Social Expectations in Japan and Why I Can’t Ever Live in Japan

During Sakura-Con, I had chance listening to Roland Kelts talking about foreigner living in Japan. He said that if foreigners visit Japan, they can’t be one of them (Japanese) but they will be able to enjoy benefit of being in Japan without being expected to be Japanese. (and any effort of blending into them will be taken favorably by Japanese.)

This was very interesting to hear from “foreigner perspective”, as its flip-side is exactly what I had in mind, and what I have written in the past. In the US, even though I’m considered to be American, a lot of people still may see me as foreigner, but at same time, that doesn’t mean much, as a lot of Americans are originally from foreign country; it’s just part of the society. However, this creates very awkward situation for me to be in Japan.

I have been long enough in Japan; first 13 years of my life to be exact, and I understand sociological norm in Japan. However, it is also true that I have lived in the States for 18 years. This makes it very awkward when I visit Japan; while I understand that norm, I do not necessary believe in executing it myself. I speak perfect Japanese, I look like Japanese, and I don’t look like a foreigner — so unless I pretend I don’t speak Japanese; which actually I have done casually in the past, Japanese people expect me to behave, and more importantly, think like Japanese.

Because their social expectation for me to act like Japanese, I do not get any credits for efforts of act (and think) like Japanese, because they assume that what I am supposed to be doing, yet any deviance from it would count negative toward me.

I don’t have any problem living in the States looking like Japanese, but this is why I sometimes wish I looked like foreigners in Japan.
While I am doubtful I will ever be living in Japan, this will be certainly life-long wonder of how I should mitigate this “identity crisis” every time I visit Japan, or merely dealing with Japanese elsewhere.