Japan is so weird. Or is it me? Chapter1 - 外国生活 - 専門家プロファイル

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カナダ留学・クリティカルシンキング専門家

注目の専門家コラムランキングRSS

対象:海外留学・外国文化

大澤 眞知子
大澤 眞知子
(カナダ留学・クリティカルシンキング専門家)
大澤 眞知子
大澤 眞知子
(カナダ留学・クリティカルシンキング専門家)
今林 浩一郎
今林 浩一郎
(行政書士)
大澤 眞知子
(カナダ留学・クリティカルシンキング専門家)
大澤 眞知子
(カナダ留学・クリティカルシンキング専門家)

閲覧数順 2021年11月26日更新

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Japan is so weird. Or is it me? Chapter1

- good

  1. 人生・ライフスタイル
  2. 海外留学・外国文化
  3. 外国生活
Story (Robert McMillan)

カナダ大学留学に備え真剣に準備する日本の高校生、コロナで打ち砕かれた高校留学からの復活を目指す日本の高校生のためのSupport Group-カナダクラブ 

その貴重なパートナーであり、本物の英語スキルを学びたい日本人のためのサイト UX English Administrator でもあるRobert McMillan が語るストーリー”Japan is so weird. Or is it me?” 

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クリティカルシンキングの国カナダから日本にやって来た若者が出会った変てこ日本ストーリー
クリティカルシンキング不在の不思議の国日本から、カナダに向かう日本人のために
カナダで出会う180度真逆カルチャーショックへのワクチンとして贈ります(日本語バージョンはこちら


Chapter1 

Arrival 

I arrived in Japan April 4th, 1989 with a working holiday visa and no money. I spent the first night in a sleeping bag on a bare patch of Narita airport floor. The plan: 1) find a job teaching English 2) stay for six months, a year at most; 3) travel Asia; 4) return to Canada. 

27 years later, I reached step #4. 

What happened? 

Memory rewind: I found a fun job planning education material – English essay writing, critical thinking, computer science – and teaching some pretty smart kids. I had freedom to do as I pleased, as long as my students were learning happily. So it’s possible I stayed in Japan because it was fun. 

Sure, it was hard work, but hard work was not a problem for me. 

Flashback: working the cash register of the family-run sports shop at 11 years old. Too short to reach the register, standing on a coca-cola crate. I don’t have many memories of not working, like a child in a factory of a Dickens’ novel. (Self-pity music.) 

But it’s possible that I stayed so long because Japan is so weird. Every day brought something new and, well, bizarre – wait; you guys eat squid guts (塩辛)? The word for “teach” (教える) includes the kanji character to hit someone (攵)?

I learned to like squid guts, but taught passively. We had only two rules at our school, and one was a catch-all against violence: 1) no student can keep others from learning (violence being an extreme form of this), and 2) if you bring alcohol to school, you must bring some for the teacher.

No one ever took me up on rule #2, unfortunately.


April 4th, 1989, alone in my sleeping bag at Narita Airport, I was caught by a pudgy, bespectacled security guard. “Get up! Follow me!” He had just enough English to round me up. 

I hastily rolled my green sleeping bag up under my arm – proven good for -25ºC in the Canadian Rockies – and did as he said. I didn’t have a choice. So, this is how it ends? Caught by security on my first day. “Deported before arriving,” I thought. The ink visa stamp on my passport still wet. (More self-pity music.) 

He led me out of the dark, quiet hall I had found, into a brighter, livelier one. People everywhere, all shades and shapes. Were we all to be deported? “There!” he commanded, pointing down the hall. 

I squeezed myself into a throng of southeast Asian fellas on a bench in front of me. They instantly stopped talking and took turns flashing me rough-looking glances.

“Ha ha, no!” my security guard, or guide, laughed. “Over there!” he pointed further down the hall towards a group of people who were like me in one way – white. 

I spent the night there sandwiched between an Israeli espousing the joys of cheap Thai prostitutes and a Dane trying to convince him he was wrong, immoral, sinful. And that represented hope, as I slowly came to realize that I was not going to be deported. 

27 years. 

I’m still trying to digest my life in Japan. And 27 years away from my own country has me looking at it through a different lens.

Now I’m back in Canada helping Japanese students navigate the realities of my home country – the lifestyle, the education system, the hidden dangers. I’m looking for the smart kids stuck in their own sleeping bags. So that they don’t have to wake up on the floor of an airport from some unholy, unforgettable smell. 

Lying flat on the bench above me, an exhausted Japanese man in a grey suit. Shoes off, his feet dangled over one end of the bench, directly above my head.

 

Tokyo 

I survived my first night in Japan on a working holiday visa in a sleeping bag on the floor of Narita Airport, corralled by security, surrounded by other foreigners with nowhere to sleep. 

The next morning we congregated in front of the washroom sinks. A rotating mass of toothbrushing, face washing, and yes, I saw some armpit scrubbing. A wholescale striping of stale, wrinkled clothes – back in the suitcase. And the tossing on of fresh, new clothes – wrinkled from the suitcase.

And in the mirrors looking back at us – bloodshot eyes and pale faces from shallow sleep. But something more. Was that hunger in everyone’s eyes? Or just my own? The hunger to succeed in this strange new land. Physical hunger, too (you can make it) trying not to buy expensive airport food (you can make it) until reaching the city. 

And then a bus into Tokyo. 

Tokyo in early April had one flavour: grey. The sky was drizzly grey; the buildings toweringly grey. The ground was asphalt grey. Even the people dressed in grey, as though commiserating. 

If Tokyo is an ecosystem, grey is the camouflage colour. Become grey, blend in, don’t be eaten. This feeling I was about to be eaten. 

Tokyo. 

When I arrived in 1989, the population was roughly 32 million. The population of my entire country then was a little over 27 million. My hometown? Almost 3,400. 

Tokyo had nearly 10,000 times more people than my hometown and I didn’t know anyone. 

In my small prairie town, everyone knows everyone. We say, “Hi” to anyone in the street because we know them, and when we don’t, we say “Hi” anyway because we probably know of them and don’t want to be offensive. 

I got off the bus somewhere and took a train to Yoyogi because on the maps it looked to have the most green. Those were the days before Google Map, personal GPS, $1,000 smartphones in everyone’s pocket. Back then you needed a sense of direction. And when you get lost? Well, you pretend to stare at a train station map until a pretty girl comes along and then ask her. At least I sure did. Those smartphones come with a huge social cost, young people. 

A pretty girl did come along and I did ask her and she kindly pointed me to a youth hostel. I checked in, dropped off my bags – everything I owned – then followed a plan I had formulated on the bus: acclimatize myself on the first full day. Learn from the surroundings. Job hunt on the second. 

But how do you acclimatize to Tokyo? 

To me, Tokyo was not a city. It was a river. You throw yourself into it and flow. Going “downstream” is easy. You just go where everyone else is. Going “upstream” is much harder, and I soon gave up. Anyway, there was nothing I particularly had to see in Tokyo. I wanted to feel it. I wanted to smell it. So, I just went where everyone else was going. 

At one point I got hopelessly lost and had to find another area map and pretend to stare at it and wait until… you know what I mean. I seem to have been in Shibuya then. I saw the entire population of my hometown in the Shibuya scramble intersection and I didn’t know anyone. 

Did these people want to be here in this river of humanity? Did Tokyo constitute a “good” life for them? How do you survive when you can’t see the sky? 

After a few hours of “swimming” through people – being closer to more people than I had ever been in my whole life – I was happy that I chose Yoyogi. The parks. I returned to a park near the hostel and sat on a bench under a cherry tree in full bloom. “What timing!” I thought. 

I sat and watched. I watched the sky: now a pale, watery grey. Shapeless and motionless. I watched the cherry blossoms, a pale, watery pink. Fluttering delicately in the breeze. 

I thought about the people I had seen in Shibuya. And I started thinking about an opposite scenario. Imagine a kid from Tokyo, from any big Japanese city, in my hometown. 3,400 people. Two schools. One traffic light. One police station – closed for lunch. Where would they shop? The convenience store, with over-sized over-sweetened drinks, out-of-order washrooms and an eye-stinging air of reheated fried chicken? There are no malls. No movie theatres. Everyone there knows everyone else and has known them since they were children. “Remember in grade 3 when …” is a common conversation starter.

Fast forward to now: recently, young Japanese have come to my hometown to study. How do they make friends? What do they do on the weekend? 

Back on the bench, I picked up a cherry blossom petal from the gravel path and rubbed it between my thumb and forefinger. Thin and filmy. Not much smell, yet raw in its pinkness. Like scar tissue. 

The blossoms were beautifully painful. But they looked fickle to me. Unstable. “Look at me, I’m about to fall! I’ll be gone tomorrow!” Everything in transition. Suddenly the air crackled with the loud caw of a crow. 

I turned to watch that dark shadow, pull a bento box out of a nearby garbage bin, pluck open the lid with its beak and dive into leftover globs of rice and chunks of pork cutlet. A survivor. I felt a kinship with that crow. I was going to be like that crow. I watched it finish its meal and wished it well as it flew away. 

Alone on a bench, facing a cherry tree in full bloom; a bench placed right there for that very purpose, yet I was twisted around watching a crow steal an abandoned meal from a tin garbage can, and I felt inspired. I was not going to be eaten today.

I looked beyond the line of green park in front of me, to the sights and sounds of the monstrous grey river called Tokyo, and felt it instinctively – I had to get out of there. But where to? 



The Job Hunt 

I shared a room at a youth hostel in Yoyogi with a Sri Lankan and two Americans. 

The Sri Lankan was young, educated and articulate. A degree in engineering. Good English. Looking for manual labour.

The Americans, young tourists, littered the room with dirty clothes, buckets of gnawed KFC bones and crumpled crinkly McDonald’s hamburger wrappers. They were rarely awake. But when they were, they used our towels and left them clumped on hangers soaking wet. 

The world tilts differently for such people than for an educated young man from Sri Lanka. The slope is much more gentle. I would soon find that it tilted differently for me, too. 

I caught a train to a working holiday visa centre. I can’t remember where it was, maybe Ikebukuro. The walls were collaged with shards of paper describing job offers and apartment rentals. A promising sign. I started with jobs. 

The wages were good. There were many jobs starting at 3,000 yen an hour. Some part time work paid 5,000, even 6,000! The main requirements: a native speaker with a university degree. 

Some had strangely niche requirements: British, female, under 30 years old. Woah, they can do that? An employer listing any one of those in my country could get sued, even in the 1980s. But when in Rome … take the job you can get. 

I saw jobs that I was eligible for – lots of them. And I suddenly felt lighter; my shoulders unpinched themselves, my brain clicked one notch out of survival mode. The stress must have built up. Throwing myself headfirst into a foreign country, I had to find a job. 

Mathematically speaking, it’s not that I didn’t have any money. I had negative amounts. I was swimming in student loan debt, like many other young North Americans, even today. That’s our culture. Many of us pay our own way. Canada has a generous student loan program for its citizens. It wants us educated. But I had to pay it back eventually. I would have become that British female under 30 years old if it could land me a job. 

Next I moved to the rental papers clinging to the walls like oversized moths. Where to live? That proved more daunting. 

Running down the list of apartments, I found two main trends: pay key money or live with five other foreigners in a two-room apartment with a shared bath and washroom. 

Key money? What was that? I asked another job seeker what it meant, and he told me quite merrily. It turns out that foreigners in Tokyo like displaying their knowledge of Japan to newer foreigners. He was friendly. But I couldn’t understand. “Oh, like a security deposit?” I asked. 

“No,” he replied. “You don’t get that money back. They keep it.” 

My eyes might have bulged. My mouth likely popped open a bit. That option was out of the question. 

I diligently inspected all of those oversized moths. And I found a listing from rural Shikoku, five days a week, 3,000 yen an hour with a shared apartment included. I knew where Shikoku was – I love maps and had studied the geography of Japan. A rural Canadian in rural Japan felt like a natural fit. 

I promptly called the office. A cheerful gentleman answered the phone. We spoke for maybe five minutes, and he generously offered a flight to Shikoku, expenses paid, for an interview. I immediately accepted. What could go wrong?

Tokyo felt different when I left the working holiday visa centre. It was much lighter, more bouyant. I could look around now. I was no longer a racehorse with blinders, desperately barrelling from point A to point B. I would go to Shikoku. If I did not get the job, I would come back to Tokyo and look for different moths.

Besides, I was hopelessly adventurous. I had no money, negative money, but I was now itching to see Shikoku. 


I spent the rest of the day as I had the one before, wandering Tokyo, catching random trains, acclimatizing to my new country; and importantly, asking pretty girls for directions even when I didn’t need any. 

I don’t want to kid myself, though. It was tough. I had taken a huge gamble. But I had a last-resort security net. If I couldn’t find a job, I could fly back to Canada with my tail between my legs. Back to the small family business I had worked at since I was 11 years old. That would be emotionally disastrous, but I would survive. Compare that with my new Sri Lankan friend. He didn’t have an office full of job offers or rental hopes. What if he couldn’t land a job? 

I returned to the hostel that evening to find the Sri Lankan in, the Americans out, and my towel hanging in the closet dripping water into my open suitcase. 

Japan is so weird. Or is it me? 

(to be continued)


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(カナダ留学・クリティカルシンキング専門家)
Super World Club 代表

カナダにいらっしゃい!

カナダ 在住。パンデミック後のNew Normal 留学をサポート。変わってしまった留学への強力な準備として UX English主催。[Essay Basics] [Critical Thinking] など。カナダから日本に向けての本格的オンライン留学準備レッスン・カナダクラブ運営。

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