Friday, December 18, 2015

Repost: Making Friends in Japan

A display in Meiji Mura, Aichi

I came across this post a few days ago about making friends in Japan. I find it really enlightening. It made me realize why I'm not in deep friendships with Japanese people. 

This excerpt below really got me. Basically, the writer is saying it's hard to find a Japanese friend who would like to discuss things beyond the usual polite topics of hobby, weather and activities. 

I wholeheartedly agree with this insight. In more than 3 years of staying in Japan, I only met 2 people who enjoy a good discussion on politics, social issues, and other topics that need some kind of thinking. Interestingly, these two people are not the usual Japanese. One is a divorcee from an American husband who lived abroad for several years. The other is my student who refused to be part of the Japanese workforce. He's a freelance businessman who doesn't care about the society's expectations. 

Now here's the problem. These two people don't consider me as a "friend." To the divorcee, I'm just a co-worker. We don't hang out. We only get to talk when the students are doing something in the classroom. To my student, I'm a teacher. We can't be friends even though we're almost of the same age. So I've found people to talk to but they won't consider me as friends. Just great.  

Anyway, here's the excerpt: 

(Excerpt from Making Friends in Japan, Japanese Rule of 7)
Understanding Japanese People
Now, I’m going to be a wee bit judgmental here. I know that may come as a shock since I’m normally amazingly well-balanced, so brace yourself. But let me just say it: Japanese people kind of suck at deep thinking. They have virtually no practice in the sort of bantering debate and dissecting of issues that fills college dorm rooms in the West. They’re nice enough folks, but if it came down to a Google Interview, I wouldn’t wager much on them. Having taught in both elementary schools and universities, the reason seems apparent. Japanese kids study like mad for exams. High school is all about sitting still, listening (or not) to the teacher, and filling in the proper circles. But unlike the West, where it’s easy to get into college but hard to get out, in Japan, it’s the opposite. Once they enter college, their education largely stops. Japanese university (based on the four I’ve taught at) appears to be comprised of two years of screwing off followed by two more of job hunting. Students aren’t not challenged to explore ideas or alternate ways of thinking. So the graduates who emerge are capable of following rules, but retain the reasoning skills of a 17 year-old.
So making casual buddies, to talk about sports, food, or shopping, that’s easy. But finding people who enjoy discussing ideas—-What purpose does life serve? Are we just random bits of dust floating in a vast universe? How can I get the waitresses phone number?—-that’s hard. Okay granted, it’s hard anywhere. Sometimes I’ve fallen in with like-minded people quickly, just by accident. Other times, it’s taken me years to find one or two. It’s certainly not easy in Japan. It probably helps not to be picky.

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