Thursday, November 8, 2012

Won't Miss 502# - the sense that it's not real

Since coming home to America, I've had the most unsettling sense that my life in Japan was all some sort of fantasy. It's as if life there wasn't "real" in some way and that I'm picking up on "reality" now that I'm back. I don't know if other people who have lived in Japan and come back feel this way, but this sense hit me shortly after I stepped off the plane in America. It's as if I lived on the other side of the looking glass for a time and am now back in reality.

My husband recently said that we have "re-joined the real world", and that really is what coming home has felt like. I won't miss the sense that being in Japan was somehow outside of reality because I wasn't a part of the societal, social, or family structures there.


  1. I am not sure if it is the lack of family or cultural connections (for me at least) that makes Japan seem less real. I have thought (at different times) that it was the lack of obligation and expectation that led to that feelilng.
    On the other hand, the lack of associates led many people I know to "reinvent themselves" in Japan to the point that their previous personas were unrecognizeable--only to have those same personalities snap back into place when they went home for vacation.
    I also though the way Japan took itself so seriously (through its manner and presentation of itself) led me to feel as though it were unreal.
    I will have to ponder your idea before I can make a conclusion of my own, but I thank you for bringing it up.

  2. I completely agree with this feeling. I certainly wasn't in Japan as long as you, but it still took me at least a year to come to term with the fact that yes my time there was real.

  3. Thank you for your comment, Jack. I think the point you make about the lack of obligation is a good one. Early on, in particular, ignorance led me to not do things I would have done back home (like pay taxes I didn't know existed and no one told me about... though it could be that the school I worked for looked after that transparently and I never knew one way or another).

    I never had the whole reinvention/snap back experience, because I only went home once in 23 years (and that time was after about two or so years). I never "touched base" with American culture throughout my time there so I think I never was pulled back to who I was. It has been such a shock coming back as a result. In this context, I'm not sure of who I am or where I belong. In Japan, I always knew who I was (gaijin) and that I didn't belong. ;-)

    1. First let me say that I enjoy your writing and perspective.

      When you say you always knew who you were and that you didn't belong when you lived in Japan, is this hyperbole? Did you have friends who you felt could see you for the individual you are? And why did you define yourself (or allow yourself to be defined) as a foreigner?

      I live in Japan, and of course there are moments when I become very aware that I have different cultural ideas or a different facial structure. But I don't feel comfortable labeling myself as a 'gaijin'. My 'foreignness' is not the most important quality in how I choose to define myself. So it is difficult for me to understand why others choose to embrace or accept this term. However, before coming to Japan there were very few places or times where I ever felt like I deeply 'belonged' and so perhaps I am just not as aware of feeling out of place as others who had more experience with belonging before they moved to Japan.

      Again, thanks for sharing your perspective and I hope you soon start to feel like you belong in your current home.

    2. Thank you for reading and for your comment. One thing that you have to keep in mind was that I was in Japan for 23 years and that means a steady drumbeat of people reacting to me in a particular way - starving, pointing, talking about me, double-taking, gawping, not standing near, not sitting next to, following me around, giving me nasty looks, etc. It's rather hard not to be defined as an outsider under that experiential drumbeat.

      That being said, I often remarked to my husband that the only time I felt "human", rather than objectified, was when he and I were home alone together. When we were in the sanctity of our own place and we were not reacted to as purple aliens with 11 eyes by others, yes, I was not a gaijin.

      Now all of that being said, though I did feel defined by my foreignness (kind of hard not to on the level of society with all of the experiences I had), I didn't personally feel defined by it. Personally, I was still "me", but that was something I had to push to hold onto, especially when teaching because every conversation ultimately turned on some cultural difference pivot point. The Japanese were (rather naturally) curious about how foreigners operated differently than they in many cases. Still, I know who I am, aside from my former status as a gaijin, and I worked hard to build a sense of self that didn't include that so I wouldn't come back home and find my identity was nothing more than a yawning chasm.

      I hope that answered the question! If not, feel free to ask again.

  4. I felt the same, even being half-japanese! I think is because japanese thinking is very differente and hard to even "imitate" even speaking good japanese. I'm loving this site!


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