1 Year in Japan, 1 Year of Blogging, 1 Year of a Brand New Life

It’s been exactly one year since I started Jade’s Escape as a blog to talk about what I saw my first year living in Japan. At first, I wanted to just show how living in Japan was like, but as I kept writing and blogging, I wanted to do something else. I wanted to show other anime and manga fans that their loves are born from a rigid, yet sensible reality. I wanted to showcase Japan’s beauty in its strangeness and uniqueness.  Lastly, I wanted to show how the U.S. isn’t the greatest place to be in the world. There’s more to experience out there than just the “American lifestyle”. I suppose the best and the worst things come from separating what you once knew and being thrust into a whole new world.

Anime and Manga doesn’t equal a whole culture.

One thing that really irks me is how anime and manga fans think they know Japanese culture just because they watch anime or read manga. Though they may learn more Japanese honorifics than the average person, a fan–no matter how long they’ve been an anime or manga fan–can really know what Japanese culture is like unless they’ve lived in Japan for some time. It’s a sad reality for a fan to be told they don’t know anything about Japanese culture even after ten or fifteen years of watching anime and reading manga. As an anime and manga fan myself, coming to Japan the first time was eye-opening, but once you live here, anime and manga loses its appeal slightly because you’re surrounded by it. In a way, it’s good to realize the differences between anime and reality for fans because they become a little more culturally-aware.

Okinawa isn’t fully Japan.

Let’s get one thing straight: Okinawa isn’t like mainland Japan. It’s location, which is the very bottom of Japan, separates this island prefecture from its bigger and northern prefectures. Many of its culture is influenced from many global aspects: trade from China, wars between Japan and the U.S., and the presence of U.S. military bases. Okinawa shares the same climate conditions as the Philippines, and the biggest export for the southern islands is sugar cane. The people themselves speak various forms of Hougen, or the Okinawa dialect. (If you’ve heard it, it rings very differently than Japanese.) In what I’ve learned from being in Okinawa, the way Japanese is spoken in Okinawa is quite different from mainland Japanese speakers probably because of the dialect here. The dialect even permeates the description of food, which is similar to Filipino and Chinese food. Aside from the location, climate, language, and food, Okinawan people are viewed as the common farmer by mainland Japan people. Still, many of the folks in Okinawa have a very warm nature, like an islander mentality, that’s easy to connect with.

Okinawa soba

Typical Okinawa soba from the Okinawa Times website

I can appreciate nature more.

Every day, I can open my eyes in the morning and see green every where. Never mind my green window treatments. Japanese house uses natural tones and patterns to “refresh the mind,” and trees and plants sprout from the little space that’s available between the concrete jungles. Even at schools, there are gardens and potted flowers every where. You can’t help but appreciate nature in Japan!

Some Americans want to keep their college days going.

I’ll say it: some Americans shouldn’t be in Japan. Hell, they shouldn’t be outside of the U.S. These Americans give other thoughtful Americans a bad reputation. Not only do some Americans drink and party like they’re still in college, they drag out that same feeling that you, as a person who can think above a Neanderthal, can’t fit in with people from your home country. As a minority from America, it’s a very strong feeling, and one that I didn’t feel until I was around certain Americans. I’m not saying that these Americans are only military personnel; I’m saying that some Americans in general never shed the “American mentality”, a mentality that they have certain American privileges when in reality, they aren’t in America. We’re all in Japan, and I say we should give respect to a country that is willing to allow us the freedoms–even more freedoms sometimes than the U.S.

Skin ColorLearning to love my skin color.

I joke around a lot about being “too dark” for a half-Filipino, half-black woman, but really, I didn’t appreciate my cappuccino complexion until I came to Okinawa. I am different from many Japanese people– being that light-skinned entertainers grace every aspect of Japanese life– and I stick out. But I can’t see it as a bad thing; instead, I see my skin color as an external depth to my already-unique personality. My skin color is beautiful, even if stores in America and Japan don’t have my foundation color.

The economy in the United States is pretty bad.

I thought it wasn’t so bad, being that I could get an office job that paid a recently-graduated college student around $20 an hour. But that was before I came to Japan. It dawned on me that the economy in the U.S. was low enough to make me angry at exchanging U.S. dollars for yen. $1,000 quickly became about 77,624 yen, an amount only good for one month’s rent and food. (In essence, I lost money.) And while I live comfortably in Japan, my friends and family in the U.S. are struggling to find a minimum-wage job.

Maintaining a marriage in a foreign country

Falling in love and getting married has been one of the best things to happen in my life, and I’m happy that my husband can be with me in Japan. Being married is a completely different story than falling in love, but the ups and downs can be cherished in a foreign country like Japan because we don’t have family here. Sure, we call home on Skype every week to talk to our families, but not being surrounded by everyone’s eyes or questions can be more relaxing than taxing. We can learn about Japan and Okinawa with as much curiosity as children. And the problems we have, we have a clear picture because we don’t have our families witnessing every detail of our lives. Plus, since we’re newly weds, the experiences in Japan help forge memories for our children and our families.

I’m simply a guest, not a citizen.

One of the strongest feelings I knew without any doubt was that I am not a Japanese citizen. I have certain rights, but they’re human rights, not citizen rights. I can work in Japan and gain a paycheck. I can live in Japan and pay for the rent. I can play in Japan and find happiness. But I’m not a citizen. I’m not Japanese. It’s apparent, and I never expected to be a part of Japan’s society outside of being a spectator and teacher. This feeling is reinforced through the raised eyebrows on Japanese faces whenever I speak simple Japanese words. Or when I hold chopsticks correctly. Or when I know a lot about anything Japanese-related. For the anime and manga fan, the seemingly polite nature of Japanese culture is more of a facade to make sure things go smoothly. However distant I am from feeling like a citizen, I feel more welcomed here in Japan as an English teacher than in my home country as a black person.

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