April 12, 2011

Stage 2 and Alanis Irony

So at my Orientation, and I suspect at Orientation most years, they introduced the idea of culture shock "stages" to us, which are roughly:

Stage One: Everything is super awesome shiny happy oh my God, you guys, this is JAPAN!
Stage Two: Everything is different and it sucks and I hate it and I want to go home right now!
Stage Three: As with any country, there are some good things and some bad things and I am learning to deal with the balance!

Not every single person goes through all of these, but it's far from uncommon. For me, I've been studying Japan for literally almost half my life, and I've been here four times, so I was solidly in Stage Three when I got here and assuming things would pretty much stay that way. Little did I know it was possible to backslide!

It's not about the earthquake, although I'm sure that hasn't exactly hindered my desire to be at home with my loved ones again. Some of it is about being here, and some of it is about *not* being in my own country, and some of it is just about being really kind of tired. I'm writing this entry partly just because I occasionally need a space to word vomit, and partly because recently, I've been starting to realize that some of these things are things that we do not really talk about in JET, or that we kind of just joke around about, and I want to say that it is okay to have serious feelings about them.

So here's a lot of bitching and moaning -- if you want to avoid it, skip down a bit.


If not, here is my Stage 2, alternatively titled, "YOU KNOW WHAT SUCKS?"

1) It's not really that being non-Japanese in Japan sucks (for me). It's being non-Japanese and a woman and overweight that sucks. Being overweight sucks in America, too, but at least I can buy, like, pants and shoes there. And seriously, I'm sorry, being a woman in America >>>>>>>>> being a woman here. The amount of institutionalized, totally accepted, pervasive sexism I've encountered in the last few months has been really getting to me. I sighed when I first got here and realized that our office still has a glorified tea lady, that girls sit behind boys at assemblies, that the boy clubs are generally more important than the girl clubs, etc. That bugged, but did not chafe.

No, what really chafes is the fact that at the last four Japanese parties I've been to I have been: hit on, touched inappropriately, touched really inappropriately, hit on with great intent, and on one single and memorable occasion told I literally wasn't allowed to leave the party and that one teacher who likes me planned on following me home. Not even home to my apartment. Home to New York. I'm sadly not joking about that, and neither was he. Every time anything like this happens, the men and women around me laugh it off, like, "Oh, that silly old Mr. ______." At best, they stay uncomfortably silent. It's gross and I hate it a lot. As you can expect, I'm making an effort from now on to avoid future parties, which is a shame because the food at those things is goooooooood. But like, hello, I should not have to skip the party to avoid having a dude find creative ways to 'discreetly' touch my boob.

2) You know what else sucks? Chronic illness. I haven't talked about it really at all on this blog, and except for a few other ALTs and one single person at work, I try to avoid the topic in real life, but the fact is, I have quite a few chronic health issues (this is why I'm always missing stuff, guys. Sorry!). The worst of these is something that is basically identical to Meniere's Disease, except that it's not actually Meniere's and therefore is not treatable like Meniere's is. Fun! Also, it means I can't eat chocolate. And sometimes it randomly gets worse for no reason.

Obviously, I knew this would be a problem when I got here, and I've been doing my best to keep up with it and manage my situation since I arrived. That said, trying to handle chronic illnesses, especially one that no one really seems to understand, is difficult enough in my native language. Trying to deal with it in Japanese is exhausting. And people here -- both my Japanese coworkers and most of my fellow ALTs -- don't really understand the concept of being sick all the time without, say, a cane in my hand. My actions are sometimes limited in ways that are very difficult to explain or be understood. I guess it doesn't help that I avoid explaining it if I can, but again, it's really just exhausting to try sometimes.

3) Japanese life is an endlessly frustrating jungle of hidden meanings and passive-aggression. Most of this involves work and I'm not going to talk about it here, but basically, if you google the words "honne" and "tatamae," you will discover the single thing I am the most bad at out of everything else on the planet.

4) Going back to being non-Japanese: I'm really not going to talk about work here, but after nine months, I was sort of hoping I'd get to a place where I felt more integrated at my job. As it stands, I feel neither needed nor wanted, much less a real part of the team. I don't know if this is my fault or theirs, but it sucks.

5) Honestly, I'm just tired and crabby a lot of the time.



The Stage 2 stuff, I know some of it I will either learn to deal with or just get over, and some of it is just my own bad mood. Some of it will be helped by my upcoming trip home, which I am very excited for, and some of it will be made worse, but oh well.

But now for the reason I also titled this post "Alanis Irony:" My primary reason for joining JET was that I needed time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Future JET, They will tell you that this is a Bad Reason to do JET, but seriously like half the people I know are here for that reason or to save money for school, so ignore Them.

Anyway, while I've been here, I've really rediscovered my love for translating, and I've become pretty sure that I want to pursue it for the next while. Not forever, but it's definitely what I want to do next. So now that I've Figured It Out, of course, the first thing I want to do is go home and get started on that, especially in the middle of all this Stage 2-ing...

...Except that I can't translate until I'm fluent, which means I can't really leave until that works out for me, which is going to take at least another year. Plus, I mean, I recontracted and have committed to another year here. But ignoring that for a moment, here is some "Ironic" irony for me: I came here to figure out what I want to do, but now that I have, I can't actually do it, because I need to stay here until I can do it. I'm not sure that that's real irony (is it?), but it is sort of like finding a black fly in my Chardonnay.

Okay, my rambling is done now, really. I'll try to write something funny next time.

PS: Obviously, there are many people whose lives suck more than mine right now. If you have the means to help, there are many organizations doing good here in Japan, including Shelterbox and our very own AJET Cares.

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