I have spent a good amount of time with these people, not unlike Grizzly Man with the Alaskan murder-bears. I don't mean that in a demeaning way, and as obvious as it may seem that I'm comparing Japanese people to bears, my intention is quite different. My point is that no matter how much time Timothy Treadwell spent in Alaska he was never accepted by the bears. Actually, if you don't know who that guy is you should probably fire up your Google right now and read his wiki or something because I'm going to keep going with this. He spent years there living far away from his friends and family while slowly growing closer and closer to the bears. Closer and closer to joining the bear “in group”. He spent so much time there he began to feel like a part of their bear community and even a part of their bear families. Many foreigners who come to Japan feel the same way. Then they get mauled. The difference here is that foreigners in Japan don't get heart-wrenching documentaries made about them. Also, they aren't so much 'mauled', as they are told by a Japanese person that I can't appreciate good coffee because in Japan “Amerikan” coffee = mild blend, for some incomprehensible reason. God damn bears.
Now let's get into the head of the collective Japanese. First, imagine a world where everything is the opposite of Grizzly Man. Actually, imagine the world of Rupert Bear (Google that wiki, homes!). I imagined living in Japan would be like that. Here I am, an anthropomorphic bear living with my various anthropomorphic friends and I'm going to move to the world of people. In my Rupert Bear world, not only would I be completely accepted, nobody would even comment on how I'm a bear, that I can do things such as speak people language, eat people food and use proper utensils. Sadly real life is very un-Rupert Bear. Imagine Rupert Bear moved into your neighborhood. Would you stare at him? Hell yeah you would! Your new neighbor's a bear! Would you be surprised when he said hello in English? You kidding me? It'd blow your mind! How about when he eats beef stroganoff with a knife and fork? You'd be all like, “Holy crap! That bear is eating beef stroganoff AND can somehow work a knife and fork with his giant, meaty paws!” Welcome to Japan, gaijin. Where everything you do creates wonder.
“But Joe!” You say, “YOU live there! It can't be all bad!” First off, I was getting to that so don't interrupt. Second, yes, it's not all bad. In fact, it can be quite awesome (no open bottle law? Yes please). True, nobody wants to sit next to a bear on the train, but because of this, bears definitely can get away with some stuff. Not enough money for a train ticket? Walk on through! Guy won't stop a bear! If he does stop you, speak some bear language at him. How long do you think he'll try to communicate with a bear before he feels silly and let's you lumber away? Now, you may think that this would just help perpetuate the myth that bears can't speak and act like normal people. You are correct, my cub. Honestly, I try to act like a functioning member of society 24x7. If only for the dream that one day I'll be able to drink my coffee without criticism. Still, I won't blame you if you pull this stuff. The difference here is that I do live here. You don't (well, most likely). And if you are somewhere across the sea there is still hope for you. Here is where I get to the point of this article: Japan is a Great Place to Visit. The country is clean, beautiful, and the food is awesome. Most importantly the people are ridiculously nice to guests. It's when you make the transition from 'guest' to 'guest who stays too long' that life gets tricky. If you've toyed with the idea of moving to Japan and want to know what you should do, I'm not going to make that decision for you. What I will do is give you a sample of my adventures in Japan through metaphor and witty rhetoric. If you decided to join me on this rock island, at least let me prepare you for what you won't see on your animes and read in your mangas, you otaku. So keep coming back and reading Paul's excellent blog while I occasionally fill the spots between. I swear the next one will be mostly bear free.