I had written a blog post about the four things I liked about Japan before, which warranted a new post about the things I don’t quite like here. However, I thought the word “dislike” would be too strong and evoke negative feelings instead of encouraging a fruitful discussion, hence my preference for the title.
It’s been three years since I started living in Japan, and I clearly remember the first day I arrived at Kansai airport. Everything was new and different for me then. All those clichés about everyday Japan were laid out before my eyes. Would you be surprised to hear that the novelty wore off in a couple of months? It always does.
And let me pause here to tell you one thing: I am not a Japanophile, nor am I excessively fond of any country or culture, for that matter. The newness spun my head at the beginning, not Japan per se. But, once the blinding bright lights vanished, I could see everything as it was without embellishing or sugarcoating reality.
1. An abundance of red tape
Anyone living in Japan, regardless of nationality, will tell you how frustrating the Japanese bureaucracy is. Regardless of how you feel, anything that involves buying, changing, or selling something will include some red tape.
And it will be painfully slow. Probably way slower than what you’re used to in your home country. I have lived in five “developed” countries, and Japan is the slowest and least efficient bureaucracy so far.
You will need a stamp (hanko – 判子 in Japanese) for most paperwork. You’ll also have to listen to at least two people carefully “explain” things to you—even when you don’t speak Japanese—before anything gets done. Lastly, your work probably won’t be done in a day after all the explanations.
Where I come from, most paperwork at governmental offices is handled in a few minutes. And let’s say I am used to waiting. Even then, it’s hard for me to ignore the inefficiency and time/energy waste that could be better used on other things. And the staff should stop explaining some paper’s details in Japanese to those who can’t even handle basic Japanese dialog yet.
2. A lack of flexible and critical thinking
“Rules are rules, and it’s not up to us to question them” is the prevalent Japanese mentality. Therefore, even if these rules don’t serve us anymore or are outdated, they should still be maintained. I obey most rules in public. I was like this in my own country, too. However, if a rule impedes my way of living or doesn’t make sense, I don’t see any point in blindly obeying it.
Critical thinking isn’t encouraged in this country. Therefore, when you challenge someone’s authority or knowledge using critical thinking skills, most Japanese will seem puzzled as if you asked them about life’s meaning. I believe in the power of critical thinking and know it changes our lives and how we look at problems.
And I am a teacher who wants her students to practice critical thinking. Unfortunately, most students stare at me when I ask them to do something new. They are so used to being told what to do and repeating the same things they can’t comprehend my tasks at the beginning. And these students will become adults and get churned up in the same system.
3. Stereotyping foreigners
There are currently more than 2 million foreigners in Japan, a tiny fraction of the Japanese population. We come from diverse backgrounds, and none of us have the same goals, dreams, personalities, etc. However, stereotypes about foreigners are widespread in Japan.
Let me share some of them with you:
- Foreigners can be good and desirable if they stick to their roles and don’t challenge Japanese thinking.
- Some foreigners from some countries are a menace to society.
- Foreigners don’t know how to behave in Japan or respect Japanese culture.
- Foreigners aren’t as clean as the Japanese.
- Japan is the safest and best country in the world, and that’s why it attracts foreigners.
I’ve heard worse things, but the clichés listed above can be heard and experienced by many foreigners in Japan. I am Middle Easterner and a woman, so the stereotypes I hear mostly revolve around religion: “Ohh, you’re from Turkey. Do you have to wear a hijab there? Can women drive in Turkey? Do Turkish men have more than one wife?”
I still answer these questions as patiently and respectfully as possible because I don’t want to be the “mean” foreigner and scare people off.
4. A resistance to change
You would think their thinking would be advanced because the technology in Japan is advanced. But unfortunately, that isn’t the case because most Japanese people resist change. The idea that their country is the “safest” and “best” country in the world is so profoundly embedded in their minds that any suggestion to change comes off as envy or an attack.
There are still far-right political parties in Japan that publicly hate foreigners and other countries. Sadly, these people have serious supporters too. The elderly are more adamant than the young, and the young aren’t as political as the elderly. So who’s going to implement the necessary changes in Japan? Can you see the conundrum here?
Criticizing this country doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t want to live here. On the contrary, I love living in Japan. I work and travel extensively, enjoy many cultural aspects of this land, and intend to live here longer.
However, like a good parent looking after their children, I can’t help but worry about Japan’s future, with the yen getting weaker while they are reluctant to change things. I hope for a better future for Japan and everyone living here.
What do you like about Japan? Would you like to live here? What should Japan change to make it a better and more inclusive society?
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