Musings on my past self and my family

Two things have made me decide to go look at my old high school era blog and reread the entries there. One was the fact that my favorite manga of all time, Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP, is getting a sequel (and the first chapter came out this month!) so I reread the second half of the manga, volumes 7-12, had a lot of revelations over parts of the story I had forgotten, and wanted to know what my 15/16-year-old self thought of them originally when I read them for the very first time. I knew those things would likely be chronicled in my blog from that time, so I opened it up. I’ve also been experiencing some difficulties with my sister lately and I feel like a lot of it is rooted in the fights we had when we were teenagers, so that was another reason to look back at my thoughts then.

It has been pretty eye-opening to relive that time. I forgot how many of the fights I had with my parents (dad mostly) and sister revolved around the Internet and the computer. This was 2002, and until we got DSL we had dial-up, which meant that while my sister and I had our own desktop computers, only one of us could be online at a time, so we fought a lot over whose turn it was. Of course there were no smartphones and Wifi giving us 24/7 Internet access. And then my dad decided we were staying up too late, so he set a timer for the Internet to shut off at midnight, which was the source of so many fights as well. He was also concerned we were “downloading too much” (we downloaded a lot of anime and music) and he didn’t understand that, for example, simply leaving a music program open did not mean anyone could access my computer and download files from it (and when I tried to explain this to my parents, my mom would just say “Listen to him, he knows about these things.” But he didn’t know better in that case).

I had sort of forgotten what it was like to live in my parents’ house and have to abide by their ridiculous rules. I am so, so glad I live on my own and support myself 100% and don’t have to do what they say anymore. There were silly religious things they made us do too–like an hour of Bible study every Sunday (I was raised Christian, and my parents would be deeply disappointed to know I am very much agnostic now, and will definitely never identify as Christian or believe in its teachings again).

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More whining about dating and love in Japan

(Adapted from a comment I wrote to Mary of Ruby Ronin)

I’ve written about this many times before, but dating here in Tokyo as a non-Japanese woman continues to feel kind of hopeless, which is another reason I frequently think that I want to move back to the US (but cannot seem to decide one way or the other once and for all)–to find a life partner. Even though a “friend” accused me of having yellow fever numerous times, it’s not like I’m thrilled with the prospect of dating Japanese guys. But when you live here, it’s kind of your best chance, and I’m definitely attracted to the cute ones and appreciate their hairlessness. In any case, I have not had great luck with foreign guys here either (for numerous reasons), so there’s no use shutting out 98% of the population. For Japanese men, I try to look for the guys that have been overseas, while not going so far as to find the guys who are fascinated by all things foreign and just want to be wide-eyed around a foreigner, to try to find someone compatible with my American sensibilities, but even that is no guarantee. Shiki, my last ex who ghosted me, spent age 8-18 in the US. And he still had communication and avoidance issues.

The biggest issue is really communication. I believe you should be open and honest in relationships, and try to work out a better way of doing things together whenever there’s an impasse. But it doesn’t work if it’s just me explaining my feelings, and the other person is silent but formulating secret escape plans (Shiki) or refusing to budge at all and continuing to do what I already said I didn’t like (Mitsu – specifically telling me to change various things about my body).

Cheating, while I’m aware it’s rampant here, has not really been an issue I’ve noticed personally. Maybe they were cheating and I never knew, but I tend to go for introverted, shy guys who aren’t the type to be flirting and meeting up with girls. When things were going south with Shiki, acquaintances would tell me he must definitely be cheating, but that just wasn’t his personality. Maybe he was, but I tend to believe he was just mired in work and possible depression/exhaustion. I had a moment of weakness a couple weeks ago and LINE messaged him “Hey, hope you’re doing well.” He responded by creating a new LINE account, which automatically became friends with mine (I don’t think he realizes this happens every time he makes a new account). Of course, he didn’t respond to me, and based on the timing I guess he made the new account in an attempt to avoid me. He clearly still thinks I’m some crazy stalker ex. I don’t deny that I acted that way but he also pulled away the emotional attachment I had gotten used to (typical avoidant attachment style) so I think my reaction is somewhat understandable. I definitely tend to have an anxious attachment style so I just wasn’t a good match with an avoidant person anyway.

In addition to differing attitudes on cheating, there can still be weird attitudes about the sex industry that I don’t think most American guys would have. My ex Mitsu told me about an overseas trip he took (before we were dating) where he and his friends visited a brothel together, and he slept with one of the prostitutes there. He had no remorse, and it almost disgusted me enough to break up with him then. (To clarify, I’m not against the sex industry/prostitution as a whole, but I really doubt the woman he slept with for money in some South American country was doing it because it was a profession she had chosen. It’s more likely she was forced or roped into it, and I hate to hear about male tourists contributing to that situation. And I still don’t understand why he and his friends thought that was an okay thing to do all together while traveling abroad.) It’s still a really weird thing about him, but he never saw it that way. But I’ve heard of tons of similar stories. I heard about the executives at my last company going on sex tourism trips together; I’m sure they were married. Hell, the CEO of my last company allegedly had a sex apartment where he took girls, separate from his house where his wife and kid lived, and he also once brought vibrators to work that he planned on using later that evening and showed them to my old team leader (to be like “Hey bro, check this out, I’m such a stud”). But I think his wife totally knew and just accepted it as the price of her lifestyle. I think a lot of women here do think of it that way and accept that it’s going to happen. People just have a different view on marriage here, it’s more like a business transaction, an agreement to raise a family together as eventual platonic partners, than a romantic connection upheld that way forever. To me, that’s depressing, but that’s often how it is here.

I think it’s possible to find a great Japanese guy (a few of my friends here have) who doesn’t have any of the cheating and emotional unavailability issues, but they are extremely rare. You also often have to catch them early, like in college, before the Japanese society mindset clamps down on them and they turn into someone who would never consider actually committing to a non-Japanese woman.

Unfortunately, my American conviction that healthy relationships involve open communication, and Japanese people’s tendency to be afraid of and run away from (or just think is too rude to even tolerate) openness and directness really clash sometimes. That’s been the biggest issue.

However, I truly am enjoying the single life. For so long, I have spent my life waiting for a response from a guy, checking my phone and feeling disappointed when he hasn’t sent anything. I spent so much of last year obsessing over the demise of my relationship and trying to picture what the hell my ex was going through. It was just a lot of wasted effort. He wasn’t doing the same for me, so why should my life basically end up revolving around him? Once it became unequal, I should have ended it. I learned a good lesson. I am not waiting around for a guy and putting him on a pedestal and obsessing over him anymore. I’m way more important to me than some dude who doesn’t care about me. And relationships–having to factor someone else into your decisions, and make compromises, and hash things out–can be so much work. For once, I’m actually enjoying this time instead of desperately trying to find someone. I really like it.

…Or, well, I was enjoying the single life. Lately, I feel back to desperately checking Pairs (a Japanese dating app) and Okcupid for messages from anyone cute. And I’m feeling increasingly despondent about ever finding someone, even though it’s been my dream ever since I was little to find… well, I know “true love” and “the one” and “soulmate” is bullshit, but can I at least say “the love of my life”? I thought I had found that person, but he’s with someone new now and seems very happy, and we probably weren’t right anyway. I would really like to find my other half, it’s what I’ve been dreaming of almost my entire life, and I hate the thought of living out my life and never finding that person, which sometimes it feels like that’s how it will be. It doesn’t help that literally all of my friends back home are more or less happily paired off and have been for years and years now. I am the only one who had a long-term boyfriend and we aren’t still together today. Ugh, I hate it. I’m sick of looking for my 運命の人 and never finding him. Where is he?

How I ended up in Japan to work and live

Written in May 2012, when I was about to quit my job and go to Japanese school and then Japan:

It’s taken me a long time to figure out what to do with my life career-wise and then how to make that happen. I think I’ve finally worked out what to do and now I have to pursue it. But for a very long time I didn’t know. When I got to college I signed up as a double English and French major, reflecting what I knew to be my strengths and my favorite subjects from school up until that point, literature/writing/reading and foreign languages (and even the latter I’d only realized in high school). But I really had no idea how to turn either of those into a career. I was leaning more towards the foreign language side, though, because that seemed more fun to me and also more unique. I figured many people could work with their native language writing and so on, but it’s a rare ability to be good at foreign languages. I felt I owed it to myself to dedicate more energy to that side. That’s why the summer after sophomore year I wanted to intern at a publisher of translated Japanese comics to work with translating and Japanese, but when I got there I realized my language skills weren’t good enough so I was assigned proofreading and editing work instead. I fell in love with it. I realized I loved working in publishing and this could very well be another career goal for me.

So after that publishing and being an editor seemed like something to try for career-wise, but I was no closer to figuring out how to put my foreign language skills to use too. I had been translating Japanese-to-English (and some Spanish-to-English) as a hobby since sophomore year, so becoming a translator and/or interpreter was sounding like a pretty good dream. The summer before senior year I looked up grad schools with translation programs, and found one in Monterey, CA that sounded amazing. By that point I had decided to focus on Japanese as my language I’d translate from, and I can’t say why it’s my favorite, it just is. It’s the one I enjoy speaking, learning, and working with the most, based purely on its own merits. Plus, it also seemed like focusing on that over French or Spanish would differentiate me more from potential translator/job competition. Anyway, so I requested an application from the grad school, and it included a language test. I looked at what would be required of me as part of that test and I knew that my Japanese level as it was then couldn’t handle it. There would be no way I could expect to be accepted and go straight on to that grad school after college without seriously upping my Japanese, and there was pretty much no way I could do that in one year at school with the resources my college offered.

As senior year drew to a close, I began to get serious about trying to find a job after graduation. I had begun dating my first boyfriend ever (Kirk) that October and, despite being the same age as me, he was planning to transfer to a new university starting the next year to do a different major so he would be in school for a while longer. Because of Kirk and our relationship I decided to limit my job hunt to inside Texas; if not I would have expanded the search to places like California and NYC (especially since I was looking for publishing jobs) and I would have also applied to programs that hire English teachers to work in Japan, like many of my Japanese class peers were doing. In fact, I asked Kirk if he’d be interested in applying to teach English in Japan with me upon his graduation and he told me that he would. That became the plan going forward: I wait for Kirk to graduate and work in Texas in the meantime, then we go teach in Japan and I magically acquire Japanese language skills just from being there, then go to that grad school. That was actually the reason I wanted to do that; I needed to become fluent in Japanese and so it only made sense to go to Japan and work there doing the only job I was qualified for. After that, my plans got a little hazy (“magically” become fluent, etc), but I had hoped it would all work out somehow from there. In the meantime, work in Texas using my English degree while honing my future plans, so I searched for local jobs I could do. Some headhunters called me about Japanese- or French-utilizing jobs a couple times, but once they found out I wasn’t fluent or a native speaker they gave up on me. It just reinforced that I needed to get to a higher level in the language before I could use it professionally.

Originally I wanted to move to Austin after graduation and work there, but 2008 was also right when the economy tanked so there weren’t a lot of jobs in general. (The comics publisher in LA where I’d interned laid off half of its staff shortly after I graduated, so even if I could have moved to LA, that was out too.) I pretty much had to stay where I could live with my parents and job hunt from there; I applied to jobs in other cities but non-local applicants aren’t exactly welcomed. It took me a few months just to get hired in Dallas, as a proofreader, and I was lucky to get that. But it was a temp job and I was laid off with most of the other temps after about six months, and then a few months later I was hired at a book publisher. It was my dream job, it was exactly what I’d been wanting: an editor job, in my hometown, at a book publisher!

I started there in July 2009, considering it both my dream job I’d enjoy to the fullest while I had it and something I’d happily give up when Kirk graduated college and we’d go to Japan together. To that end I applied to the JET program for a July 2010 start date since that was Kirk’s projected graduation time; I applied Nov. 2009 and interviewed Feb. 2010. I was applying for a CIR job (which requires Japanese skills), not as a teacher, but I had said I’d be open to working as a teacher too. Kirk was supposed to apply too (as a teacher of course) but the application is very involved, with multiple letters of recommendation, and he simply didn’t get all his materials together in time. So I applied alone, and we figured that if I got it he would apply with another company and try to get placed near me in Japan. (This is an extremely difficult thing to do even if you’re accepted to the same program; this proposal was very dicey from the start.) This was also my little sister’s senior year and she was applying to the program too. Both of us also took JLPT level 2 in Dec. 2009 (in accordance with me trying to get the coordinator job); she passed and I did not.

In early April 2010 I found out that I had been accepted to the program, as a teacher. Even though it wasn’t what I originally applied for it was still an honor. I then had a big decision to make: go ahead and accept, trusting that Kirk would get his sh-t together on his own and accompany me eventually? Or decline in favor of us applying together later to one program, where we’d have greater chances of getting placed together? I was extremely tempted by the offer because, again, this is the foremost program for this and all throughout college I had heard nothing but how hard it was to get accepted by it. Turning it down was practically unheard of. My sister had also gotten accepted. In the end, however, I said no; I couldn’t handle how sad Kirk sounded when I started talking like I was going to do it. I could see this ripping us apart and me being a world away and he couldn’t manage to get to me.

Instead we decided we would apply together in the fall for a different company, AEON (which had successfully placed a couple friend of mine close together, so we had high hopes it would do it for us too). We had an interview in October all lined up. I should also mention that our whole teach-in-Japan plan was predicated on the assumption that he would have a hard time finding work. Well, he didn’t. He took a digital forensics class senior year, loved it, his professor got him a connection, and he worked at a forensics place in Houston over the summer and gained experience. By the October interview, he had been there several months and was loving the work. He was less eager to give up a burgeoning career to go and do something that would appear pretty random on his resume, and would in no way be constructive to it. But, he also knew I’d been waiting for him and he was willing to follow through on what he’d agreed. We were all set to go to the interview in Austin, but then the night before we ended up deciding to throw out the whole plan. All of it–no more going to Japan together, no more teaching together. I didn’t want to teach, really–it’s just the best way to get there–and I didn’t want him to be miserable and mess up his resume. (He was laid off from that job after a year but was able to find a new digital forensics job in Dallas and move there Aug. 2011. His career is well on its way now, and he still doesn’t want to put it on pause.)

I was also becoming more and more intrigued with the idea of going to Japan to study… not to work. It seemed like the better way to maximize my time there; if I were working full-time I wouldn’t have a whole lot of time and energy left over to study, after all. But if I were a full-time student I could progress faster in a shorter period of time. (Since the new plan entailed me going to Japan alone, this would be good for a long-distance relationship as well; it would mean I didn’t have to be away for so long.) I began researching possible ways to do this around the end of 2010, start of 2011. I found several Japanese language schools to study at, although I had no way of predicting how long I would need to be in the country to make all the progress I needed to. I had wanted to do three months… then it became six… then maybe a full year! But I quickly realized the snafu in my plan: to go abroad to study as opposed to work, you need money upfront. And I wasn’t in school, so I had no access to scholarships or loans (the private language schools don’t offer any funding help). And I didn’t have money, or at least not enough, and I certainly didn’t have it on my dinky [book publisher] salary that hadn’t seen a raise since I was promoted to editor at an already low rate in Oct. 2009. So: find a new, higher-paying job and save up until I DID have enough money to go study. That was task #1. (Task #2: Save as much of the money I earn as possible. This is why I moved back in with my parents April 2011.)

Task #1 succeeded! (Task #2 has also succeeded, though I still don’t have anywhere near enough.) This is why I quit [book publisher] to go work at [wire company] in June 2011. Well, that, and I had gotten extremely burned out (writing every day is draining for me, and there had been not one not two but THREE people who disliked me trash-talking me downstairs over the years). However, increased salary aside, my plan backfired when it turned out I hated the wire company more than [book publisher], and did not get along with my boss at all. I yearned for my old boss at the book publisher and the whole atmosphere of the office there, so when another editor quit and my old boss negotiated me an even higher salary than I had at my new company, I jumped at the chance to come back, and did in Oct. 2011. However, this time for sure I knew there was already an end date in sight.

In spring 2011, while doing all my research on Japanese language schools in Japan, I happened to find out about the IUC program, a 10-month intensive Japanese language program in Yokohama administered by Stanford for American students, that begins every September. I then set my sights on that program as the one that I had to do, and vowed to apply for it in the fall. I also decided to apply for a summer 2012 Japanese language program administered by the college that now owns the grad school with the translation program. (Kirk and I visited that school April 2011, just to make sure I’d love it. I did–and we also had a great vacation!) I figured one year of these two programs and I’d be set for that grad school, or at least I hope so. Both the programs are extremely highly recommended and sort of like Japanese boot camp; by the end of the 10-month program you are prepared to do just about anything you want to with Japanese, including work in a Japanese office or conduct grad school-level research in Japanese. Or have enough mastery of the language to train to be a Japanese-English translator. It’s exactly what I need.

So fall and winter 2011 that’s what I was doing, working on my applications for those programs (gathering letters of reference and so on). The 10-month program included a Japanese ability screening test, which I took in February; I spent Jan. and Feb. studying Japanese every single day for that. I did more to increase my level in those two months than I had in the three years since graduation. It was amazing and I’m still very proud of that accomplishment; I had no idea self-study could be so effective but I’ve learned a new discipline. (The feverish pace stopped after the test, but I still go through a chapter in each of my two grammar books every weekend now, and practice vocabulary every day.) I passed the test and have been accepted into the program. I have also been accepted to the summer program and awarded enough financial aid (grants) to cover half the cost of it.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story. I need funding to be able to do the 10-month program; it is exorbitantly expensive and the majority of those attending it are grad students with access to university funding and grants. I have none of that. I did not receive the one outside grant I was eligible to apply for as a non-grad student. The program is applying on the accepted students’ behalf to a multitude of other scholarships, and I do not yet know if I will receive any of those awards or if I will get enough to cover what I need to. I have been saving as much money as I can, in accordance with my plans, but it won’t be enough, it can only help. There is a very real chance that I won’t be able to do the program for the 2012-2013 year.

However, I am definitely doing the summer 2012 program. I’ve paid for it and purchased plane tickets. It was scary to commit before I knew if the 10-month program was happening but I had to or I would lose my spot. But in the case that lack of funding means I can’t do the 10-month program after this summer, I have a backup plan to get me to Japan in the fall anyway. I still don’t want to teach, but as a backup plan I’ve applied to, interviewed, and received and accepted an offer from a teacher placement program. If I go through with that, I’ll continue to save as much money as I can and re-apply to everything for the 2013-2014 year, hoping to get enough funding the second time around. I’m pretty much going to keep trying until I can do this; I feel a strong conviction that this is what I need to be doing with my life to best put to use the skills and talents I’ve been given. To do otherwise would be a waste.

As for Kirk… we will be long-distance during that time. It will suck, but he’s known forever that this is on my horizon, and we feel our foundation is very strong and we can handle this. He will also visit me halfway through my time in Japan. This is, by the way, why we’re not living together or engaged like other couples together this long might be. Well, that, and both of us just don’t feel ready to settle down quite yet. Both of us like our space and our independence and we’re not ready to merge yet.

Then, after the programs, after my Japanese is as good as it’s going to be, get an MA in translation with a focus on Japanese to English, and then look for a job as a translator. Will I really get a job after all this time, money, and effort… I have reason to believe, yes. Everything I’m doing is pretty much the best in the field. The programs are top-notch, the grad school is the best for this (there are companies that recruit exclusively from that school, and the professors and admin staff have amazing connections), and it’s all just going to be exactly what I need to do to launch me on a career as a translator. I talked to a recent grad of the school who also did both those programs and he’s employed; so is his girlfriend who graduated from the school too. Maybe Kirk will get a job in Silicon Valley and join me in Monterey while I get my MA; maybe we’ll stay in California or move somewhere else together after that (I’ll try to go freelance). It’s all sort of far off; all I know is that I have a feeling it’s all going to work out.

I mean, maybe. This is all really scary, especially the part where I don’t know exactly what I’m doing in the fall but I’m still quitting my job and spending some of my carefully saved-up money to go away for the summer and do a program. I still don’t know all the facts, I don’t know when exactly I’m leaving for Japan or where I’m going within it. I don’t have many details that people would want to know, and I’m basically taking a huge, giant leap of faith here and trusting I will land all right and I won’t end up broke and unemployed with no prospects. Um, fingers crossed.

So, four years later… what happened? I still achieved my dreams, just not in the way I thought I would, and I lost that boyfriend along the way (which I don’t regret in hindsight because we had other issues, but it’s still a little sad thinking about how I planned so carefully trying not to let me pursuing my dreams tear us apart, but in the end it did anyway). I’m still living in Japan, I didn’t get any funding from the 10-month program which was devastating at the time, I ended up working as a teacher to begin with and then moved into other work as soon as I could, I loved that summer program, I never went to MIIS (it’s just too expensive and I don’t need it), I passed JLPT N1, and I’m working both freelance and full-time in game translation and localization. And I’m single. Hah…

Toxic workplaces and bosses in Japan

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, and I think I finally have enough distance from the situation to do so. I mentioned briefly in this post how bad things had gotten at my last job (which I quit in November 2015 after working there a year and 9 months). I really don’t even know where to begin chronicling those experiences. They’re all so bad.

Basically, when I started working at this company, I was absolutely thrilled. It seemed like the best place in the world. I was working AT A GAME COMPANY, ON GAMES, and I was translating every day. The other people on my team seemed nice (operative word: seemed) and I had an incredibly charismatic team leader that I quickly developed a gigantic crush on (I mentioned him in the other post). I loved going to work every day and seeing him.

That fun time lasted… about 5-6 months. When I first started, I had been trained by the other full-time translator on my team, a really sweet fellow American girl. Everyone on our team was Japanese, and they adored her. After 5 months, she dropped the bomb that she was quitting to work freelance for our company, and had been planning to do so for a long time now. I was upset because I didn’t feel like she had taught me enough yet, and I was going to miss her a lot. I had tried to emulate her example in everything I did, but there were some things she was just naturally better at (like gently explaining her translation decisions to the Japanese staff members who had an intermediate knowledge of English but not enough to fully grasp our native-level translations, so they would question them) and that I struggled with. I was worried about her leaving.

At the same time, I found out that we supposedly had another team leader for this team who had been out on maternity leave since before I started but who was coming back at the end of the summer, and she and my other team leader were going to rule together, essentially. Also, the manager for the team who oversaw everything was also quitting, and until they found a replacement for him, an even higher-up manager was going to be overseeing our team part-time.

A lot of changes. This is pretty standard for this industry…

Anyway, I was optimistic about everything because it had all been so great up until that point, but that was basically the beginning of the end. The woman who came back from maternity leave turned out to be pure evil. I sensed this immediately, and only now has everyone else on my old team realized that she is a terrible manager. She is 90% of the reason I quit, and at least three other people have quit because of her as well since then. I’m sure many more want to quit but don’t have the opportunity yet.

Why is she so bad? Well, at one of our first morning meetings that we did every day that she attended, we were going around the circle saying our plans for the day. There were two levels of employees in our team, assistants and full members. Only the members say their plans, that’s how it’s been forever. So the assistants were silent and she said “Why aren’t the assistants saying their plans?” and she was told because they don’t, and she immediately said “Why not?”

I mean… that sort of aggression is just really surprising, especially from a Japanese woman. I thought she would spend her first couple weeks here observing, adjusting, and only then start making changes. Nope. She wanted to make changes from day 1, without even observing how things were working first. I had been working with my main team leader to hire a very skilled individual freelance proofreader, and had gotten pretty far in the plans, but once she got there that plan was completely canceled because she didn’t want proofreading to be done by freelancers. It was incredibly frustrating. She also canceled or slowly phased out other improvements I had been working on with him (namely, getting the Japanese team to be better about letting the translators check completed images, because often there would be typos because the images had been made by Japanese designers. But the Japanese team considered that a waste of time and balked at adding the extra checking step).

I met with her several times and talked with her about my frustrations and about what I wanted. She seemed to listen, but would then do whatever she wanted to do anyway.

One of the things she instituted that I absolutely hated was the rates for our freelance translators. Namely, she lowered them to cut costs. And our rates were already low by industry standards. I thought this was such a slap in the face to our hardworking freelancers. So before she changed this, the rates were 2.8 yen/character (lowest) to 4.5 yen/character (highest). Even 4.5 is just barely the low end of industry standard, but it’s pretty good, especially considering the amount of characters in these stories. You can easily make thousands of dollars a month. The only people getting the 4.5 rate were the girls who had quit the company to go freelance, and they were acknowledged to be our best translators. There was nothing wrong with the quality of their work. Well, she decided that the new maximum would be 4 yen/character, so these two were going to have their rates lowered to that. Unbelievable. I still don’t abide by this at all. They work so hard and this is the thanks they get?? And then she lowered the lowest rate to 2.3 yen/character, which is abysmally low. Part of my job was to find and audition new freelancers, but after she did that I couldn’t get anyone to agree to work for that. And the people that WOULD work for that were terrible! (By and large. Fortunately, there were exceptions, but then I would just feel bad for those people for working for so little!) And trying to get good translators raises was absolutely impossible. It was so frustrating and I hated feeling like we were deceiving people. I really disliked that part of the job.

Then a replacement translator for the team was hired. It was my friend Ry I had known since I first moved to Japan to work; I had recommended him and he had gotten the job. Everyone was thrilled. It should have been great, but… it quickly became obvious that everyone preferred him to me. I mean, I get it. They’re all Japanese women, and of course they’re going to prefer a white gay guy to a white woman. I see it. But it still stung, because I was really trying my absolute hardest, but it was like nothing I did was going to be good enough.

The problems were also compounded by another girl on the team who decided she didn’t like me. She had initially been hired to do planning work, but it was too stressful for her and she wanted to do something else. I had been pushing that we do our proofreading in-house (by me) and stop using this terrible third-party company we had been using up until that point, so they seized on that and decided to make her the official in-house proofreader and have me train her, because I had lots of proofreading experience. So I did, or tried to, but it was soon obvious that she didn’t have the right skill set, or shall we say English knowledge. She’s a returnee who’s lived abroad many many years, went to international school, and can speak English at a native level fluency, but that’s not enough to be a good proofreader. You also need to be a good reader and have a wide vocabulary and knowledge of idioms. She didn’t have that knowledge and would mark things as wrong that weren’t wrong; she just hadn’t understood the idiom. I tried really hard to work with her and recommended a number of things she could do to improve (like start reading a lot more books in English; she said she didn’t have time) but she wasn’t improving at all.

I talked to several higher-ups on the team about it, and told my new team leader when she came back about the situation, but almost everyone felt more sympathetic towards her than me. I wasn’t being harsh, like “You need to fire her, she’s terrible,” I was just frankly expressing my concerns. I think that got back to her and she developed a bitterness towards me. She’s very prideful about her English ability, and she didn’t like that I was implying it needs any work.

I think the reason the higher-ups didn’t care is a part of Japanese work culture, which is not about matching people’s abilities to their jobs. It’s about taking the stance that everyone has the same basic skill set, no more or no less, no one’s more talented than anyone else, and from that point on it’s all up to your hard work to determine how you’ll excel. So it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t have the right skill set for a certain type of job; if they just work hard enough at it, they’ll be able to do it eventually, and until then we should support them and be patient.

As an American, I find this philosophy complete CRAP. The most qualified person for a job based on talent and experience should be hired for it. Jobs shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all type thing where you hire people for departments, not specific positions on that team. But in Japan they love to shuffle people around every few years, moving people (especially people hired right after graduation) from the game development team to the PR team to the marketing team and so on. It’s ludicrous. If you want the best product, put the people best suited to it on that team–not just ANYONE and tell them if they work hard enough they can do it. What if they have no interest in that type of work and they quit? What if they’re not good at it and the product suffers? I just do not understand Japan on this one.

Anyway, so naturally, this girl took to my friend, the new translator, right from the start. So for the translators’ team it was me, him, and her. And she hated me, and wouldn’t speak to me unless she absolutely had to (she went to crazy lengths never to speak to me, like waiting until I’d left my desk for a minute to put a souvenir gift she was handing out to everyone on it so she wouldn’t have to speak to me, or chatting it up with everyone else as she delivered souvenirs and then saying one perfunctory word to me and moving off immediately. It was so obvious and childish!). But she loved him and always went to him for help, even if I was the better person to ask. And then there was my new team leader, who was quickly (too quickly–they had planned it all along) promoted to manager to replace the one who had quit over the summer, and once she became manager of the whole department things just went completely to hell. That was in January of last year, and I spent the entire time from then until November when I could finally quit being more or less absolutely miserable. It felt like everyone on the team was only barely tolerating me, even though I was putting out an extremely high-quality output of work every day and working very hard, and I spent several lunchtimes crying in the bathroom. It wasn’t a good time, at all.

I also had several long conversations with this manager in which I cried. It wasn’t pretty. Almost every time we went behind closed doors to have what ended up being a 1-2 hour conversation, I started crying. And it didn’t phase her at all. I think it made her think of me as weak. She told me I needed to be more 冷静 (calm, unemotional). She said this as she was doing the exact things that were making me emotional, like not listening to me when I said I couldn’t handle all the work she was giving me and not letting me negotiate my deadlines at all. Basically, another member would decide my deadlines and the amount of work I would do, and I couldn’t change it at all. If I tried to say “Actually, that’s going to overload my week, can we adjust it?” they would act like I was the most irresponsible, unprofessional person in the world. It made for a lot of really awkward translation team meetings where the girl who hated me would just sit there smugly. I found out later that she also asked to have her workload adjusted, and it was granted no questions asked. It was reduced to the point that she is now barely doing any work, and working at a snail’s pace with noticeable mistakes when she does, and the other team members are having to pick up the slack. Yet when I asked, I was treated with the ultimate contempt. I was told that I have 40 hours of overwork included in my pay, and if I haven’t used them up, then I can’t ask to have deadlines or workload adjusted. When I told the amount of characters I was translating per week to my future coworkers at my interview for my current job, they couldn’t believe how much I had been doing. But I never had a choice. I was forced to do it and I was not allowed to say no or they made me feel terrible. I tried so hard to please them so they wouldn’t make me feel like that, to just shut up and say yes and do what they said, but it didn’t help. She just found a new angle to criticize me from. Nothing I did was good enough.

I made a lot of mistakes, definitely. I spoke too critically to Japanese members of the team about how they were letting English typos and mistakes slip through the cracks on in-game images, which quickly incurred their wrath. I stupidly contacted a fan on Tumblr anonymously but said I was an employee of my company (my manager found out and was livid. That was the day she lost complete trust in me). I didn’t turn in a couple translations on time (though I had warned them I wasn’t going to because it was more work than I realized it would be), although I made every deadline since that point because they warned me so harshly after that. I went to a celebratory party held the night of a day I had called in sick (though I only sipped ginger ale, and just went because I really wanted to celebrate the woman whose honor it was being held for), and was warned not once but twice that I shouldn’t have done that. I was also told off once for using my internet browser to access 8tracks so I could listen to music to focus on my work (because that’s using company resources for something not work related. Ridiculous!).

But I did so many things right and just wasn’t appreciated for it. I actually cared about the games and the characters and just wanted to make a good product. I caught so many English mistakes and turned in good, accurate translations that fans liked. I came up with a lot of new systems and ways to improve workflow and the team (well, I had to–one thing about this job was that we all had to make a presentation every month, one PowerPoint slide, and give a 60-second presentation on it in front of the group. In Japanese, of course. I hated that). My first six-month performance review, with my first manager, went really well. My first team leader loved me, and still thinks I’m great. It was only when my manager took over that my reputation started to really suffer, though my work hadn’t changed at all. Also, because I was translating for games that members of our San Francisco team were in charge of, sometimes they would look over my translations too, and because they’re extremely picky, they had a lot of critical comments, which they shared with my manager and she took them as bible truth, barely letting me defend myself, and certainly not believing anything I said to defend my translations. None of the other translators were subject to that; if they were, they would have been criticized too, I know it. But because it was just me, that only made me appear more incompetent to her. (I stand by my translations. They were great, and accurate, and true to the feel of those games.)

But at my last performance review, right before I quit, my manager told me that because the sales goal for the game I proofread the texts for hadn’t been met, she was going to reduce my salary. I wasn’t in charge of sales. I had nothing to do with sales. All I did was catch every English mistake I possibly could in the scripts. That was the extent of my power. And yet, because the sales goal hadn’t been met, she was going to punish me. It was so petty. I wanted to quit right then, but I had to wait a few more days.

Then when I did quit, my manager and another woman whispered and gossiped about where I was going next, and if it was our rival company, that wasn’t legal and they could sue me. Actually, no, they couldn’t. I specifically asked HR when they gave me 50,000 yen as a sort of non-compete bribe when I quit if it was okay if I went to a rival game company. They said it was, as long as I didn’t spread specific information I’d acquired at this company. I just can’t believe my manager was all too ready to try to harm me, after she’d made me miserable in the first place and had to have known it.

And I could point fingers at other members of my team and say what I did was no worse than what they did (one girl regularly yelled, actually YELLED at another member). But I do want to take responsibility for my mistakes. I just think my manager was never sympathetic enough towards me. I was basically the first person hired for this department to translate full-time. The girls that had been there before me had both started as game planners and had transitioned to translating more and more. I’ve also realized since leaving this company that the whole company environment there is very toxic and cliquey. Everyone seems to have their own agenda, and if you fit into it they’re nice to you and invite you to things, and if you don’t they completely ignore you (and you have to see their posts on social media about hanging out with just each other, the Japanese girls only group). Looking back I realize how snobby and cliqueish the Japanese girls on my team, and others, were.

It’s not to say I didn’t make good friends there, including with Japanese girls in my department and in others. I did. But it wasn’t enough when the majority of them didn’t seem to like me at all or respect my hard work.

It’s been very hard for me to separate out how much of what happened was me, and how much was them. But now that I’m in a new environment which is so, SO much less toxic, where people are actually friendly and seem to mean it, where my coworkers actually like me and think I do a good job, and where I seem poised for promotion in the next several months, I’m realizing it has to be largely them. (I should also mention that my last team was primarily Japanese, and the Japanese people’s opinions were the ones that counted–even though it was the English localization team. At my new company, it’s the exact same industry but the English localization team is actually made up primarily of, you know, English speakers. So the majority of my coworkers are Americans, plus one super cool returnee Japanese guy and one Korean girl who’s also amazingly chill. It definitely makes a huge difference in the work environment, but even in the all-Japanese teams at my new company, which I work pretty closely with as well, I see that difference in the environment too. It was just so toxic there, and it’s really and truly friendly here.) Not shockingly, other people have quit because of this manager too, and Ry says everyone on the team hates her and wants out now. Yeah, I can’t say I’m surprised at all. I’m just glad I’m out. I took a week to attempt to unwind in Bali after I ended up quitting earlier than expected because I couldn’t take her a second longer (giving up my December bonus of about $5,000 to do so). That’s a story for another post…

Fortunately, Ry and I’s friendship didn’t suffer at all as a result of the team turning on me but adoring him (my manager loves him so much she even promoted him–if I’d stayed he would have been my boss!), and we still get together for lunch at least once a month, and drinks on the weekends sometimes too, and trade gossip. As for my old team leader I had a crush on, we talk on LINE every once in a while and I got to see him last month for lunch while he was back in Japan briefly.

There are some issues with my new job, specifically one very high maintenance person, but overall it’s really, really good. I also don’t do translation full-time anymore; I’m doing more general localized game planning type work. It’s really fun and every day is different and interesting. My coworkers are almost all otaku nerds and we giggle about silly fandom stuff every day. We are also all super into the Japanese boy idol game Ensemble Stars and we discuss it every day. It’s like when I would go in to high school to join my friends before class every morning, I love it.

Thank you, Momoko Kanzaki of Laurier

Getting ghosted fucked me up for a while. I still feel a tiny bit fucked up about it when I think about it now, though I’m feeling in a better place every day. Honestly, 2015 was basically me getting progressively more jaded and cautious after suffering romantic and career rejections (even if things seem to be better now on at least one of those fronts).

While I was still trying to figure out how to get through that whole situation, during the gray period where no one had officially broken up with anyone but getting my supposed boyfriend to contact me and follow through on promises to see me was like pulling teeth and I wasn’t sure whether to pull the plug or hold out because both choices seemed equally painful, I did a lot of desperate late-night googling. I read up on ghosting, fading out, all of that in English and Japanese, because I figured there might be cultural differences that would mean I should get a Japanese perspective too. The Japanese sources ended up being more helpful to me because the work culture is so much more intense here, which is why it’s a lot harder in Japan to figure out if someone is really, truly just busy with work or if they’re fading out on you, because it is possible that it’s entirely work stuff and his feelings haven’t changed. I read accounts from several girls who endured months-long periods of virtual radio silence from their then-boyfriends, now-husbands who eventually surfaced and they were married. (Who knows if those are actual solid marriages though, or if he’s going to pull that same stunt again down the line.) Another girl said that her boyfriend regularly disappeared for months at a time, and she waited patiently because he always came back around, and it was just an established pattern by then.

At the beginning, stories like that gave me hope. Yeah, exactly! It’s just work and he’ll come back to me! Everything was so good! By the end, they just depressed me. These girls are getting played, and so am I… 

One of the things I came across during these Google sprees was the writing of Momoko Kanzaki, a writer for the women’s/love section of Excite News (lol, I know, Excite still exists and is relevant–only in Japan). I was so moved by what she wrote in three of her columns, which seemed to be about exactly what I was going through, that I copied down the text and saved it. She takes a very brassy, no-nonsense view of how men often treat women, and a lot of it was just what I needed to hear, although it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

She wrote about dating busy men. First there’s this article [J], entitled “Men who won’t contact you because ‘Work is busy'” (I’ve translated these excerpts; any bolding is by me).

Men who can’t even make plans using work as an excuse, who will happily leave you waiting for months on end, and who are too tied up to even text you are not a partner who is honestly face to face with you.
If you’re thinking about your future, it can’t be one-way–it has to be “partners who are both properly facing one another” or it won’t last.

She followed it up with “No impatience, no complaining, no brooding… how to date a busy man you rarely see?” [J].

Men who are buried in work, who say work is crazy are not placing importance on love, so they’re not going to fall in love. It’s highly likely that, unexpectedly, they’ve rarely gotten truly close to a woman before; they’ve kept themselves at a moderate distance. It’s also the case that they reject deep connections and are afraid of them.
They can’t bear people’s feelings.
That’s why they make it their job’s fault, saying “I’m busy, so…” and seek refuge at work. These men are not open to love.
It’s highly unlikely that he’s going to fight for you, nor can you hope that he’ll treat you with good faith. He can’t face your serious intentions.
He’s fine keeping you waiting, he won’t give you an answer, and he wants to be vague. He doesn’t want to get scolded later, so he won’t even make plans. He refuses to take responsibility or shoulder any weight.
So if you want to force it to work with a man like that, all you can do is smile, look past it, and endure.

She also wrote about the fadeout: “‘Is this a fadeout?’ Men who go radio silent–why do they suddenly disappear?” [J].

I think it’s buried deep in a man’s psyche to choose to flee when things get rough. They don’t want to be blamed, so they don’t want to become the bad guy. There are things he’s hiding and things no one can know, so he fades out.

To have someone suddenly sever the ties in your relationship is truly rough. You don’t even know why he left, and even though you want to know the truth, he continues to completely ignore you no matter if you call and text. When he won’t tell you anything, and you can’t even talk to him, all you can do is end things all on your own. With no way of confirming that it’s over, it’s incredibly difficult to force yourself to bury your feelings.
You have to give a good kick to a guy who won’t say a single word to you.
You can’t hope for a constructive relationship from someone who tries to run away when things get bad and inconvenient for him, and you can’t build a solid foundation. So while ending it with someone like that is the right thing to do, a wordless declaration of intention causes people to suffer; it haunts them and won’t let them go. There’s nothing so painful as to be ignored with no reaction at all.

Yeah, it was pretty much like she was speaking into my soul. Everything was happening EXACTLY as she described. I really think my ex Shiki was afraid of forming a deep connection with anyone, and once I seemed to be asking that of him, he disappeared. Looking back, I really wonder if he’s gay or something (there were some bedroom issues too) and that’s why he preferred me at arm’s length. I just don’t know. It continues to baffle me why he was so adoring in the beginning and then went cold.

But I refuse to have a partner like that anymore, someone who is avoidant and puts work first, who doesn’t make love a priority. “Partners who honestly face each other”–that’s what I want to find looking forward, though I also have very little hope of finding an enlightened guy like that in Japan. Which is why right now I’m just enjoying the single life, and can’t summon the motivation to go on a bunch of dates and attempt to get the best one to ask me to be his girlfriend. I feel like my life is pretty busy already, with not enough time for me to chill at home (and work on freelance stuff), because I have a lot of (wonderful!) friends who are always inviting me to fun things, so I don’t even know where I’d fit a boyfriend in anyway. But these articles are a reminder not to settle for (Japanese) male bullshit.

Tracy Slater’s The Good Shufu review: irritating misinformation, but nails the expat conundrum

I’ve been wanting to read Tracy Slater’s debut book and memoir The Good Shufu for a long time, but it’s my policy not to purchase a book I’ve never read by an author I don’t know, so I wasn’t able to for a while. Then I had my sister get me the ebook for Christmas and quickly devoured it. I’d been following the author’s blog for a while (after finding it through other AMWF blogs), and had grown very curious to know how she and her husband met and the details about their relationship (which the author shrewdly–but irritatingly–doesn’t share online, so as to promote interest in the book). I honestly thought I would love this book, as another American feminist expat in Japan who has dated Japanese men. Unfortunately… I found more that was irritating in it than things I loved. It’s probably the worst memoir I’ve ever read, and I like memoirs. Generally reading about other people’s lives is fascinating to me. And while the writing is very, very good and is basically the saving grace of this book, I have to agree with this A.V. Club review: “The Good Shufu promises an examination of how marriages fare in a culture clash, but it only delivers a faint echo of the marriage, little of the culture, and none of the clash.”

While her husband Toru emerged as charming and I could see why she fell in love with him, unfortunately the author came off as annoyingly obsessive. So many of the things she detailed just made me think “I would not like this person, and she is kinda crazy.” It was strange how much she pushed for Toru to be a part of her social life despite the fact that he didn’t really want that and wasn’t suited for it, although I can’t say I haven’t been guilty of the exact same thing myself. One of the first signs that things were going downhill with Shiki [my Japanese returnee ex I dated for 6 months] was back in February when I told him that I wanted him to join me and a few friends, most native Japanese speakers, for dinner the next weekend. He hummed noncommittally and I tried to get across that it was important to me that he come–I’d been telling my friends about this guy and wanted them to meet him, and it was only going to be three other people. I assumed he understood that it was a plan. But on the day of, he was unreachable until after the dinner was over. I found out that he’d been at work (the dinner was a Saturday night) and hadn’t thought to contact me to say he couldn’t make it. I wasn’t happy at all about it (I was too distracted hoping for an answer from him to even be able to enjoy the dinner with my friends) but it was yet another thing that never got worked out because he was too busy with work to really talk to me and when we did manage to meet up in person, nagging him about why he hadn’t contacted me two weeks ago didn’t seem important anymore. (This pattern continued for another few months. It was maddening.)

And I also did this many, many times during my relationship with Kirk [my American ex of 5.5 years]–insisted he come along to meet people he wasn’t enthused about meeting, mainly just to show him off as my boyfriend. But we also met each other’s circle of friends and could attend parties and get along with the people there, and I think that was important to both of us. It’s true that it can be frustrating dating a Japanese guy who doesn’t see that as a priority and who, if he does attend, is too shy to interact with people and can never get on their level anyway. But you have to realize that and give up on the dream of your man being your social companion the same way a western guy would. I eventually realized that but it’s bizarre that Slater, in her 40s, just doesn’t, and keeps throwing poor Toru into what sounds like absolutely miserable situations. I mean, these dinners she describes sound truly awful and forced. I don’t blame him for not wanting to go.

Another thing that struck me is she spends a large chunk of pages detailing their first fight, how she had been upset that he agreed to her suggestion of a weekend trip with “Maybe”–she would have preferred he clarified first that he really wanted to go, but needed to see how the schedule played out first. Then, later, he invites her to come to Osaka to see what it’s like, and it’s: “Well, maybe I could,” I had tentatively agreed. I let the idea take form in my head, solidifying slowly like liquid hardening into shape.

This is exactly what he responded earlier that you got so mad at him about!

But the thing that angered me the most about this book was a scene that hit a little too close to home–when the author and her new American expat friend are laughing at the expats they feel have naturalized a bit too much.

Bent over our soup, we gossiped about the expat scene, marveling at how different we felt from many of the foreigners we’d met. “Those gaijin who dress up in yukata robes, or who insist on only speaking Japanese? Like if someone speaks to them in English and they still respond in Japanese?” I rolled my eyes.

“I know!” Jessica shrilled. “As if it’s not totally, one hundred percent clear that they are not Japanese, as if everyone can’t see that they’re foreign. Um, hello, you’re white!”

Welllllllllll, first of all, fuck you. You talk later in the book about going to an onsen ryokan with Toru and wearing yukata with him there, so this is all coming off a little hypocritical here. But if you’re criticizing non-Japanese (non-Asian) people who wear yukata in the summer, you can fuck right off.

Here’s why I wear yukata when going to fireworks and other summer festivals. First of all, it’s fun, especially if your friends are doing it too. Second, it’s one of the few things about traditional Japanese culture that I like, and I want to cultivate that rare interest. Third… yukata are pretty and I like owning a few. Japanese people have absolutely zero problem with foreigners wearing yukata, and in the summer when everyone’s doing it, why shouldn’t I join in just because I’m white? I’m not doing it to pretend I’m not white. Japan never lets me forget I’m white, and I don’t wish I were Japanese or anything (no thank you). Yes, there are some people–you can mainly find them at anime conventions outside Japan–who dress up in yukata or those horrid cheap silk “kimono” and parade around for attention, and we call those people weeaboos, but that’s not what the majority of foreigners wearing yukata in the summer in Japan are doing. It’s fun and it’s a way to enjoy summer here with everyone else. Period.

Next, insisting on speaking Japanese. Yeah, I do that in most cases, and here’s why. In the majority of cases, my Japanese is better than the Japanese person’s English. (If they are essentially at native or high level fluency in English, then I’m only too happy to speak to them in English as a fellow native speaker. But those people are rare.) Once they realize that, most gratefully abandon all attempts at English. The ones that persist doggedly with their English attempts, though? I don’t like those people, and I see absolutely no reason to gratify their desires. Why? Because they are trying to use me, and they have typecast me, and I despise that behavior and will not indulge it. They have equated my white face with “opportunity to speak English because this person doesn’t speak Japanese” and they refuse to take in any other information, such as “Japanese fluency,” which would contradict their initial assumption. They are selfishly trying to gain something (free English practice) without taking into account me as a person, a human being, not simply a white face. There is a guy in my running group who will respond to my Japanese friendly comments with English every time, and it is infuriating because his English is not even that good. I’ve already established to him that I speak Japanese just fine, so I can only assume that he’s insisting in English in a stubborn sense of “white person = English! I must use my English and get practice!” (I could be charitable and interpret it as him wanting to accommodate me with my native tongue. But I really don’t think that’s the case.)

In those situations, the conversation doesn’t last long anyway, as I generally try to escape as quickly as I can once I realize they’re that type. I have zero regrets about this policy and it has served me well. There is no need, NONE at all, for me to speak English to anyone who tries to speak English to me, just because I’m a native English speaker. I’m not trying to pretentiously show off my Japanese ability or anything (though I know there are people like that, who act more fluent than they really are, and make the Japanese person feel awkward trying to accommodate them. This is, yes, another form of being a weeaboo, and I don’t like that behavior, but I don’t think that’s what I do). I’m just trying to do what’s easiest for both of us, while not letting myself get taken advantage of by a shameless free English conversation hunter/gaijin collector.

This whole attitude of “if you do anything Japanese people do, you’re just trying to run from your own identity, and we as other members of your race see right through you and are here to police your behavior” is ridiculous. Let’s all just get along as expats here as long as no one’s harming anybody, and stop playing the “I’m the more legitimate expat” superiority game. It’s just childish.

There was also some instances of Japanese language misinformation in the book, which makes me suspect that no one at the publisher did any cultural fact-checking. Dear editor, just because Japan seems exotic doesn’t mean you should let just anyone present themselves as a cultural authority on it and eagerly publish their book. Case in point…

  • “Saiaku-te!” was my fallback, which technically means “worst” in Japanese
    • Um… what?? 最悪 (saiaku) and 最低 (saitei) both mean “worst,” but as far as I know 最悪低 (saiaku-tei) is not a word. I spent a good minute puzzling over this one. ???
  • young mothers rode by on their mama-chari, ubiquitous one-speed bikes whose names were a riff on “mama chariots.”
    • Nope, chari is short for charinko, which means bike (said to be partially derived from “charin charin,” the sound of a bike’s bell). They are also not one-speed.
  • “Chu-gakkou?” I asked. “What’s Chu-ga-ko?” … “China,” she said softly in English.
    • No. 中学校 (chuu-gakkou) is middle school. 中国 (chuugoku) is China. It is insane that this was never fact-checked during proofreading.

But I also have to give credit where it’s due. The one thing she really nails is what it’s like to be back in the US after being in Japan–noticing the casual, non-deferential attitude of service staff, the loud people chatting on cell phones, the confrontational nature of car drivers. She concludes that if you live in the US, the rudeness around you is just part of life and you don’t notice it, and actually it’s better because everyone is more real this way: “you be you and I’ll be me, and somehow despite the annoyance and noise and clumsiness, we’ll have faith that we’ll all get by, ourselves, together.” And that Japan’s bubble of politeness can also be like a hermetic seal, closing off everything, good and bad. Hmm. I’m not sure I agree, but that observation was presented at the point in the narrative where Slater had been in Japan for under a year total, and I’ve been soaking in Japan’s politeness a lot longer. As much as I hate how often the politeness manifests as FAKEness (especially in the workplace among women), and how it can prevent real relationships, I do love the impeccable service and the deferential treatment. I never have a bad interaction with a service staff member, whereas in the US it’s like EVERY interaction is borderline crappy and I walk away feeling worse than before. That may be more “real” but I’m not sure it’s actually better in terms of everyone’s happiness. (Then again, the hermetic seal isn’t the healthiest either. Ultimately, you can’t say “Japan/The U.S. is better on this subject.” All you can say is which one suits you better for the long haul–but it’s not easy to decide.) I’m blending discussions of service interactions and actual interpersonal relations, but that’s because the same politeness philosophy pervades them both.

The other thing she nails is the realization–aided by Donald Richie’s advice, “No one loves Japan, my dear”–brilliant–that she’s never going to fall in love with Japan, and that’s okay. I get asked all the time by people back home I haven’t seen in a while, or people I’ve just met who have found out where I live, “Japan! Do you love it there?” I don’t know why people always ask “Oh, do you love it?” but it happens a lot. It always leaves me a bit flabbergasted. I don’t know what they expect–for me to gush, “Yes, I love it! It’s amazing!” and tell them tales of exotic wonder? I have never felt a pure, unadulterated love for Japan, and have never said I did. It’s more like a rocky relationship filled with ups and downs. Sometimes (like when soaking in an onsen, or eating a delicious bowl of ramen) I do love it, and sometimes (getting stared at, treated like a stereotype, fighting crowds, dealing with pointless red tape) I hate it. But I guess the assumption is that I wouldn’t be living here if I didn’t love it, and if I don’t love it, shouldn’t I be making plans to move back ASAP? Enough of this expat experiment already, if you’re not in love with the place then you need to come on back home already. It’s pointless being so far away from your family and friends otherwise. That seems to be most people’s thought process. And that cuts right to the heart to a lot of thoughts I’ve been having lately about when to plan to move back. In March I decided I would be moving back in a year or so, with June 2016 the latest move-out date. But then in the fall I got a new job and moved into a new apartment and life started really looking up. Also, the job hunt process had made me feel concerned that my resume was making me look like a job-hopper (after 7 months, 11 months, and now 1 year 9 months as my last three jobs), so I decided that I wouldn’t quit this new job for two years so I could repair some of that damage.

But it’s also not so simple as “I don’t love it here, so I should move back.” I don’t know where I would move to in the US or what I would do, and I no longer feel so miserably unhappy here that I need to get out ASAP (though I have felt that twice now during my time here, and quite severely, and both times only going back on my meds fixed it). My parents don’t live in my hometown where the majority of my close friends are anymore, and that city isn’t where I want to be long-term anyway in terms of transportation options or aesthetics. But I don’t know what city WOULD be good. Probably the Pacific Northwest somewhere, but then I’d have to make a new group of friends again, and I already have a nice group of friends and a nice life built up for myself here in Tokyo. If I’m going to be living away from my family and friends anyway, why can’t it be a city abroad? I’d still fly back to see them just as often (1-2 times a year) as I do now, so what’s the real difference? I think about shootings, and health insurance, and just basic safety (the ability to walk around a city after dark) and Tokyo wins every time. I’m close to a Disney park, tons of museums, zoos, and other cultural amenities here, and I can access them all by public transportation. I’m not throwing away my life or career teaching English; I’m working to further my career and it’s something I can take back with me to the US.

Plus, while I was home, I talked to a few of my hometown friends who ended up living in Tokyo too and then moved back, and both of them said they really miss it. One straight-up said he thinks he may have made a mistake coming back, and the other is actively planning an extended trip back. I can think of two other friends who did extended stays here in Japan and obviously miss it; my sister is probably in the same boat too. All of them cherish items from Japan in a way that I don’t because it’s normal to me now, but I recall doing after studying abroad here and during the 6 years until I came back. I know it would be the same if I left. I don’t want to leave Japan until I feel like it’s out of my system for good. I don’t want to be one of those former expats who wishes they were an expat again, and I don’t want to end up plotting a return after repatriating. I don’t want to dismantle my life here only to wish I hadn’t later.

At the same time, if this is what becoming an expat was going to do to me, I almost wish I had never become one. I almost wish I had stayed happy in my own country and never known what it was like. But I also know that wouldn’t have been possible, because 1) my ridiculous soul longs for drama; and 2) I wouldn’t have been happy until I did this. From 2008 to 2012, I was plotting how to get back to Japan, my plans always getting put off another year until finally in 2012 I really made the move, and now that I’m here–though it was only supposed to be a 1-2 year stay–I’m constantly reevaluating when I’ll move back. I don’t want to move back and just start plotting how to move to Japan again. But I do want to find a place I’m happy in and don’t want to leave. I’m just not so sure that even the US, much as I miss it and its grocery stores filled with things I want to eat, could be that place.

Back to the book review. It was good, but not great, and I was expecting more. I want to read a memoir of an expat in Japan who really gets it…

Dating Japanese guys as an American girl

I’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences dating here, and about the types of situations I want to avoid from here on out (that’d be almost everything I’ve experienced so far, ha) and how best to avoid that.

I’m really realizing that for a lot of Japanese guys, because I’m not Japanese but I’m a white girl who speaks Japanese, I was sort of an interesting and different one-time thing. They didn’t want to make me their girlfriend, but they WERE interested in sleeping with me and then making an excuse as soon as they could to never see me again. I go into every date hoping for something serious and lasting to develop (if we click), but I think a lot of these guys were not looking for the same thing. I think because I’m not Japanese, it was easier to fetishize/dehumanize me, to think “Oh, I wouldn’t date her, but I’ve never been with a white girl before, so let’s try it out. Okay, that was fun, I got my one experience I needed, bye.” And I’m not sure if it was because I’m not Japanese or because they were in a different place in their life, but I’m realizing I have kind of been taken advantage of. And while this didn’t happen a LOT, in most cases I still went along with it, I was just as curious as they were, but it’s gotten old and I’m no longer interested in helping any more Japanese guys check “sleep with white girl one time” off their life bucket lists. So I’ve attempted to institute a policy of “I only sleep with boyfriends,” but unfortunately, I still got blindsided recently. And I really don’t want that to happen again.

Remember at the end of my final breakup post when I said things seemed to be developing well with a new guy? Yeah, that just ended up leading to ANOTHER ghosting experience. Seriously, the universe could not be more cruel. I was still reeling from my breakup with Shiki, trying so hard to protect myself from anything like that happening ever again, hoping to find another relationship, and I ended up getting ghosted AGAIN.

So back in August, this guy Ryo and I had a good first date, and for our second we spent most of the day at a pool and then changed into yukata to watch fireworks. The next next weekend, we met up to watch the Tamagawa fireworks, this time in jinbei (we coordinated). After the fireworks we went drinking in Shinjuku Golden-gai (fulfilling a longtime goal of mine!), and I got a little tipsy. Our conversation over LINE had been openly flirtatious/sexual for a while up until that point, and I was getting worried that things were leading to a physical-only place, when I wanted a relationship. So I told him that I only sleep with guys I’m dating. He asked what would be necessary to constitute dating. I answered “告白 kokuhaku,” the typical love confession that prefaces a relationship. Basically telling someone “I like you, do you want to go out with me?”

Aside: It’s very refreshing that this custom exists here in Japan because in the US, you can end up in this weird limbo until one of you initiates a “DTR” (defining the relationship) talk and clarifies whether you’re boyfriend and girlfriend or just hanging out. I think that lets guys get away with being lazy and cowardly, but in Japan it’s expected that at some point the guy will let you know his intentions (or just stop contacting you, which is fine if no kokuhaku has taken place yet).

Anyway, so I told him that’s what I would need before sleeping with someone, and he then proceeded to… ask me to go out with him. He gave me a lot of compliments, said he’d been thinking that he’d like me to be his girlfriend, and I ended up a blushing mess. It was sweet. I accepted immediately, which surprised him, but I said that I had also been thinking I’d accept if he asked me.

It all kind of went downhill from there. Because I was drunk and had not been with anyone for a long time (the last time Shiki and I slept together was in March. MARCH), by the end of the night I had decided we should immediately consummate the new relationship. So yes, it was me who brought it up; he didn’t say “Okay, we’re official now, let’s go do it.” And we did. But the next morning, while I had expected we would make or get breakfast together, he left pretty soon after waking up.

And didn’t text me at all the whole rest of the day.

Or the next.

I finally texted him something like “??” since I had asked him what to do with the carton of tea he had left in my fridge. He told me I could just throw it away. Confused, I said “Oh no, you’ll drink it the next time you’re over, right? Since we’re dating now?”

No reply.

I wrote him a text saying “Oh, I forgot to tell you before, but I’m excited that we’re going out now, and よろしく and all that!” Again… nothing.

Finally, on Thursday of that week I let him know that I thought what he’d done was pretty shitty and I didn’t think he was that kind of person, but this was clearly not a relationship and it was over.

And that was it! He never responded again. I got ghosted again by someone who had allegedly asked me to be his girlfriend but in reality just peaced after sleeping with me. (Full disclosure: He was no big loss to me, I wasn’t developing real feelings or anything, but to get slapped in the face with such rude behavior–AGAIN–was really not what I needed particularly at that point in time, when I was still raw over Shiki.)

So, this isn’t happening again. After a lot of licking my wounds and trying to heal from the breakup over the past few months (I still feel upset about it, but hoping that continues to fade with time), I have a date for Sunday night with a Japanese guy who speaks English, and after we set the date/time, I messaged him this: “Oh, but I need to say something… I have gone on several dates in the past with Japanese guys who it turns out just wanted to have sex with me. I really hope you’re not like that, because I am looking for a boyfriend and I don’t sleep with guys so casually. Just so you know! Sorry to have to say this, and hopefully you still want to meet. :)”

Fortunately, he does still want to meet! He reassured me he’s looking for a girlfriend and doesn’t sleep with girls casually either. I will still be on my guard (and I will never again sleep with someone the night they ask me to be their girlfriend), but hopefully this will cut down on the phenomenon. I am very sick of Japanese men using me and throwing me away, and I’m not going to tolerate it anymore.

Other big changes have happened in my life, such as a new job (yaaaaay I finally quit my terrible boss!) and a new apartment (yaaaaay I have real space to live in now!), but I’ll expand on those later. I have a lot to say about leaving my old company and realizing my boss and I were never going to understand each other and she was never going to recognize me and my abilities…