Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Things I Learned in Japan: expectations lead to disappointments. [part 1]

This is going to seem ranty, and it in all honesty is, but it's something I feel needs to be discussed and I want to get it all off my chest before I freak.

I am a member of a forum for exchange students, and I've seen a lot of bashing of Rotary on the website. Some of it is warranted, but some of it is not. What really pisses me off, is that it is deterring potential future Rotary Exchange students from even considering Rotary because of how "irresponsible" they are. That's a crock of b.s. and I'm personally sick of it and how irresponsible exchange students just blame Rotary when much of their problems really were due to themselves and their expectations.


For those who don't know, I was a Rotary International Youth Exchange Student from District 7410 Northeastern Pennsylvania, United States of America to District 2820 Ibaraki-ken, Japan. More about RI's Youth Exchange can be found here.
Map of Ibaraki Prefecture


I left America at 10:15 AM on September 17th, 2009 and returned on August 17th, 2010. I lived in Kashima, Ibaraki for most of my exchange, but the last quarter was spent in Namegata, Ibaraki. I had five host families. I was sick often. I had to have a root-canal. I got hit by a car. I was left in a hotel for my first week. I had two host families that talked down to me and made me feel horrible. When I came to Japan, I had to wait for over an hour for someone to come get me. I was supposed to have a counselor, but I only met her twice. I was forced onto all of my host families. I was made fun of sometimes in school. My exchange was less than perfect.


My exchange was less than perfect, but I never once blamed it all on Rotary. Sure, some of it was Rotary's fault. Some of it was a culture problem. Some of it was irresponsibility of the people in Rotary. But if anything, it was Rotary Japan or my district's fault, not Rotary International as a whole.


With the 2-week exchanges from the Philippines. Love my derp face XD

For those unfamiliar with Rotary International Youth Exchange, I will explain it further.

Students are selected by Rotary Districts to do a one-for-one exchange to a foreign country - ie: one kid from a district in America goes to a district in Germany, one kid from that district in Germany goes to that district in America. However, some countries have only been allowed to send students due to concerns for their safety. Some districts have also been banned from youth exchange due to neglect or not following Rotary rules.


Communication with RIYE is primarily from District to District. That being said, whenever an issue arises, communication begins from higher up the food chain. However, if it can be handled District to District, that is the most ideal circumstance.


Within each club in Youth Exchange, there is a person assigned to be the Youth Exchange Counselor. If that club hosts students, that person is their counselor. If they send students abroad, that person is their club contact. My club in Japan changed 3 times (not allowed in Rotary rules, but whatev) so I essentially didn't have a counselor.


When I first came to Japan, I stayed in a hotel for a week. I essentially only slept there, but according to Rotary rules, that is a big no-no. Host families are supposed to be located and confirmed BEFORE the student arrives.


Host families were pretty much not found for me, other than my second which volunteered (I believe they did it for the money). Second hosts didn't like me very much, told my school how much I "hated" school, had no friends, was always skipping (I missed 3 days 'cause I was sick, I guess that's skipping), and that I needed to be "disciplined". That's where my 3rd hosts came in - I stayed with them for 20 days and they are just as close as family to me. They said to me on the second day, "You're nothing like what they told us". To which I found out about all that had been said about me. My 4th hosts were the same - they were asked to host me because the host mother was around a lot and could "keep an eye out on me". Yet again, we've become very close and they invited me back to their house many times. They even came and saw me off at Narita! My host mother also hugged me before I left - something which brought tears to my eyes.
above mentioned 4th hosts at Narita.


During this time, a lot of crap was still being talked about me within Rotary; about how "horrible" and "spoiled" I was, how I lacked any respect for Japan, and, that because I was "so bad" they couldn't find hosts for me (THAT is a total crock, I had many, many people offer to host me throughout my exchange, but because I had to change clubs, they couldn't. Also, the members of my last club weren't even asked!!!). Upon hearing this, my 5th host dad, who was not a member of Rotary, thought that I was being mistreated and said, "If you can't find a host family for her, she can stay at my house", to which the Youth Exchange Coordinator in my District in Japan simply stopped even trying to find a family - and also apparently forgot to tell those hosts I was even coming. [/embarrassment]


Overall, there was lack of accountability and willingness to do anything for me. But this is not Rotary International's fault. That I get. It is the fault of the people involved in Rotary in my district in Japan. If I had contacted my Rotary in America and said anything along the lines of, "I'm uncomfortable here," or "I feel like the Rotary here doesn't care about me" or anything of the sort, they would have taken the necessary actions to help me.


I was lucky that I have a very caring and involved Rotary District in America. Not everyone has that. However, I was told repeatedly throughout my orientations that Rotary is different in every country, and just because it is like this in America does not mean it will be like that in my host country. Here-again, it depends on the people within Rotary.



Rotary is not a bad organization. Some districts could really use some changing, but that's inevitable. You cannot go into an exchange through any program and expect them to be perfect! They are run by people! People make mistakes!





next part is coming later today or tomorrow and will focus on expectations of exchange students, host families, and of host countries by exchange students. Please check it out!





Sunday, November 28, 2010

Outfits, giveaways, and thanks - oh my!

Hello, hello~
I hope everyone gets the  "lions, tigers, and bears - oh my!" ref. >_<


I just want to greet all of my new followers and thank them for following my blog!
I'm so happy that more people are finding an interest in my blog. I hope I can continue to grow and improve and reach more people! ポジティブ気分で!
          
If I reach 50 followers before Christmas, I want to do a Christmas-themed giveaway. So if you can get more people to follow, it may happen sooner :]

Speaking of giveaways, here are a few you should check out:

Sara Mari's fur trend giveaway - She's definitely one of my favorite bloggers and always has such cool giveaways! If you're into the new fur trend, please join! It's a small giveaway, but worthwhile!!! Also, please check out and support Sara Mari's blog, because she is an amazingly sweet girl and works hard at blogging!


Hana's (Finding Tokyo) New Year Giveaway - A secret-themed giveaway from the wonderful Miss Hana I love her and her blog, so I'm excited to see what her giveaway has in store for everyone~! I suggest her giveaway because she's fabulous so of course she'll have fabulous prizes :]

Mitsu's favorite things giveaway - all I need to say is: DIAMOND LASH. I've recently become obsessed with lashes and I'm really craving Diamond lashes~! Also, that Alpaca is just toooooo cute. My 4yo niece would probably steal it from me though, hahaha! Please enter and follow Mitsu. She's a wonderful gal and a huge inspiration.


and last, but not least,....


Momo's first giveaway!! - Momo was actually one of my first followers, so I will always love her She's having a giveaway to celebrate reaching 50 followers!! It has many AWESOME things, such as: usamimi, hello kitty stuff (I am OBSESSED!!), candy, stickers, and awesome keystraps~~!!! Please follow and support her, and of course enter the giveaway!!




Now onto some outfits! (Note: My boots have become my favorite shoes, hands down. Maybe I wear them too much, hahaha!)

11/20 - Harry Potter and visiting my bestie!!

I went to visit my friend JoAnna and, as per tradition, we went and saw Harry Potter together!!! We've seen every movie together so far. But, because the movie wasn't until 9 PM, we play Just Dance 2 on the Wii for awhile.


I bought it due to Jenny(sushi-cat)'s recommending it and the awesome commercials I saw.

I tend to make awesome faces while dancing XDDD






















At the theater:
didn't INTEND for my eyes to be closed... haha^^

JoAnna's sister Carley in her HP gear. If it had been opening night, I definitely would have dressed up too!

The three of us! The closest thing to sister's I've had all my life ♥

Black sweater: Old Navy (like four years ago ><)
White t-shirt: Charlotte Rusee
Tan lace cami: Charlotte Russe
Lace ruffle skirt: BODY LINE
Black sheer tights: Jusco!
Black thigh highs: some store in Ginza XDD
Boots: unknown - I lost the bag x_x



11/22 - Dinner with my parents
I ate dinner at my parent's house, with my brother, his girlfriend, and my nieces. It was cold, but not TOO cold, so I decided to wear shorts :]


Hat: Gal Fit
Sweater: Old Navy
Shorts: l.e.i.
White tights: some store in ginza, again, hahaha
Trouser socks: Sears

This outfit was very comfy and cute, I think. I felt like I was
almost channeling Ayumi Hamasaki in her "Days" Pv. haha

 11/25 - Thanksgiving
My make shot for Thanksgiving!
My hair looks soo much blonder in photos than it really is. I want that color irllll :[










Denim skirt: Charlotte Russe
Sweater, tights, socks, and boots previously mentioned.


11/27 - Harry Potter again! :D
I went and saw Harry Potter AGAIN last night. Only this time, I went with my two older brothers and my brother's girlfriend. It was even better the 2nd time. It's reigniting my inner Anglophile~ aaahhh, I want to go to England SO BAD.



 Notice how frizzy my hair gets between JUST putting on my glasses. fmlllll.



Checked fuzzy jacket: Jusco
Black lace one-piece: GLACIER
Black socks: some accessory shop in the Kashima Cheerio^^


Hat, white t-shirt, tights, boots mentioned previously.




The pictures don't show the dress very well, but it's very cute and very dressy. I toned it down with the t-shirt, hate, and boots.


This cord made me feel like, if Sakurina and Kanako had a love child, this is something I could see them wearing, hahaha!


I love the comfy(found in the sweater, boots, hat) and subtle classiness(dress) of this cord. I would wear it a lot more if I could!






so, what do you want to see next from me? a "Things I learned in Japan" post, a Daily Blog post ("perfect first date"), more about my school experiences or a travel-related post? YOU tell me!! :]

I can't make any guarantees, but your comments and opinions will help!







Thanks so much!!! Have a good day/night, wherever this blog finds you

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Day/感謝祭の日 && DBC: Day 2 - Something I ate...yesterday

Yesterday was America's Thanksgiving day!
昨日はアメリカに感謝祭の日でした。
I had to work in the morning, but after that I made dinner with my family, ate with them, and even played Just Dance 2 with them. It was lots of fun!!
朝には、仕事があってその後家族でご飯を作ったり、食べたり、ゲームをやったりしました。
楽しかったです。

From here on out, it's the beginning of the holiday season!
これからはHoliday Seasonと言う事を始まります。
From Thanksgiving until New Year's is the Holiday Season. In America, once it becomes the "Holiday Season", we often have many parties with friends and families!
感謝祭からお正月まではHoliday Seasonです。アメリカでは、ホリデー・シーズンになると家族と友達でパティーをやります。


Pictures form Thanksgiving!
これは私の感謝祭の写真です!
gravy! haha. it makes me excited XDD

日本でGravyってあるかな?日本で食べた事がないけど・・

Our already partially cut-up turkey. It was juicy, yummy and just amazing.
 これはうちのTurkeyですよ~!美味しかったわ!
Mushrooms with garlic, herbs, and cheese on top
 これはキノコです!
ニンニクとチーズとハーブが中に入っています!
いっぱい食べちゃいました><
Yams (sweet potatoes) and Green Bean Casserole. I love yams!
サツマイモ(左)とグリーン豆のキャセロール(右)です!

And now for the Daily Blogger's challenge update....


I ate this yesterday, but I figured it still applied because I originally wanted to upload it yesterday! hahaha
この写真は昨日からなんですが、昨日ブログに更新するつもりでしたので今日でも更新しても平気だと思っていました。
1. Stuffed Mushrooms - キノコ
2. Pepperoni Stuffing (italian style) - ペパロニ・スタッフィング(イタリア系)
3. Turkey!! - シチメンチョウ肉
4. Turkey Stuffing - シチメンチョウ肉のスタッフィング
5. Turnips with butter - カブとバッター
6. Green Bean Casserole - グリーン豆のキャセロール
7. Mashed Potatoes - マッシュポテト
8. Yams - サツマイモ


After this is just a little bit about Thanksgiving in Japanese.. so if you can't read Japanese, please don't hate! hahaha
なぜこう言う休日があるんでしょう?
すべてに感謝するの為。
大昔に北米土人は最初に来たのピルグラム達にお手伝いしてもらいました。それで、ピルグラム達はアメリカに生活するが出来ました。その北米土人に「ありがとう」を言葉ではなく風に表するの為に一緒に飯を食べました。


その時から、毎年アメリカで感謝するの為に家族で友達と大切にしている人とご飯を食べています。

去年には、初めて感謝祭がない年でした。思い出したら、なんか、心が痛かったです。初めて寂しい日でした。

今年は、テーブルで皆が感謝である事(通じたかな?(笑))に話しました。
友達があるや、仕事があるや、まだ生きている事に感謝しています。


あなたの自国にも感謝祭みたいの休日があれば良いなと思いますが、無くても感謝する事が自分で出来れば、それも良い事だと思います。

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

30 Day Blogger's Challenge - Day 1

So, in order to keep things different, I'm going to try to get on a schedule and post more regularly.
I've just been sick lately and whenever I try to crack down and blog, I never manage to finish.


I've decided to do the Blogger's 30 Day Challenge. A few blogs I've been following have also done it, so I'm going to use it as a way to break up posts (and just because it looks fun XD)


Note that I will NOT be posting from this every day, but when I don't have anything else to post, I will use it as filler. XDD
And to challenge myself, I'll be making it bi-lingual! そう、日本でもやるつもりで~す!


Day 1 – A photo of yourself and a description of how your day was.
自分の写真と今日はどうだったの概要(通じたかな?(笑))

From my webcam, haha!
This was from a few weeks ago. I'm excited to be dying my hair soon!!
この前、ウェブカメラで撮った写真です。
来週か再来週に髪の色を変わっています。お楽しみしています!!


Today was pretty fun! I was feeling a little better so I spent much of my day playing with my nieces.
This morning I got to talk to my host brother Gen-chan! He sounded like he was doing well, so I was very happy. Our "five minute" conversation quickly turned into a 20 minute one! hahaha

My mother came around 4PM. During that time, I finally got to get some cleaning done! My dad came around 5PM. He only spoke to my brother. Both of them went home pretty quickly. I wonder why~~ haha!

It was a pretty normal day, but because it was my day off, it was a very good day!


今日は楽しかったです!調子が少し直って姪っ子達と遊びました。
朝に玄ちゃんとスカイプで話しました。元気そうで良かったです!!
母が4時頃こっちに来ました。その時は少しお掃除しました。
父が5時頃こっちに来ました。お兄さんと話しましただけ。
二人とも早く帰りました。どうしたんだろう(笑)

今日は普通だったんですが、休みでしたから、とても良い一日でした。





Here's the list for anyone interested:
Day 1 – A photo of yourself and a description of how your day was.
Day 2 – A photo of something you ate today.
Day 3 – Your idea of the perfect first date.
Day 4 – Your favorite photograph of your best friend.
Day 5 – A photo of yourself two years ago.
Day 6 – A photo of an animal you’d love to keep as a pet.
Day 7 – Your dream wedding.
Day 8 – A song to match your mood.
Day 9 – A photo of the item you last purchased.
Day 10 – A photo of our favorite place to eat.
Day 11 – What’s in your makeup bag?
Day 12 – A photograph of the town you live in.
Day 13 – Your favorite musician and why?
Day 14 – A TV show you’re currently addicted to.
Day 15 – Something you don’t leave the house without.
Day 16 – Your celebrity crush.
Day 17 – A photo of you and your family.
Day 18 – Something you crave a lot.
Day 19 – Another picture of yourself.
Day 20 – The meaning behind your blog name.
Day 21 – A photo of something that makes you happy.
Day 22 – A letter to someone who has hurt you recently.
Day 23 – 15 facts about you.
Day 24 – A photo of something that means a lot to you.
Day 25 – What’s in your purse?
Day 26 – A photo of somewhere you’ve been to.
Day 27 – A picture of you last year and now and how have you changed since then?
Day 28 – Your favorite movie.
Day 29 – Something you could never get tired of doing.
Day 30 – A photograph of yourself today + three good things that have happened in the past 30 days





My next post, I think, is going to be in japanese about the American Thanksgiving holiday. If you can read Japanese, please check it out. <3


After that, I will be posting about my host families, a place I traveled and/or another school-life post!
I would also like to get another "things I learned in Japan" post in!


Please keep checking back!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Remembering my school life in Japan: Part 2 - 2年3組

Welcome to all of my new followers!
I'm so excited that I've been getting more followers and Hana at Finding Tokyo was kind enough
to include me in the weekly wrap-up so I've been getting more exposure.


I went shopping recently and I decided that once I reach 50 followers, I will do a giveaway!
It won't be anything TOO spectacular, but I hope that at least one person will enter it. haha

Now onto my series "Remembering my school life in Japan".

Part 2: 2年3組
My class on my last day. Click for obnoxiously large size.




There was 40 kids in this class plus me, which made me number 41.
I was with them from April until July, which doesn't seem long at all,
but I had such an awesome time with them. 


I think this was largely due to the fact that by the time they met me, I could already speak some Japanese.
I had also been in Seishin for 6 months so everyone knew me fairly well.


One of my best friends from this class - Saori.
She and I were best, best friends for the first few months we knew each other.
She and I even talked about her coming to visit me in America this winter. However, we got into an argument in July and stopped talking.

That was probably the hardest time of my whole exchange. I wanted so much to fix things but I knew that even if she forgave me, things would never be the same. どうしよもないけどね。

This photo says: "To Suu-chan(my nickname), Today was fun. Please be my good friend forever. Lets hang out again. I love you."

*sigh*

This was from the same day.
We sang karaoke together for four hours!!!
We got out of school early for tests and then we went straight to Karaoke! It was so much fun!




She always loved it when I wrote in English, haha!



This one says

"Together everyday
because we are best friends"








Another girl in my class who I was super, super super SUPER close with was Riho.
Saori introduced me to her and we spent most of our time together.

After Saori and I stopped talking, Riho became my best friend in the class.
She likes Marilyn Manson and all the visual kei bands that I like!
We went and saw Gazette together!!!



This is purikura that Saori, Riho and I took together.
It was on my birthday!!!!

My eyes are so huge! haha.



Another puri from my birthday.



And another! That cut Riho's face off, hahaha!
This girl's name is Eri-chan!
She sat in front of me for much of the year.

Every morning, she and her boyfriend would talk to me, which made me feel very welcome. I really miss them.

She was very sweet and even got me a present on my birthday.



These are two other girls from my class, Misaki and Emily (of course, spelled the japanese way, XD)

This was during our 家庭科(home economics) class.







Most of what I want to say about this class will come up in later entries about school events,
but I would like to say how much I really, really love them.
I will forever cherish the memories I had with this homeroom and how enjoyable they made Japan.


During our Long Homerooms, we would play Old Maid, we watched "5cm per second", which has become one of my favorite movies!


I have many more pictures to upload in my entry about my taiikusai and my last day of school! So please check those out!






Also, please check out Miss Sami's giveaway!!!
http://samispoon.blogspot.com/2010/11/giveaway.html
It's really great, plus her blog is very interesting, so please check it out and enter!!!




My next post will be in japanese, but the post AFTER that will be in my "Things I Learned in Japan" series!
Please keep reading and following my blog! It means a lot to me!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sara Mari's Cat Contest gets and Wal*mart/Dollar Store Lashes!!

Hello hello~


So this post is primarily about my package from Sara Mari from Moments Like Diamonds!


I received it awhile go, but due to computer problems, working 40hrs/week and just laziness, I haven't posted it until now.




here's the envelope:
Scotch Plastic Mailers, ftw!
 
The note, HELLO KITTY sticker sheet, my little note, andddd a cute little treat bag!


 Sara doesn't know this, but I work at Dunkin' Donuts so it fits me rather well, haha!

and yes, MATCHA flavored candies were included! yayayayay!! I <3 anything matcha!


This was the 3rd place prize for her cat naming contest which I previously wrote a snippet about here.


And now onto lashes~!
Since I've been home, I am so proud of myself for not buying ANY new clothes that were not necessary. Not even new stockings, because I have wayyy too many (for evidence, visit my poupee girl. that's only about 5% of the total amount that I own). 

The by now, INFAMOUS Puri eyelashes. - 400yen ($4) @Random puri machine in Akihabara? lol

I used these eyelashes on Halloween, even though I've had them since April! hahaha. They were comfortable, blended well, but the adhesive I used sucked so I pulled them off after 2 hours. But I like they way they look. A lot. A very cute doll-like look that can easily be dressed up or down.



Salon Perfect brand lashes #13 - $4 @wal*mart.
 These are not so good for a doll look, but I will post a more in-depth review later.

Revlon Lashes #501 - $1 @Dollar Store
 THESE are awesome! Much like the Puri lashes. The glue had leaked out, but not damaged the lashes. Longer so they create a much more defined look. Looking forward to using these.
Revlon Variety "Fantasy Length" single lashes - $1 @Dollar Store
 These say long wear, but I'm sure it really depends on the glue, haha. The adhesive is missing from the package, which is probably why they were at the dollar store!
Revlon PRECISION Lash Adhesive - $4 @Wal*mart
THIS is amazing! it dries clear, but goes on white so you can easily tell where there is glue and where there isn't. I've only used these to test out my lashes, but it dries pretty quickly and didn't feel too gross on my eyes.


These are some recent gets, and as a novice in eye-lashes, my reviews will just be a beginner's opinion, but if you're interested, please check it out!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Things I Learned in Japan #2: "Uchi/Soto and where Gaijin fit in"

This blog has been over TWO WEEKS in the making. Please enjoy and please don't mind how text-heavy it is. >_<

**note: the opinions here, which should be pretty obvious, are based on my own experiences and should not be taken for 100% fact. These are purely my own opinions!!!

Also, ALL PICTURES ARE MINE. You steal = i kill you. Kapeesh?!**

I added some wannabe-related photos to break up the text. haha.
Happy reading!

Uchi/Soto and where Gaijin fit in


Now here is a fun topic. I'll start off, as I think will be a trend, explaining the title.
Uchi/Soto is the concept of "inside" or "uchi (内) and "outside" or "soto(外)". It's essentially referring to groups/cliques/whatever that are formed between people. "Gaijin" or "outside-person(外人) is the word used to foreigners, tourists, or, in some cases, non-Japanese citizens of Japan (ie: just because you've lived in Japan all your life, speak native-level Japanese, have a Japanese passport, and swear your loyalty to nippon, you are NOT Japanese unless your parents and pretty much everyone else in your family were Japanese. Ethnocentric much?!)

semi-blurry photo of the Supports Seats at the Kashima Antler's Stadium :]

I've read parts of the wikipedia article and I just don't think it's written well enough to essentially cover uchi/soto in all of its complexity. It's the art of group-forming, but groups that go deep enough to affect essentially every aspect of Japanese life. Your loyalty is to your group. And any other group you find yourself in. And any group you want to be a part of. Think high school cliques, only wayyy more complicated.

I had read a little bit about this concept before I jump major landmasses and landed in Tokyo. But I didn't realize how deep this ran until I could speak Japanese a little and witnessed this concept in school and within my host families.

To help make this easier to understand, here is a list of links discussing this topic where you can find more information:

At Home In Japan by Jane Bachnik. - THISSS website is amazing. SO thorough and teaches you so much. If you are going to Japan and doing a homestay, PLEASE check this out. It's a great orientation and it shows you so many real-life situations that I was able to avoid because I knew this concept before I went.

Uchi/Soto in terms of grammar - A very interesting article that I recommend for those who are studying Japanese. It's quick and not completely in-depth but it introduces a new concept.

Uchi-Soto from kirainet - Interesting article but has one major point I will counter later about the workplace in Japan.

Japanese Culture: A Primer For Newcomers - An interesting site covering many different parts of culture shock encountered in Japan, such as: the gaijin complex and uchi/soto.

There are TONS and TONS and TONS of resources about this subject and I highly recommend anyone living in Japan for any period of time learn a little bit about this because you will encounter it.

You will find it in the workplace. People who say Japan has the most effect work ethic are full of shit, in my opinion. The fact is, rank determines everything, including if you're uchi or soto(see upcoming post on ranking, whenever that gets done). Based on this uchi/soto complex, lots of bullying happens and is even allowed. Hana from Finding Tokyo recently was kind enough to leave a comment on my last "Things I Learned in Japan" post about mistakes. In that comment she mentioned her opinions on some of the bullying that happens - "not speaking to someone/ignoring, leaving small things on someone`s desk, spreading nasty rumors to hurt their reputation or trying to get someone to quit so you don`t have to fire them etc".

view of some building I was in in Shinagawa. 3rd day in Japan! hah


When you join a company, you become "uchi" - part of the group. Of course, there are ranking within the company determine everything and separate you further. Japanese people are pretty cliquey, so getting into the "right" group (think: "right" uchi) is important. However, once you've done something to upset the balance of the group, good luck being included in anything again.

People who are "uchi" are considered part of the decision-making process and the "all-harmonious" idea that everyone must agree before moving on. However, this also leads to some people never speaking up for fear of "breaking the mold" and having to become "soto" again.

In Schools:
I really noticed this within my high school in Japan - your group is your group and you hardly ever break out of it. For example, most of my year, I ate in my homeroom with my friends. Now, my first group was comprised of many girls who floated back and forth. BUT, in my second homeroom, I ate with the same 5 girls everyday. We pushed our desks together in the same way. Sat in the same chairs. We left in groups. But occasionally, girls from other classes would come and sit with us. The atmosphere would definitely sour in a "Well, it's okay that she sits here, but this is our group" kind of way.

There also was the very apparent loyalty to the homeroom. Your homeroom is your family. When we lined up for roll call in gym, it was by homeroom. Where we sat in the auditorium was determined by homeroom. We were signed a three digit number - our year, homeroom, and student number. When we had papers returned to us from teachers, they gave it to our homeroom teacher. It was our group, our "uchi".
three of the girls from my homeroom during our last Long Home Room before summer break.

It is important, just like in work, to keep the harmony between friends. My friends homeroom's group was pretty much dismantled after I changed host families and no longer had a bentou prepared for me every day, which meant I had to go buy lunch in the cafeteria. This divided my friends and it was completely my fault. So what did I do? Take the Japanese way out and switched to buying bread and a drink from the cafeteria and eating it in my homeroom. I did this so my friends wouldn't have to break into the 食堂("shokudou" or "cafeteria") and 教室("kyoushitsu" or classroom) groups. It sucked. I would have really killed for some ramen many days, but it was worth it to keep the peace.

Within the Government:
This is the part when my frustration with parts of Japan comes in. (Before I start, I was the editor of my high school's newspaper and fought tooth and nail, time after time, to ensure that we had freedom of the press. I wanted us to be able to print what we want, how we want, when we wanted to do it. So my liberal bias will show, hah) Japanese news is reported very nicely. They hardly ever cover things that portray the government in a truly negative light because well, you just don't do that in Japan.

Check out this article from 2008 in the New York Times. Also check these two wikipedia articles: Censorship in Japan and Censorship in the Empire of Japan. Here is another article from Greenpeace about the whaling program in Japan.
View of Tokyo and Fuji-san from Tokyo Tower.

Here's the most simple way to put it - the Japanese government censors the news and media under the impression that it "keeps the peace". I discussed this with a gaijin at my school (he gave me Japanese lessons, but he was really an English teacher) and one of my host dads and we all pretty much had the same conclusion - it really amounts to nothing more than the desire for control. Anyone who has lived in Japan and had experience with the school system can vouch that the Japanese government definitely does not push for fluency in English as many other countries do. While this is just my take, it's worth mentioning: If Japan pushed for English education, more Japanese would be fluent, could read the world news, realize the Japanese government obscures the truth and occasionally flat-out lies to their citizens, and would get mad and probably retaliate against the corrupt politicians.

And here is where the uchi and soto come in. The "Uchi" is the government and those involved with it. They are in the "know" and therefore, in control. The "Soto" are the citizens of Japan - who apparently are "too delicate" to be in the know.

 
Foreigners in Japan and out of Japan: 

It was my experience that Japanese people have a very outdated view on their relationship with the rest of the world. Japanese people seem to have this opinion that Japan is succcccchhhh a traditional and suuuuucccchhhh a different country and that Japanese is just sooooooooo hard that the possibility of a non-Japanese person understanding Japan and speaking Japanese like a REAL Japanese people just doesn't exist.

It's from as simple things as the foods Japanese people can eat (my first host mom told me Japanese stomachs were "too sensitive" for most spicy foods) to things as complicated as understanding key parts of Japanese culture (I was once told that Non-Japanese cannot understand the concept of wabi-sabi).
View of the loads of people at Ise-Jinguu in Mie Prefecture.

Japanese people who have lived in Tokyo for periods of time are generally used to foreigners. And probably have some experience with foreigners who can speak a decent level of Japanese. Almost all Japanese are used to foreigners as tourists. However, leave the boundaries of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, or the major cities and go to the country, it is a completely different feel.

I lived in Ibaraki-ken, located north of Tokyo (about 2 hours by train, 1 hour by high-way bus) and there were not, absolutely not, many foreigners there. And so close to Tokyo!!! When I was in my uniform and riding my bike to school, I got a lot of strange looks. When I spoke to people at the end of my exchange (by then I was speaking at a conversational level with extensive knowledge of Japanese manners from my Japanese teacher), I often got compliments on how "Japanese-like" my Japanese was. I, personally, really took the time to learn the Japanese way, so I could exist as peacefully as possible.

And this is where I encountered racism, as well. My last host parents had lived abroad in Fiji and New Zealand. They had originally taken me in with the impression that I didn't speak Japanese and that I could teach them English (little did they know, I came to Japan for the sole purpose OF speaking Japanese). My host dad would often lecture me about how I was wasting my exchange because all I wanted was to study Japanese and didn't spend enough time studying the "real Japan" (whatever that is). He told me I should stop studying Japanese because I couldn't understand the "real meaning".

He had me in tears at one point, really wishing I could do something or maybe even go home early (scary, I know). I talked it over with my teacher and he gave me something to think about: for me, a young, obviously independent, strong-willed American to come to Japan and studying not only the Japanese language, but the way Japanese is spoken and to speak Japanese with little accent and in a very Japanese-like way could be just uncomfortable for some Japanese.

After-all, only Japanese people can speak Japanese, especially like a Japanese person.

On the world scare, "Uchi" is Japan and Japanese-descendant Japanese-born people. "Soto" is the rest of the world. Japanese people abroad still refer to non-Japanese people as "gaikokujin (外国人)" or "outside-country-person". Why? Wouldn't the act of being abroad make them the gaijin? Well, not in the Japanese perspective.

It is not that we are not welcome in Japan. It is just that it will be a long time before we are truly accepted. Even if you live, look, act, talk and walk like a Japanese, if you are a gaijin, you will always be a gaijin. When I was in a car accident, I had to talk to the police. The police ONLY talked to the lady who had hit me and REFUSED and flat-out IGNORED me when I tried to tell my side of the story - that I did not "hit her", but she sped through the stop sign, didn't even slow down, and hit me on my bike! But because I was a gaijin, it was assumed I could not speak any Japanese and I was completely disregarded in the case.

However, I will say, that being a white gaijin has it's benefits. Here is the wiki article on ethnic issues in Japan. I could seriously talk about this topic alone for a whole 15 posts worth.

Article on Japanese roots.
Arudou Debito's Website - The website of a non-Japanese man who fights and advocates for rights and ways to end racism/discrimination/prejudice against non-Japanese in Japan. Many interesting articles to read.


With all this being said, JAPAN IS AN AWESOME COUNTRY. There is so much to learn and talk about, I feel like part of my responsibility for having lived in it and studied it first-hand, is to inform and educate people. I love Japan - I plan on living there.






So, lets get a discussion going!
  • Have you had any experiences with uchi/soto?
  • Is there something similar in your culture?
  • What do you think about this concept? Could you live with it?
For those living in Japan,
  • Have you ever felt the pressures of xenophobia or racism?
  • Do you think it's better for non-Japanese to speak Japanese or just speak English?
  • Do you feel accepted in Japan?

And here's an un-related but kind of related question, should I do a post about racism in Japan? I have a few more examples of discrimination and/or funny tidbits of things that happened purely because I was a gaijin. Or, maybe a post further explaining relationships between non-japanese and japanese?

Let me know!!!