She doesn't have enough Japanese to interact with a sushi chef concerning soy sauce, and tries to go to an onsen with a tattoo, and she's surprised she doesn't feel at home?
If I went to Idaho and couldn't speak enough English to ask for salt for my fries at McDonald's and I tried to piss in a pool, I might not feel at home with the reaction I'd probably get.
Honestly, the article felt shallow at best, and doesn't mirror my experience. Then again, today I'm having lunch with a friend, not going clubbing with secretively fabulous salarymen at a hidden dance club in an unmarked, drab gray office building...
As to your question, I don't think I've ever felt like I 'belonged' anywhere I've lived. I feel generally comfortable interacting with society here.
"I TRIED SO HARD"
...that she could only speak to Japanese people who spoke English. Getting kicked out of an onsen for a small tattoo sounds like an unpleasant experience, but doesn't it seem rather odd to let them get naked and almost in the bath before you expel them, if the purpose of the rule (as she posits) is partially to keep clueless foreigners at bay? And in that vein, $200 for a body scrub and $500 for sushi? This woman lives in her own bubble.
This article read like a whiny boast: I used to live here for an indeterminate amount of time and got the scoop from the locals who took me to these cool secretive places, which I--instead of keeping between friends--publicized to the whole world, to the point that people were giving me suggestions that I recognized as MINE (cause you know, how else would anyone know about these places?). Then, almost a decade later I come back for a quick visit with my husband to relive my glory days, and I just didn't feel totally embraced by Japan; this feeling was punctuated by a few unpleasant moments (really, only one). BUT I TRIED SO HARD.
Trying to recoup 10-year-old memories. You can't go "home" again.
I originally came to Japan to work for 5 months in fall 1985. Spent so much time working that I never got in much sightseeing. Ten years later I spend 3 weeks in ~20 cities in Honshu and Shikoku and made up for it all, unlike that writer. You just have to have the right mindset.
Have been living/working in Japan since 1998. Do I feel I "belong here"? I'm not even sure I understand the question.
I enjoy my life here.
I miss certain things back in the U.S., but I don't regret being/staying here. There are things back "home" that I don't miss, too!
There are some things that annoy me here, yes, but plenty more to make me happy.
It does have an odd vibe to it; on the one hand she wants to imply that she knows the real Tokyo, that she's not just a random, privileged foreigner staying in a 5-star hotel and hanging out in Roppongi. Yet in the next breath she's talking about staying at the Park Hyatt and eating sushi at a $500 per head restaurant, where she can scarcely navigate the conversation. She walked into Shibuya's 109, mecca for Japanese teen girls, and was shocked to find the sizes did not fit her. And then she had a panic attack after she got escorted out of a spa for breaking the no-tattoo rule - a rule designed not to antagonize foreigners, but to ensure the patrons have a yakuza-free environment in which to bathe. It sounded like she was having a mid-life crisis and wanted to blame Japan for it. But nothing so serious that a $500 sushi couldn't fix. And, you'd be surprised at how quickly your ennui fades when you can look down on office workers from your room at the Park Hyatt.
Oh, I should answer the OP's question. I belong here, as much as I belong any other place.
My life is here. For now, at any rate. My work is here. People rely on my being here. I enjoy living here. I don't presume that I will be embraced as a Japanese person, even if I speak the language, eat the food, know the customs, etc. I am not Japanese, and this is obvious from the way I speak and the way I look. That sentence alone would be terribly politically incorrect in my home country, where how you look is not supposed to have any bearing on your identity as an American. You can be proudly American regardless of the shape of your eyes, or the color of your skin. It is true of other immigrant countries as well. But Japan is not a country of immigrants. It is not a country where you are encouraged to be Japanese, even if you were born somewhere else. It is a country where national, cultural, and ethnic identity are one and the same, and so the question of a non-Japanese becoming Japanese is something of an oxymoron. But this doesn't mean one has to despair of ever having a fulfilling life and career here. As Glenski said above, the question of "belonging" is a strange one. The world is a big place. If you rejected any place because it didn't feel just like your home town, you would confine yourself to a very sheltered and parochial existence indeed. Much better to have a curiosity about the world, and to say of other countries, "I am not from there, but I wonder what it is like to live there". It's a kind of lifestyle that is not for everybody. It may be a particularly difficult way of seeing things if you are the kind of person who is prone to panic attacks from people asking you to observe seemingly trivial rules.
As Glenski said above, the question of "belonging" is a strange one. The world is a big place. If you rejected any place because it didn't feel just like your home town, you would confine yourself to a very sheltered and parochial existence indeed.
Yeah, I would say that counts as belonging. As long as you like where you live, and feel like you'll be fine staying there.
$500 sushi sounds really nuts to me, but what would the average price for a sushi meal be in Japan? 万円？ In Malaysia, you can get a decent sushi meal for $25 or so, and here in Canada, $15 is enough to get either a fancy a-la-carte or an all-you-can-eat...
Sushi prices vary a lot -- location, number of pieces, which sushi you order. You can get a cheapo set for 800-1000 yen. A moderately "average" set meal might run 2500-3000 yen. Of course, you can go to a kaiten-zushi restaurant and choose whatever you like and pay by the plate of 2 pieces as you go, with plates costing 180 to 300 yen each. My family and I (3 people) often spend less than 3000 yen at such a place with 12-15 plates.