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What Does Japan Mean To You?

I may have answered this in a thread some years back, but I want to post it as a blog entry.

Until someone brought the subject up a while back, I had not given much thought to the question of, "What does Japan mean to you?" as no one had ever asked it before. In other words, what significance does Japan have in your life?

I didn't have to think long before I came up with an answer for, to me, Japan is home, plain and simple. I have no other way to put it. It is a place where I never thought of going to until my friends got stationed there and I only went there to be with them (we were in the military) as I thought it would be an interesting experience. That was my sole reason for going as I had absolutely no interest in Japan at all save for the fact that I was strangely attracted to oriental people. Still, never in my wildest dreams, did I ever think of living in Japan or even visiting it for that matter.

It didn't take but a few months of living there before the country itself, its customs, language, culture, food, people, all grabbed a hold of me and never let go and, at times, I have difficulty putting into words the experiences I had and why I love the country so much. A few may understand, but the majority can never fathom how a foreigner could fall in love with a country that is not their own and is so vastly and culturally different.

I left the military after four years and stayed to attend Japanese university while all my friends went home; something that had someone told me I would do, I would've said they were crazy. Being all alone and in a Japanese apartment I lived as one of them would live and really got to experience what it was actually like living in Japan as a Japanese native would and I loved every minute of it.

Granted, Japan was/is not a bed of roses by any means and is not without it's faults, but isn't anywhere? I laughed and I cried; I struggled and I survived; I loved and lost, loved and lost and loved again, and even had had my run-ins with the law. Friends came and went and a couple even died, but through it all I managed to survive and, when I look back on it, I would not trade those experiences for anything in the world.

I went to Japan as a naive teenager at 18, became an adult there, had my own business, and ended up staying until my mid-thirties. Were it not for the housing bubble in the late 80's I doubt I would've ever left to improve our life, but it was a wise decision as today we can "go home" without ever working again.

Japan is a place that I am very comfortable in and a place where I will retire to, to live out my life regardless of the cost of living, crowds, living conditions and the fact that I am, and will always be, a gaijin. It is something that is not easy to put into words and something that many people, my own family included, will never understand, but when I return to Japan for my yearly visits I still feel as if I am going home and cherish every minute of it.

However, no matter how fluent I am in the Japanese language or how much I become an expert on Japans customs, I do not expect to be accepted as Japanese, nor do I want to. I just want to live there in peace and privacy to enjoy the country for what it is and for what it has to offer and, hopefully, I can give something back to a country that has given me so much these past 35 years.

The beauty of the country itself, it's rich and deep history, culture and philosophy; it's festivals, food, traveling by train on outings with friends; singing karaoke in neighborhood bars, kotatsu tables and tatami mats and futons; beer gardens in the summer, doramas on TV, pachinko, and countless other small things too numerous to mention. They may sound silly to some, but not to me. Those things are as much a part of my life as they are to any Japanese.

Even though I may be singled out and asked for my gaijin card on an occasion or two or asked to prove the registration of my bicycle, or being turned down when trying to rent/buy an apartment or house, I do not care nor do I think they are being discriminatory as they have a right to ask me if my bike is my own or to decide to rent/sell me a home. It's their country and, based on experience, they do the same to Japanese. They are insignificant to the love I feel for the country and the Japanese way of life.

Even though I now live in the states with my Japanese wife I feel as if I am only working in a foreign country for a time before returning home. And, as I mentioned, I still "go home" on a yearly basis with my wife for a week or two to visit my Japanese "parents" who have always treated me like their own son (after we married that is) and, after 26 years of visiting the same house, it does actually feel like my own house and I am made to feel that way even when I visit alone; weird but difficult to explain.

Some may state that I am only looking at Japan through rose-colored glasses, but I beg to differ as, with any other country and culture, Japan does have its flaws. It is not perfect, but it's positives far outweigh the negatives for me in that I feel more at home in Japan than I do here in the country of my birth. Again, it's something that is very difficult to put into words and that few will comprehend.

The only similarity I can bring up is Shogun, by James Clavell or the movie The Last Samurai where, in both cases, the foreign "visitor" to Japan was, after a while, completely captivated by the Japanese culture and philosophy and adopted it as his own. Some may say that those two instances are only fiction, but there is some truth to it that I have no explanation for, but is something I can definitely relate to. The same holds true with the movie Dancing with Wolves, another movie I could definitely relate to.

In conclusion, that's what Japan means to me and it may mean something wholly different to others. So, for those living in, or who have lived in Japan, and to those who have never been to Japan, but are captivated by the country, people and customs and dream of living there one day, what significance does Japan have to you?


PachiPro I see where you're coming from. In an effort to relate, I think Japan represented a lot of the same things to me during my short stay (although no where near the scale on which they do the same for you, simply because I'm still in my 20's) and that that is why I wish to return. (Actually, I am returning, this July!).

But I wholly agree with the notion that the Japanese way of life is captivating and interesting, and that with a little effort it's not hard to fit-in despite being a foreigner. I think the culture and surroundings ar very rich, and that all the Japanese really ask for is an honest effort to observe their traditions and not act as if constantly on vacation and in need of accommodation and chin-wiping.

You've developed many great memories and experiences. As I try to relate, I think initially you simply found yourself there; living, getting by, enjoying life, only to reflect upon everything later and notice the lifetime of experiences you had created. I think this irony, the fact that things don't seem as epic and moving as they truly are until they've become memories (or perhaps we simply failed to notice) serves to strengthen one's resolve to continue along a path, creating forward momentum.

In my mind, wherever you are or whatever you're doing, if your life experiences have served to create that stable and positive forward momentum (to the degree that you can say THIS is what I want, no questions asked), you're doing better than a lot of others out there.

Hi Pachi,
I happend to look at your blog today, and very much impressed with your thoughts about Japan. I hope that your Japan will remain unchanged !
The above thought is smart and doesn't require any further addition. It's perfect thought from my side.
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