There are many expats in Japan, many of which are under the guise of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. I happen to be one of those expats. It’s not so much the fact that I’m outside of the United States, my home country, that makes me an expat. It’s based off of a matter of choice; I wanted to get out of the United States. I felt suffocated being there. Don’t get me wrong, the United States is pretty cool. Home of the Free. The American Dream. But sometimes, there’s a deeper calling in life than the commercialization of everything that was once precious. I decided that I wanted to develop outside of American culture because there was a whole world to experience. Why not go to the country I’ve always wanted to live in?
Now that I’m here, I’m glad I made the choice. Some things I’ve come to realize aren’t tangible or measurable. I came to Japan, thinking the same thoughts as all otaku think when they arrive in the Land of the Rising Sun: “Oh my God! I’m in Japan! Anime! Manga! School girls! Weird stuff!” Of course, Japan’s culture isn’t just about those things. There’s a quiet respect for people–though, some people will argue it’s a facade–and people will come to help someone in need without expecting something in return. You can’t find that freely in the United States. Also, there’s a need to connect to and respect nature, such as appreciating the flowers and the rich, green landscape that can unfold in the middle of nowhere.
Besides those extrinsic aspects of Japanese culture that I’ve come to love and respect, I’ve realized more about myself. This was my first time striking it out on my own without any of my family members to guide me. I was making my own money (which wasn’t new, by the way), but I was responsible for everything–rent, utilities, food, and entertainment funds. I had to learn how to ask questions. If I didn’t ask, I was bound to miss something and pay the price, literally and figuratively.
Not only did I have to come to terms with my responsibilities, I had to come to terms with myself. I had rid myself of the negative aspects of my American life. No more nagging, nosy mother. No more people assuming because I’m black, I’m stupid or lazy or like all of the stereotypical things. No more having to deal with bummy guys. I was separated from those things, and I could develop into someone that I thought didn’t exist. This development prepared me to accept certain aspects of myself that I saw as faults, as well as accepting others more, like marrying and living with my husband. (Let’s just say that marriage is a whole different blog post to begin with.)
Aside from my personal growth, the things that were tangible and measurable became more apparent with life in Japan. My husband and I realized that being in the United States at this time period was devastating to working people. The economy is currently disastrous, and even some of our friends are having difficulty finding a minimum-wage job, though they have a Bachelor’s degree. Frankly, being able to save up in a different country is fun and economical, especially when the dollar is so weak and federal taxes give you a “pass” card the first year abroad. In monetary terms, being abroad is great. On top of the savings, there’s gaining work experience in a prestigious field along with learning Japanese that makes being an expat in Japan pretty appealing.
But being away from the United States gives any open-minded expat a common foundation: there’s a new perspective on the United States waiting to be scooped up. It could be a positive perspective, like seeing how people the U.S. are free to speak out, or simply understanding more of the good points of the United States. The perspective can also be more negative, such as realizing how spoiled Americans can be, or realizing the bad aspects of American cultures mostly visualized through obese people and the growing numbers of prisoners. Either perspective that expats choose to acknowledge, being an expat in Japan is one experience that can never be forgotten.