28 June 2012

Commentary on Commentary

Posted by Roland under: JET .

In the summer before my senior year at Berkeley I stayed in Berkeley for the summer due to an internship I had that was nearby. My two roommates at the time had other exciting plans that took them outside Berkeley so I had two new subletters who came in, it was a chance to meet some cool new people, so what could go wrong with that?

One of them had studied abroad in Europe and in the process came back to the States with a European boyfriend. He came to visit for a few weeks during the summer and was relatively nice. His English was fine, so he could make himself understood if there was anything he wanted to say. I didn’t talk to him too much but every now and then we would chat. Unfortunately, a lot of the time it would be some comment about America. One thing he loved to mention was too sweet everything happened to be. He always had something to say about American soft drinks. Once was enough to make your opinion known. Hearing it a few more times was a nice reminder, if not necessary. But hearing it all the time was just plain annoying.

The summer ended without incident when they left before school started. But in my mind, he stood as a large reminder of how annoying some visitors can be. There’s always going to be some commentary or opinions about how your home is different from somewhere else. But when you make an effort to say as much as possible how different things are, how annoying things are, how much things are better at home, that’s when I stop taking you seriously and wait for you to go back home where apparently it’s so much damn better.

I think from that experience I’ve always had aversion to making a lot of comments about foreign cultures (and obviously the one culture I’ve been exposed to most, Japanese). Admittedly, I went through a lot of my culture shock when I studied abroad in 2005 and I had a lot to say then too (although not always about Japanese culture, per se). But after being on the receiving end of it, I was aware of how damn annoying it can get. I would be more than willing to offer up my opinions if asked, but there’s no need for me to offer it up if the situation doesn’t warrant it.

So through a mixture of lack of surprise and just general self-censorship, I haven’t gone into too much detail about my reactions to my time in Amakusa so far. Really, most of it has been positive (I wouldn’t be staying for year two if I wasn’t) and honestly, angry feelings make for easier (and more interesting) blog posts than happy time ones. But having been part of the JET community and seeing what other people are doing, it’s no surprise that there’s a variety of opinions and feelings out there. And a lot of them seem to be reminiscent of that European boyfriend.

I’m not here to say people shouldn’t offer up their opinions. They definitely can, I just find it annoying when they show excessive ignorance. I think most people would be. But I think the JET program contains a lot of people who may fit into that type. It’s the nature of the program, taking a lot of fresh out of college graduates who may not have Japanese exposure (although this is becoming less the case as the requirements are getting stricter) and throwing them into Japan.

The problem with this is that 1) it’s not usually touristy Japan which is what most people know, 2) it’s not your study abroad experience, which is usually in a big city but more importantly is NOT a job, 3) making the switch to post college life is hard enough but having to do it in a new country doesn’t help.

Thus many come into JET with vastly different expectations from what they expect it to be. When the initial excitement wears off and culture shock starts to settle in, that’s when many people start to offer up their angry opinions.

I’m not a huge fan of cultural criticism because mainly it’s same stuff you hear over and over. Also a lot of it is made by people who make no attempt to understand why things are the way they are. At the surface, there are a lot of cultural differences to be found. But if you just take everything at face value and try not to understand why, you’ll end up just be frustrated at why things are different and fall deeper and deeper into a spiral.

But perhaps most alarming to me is how much people connect the issues they have with Japan and inevitably link it with the entire country/culture. Admittedly, there are bound to be some cultural differences that annoy people. But one of the big problems that seems to be popular among the JET population is blaming Japan for everything.

Your teacher is hard to work with at school? It’s probably not the culture, it’s may be because they’re just hard to work with in general as a person, not as a Japanese person.

The driving license process is so annoying and strict. Why are we so quick to blame Japan? Have you had an enjoyable easy time at your local DMV? Dealing with bureaucracy is never going to be easy.

Living far from the big city in an area with little to do? So are a bunch of other Japanese people all over the country. The whole country can’t be Tokyo, so don’t go around complaining that you’re not near it.

There will always be cultural commentary. I know I’ll probably end up posting some of my own eventually. But the problem is when the commentary becomes unfocused and turns out to be an entire unfocused comment on the entire country when the actual problem is much more localized than that. These are the people who may end up bitter and annoyed with Japan, becoming cautionary tales for future JETs as well as people who frequent message boards, quick to offer up their criticisms (rather than advice) about being in Japan.

If you end up complaining so much about being in another country, perhaps your best choice will be to leave it behind and go back home.

One Comment so far...

Rebecca Says:

1 July 2012 at 12:12 am.

I wonder if some of those people just like to bitch about everything. It can be pretty cathartic. Some people just take it to the extreme.

Also, Americans do like their food too fucking sweet. I don’t need extra sugar in my sauces or curries, thanks. TJ’s frozen food, I’m looking at you.

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