by R.T. Greene published in Kansai Time Out, June 1985
Knowing what your modes will be during your future in Japan does not make it any easier to handle them. It does, however, make it easier for other people to handle you. When you extrapolate a fuming rage for the 400th time from some ordinary detail of life here, your spouse, friend, lover, or co-worker can say “Stanley, that’s stage two behavior and here we are nine months into stage four.” It’s not much, but it’s something. Anyway, here goes:
FAIRYLAND: (“Even the traffic lights play little tunes.”) Fairylanders can be recognized by their widened eyelids and their complete stupefaction. Extremely non-defensive about home culture, home imports, home anthony, they enjoy wondering around any place at all seeing anything at all and trying to figure out how they could ever have been so self-satisfied with their old image of the world.
Fairylanderhood can last as long as 18 months. Transition signs are: spots of home culture defensiveness in normal conversation; sudden ravings about unfair treatment; daydreams about Beatles’ hits as better traffic signal tunes.
HORRORLAND: (“They have the intellectual curiosity of a fan club and the emotional depth of a comic book.”) Horrorlanders can be recognized by their millisecond irascibility. Mere words can launch towering infernos of speech, sinking titanics of despair, yamamotos of suicidal decisiveness. Horrorlanders pick fights with the local culture just to rehearse their favorite tirades. Head bumping is at its height in this stage. Horrorlanders begin to keep mental lists of bads and goods about Japan in a mysterious ritual that removes them from actual attempts to make themselves comfortable here.
A normal dose of Horrorlanderhood lasts at least six months. Transition signs are: surprising patches of sudden admiration for aspects of Japan appearing awkwardly right in the middle of a climaxing tirade; seeing others’ tirades as a sign of weakness.
IMPRESSEDLAND: (“Everybody is doing and building things, life seems so constructive, calling cards are damned efficient.”) Impressedlanders can be recognized by their thoughtful demeanors and older brother/sister attitudes to other foreigners. They are the principal absorbers of horrorlander diatribes. Impressedlanders change dress, spruce up, cut their hair. A spirituality of living life absolutely literally is sensed in Japan – honor this, serve that, enjoy that. Its maddeningly effective. In this stage Impressedlanders begin to list things about their own culture and country, good an bad.
Impressedlanderhood can last as long as eight months. transition signs are: thinking about allying oneself with this future land of power; fighting the “foreign businessman” or “English teacher” traps.
ASSIMILATIONLAND: (“I can make a fortune here simply by doing four more of these and two more of those.”) Assimilationlanders can be recognized by their kinben (diligence, zeal). They hustle and bustle. They flee contact with other foreigners like the plague. They sashay up to the nearest Japanese family and get themselves involved in Japanese family life. They plan new futures for themselves here in Japan. They print up their lives: meishi, Japanese language advertisements of their hobbies and side businesses, posters. They meet important Japanese in bars and learn whole routines of songs and Japanese arcane and jokes for getting swiftly connected to parties of power and repute. They get a real dream of their future in Japan. They get on top of money handling and money making, enough to tour the rest of Asia and feel the power that comes from originating in Japan; the historical shifts of attention from Europe to America to the East both freeze their blood and thrill it, because they are there – your man in Osaka!
A normal dose of Assimilationlanderhood lasts 10 to 12 months. Transition signs are: making fundamental mistakes thought to have been overcome; finding one’s reputation among Japanese acquaintances is something less than had been imagined; contact with oldtimers here who seem to have accepted belittling occupations and life identities, who seem more defeated by their decades here than uplifted by them.
NATIONALIDENTITYLAND: (“I wonder what I could do back home with the experience I have gained here?”) Nationalidentitylanders can be recognized by their reengagement with the foreign community. They find conversation with other foreigners better than 100 TV programs or the best food money can buy. They discover it is the other nationalities here that they should have learned to contact and deal with, not just the Japanese. They become easy going, really learn how to live comfortably, while realizing their sudden interest in comfort is coming along with a serious disinterest in Japan as an issue, a culture, an experience. Their interests have simply and naturally permanently outgrown Japan. They find they have learned almost nothing about Japan in their time here but have really been learning about their own nationality instead. Most of their current wisdom about Japan is unfortunately false. They find books about Japan in the bookstore could easily have been written by themselves.
A normal dose of Nationalidentitylanderhood lasts 18 months. Transition signs are: serious mailings to home country; resume writing in languages other than Japanese; change from general magazine reading to specialized magazine reading; daydreams of the long legs and developed chest of the other sex at home.
BYEBYELAND: (“How am I going to pay for shipping all this crap home?”) Byebyelanders can be recognized by their insistence on new identities for themselves. They refuse absolutely the ‘them’ that came to Japan a few years ago and they quite seriously insist on the new them they are in the midst of constructing for reinsertion in their home culture. They also may be recognized by the weaseling they do to get Japanese firms to give them business back home. They pay farewell visits to ridiculous places and acquaintances that emotionally meant much to them their first days here: a soba shop with a 90-year-old one-tooth owner who is somehow quite lovely in their slowness, tea, slippers, plants, and age. They feel the pangs of lost love; losing any part of life’s experience is losing a lover; their body feels the pangs.
Byebyelanderhood lasts no longer than 14 months. Transition signs are: tickets, shipping expenses, dread of relatives back home.
These six stages are found in marriages, love affairs and parent-child relations, as well as in you-Japan relations. The fantasy and freedom of departure from the old, the awkwardness and pain of learning the new, the inherent superiority of new experience as it expands our minds and abilities, the yearning for testing ourselves in the new, discovery of what the new lacks that the old had, decision to embody both old and new – these are spiritual stages in all life encounters. St. John of the Cross called one step of his 10-step spiritual ladder ‘disguise’. That was the artificial you that allowed the old you to approach divine mystery closer.
Here’s hoping you great disguises from you journey into/out of Japan! R.T. Greene