I was recently asked to answer a few questions for the new website iShare-Japan about my experiences since I have moved to Japan. As some of you know, I have lived in Japan for almost a year; my so-called ‘Japaniversary’ will be on August 3rd. That’s no where near long enough to have developed a deeply nuanced understanding of Japanese culture (years of research on the country notwithstanding). I found this the most difficult question to answer: “What are some of the worst things about living in Japan?”
My mood routinely fluctuates between obscene love for Japan, disbelief that I am actually living here, and irrational frustration towards everything Japanese. The truth of the matter, though, is that living in Japan is now my daily life. That makes it difficult to identify if the problems I encounter are unique to my geographical/cultural location or merely representations of the difficulties everyone encounters from continuing to breathe.
Upon closer examination, I realized that there is a very easy way to depict the challenges I have faced since coming to Japan.
I am going to tell you something about myself that is readily apparent to anyone with eyes: I have been lucky enough to live a privileged life (and continue to do so). I come from an upper-middle class background, I attended a respected private university in the East Coast, and I conform to nearly every societal beauty standard without much difficulty – I am not fat, I am tall, I maintain a decent standard of athleticism, I have blonde hair, blues eyes, and, above all, I AM WHITE. In truth, the only institutionalized difficulty I may have faced in America is that I am female. And let’s face it, gender is less of an obstacle in America than most places in the world. That said, I’d also like to point out that the rest of the blog will be draw from my personal experiences, which are influenced by my privileged background. I cannot speak for anyone but myself.
What I’m getting at is that I have come from a culture of white privilege. Feminist writer Peggy McIntosh has written about the subject of white privilege extensively, and I will draw from her essay on the subject throughout this blog. She accurately sums up my life in America as such;
I see a pattern running through the matrix of white privilege, a patter of assumptions that were passed on to me as a white person. There was one main piece of cultural turf; it was my own turn, and I was among those who could control the turf. My skin color was an asset for any move I was educated to want to make. I could think of myself as belonging in major ways and of making social systems work for me. I could freely disparage, fear, neglect, or be oblivious to anything outside of the dominant cultural forms. Being of the main culture, I could also criticize it fairly freely.
When I moved to Japan, the privilege that I unconsciously lived with for my entire life was thrown out the window. I moved from being a member of ‘the dominant cultural form’ to being a minority. This will happen to everyone who moves to Japan who is not Japanese. Most of the complaints I hear from foreigners about living in Japan are directly related to this.
Peggy McIntosh outlines a list of 50 Daily Effects of White Privilege. All of these will be reversed when you move to Japan. Let’s take a closer look at some of them:
I’ve been pretty busy lately and haven’t had quite as much time to post as I’d like. But I’ve been working on several things and here’s what you can expect from this blog in the near future:
- Japan-related book reviews!
- More Japanese film reviews!
- Several essays about modern Japan and Japanese history, woo-hoo!
- Several JET-related posts and videos!
Until then, take a look at the newest vlog on the ConstantineInTokyo YouTube page:
As I’ve mentioned before, last school year the Korean foreign exchange student would visit my desk at least once a week to practice her English conversation (which was exponentially greater than the English abilities of the Japanese students). What this really meant is that every week for one or two hours I had to talk about the latest developments in her favorite TV show: Gossip Girl.
Now, I am not a fan of Gossip Girl. The latest reincarnation of Beverly Hills 90210/Melrose Place/The OC (which are all essentially the exact same show), Gossip Girl has the ability to immediately fill me with rage and frustration within the first 10 minutes of the show. Even the clothing and the fashion (which is very cool, I admit) is not enough to justify putting myself through the torture that is Gossip Girl. I’m fairly confident that I would enjoy self-flagellation more than watching this show.
However, when my student walked up to my desk and asked me how old I was when I lost my virginity, it was immediately clear that I was going to need to watch this show if I wanted to be able to talk about its representation of American culture without accidentally crossing over some invisible boundary of what constitutes an acceptable teacher/student relationship. At the very least, watching each week’s episode would help me anticipate the wacky questions that she would ask me. So, dear readers, when you picture me watching Gossip Girl alone in my apartment on my computer, I would like you to imagine a scenario similar to Malcolm McDowell’s behavioral-conditioning scene in A Clockwork Orange.