Now, for Tough Truths
Recently I had a bust-up with some people that, in all honesty, upset me a heck of a lot more than it ought’ve.
My gut reaction was indignant rage, although retrospectively I recognise this as not the most proactive attitude. I know enough about myself now to be able to take a step back and understand the way I deal with arguments in the heat of the moment doesn’t help. I used to not bother with other people’s interpretations of my words or actions, and live through this stubborn haze of unwarranted moral righteousness. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you are forced to face with your shortcomings; as human beings we will always be saddled with them, though they change over time.
The problem now is to strike a balance between seeing from another’s point of view, and standing your ground on things that you really do believe in, irrespective of who’s trying to put you down for it. That point where you can have confidence in yourself and what you believe, whilst being able to see the wood for the trees, is something I try now to be. Soppy, perhaps, but nonetheless true. Recognising one’s faults and strengths is all part of that “growing up” malarkey that, when you’re a kid, seems inevitable and effortless with the flow of time, but as you do get older transforms into a murky minefield. Everything that was once to black and white is now a big ol’ grey smudge, like somebody sneezed on coaldust.
For me, the female foreigner’s experience of Japan – paticularly those who don’t fit the Asian mould, and therefore stand out more – is different from that of foreign men. It’s undeniable. Generally the male and female experience of just life is different; I can’t pin down in it down in words, but doesn’t it seem obvious?
Right now I’m at a crossroads of my immediate feelings about myself and those around me, and those second-thoughts; the step-back feelings when you look back on so-called gut reactions and can reflect on them. Japan has been a constant, violent riptide of goods and bads, ‘highs’ and ‘lows’. Some reactions I’ve had from Japanese people have been, in an immediate sense, extremely hurtful, sometimes pretty damn rude.
Once I sat down on the train next to an older woman. She promtly stood right up and proceeded to walk to the next carriage, and sat down there. This wasn’t a busy train by any means; there were plenty of available seats. The girl that I am, as yet unconfident and basically not used to dealing with these kinds of situations, found this at first to be extremely upsetting, then infuriating. What had I done that was so offensive to this woman she had to make a point of getting as far away from me as possible? What was so awful that I happened to be born caucasian and speak English?
I was so frustrated. Frustrated with the obvious stares, the quick glances away, that feeling of being judged. It isn’t all Japan, and I understand that when I can take a step back and look over my experiences thus far, however, when you’re alone and treated in this way, it’s hard at first not to feel self-conscious. Perhaps a more confident woman would feel good about the attention, or better still simply not bother with it – a place I’d very much like to be eventually, but as it stands I remain mired in inexperience and self-doubt.
So sometimes I get angry at ‘Japan’; its seeming inability to deal with unknowns on the hop, roundabout manner and desire to apply every inanimate object with a voice. Although, let’s be honest, who could diss their awesome, timely public transport?
But then I take a step back. Japan has jerks, just like the UK has jerks. Japan has nice folks, just like we have nice folks back home. Some reactions to my being different are, yes, rude. Because those people are rude. Some reactions I might misjudge due to my inexperience, some I can truly say I don’t. Yet this immediate feeling of negativity is something natural, illogical, but still a recognised reaction to culture shock. I can still feel it when I go out in the street, and get gawked at, but come back home and consider it a reaction to this “gaijin mask” not one to me, personally. So I oughtn’t take it personally, even if it’s tough to defy one’s illogical feelings with logic. To constantly remind oneself – it isn’t you, and it isn’t always meant to offend or upset.
While right now, I’m on a low, eventually I’ll get better, and logic will kick in, and that’s gonna be bloody awesome. When I can just enjoy Japan and the whole exchange experience, instead of getting hung up on what other people might think – Japanese or fellow exchangees. Till then, I am going to try my best to stay positive, conquer these negative thoughts, and in a way accept them – as but a small part of my year here, not the be all and end all.