Tuesday, June 30, 2009

About Me

Since I've received, on occasion, unsolicited e-mail from people who believe that they know me based on my posts here, I thought it might be useful to provide some actual information about me. By no means will this reveal who I truly am (as that would be impossible from something as limited as a blog, particularly one about something other than myself), but at least it will provide some context for the posts on this blog. 

I was born in 1964 and I have lived steadily in Japan since 1989. I spent the bulk of my 20+ years in Japan working in a Japanese office for a small Japanese company that created and sold correspondence lessons. I consider my experiences in Japan rather unique compared to most foreigners for a variety of reasons. Among them are:
  • My work required me to interview thousands of people. I mean that literally. I continue to do this type of work for my former company on a freelance basis so the number of different people I speak with continues to increase. I would say that a conservative estimate of the number of different people I have spoken with in a person-to-person capacity would be 12,000. I think this experience has allowed me to know Japan on a broader level than most foreign people who live here.
  • I primarily spend my interactions with Japanese people asking questions about their culture, psychology and their lives. For the most part, I don't spend the time talking about myself or trying to engage in chitchat to form personal bonds with people or to simply get Japanese speaking practice. My goal is to get Japanese people to speak about themselves as much as possible, their thoughts, opinions, and lifestyles.
  • I'm married to a fellow American. This means that my perspective isn't the same as those who are married or in relationships with Japanese people. I have no need to temper my views or obfuscate my conclusions in order to culturally assimilate as I don't identify as strongly with being a potential permanent resident of this country. Many people who are married to Japanese folks (by no means all) adjust to the difficulties of being a foreigner in Japan by re-framing their experiences positively or negatively or by elevating or degrading the Japanese perspective. I have no incentive to do this since I don't have to adjust my life in the same manner that those in relationships with Japanese people do. They require a much higher degree of adjustment than I do. I do not speak pejoratively when I say this of foreigners who engage in this type of behavior. It is something all humans do. It is part of Fritz Heider's Balance Theory. The main difference between me and those married to Japanese folks is my need to balance is less strongly motivated and influenced mainly by the need for a sense of internal peace with my life in Japan instead of a desire to assimilate or integrate with a Japanese family structure.
  • I'm hyper-aware of being ethnocentric. I question every thought and emotion I have when something happens in Japan which bothers me. I always ask if my reaction to an experience is the result of my ethnocentric tendencies (and we all have them, including the Japanese themselves) or if truly unfair or biased behavior is being directed toward me. If I conclude the latter, I do not adopt an apologist stance. As I am accountable for my behavior, so are Japanese people. My barometer is not how people should behave based on my culture, but rather how they treat each other in their culture. The question is always, "would a Japanese person treat another Japanese person the way I'm being treated," not "would I be treated like this in America." That being said, this is a subjective account and I reserve the right to complain about things based on my personal preferences, but I do recognize and note in the applicable posts when I am having an issue with something because I'm being ethnocentric. 
  • I'm female and have no children. Many Japan bloggers are male or mommies. Japan-based mommy bloggers have very different priorities than me (and rightfully so). Male bloggers have very different experiences because being an obviously foreign-looking male in Japan is a far more favorable experience than being an obviously foreign-looking female. Note that being a foreigner of Asian descent is an even more different experience as such foreign folks can live without the same level of overt scrutiny that I experience. If you are easy to distinguish from the natives, then you are treated differently than if you blend in. I am aware that people will disagree with me or dismiss my experiences because they personally haven't had the same ones. That doesn't invalidate my views.
  • I'm not a Japanophile, nor have I ever been one. I don't idolize anything in Japan. I think it has both good points and bad points, just like every other developed country in the world. Part of the reason this blog came about is my awareness of that fact. I have no desire to put Japan on a pedestal nor to vilify it, just to talk about my impressions of small aspects in short posts.
  • I studied psychology with an emphasis on social psychology. This means that I have a strong awareness of the dangers of generalizing anecdotal experience. I realize that I cannot speak with authority or expertise based solely on my experiences in Japan. This is why I state clearly that this blog is subjective and has a limited scope. I can only speak as an expert on what it is like to be me in Japan. You can draw conclusions about Japan as you like based on what I say and my impressions, but I take ownership of those impressions and my emotions as an individual and do not expect others to necessarily share them even if they have similar experiences. Until you've lived in my skin, you can't possibly have my perceptions or experiences, nor can I have yours. That's the nature and limit of reality for all of us. 
Thanks for reading.