Posted in Culture, Everyday Life, Humor, japan, Japanese, Opinion

Elderly Japanese Don’t want your Seat!?

Stay Out of the priority seating!

The other day I came across an article called “Japanese Commuters Are So Polite They Don’t Give Up Their Seats For The Elderly” where the author claims that it is actually disrespectful to give up your seat for an elderly person and to not even bother giving up your seat.

….Yeah, whatever man.

Just in case you didn’t get my tone I highly disagree with this author. According to Mark Andrews the author of the article, “…the Japanese actually find it impolite to give up seats for elderly people when riding public transportation.” Then he goes on to share a quote from another blogger`s experience on the subject.

“I asked my neighbor- (an elderly lady who is also my landlord) about what I saw when I use public transportation and she explained that whenever she get(s) on the bus and someone offers her a seat, she would come up with the thought: ‘Ah~ Am I becoming so old that I need a young man to give me priority?’ This would remind her, ‘ You`re getting old!”

Cheopamm, a Japan Info Blogger

Great research Mr. Andrews. I can tell that you worked so diligently to find that one source of information that had a fragment in it that could support your opinion when you have missed the entire tone of Cheopamm’s article. This quote actually has nothing to do with Japanese culture. Notice how she still gets offered a seat. Its an insight of an elderly lady’s feelings about being offered a seat. Her feelings are not a cultural fact. Hold my tea!

“I think we are told to give our seats to old people. Most of the time old people say ‘ Thank you,’ and sit. If they look kind I’ll communicate with them. But some old people say ‘ I am not old,’ and get angry. So I am afraid to give my seat. Usually I just stand up and walk away and they take the seat. It is done without communicating.”

Manami, (16) High School Student

Look at how the seat is still to be offered out of courtesy and manners. Let’s add in one that I personally witnessed just for fun.

About three years ago a group of friends and I caught the bus from our local library to the train station. There was quite a few of us but we all managed to find seats. During our ride an elderly woman got on the bus and by this time all of the seats were taken. After one or two stops a young man (Japanese) offered the elderly woman his seat. She thanked him and sat down on the seat. Then the young man stood for the rest of the ride to the train station.

In my humble opinion (Yes, I can admit when my ideas are just opinions) Mr. Andrews has made the classic mistake of taking a minor variation from the norm in Japan and is using it to make a wide generalization about Japanese culture. I find this to be very common with certain types of people who live here. So I`d like to give you what I believe is really going here.

Japanese culture usually expects that you politely refuse an offering first. This is because manners dictate that you are not to inconvenience the person who is doing the offering. After this offer has been extended 1-2 more times it will either be accepted or rejected. If there is a rejection it is usually followed by a reason such as the person is getting off at the next stop. This is the kind of cultural back and forth that is done in Japan. It consists of many apologies, insisting, and resisting.

Or…

Maybe you just came across a cranky and sensitive old person. Some people just love to be offended and take things personally. They exist everywhere. That doesn’t mean that a whole cultural system follows that person’s actions and it is certainly by no means a reason to tell people to act like ill mannered jerks when they come to Japan.

Dear readers remember your manners. Try to stay out of the priority seating (unless you need it) and if you see an elderly person who needs a seat kindly offer it to them. Stay classy my friends. Until next time. Ja’ne.

Posted in Culture, Everyday Life, Humor, japan

How Japan Has and Hasn’t Changed Me

I remember when I was a university student my then professor now friend Dr. Jayson Chun told me that “When you move to Japan one of two things will happen. Either you will adapt to the Japanese way of life or you will hold on to your culture even tighter.” At the time I thought that I would just naturally adapt to my new home in Japan. Only extremely stubborn and closed minded people wouldn’t be willing to change to fit into their new host country.

Well, I’ve always known that I was one of the two. Stubborn. I should never underestimate how damn stubborn I am. I amaze myself sometimes. Since moving to Japan I have indeed held on tighter to my culture. But it isn’t because I’m closed-minded. Its because Japan is no longer just an adventure or a stop, it’s my home. Once that reality hit my mind changed. It’s not all a complete loss. I have changed since living in Japan just not to the extent that I was thinking I would and that in fact, I do have some non-negotiables that I simply will not change.

Here are the things that Japan has actually managed to get me to change.

  1. I am a lot Quieter than I was Before– On trains, buses, and restaurants. I am a lot more aware of my volume level than I was in the U.S.A. It was just something I never thought about before.
  2. Covering up More– I never liked showing my arms but showing a little cleavage was never a problem for me before. However, since leaving the U.S. and becoming a teacher I just don’t feel the need to. Not to mention I don’t really need to show them off considering that no matter what I wear it is obvious that I am very blessed. No need to show off now.
  3. I am eating Less Sugar– This actually a great thing for my health. It’s not that you can’t find sugar when you want it it’s just when you do find it has a lot less of it. Drinks here in Japan aren’t as sweet and they do have a ton of sugarless drinks available besides water or the artificially sweetened drinks. The strange thing is that things that aren’t supposed to be sweet can be, like kimchi and potato chips. Odd…
  4. I apologize for No Reason– Apologizing in Japan is almost the same as thanking someone. Someone taking the time to do something for you so apologize for taking time out of their day to help you.
  5. My Socks– So before moving to Japan all of my socks were the same style because in the U.S. we buy socks in bundle packs of 6-10 pairs. They are all exactly the same. Well, I guess that doesn’t fly here in Japan. I had a Japanese friend stay at my home one day and she noticed my socks. She was so shocked that they were all the same. It wasn’t something I ever thought about. But I guess since you often take off your shoes in Japan your socks are kind of like an accessory piece. Of course the next day we went shopping to fix that situation.
  6. Learned to Read Subtle Hints– Japan has a very indirect culture. It is very rare for something to be requested directly. I have tried to learn how to decode and figure out what is actually needed. For example, a Japanese person will say “It is hot in here, isn’t it?’, and I’ll say “Yes, it is. Let’s open a window.” Ding-Ding Ding 10 points for me. I magically understood what was being requested of me. However, this doesn’t always work. One of the major cultural issues I’ve come across is the American tendency to solve problems. When someone in Japan doesn’t want to do something usually they come up with an excuse or a problem that keeps them from doing said thing. What my silly American self does is try to solve the problem so that the requested action can be done. Nope, minus 10 points! What I had to learn is to read between the lines and what they are actually doing is politely declining my request.

Good for you Japan. I commend your efforts and give you your victories. But now it is time to show how Japan has not managed to change me and in some cases caused me to do exactly what Dr. J said. Hold on tighter to my culture.

I love Naomi Watanabe but I just can’t stand Japanese plus size fashion. No shade on her, just her clothes.
  1. My Clothes– I love American vintage/retro style. My ideal figure is the classic hourglass shape. I love A-line dresses, corsets, and doll baby shoes. Japan has a different idea of fashion. Their classic shape is the rectangle based on the traditional kimono. That’s fine but as a plus-size gal that just isn’t going to work. Also, a lot of their modern clothes are baggy or very lose fitting. I feel like that just makes plus size girls look bigger. So I’m just going to have to say “No, thank you,” to Japanese fashion.
  2. The Work Culture– I have become more hostile about my private time. There is a clear separation between work hours and private time. Here in Japan, many people work a lot of overtime as I’ve come to experience. This has left me a bit jaded because 9 times out of 10 its for no reason what so ever. or a complete lack of organization. I used to think that it was good that I could work like them. “She’s so Japanese,” was the highest compliment I could get. But now, I’m not sure if its because I’m older and I have less tolerance for it, but I think it’s pretty rude and inconsiderate for Japanese companies to expect overtime from their employees. Luckily for me, I’m a foreigner so I’m not held to the same standards.
  3. I Stopped Trying to be Indirect like Them– Remember when I said that Japan has a very indirect culture and that they rarely ask something directly? Well, that courtesy is not extended to us foreigners. Sadly, whenever I try their method of trying to decline on doing something it often gets ignored and I end up getting roped into doing something that I don’t want to do. (at work *cough cough*) So I’m reverting back to my good ‘ole fashion American bluntness. “I’m sorry, I cannot work that day.” “No, I don’t like that lesson plan/idea.” Maybe it’s a cultural thing where they think that since I’m not Japanese that I would naturally be more direct so when I answer them in a Japanese style it confuses them and then they become more foreign in their insistence? Now, isn’t that an interesting thought?
  4. Using the “Gaijin” Smash- So for those of you who don’t know what that is, its when a foreigner purposefully goes against Japanese standards. For example, when it’s hot on the bus I just open a window. I don’t do the “Oh, its hot isn’t?” thing and hope the bus driver hears me. What the NHK man is here? I’m not home. Did this lady cut in front of me in line? Oh, I must inform her of her mistake very loudly and clearly. Before I was so afraid to be the rude foreigner and would never do the Gaijin Smash. But over time I have relaxed a bit on it but I NEVER abuse it.

So not bad Japan, your 6 to my 4. Maybe I’m not as stubborn as I thought. I’ve managed to both adapt to my new home as well as keep important cultural aspects from my homeland in my life. I think the mistake that many young expats make is that they think they will be able to completely adapt to their new environment with ease and feel guilty if it doesn’t go that way. I say don’t feel bad or guilty for not being able to adapt to your life in Japan exactly the way you wanted. Some people make it and some don’t but at least you tried.

Coming to Japan is more than just discovering a new place and culture. You’re also discovering more about yourself, your values, and what you hold dear about your own culture. Remember that and go forth. Until next time. Ja’ne!

Posted in Everyday Life, Health

So I Quit My Day Job Series: Reclaiming My Time!

I am a hard worker. That’s how my family raised me to be. That’s what society has taught me to be. That`s what my culture says I should be as a black woman. The only way to get ahead in life is to work hard and always give 200% to everyone else’s 100%. But what happens when your efforts lead to being undervalued and it is damaging your well being?

How it started

It started about 2 years ago. I was feeling dissatisfied with my work and just the day to day activities. At that time I was still an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). I would go to class to help the Japanese Language teacher to the best of my abilities every day. I got so good at it that I would often end up teaching the class myself, especially at one particular school that had problem students that required the Japanese teacher to handle it. I was very proud of the fact that this teacher trusted me enough to basically teach the class for her in her absence. Plus I thought that it was just expected of me to be able to do so because that’s what I’m supposed to do. Be excellent at my job. But later on after talking with my fellow ALTs at that particular school I found out that I was the only one basically running the classes in that way. I was taken back a bit when I heard this. How could they not? After all, we were experienced teachers, so it should be natural. But no, it was just me. And then it hit me. How long have I been teaching? 7 years! And in the first 2 years, I was running my own classes, English clubs, summer lessons, and adult lessons in S. Korea. And in Japan, I have done the same as well as coached students in regional speech contest as well as being a judge. I took a step back realized that I had become a veteran ALT, an auntie! I`ve met other ALTs, given advice, and taken care of them when they needed it. I had grown out of the ALT position.

What to do next?

So what would be the next? Well, of course naturally graduate from being an ALT to being the main teacher of course. (at least in my mind) So I decided to leave my company and apply for another job. First was a kindergarten. I did enjoy that job and I did gain experience working with younger kids. I taught after school lessons and some during the day as well. But I was still feeling off because most of the day I was running around helping out with things that had nothing to do with English. I enjoyed the experience and learned that I actually can teach younger students but it wasn’t for me. So with that plus some personal health issues, I decided to leave that school to work at an eikaiwa. (private English school company) I applied for the new job and was so excited. I was to have my own classroom and my very own assistant! I totally came up in the world. At first, it was great. I did my classes and did my work on time every time. Come early, leave late. I was “So Japanese”. But then, I got transferred and things changed. That feeling came back. Dissatisfaction. Plus a newbie manager who didn’t know how to stay in her lane and out of my classroom. And before you say, “Well, isn’t that the manager’s job to make sure classes are going well?” Yes, it is. But when you have an inexperienced manager trying to tell you how to do a job that you’ve been doing for nearly 10 years it can make you a little testy. Especially when you know you’re doing a good job and being “So Japanese” only to have this person try to force their ignorant (I say that in the nicest way possible) will on you. Consistently‚Ķ..It began to affect my performance and I was no longer “So Japanese”. I’m a “foreigner” now. Come to work exactly on time and leave no later than 5-10 minutes after my time is up. I still have to clean up the classroom b/c my crazy self can’t stand coming into a disorganized classroom.

So what is really wrong?

This was the question. Haven’t I taken the next logical step? I stopped being an ALT and became the main teacher like I wanted. Sure, it has some negative points but I have dealt with more pressing issues before. So what is it? For weeks I kept thinking about it and then it hit me. It was a Friday, 10:11 am. I had eaten my egg and avocado breakfast because a sista is trying to get healthy. I stood up to water my plant and my back was in so much pain, which was usual by the end of the week. Then the revelation smacked me in the face. “I want to water my plants and rest my back. Why am I in so much pain and am still going to work? Man, I work so hard for others all these years and professionally all I have to show for it is a bad back. IMAGINE WHAT I COULD HAVE HAD IF I USED ALL THAT ENERGY FOR MYSELF.

My problem is I want to work but……..I don’t want a boss.

Why don’t you want a boss?

I am so glad you asked and I am so happy to share it with you, even if you didn’t really ask. Hehehe

  1. Have you ever noticed that companies feel entitled to your time? I mean, I know its a very Japanese thing here but really? Do you think you have a right to my time without overtime pay? Why? How does this really benefit me? And shouldn’t good employees get their jobs done on time?
  2. I am too tired to really enjoy my free time. When I get my free time I just want to relax/sleep. I don’t have the energy to spend time with my friends and family. And when I do show up I’m just as cranky as my kindergarten kids are when they need a nap. Seriously, I annoy myself.
  3. I am in so much pain by the end of the day and week. 3 years ago I had a bicycle accident that left me with herniated disks. I’m sure other things have contributed to it. Like continuing to work long hours standing and being a bigger girl. (my fault I know, shut it) But I should have been taking the time to heal and take care of my health. This one I’ll admit isn’t just single-sided.
  4. I am still not running my class independently. I get there is a curriculum that needs to be followed but what I don’t need is someone breathing down my neck on how to execute it and then have an attitude (in front of the students btw) when they don’t agree with or even understand what I’m doing. Get out my classroom with that noise!

Is it worth it?

Nope, not a darn bit. I only stay because of the money and I do like to teach but the money isn’t even that great and I don’t have control over my classes without interference. On top of that, I am always in pain due to stress on my back from standing for long periods of time and moving heavy tables around for classes. However, its the only way I know how to make a living. Working for others. But all of that is about to change.

What will you do?

I’ve decided to take some time off of work. Not full out quit but I’m going down to part-time hours. I feel like this will give me a chance to get my health in order both physically and mentally. While I’m doing that, I have decided to work on some of my own projects and hobbies that I just don’t have the energy for while working full time. I look forward to it and I hope that my side projects are as successful as I’ve made others now that I am finally directing my energy to my own benefit. Who knows what I can achieve now. Wish me luck. Until next time. Ja’ne!