Many expats complain about the unjust treatment they receive while living in Japan. Once the initial novelty of being in a foreign country wears off, they gradually become bitter, even hateful, and begin to despise their adopted home.
In a broad sense (in Japan, at least), there are generally two types of responses among expatriates to these attitudes and behaviors: they tell whiners to go home if they can’t take it, or else they form gaijin-exclusive groups and try to fight against unequal treatment. Don’t get me wrong–I am against inequality, and I think the world would be a great place if we assumed that others want the same fair, considerate treatment that we ourselves want. But one person usually can’t change the world, and I think fighting against all of Japan is a losing battle.
The key components to surviving as an expat in Japan are a thick skin (ability to survive adversity), a good reason for being here (hint: you can make one if you don’t have one yet), and the ability to see the good in the people around you rather than focus on the flaws. Also, you should adjust your expectations before you even get on the plane.
The following are some things I think make the expat experience a positive and worthwhile one. There will always be hard times, but if you focus on positives such as these, you will realize that what you are doing is unique and worthwhile.
- You get new perspectives on the world that most people don’t have
- You learn more about yourself, including your limits and abilities
- You learn more about your country, because people expect you to be its representative and answer questions about it
- As a representative for your country, you have an opportunity improve the image of your people (as an American, I often have the chance to disprove negative stereotypes)
- There is no shortage of challenges to help you grow–you get more out of life by not simply taking a “safe” route
- You can experience a fascinating culture with an even more fascinating history
- As an expat in Japan, you are in a unique position to easily meet other expats and visitors from all corners of the earth
- You have a chance to master a difficult language and become one of the few people in the world (from outside Japan) who can speak it well
- You will come to better understand the position of foreign nationals in your own country, and learn to respect their strength
- You can travel from Japan to many other countries very easily
- It’s easy to make friends, because you are automatically someone who most people consider to be interesting and unique
- You will have two places to call home
- Sometimes it can be a lot of fun!
Note: This is a revised version of my original post on Osaka Insider from about two years ago. Because this is something all expats think about, I reposted it here to give my Kyushu readers a chance to think about the topic.