Have you ever met someone who makes you feel really good about yourself? How about 10 people? A whole country’s worth of people? Well let me tell you, they are all in Japan.
Now be forewarned that this may, in fact probably is, related to my perspective of Japan as a Gaijin (or foreigner). When I am in Japan no matter where I go, if I am introduced to anyone in an informal setting, meet friends, say anything–and I mean anything–in Japanese, tell anyone anything about myself or my life, I am met with a chorus of ”上手！,” ”かわいい〜,” “すごい！,” ”きれい！” or some other such proclamation. (上手= you are really good at that, かわいい= so cute, すごい= thats awesome/amazing, きれい= so beautiful).
I promise that my personality and the way I act in Japan is the same or extremely similar to how I am in America, however in America I am passed over or looked past, with my looks, skills, interests and abilities seeming to go unnoticed or not valuable enough to be gushed over. However in Japan, everything about me is fascinating–at least to young people. Without putting in any extra effort I am told on a regular basis by any number of people that I am cute, that my Japanese is “amazing,” that I am so smart and so talented. And I know it is not just me–it is something about how people in Japan react to Gaijin.
On one hand, I think this is in part related to an aspect of Japanese culture, in which these are the things that are explicitly stated–which is interesting to me because SO MANY things in Japan are not said and need to be assumed, but that is a whole other matter. I have watched Japanese girls meet each other and spend several minutes admiring each other, what they are eating, what they are doing, what they have been doing, etc. If anyone does anything–whether it is decently done or surprising or amazing–it is assuredly met with comments such as “thats so awesome” or “thats so cute!”
On the other hand, I think there is a fascination with Gaijin and particularly the Gaijin who are in Japan, as Japan is a relatively homogenous country. Especially in Chiba (where I am living now) I can walk down the street and go about my day in the public sphere, and possibly not see another Gaijin the entire day. And because in areas like this we Gaijin are a bit rare, it makes us all the more fascinating. In terms of looks, I have come to interpret exclamations of “So Cute!” to mean “Wow I have never seen anyone in person with skin as white as yours!” or “I wish I had blue eyes/curly hair without having to buy a million products” or “I wish I could buy clothes in America.” In terms of Japanese, Japanese people telling me that my Japanese skill is good really should be interpreted as “I am so happy you chose to learn Japanese out of all the languages in the world!” or “I am trying so hard to learn your native language, and I am impressed that you are also trying to learn mine.”
No matter the reasons behind why these things are said, it does not stop the fact that they are said–on a regular basis. And let me tell you, it is fantastic for a person’s self esteem! In America, I feel average…and on a bad day, less than average. I might wake up and tell myself that I wished any number of things were different about how I look or my personality. And throughout the day there isn’t a reason to believe otherwise–besides an occasional comment from a friend, I go on living my life keeping my feelings to myself and the people around me to the same. But when I am in Japan, even if I wake up and tell myself those negative things, by midday I have heard enough compliments to think that, you know, maybe I actually look nice today and maybe I am a talented person. And when that happens day after day I wake up one morning and have no negative thoughts about myself–as it should be.
It is not as if I have discovered a new novel idea about body image or self esteem or anything of the sort, however I just want to say that being in Japan–being a Gaijin in Japan–I truly understand how important it is to surround yourself with good people and to place yourself in an environment that is healthy and encouraging. I think that environment is different depending on who you are, but for me–at this point in my life–it is Japan.
As I talked about in previous posts about culture shock and such, it really is the people that make the place. And I hope that in the future I can remember this message and that I have the ability to help others understand this. Because even if you have all the prestige, wealth or power in the world, if you are not in an environment that makes you feel like you are on top of the world, its just not worth it.
Thanks for reading my ramblings of the day! ^_^
Look out for more adventures in Japan!