s undeniable that after three years, much of the excitement is gone. I’m in an awkward mid-stage where the initial thrill has worn off but life isn’t as easy or natural as it would be in the UK. I’ve lived in my current flat longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, and I have now spent the majority of my post university life in Japan. So it’s not exactly like I’m instagramming the vending machines because everything is oh-so-new-and-exciting anymore. At the same time though, I’m still an outsider. It never bothered me to feel like an outsider when I was 9 months into my Japan stint and didn’t know anything. I was an outsider then, so I didn’t bat an eyelid when people asked me if I could use chopsticks. I could even shake off the blatant stares and inappropriate comments from Japanese men. But now, after three years, being stared at is starting to get old.
I’m tired. I’m tired of the dumb questions. I’m tired of not being able to do certain things myself because of the language barrier, though I know that not being better at Japanese is partially my own fault (I have JLPT N3 so I’m fine for most things but need help with complex forms etc.). I’m tired of being expected to play a certain role. I’m tired of my packed commute each day. I’m tired of the, quite frankly, disgusting harassment I sometimes experience as a foreign woman. The other day a guy took a picture up my skirt on an escalator when I was walking to the station after a long day at work and when I rebuffed him, (in Japanese) he pretended not to understand me. I could see the f**king picture on his phone screen but he didn’t acknowledge me and I felt so choked up and angry and powerless and vulnerable that I just got away as quick as I could. At that moment I just wanted to head straight to the airport and never come back.
And yet, there are those times when I am so in love with this country. The view of the sunset over Tokyo from my office today. A rice paddy from a speeding train. Steaming outdoor onsen in the rain. Even a stupid but hilarious shounen anime episode that I can now understand. The knowledge that there is still so, so much to discover.
I remember going for a walk in the fields and having a cup of tea when I had got my IB results and it looked like I wasn’t going to university aged 18 and thinking, “Despite everything, life is good.” It’s the little things, those sensual experiences that have always sustained me when the going gets tough.
Looking at it that way, the question shouldn’t be, “Do I hate Japan?” but “Do I hate my life?” And while I still get pleasure out of small things the answer is No, mostly. But things are complicated, especially when you live abroad. So I reserve the right to complain to my gaijin buddies in the corner of Shinjuku Hub, on occasion.
The view from my office today: