Thursday, March 06, 2008

Home is Where the English is

The mountains slowly passed me by as I sat engrossed with the latest best seller, a hobby-turned-necessity in light of my recent inability to do anything else. Darkness slowly falling... it's so easy to keep track of the time of day around here. When I wake at seven and see bright green blanketing across the landscape; taking a break in the early afternoon and watching those colors fade, ever more yellow under the baking sun; my journey home, on a road adjacent to the now dark forest greenery, arriving just in time to see the last visible clouds.

I forgot I was in Japan.

Common mistake enough for a resident of a foreign country, really; after establishing the fundamentals in a new place - employment, food, living, bank account, friends, transportation - it starts to feel like home to you, alien though it still may be.

I'd like to believe that this means I've achieved a level of Japanese fluency that is more than capable of dealing with telemarketers, I've learned enough of the culture to find myself comfortable in any situation across the country at any time, and my ensemble consists entirely of Japanese friends when I venture out to karaoke.

I'd like to believe that.

I don't know about the situation with other countries around the world, but living in Japan, it is entirely possible to remain a gaijin, an outsider, a person who lives exactly the way they would back in their homeland, adapting to nothing, and striving for naught.

And why is this? I'm sitting on a bus reading an English book that I purchased in the English section of a prominent and quite common bookstore (Kinokuniya) around the country. I came from work where I'm surrounded by native English speakers 90% of the time, doing checks on reports that are written entirely in English. If my eyes do stray from the pages and catch sight of anything - heaven forbid - outside of my little world, it consists of "Let's Happy Now!", "Family Mart", or "Jolly Pasta". When I disembark, I'll walk for exactly four minutes to reach my apartment, carefully avoiding any kanji signs, keel over on the bed, and enjoy watching rebroadcast segments of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on Comedy Central.

It's mostly my fault, of course, but Japan really is too English tolerant. Although I might not enjoy it as a tourist if someone were to yell at me harshly for my broken sentences, as a resident, I think I'd appreciate it more in the long run. Get angry at me for not speaking fluently; don't praise what I do know, point out what I messed up. Let me feel uncomfortable doing foreign things (my American things) in a foreign country. Only then, when I try to adjust to really living in Japan, can I be considered a resident, a henna gaikokujin (i.e. foreigner who walks like a Japanese).

Naturally, this isn't going to happen, and I'll have to adjust accordingly. Last month, when I returned to Tokyo for a short visit, I discovered it was so much like being back in the states - the amenities, the visible diversity... even Japanese tend to first speak to me in English instinctively, rather than assuming I have the means to communicate. I can eat at Subway. I can read the train departures (well, this is true anywhere). Random people would understand me if I suddenly chose to stand in the middle of the Shibuya intersection and scream a sonnet.

Some might argue this is only the existence of foreign pleasures, not part of most people's everyday lives. True. I guess where temptation exists, I find myself following it. I might choose the rocky path over time, but in the short-term, when it comes to living day-by-day, I have a hard time resisting the comforts of home.

2 comments:

Daniel Olivieri said...

Hey hope all is well Turner, this is Daniel. I still come by and read your blogs from time to time. I've been rambling on my Facebook notes, but I suppose I should really submit to the 21st century and create a blog already. I really do enjoy reading your entries, they give me an overwhelming sense of nostalgia of what it was like to be a gaijin in Japan for just one moment.

Take care!

T.F. Sakaguchi said...

The world is flat now. There is no much difference between Tokyo and San Francisco. However the difference is getting bigger between Tokyo and Kyushu, or between San Francisco and Arkansas.