Friday, 11 September 2009

3 things that I love and 3 things that I hate about Japan

So as you probably know, I went to Japan last year to study there, and I came back to the UK last month. Here are 3 things that I love about Japan and 3 that I hate. Let's start with the things I hate, so we can end this post on a positive note.

Things that I hate #3 - Work culture

Now this is something I didn't encounter directly, as I was a university student for my time in Japan, and in Japan university is undoubtedly the easiest stage of the school/university/work progression. However, I did come to understand a lot about the Japanese attitude to work and business, and it's something that really puts me off wanting to work there.

I'm making some generalisations here, but a lot of people work in office jobs in Japan, and the hours they work are extremely hard and extremely long. When I was returning home from karaoke on the train around 11 or 12 at night there would often still be businessmen and women returning home after just finishing at the office. You see, it's expected in Japan that everyone work overtime - it's just a normal part of the job, and basically everyone does it. And the emphasis for a worker in a Japanese business is not usually on results, but simply on time worked. So an employee could work extremely efficiently for 8 hours in a day and get all their work done and more, but it would be preferred that the employee works more hours, even if it means they get less work done.

From what I gather, Japan is moving away from their unique business practices, and towards a more Western way of working, but this kind of thing is still very prevalent in Japan, and results in things like death from overwork, which was a fairly big problem a few years ago.

It also creates a mindset where people become too focused on their work at the exclusion of all else, which means they barely have any time to see their family or spend as leisure time, which is very unhealthy. It can also contribute to creating a very homogenous society, which Japan definitely is, where there are few individuals, and just one massive workforce.

Of course this kind of system has its benefits. Japan are currently (although probably not for much longer) the 2nd largest economy in the world, and the Japanese population is very affluent, but it's something which I can't go along with myself, and would prevent me from wanting to work there.

Things that I hate #2 - Summer weather

The weather in Japan is really great for half of the year, namely spring and autumn. Both of these seasons are warm, with little rain, and could be compared to the British summer to be honest. And winter isn't all that bad. However, summer in Japan is horrible in every way. First the whole thing kicks off with a rainy season where you get torrential downpours and the possibility of typhoons. While I was in Japan the rainy season was apparently nowhere near as bad as usual, but it still wasn't enjoyable. Then it starts to get hot, really hot. Now being from the UK, you think I'd be happy of any kind of warm weather to come my way, but this isn't the kind of hot weather where you can get a suntan. This is the kind of heat that makes you sweat just sat in your room, meaning you have to have the air conditioner on full blast to make sure you don't end up in a melted puddle on the floor. The heat is so oppressive and muggy, that as soon as you walk outside you'll start to sweat, and about 30 minutes later be covered in sweat from head to toe. This climate was made ten times worse for me by the fact that my university was half-way up a massive mountain range, which meant I had to climb a huge hill every day to get to classes. One of my friends would take an extra change of clothes for when he reached uni because of the amount of sweat he would expend making the journey there. When you're in Japan you spend a lot of time on crowded trains too, which isn't fun in such weather.

You don't even get light nights in the summer in Japan, as it goes dark at the same time every night for the whole year. So it's safe to say I was relieved to come back to the UK and escape even just the tail-end of the Japanese summer. As soon as I got off the plane in England I noticed a difference, and the air felt so clean and cool. So while Japanese weather is quite nice most of the time, it's nearly unbearable in the summer.

Things that I hate #1 - Getting along with Japanese people

OK, that heading looks kinda bad, but let me explain. It's not that I hate Japanese people at all, but the biggest problem that I, and many of my foreign friends encountered in Japan, was getting along with Japanese people. Although I was warned about it before I went, and in a way even experienced it with some Japanese people I met before going to Japan, it took me a while to adjust to and understand the situation.

Now one of the big reasons I wanted to go to Japan was because it seemed so different to any other nation in the world. I once heard someone say something along the lines of "Japan is the most unique nation in the world, and is unlike any other", and after being there for a year I can agree with that. Even some of my Korean and Chinese friends who are from countries that are culturally close to Japan had a hard time getting along with Japanese people.

I don't like to make judgements on why a certain nationality of people behave in a certain way, but if I was to explain why I found it so hard to make good friends, I would say there are a couple of big reasons. First, Japanese people socialise in a different way compared to Western countries. It is common in Japan for your circle of friends to basically be the people in your class, or your office, and spontaneously making friends as we do in the West seems to happen much less. On top of that, many Japanese people have a mindset towards foreigners which means they view them as something very different and separate from Japan. Now every country in the world has this kind of view to some extent, but I believe Japan has it more-so than most other countries.

Also, I believe the concept of friendship in Japan is different to that in the West. For me, I can consider someone a friend if we get along well after just a few minutes, but in Japan it takes a long time to become good friends with someone. But even then, the method of becoming friends is different, and doesn't necessarily mean you have to spend much time with the person. It's a complicated process, and one I understand only a little of, which meant I didn't feel like I connected with a lot of Japanese people during my time there. Now don't get me wrong, I made some very good Japanese friends while I was there, but the number was very small compared to the amount I make back home in a year, for example.

This is a big over-simplification, but I think much of this problem comes from differences in personalities between me and the Japanese people, and it's a shame, because this is something else which puts me off living there long term. If I did, I know I'd need to have foreign friends there to hang out with.

OK, this got long, so we're gonna end on a downer :( I'll make the 'Things that I love about Japan' post next time.

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Blogger Ben Nuttall said...

Welcome back to the blogosphere. It's great to have you with us again.

The things you've pointed out are interesting. The weather is something we can comprehend but most of us have only had to deal with anything like this in short bursts. The working system sounds very bizarre - that working 12 hours at 50% is preferable to 8 hours at 90%, in a managerial position I would never allow this to be thought of as true.

The friendship thing, however, is something I can barely relate to. Although, now I think about it, I remember feeling that way about sixth form actually - that in Y12, it was rather difficult for me to attach to anyone, or groups of people, as it seemed they were already set in their ways and didn't want an outside intruder to mess up their seating plans or whatever. I'd completely forgotten about that feeling to be honest. It took a while but I think I cracked my way through in the end haha.

It must have been rather lonely to feel that you weren't really connecting with many of the locals - I feel there's nothing better than a simple connection between oneself and a stranger, say pleasant conversation over a till, interaction during passing in the street (Which way are they going? Which way should I go? I'll go left. Oh no, they've gone the same way, Whoops, Sorry, Oh - you're going that way now are you? That's what I was going to try. Let's try again, Ok I'm definitely going THAT way and you're going to have to go around me the other way - there we go, chuckle, sorry, thank you), helping someone who's dropped some shopping or chatting with someone at the bus stop (They're always late / The fares are terrible / What about Chelsea, eh?) - it makes you feel comfortable with a person you don't even know. Making new friends, under any circumstances, is great - even if you never see them again, you still have a friendship bond history with them.

So are you back for good?

Looking forward to part 2.


11/09/2009, 22:37  
Blogger Jephso said...

Haha. Yeah, I wouldn't say I wasn't connecting with the locals though. I made a ton of mates, and a few really good ones. It's just that some of the relationships didn't feel as normal or natural as they might have elsewhere. Strange feeling really. I'm sure me not being a native Japanese speaker had something to do with it too.

Yeah, I'm back for good now. Well, a year. Not sure what's happening after that. I'd definitely like to make it back over there at some point.

18/09/2009, 18:37  

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