JPN Rush: Ningen Kankei

One can waste their life away in shady anime shops and cheap fast-food joints all they want, but what makes a country is its people, and you’re missing out if you’re not talking to them. I should know, as that was the story of life when I was here last time. But, by virtue of living in a guest house when I was studying in this country two years ago, I made the acquaintance of a good many people, Japanese and gaijin alike. They were all fine folks, and I regret not reaching out to them more.

This time is different. I’m tapping all my connections–those that speak the Nihongo natively and those that don’t–and am trying to get out on weekends regularly. While I’ve had a few weekends at home, I’ve also made it out to party a few times. I’m not going to badger myself too much about this now–I’ve only just moved here! And developing a social life is a process.

But being in Japan makes it slightly more complicated. The way I see it, when you’re here you have three options: Only hang out with other foreigners, only hang out with Japanese people, or mix it up. Obviously, the last choice is the best choice. If one only hangs out with foreigners, you end up in a bubble. Japan becomes nothing more than a playground, and you don’t end up learning much. Of course, this is just fine if you’re on vacation and only care about partying in Tokyo, but if you’re here for the long term, only fraternizing with other foreigners will be detrimental to your experience in this country. Even if your friends know a lot of Japanese and are able to take you to some really cool places, you’ll always have to rely on them, and you’ll never be able to experience Japan beyond the surface level.

If your Japanese level is already very high for one reason or another coming into this country, only hanging out with Japanese people isn’t a horrible idea. That is, unless your reasoning for only hanging out with Japanese people is simply because you hate other people who are foreigners just like you. But if your Japanese level is pretty low like mine, having another foreigner as a friend who’s been here for a while is very beneficial, as they can show you some of the basics of getting around in this country without any bothersome language barrier. Also, it’s just good to have someone to relate to on a fundamental level. You’re both strangers in this land, after all.

But like I mentioned earlier, it’s good to make Japanese friends. You’ll gain insights to the culture in manner far more direct and hands-on than reading a book, or hearing stories second hand from other people. Also, your Japanese will get better. I kind of cheat by talking to Japanese people who know some English, but because I know I have English to fall back on, talking to them primarily in Japanese doesn’t make me as nervous as when I’m speaking to someone who doesn’t understand English. But if you have more confidence than me (not difficult), go seek out Japanese friends who don’t know a lick of English! I mean, I have a couple, and it’s fun to see them, but I always regret not being able to properly or fully communicate my thoughts.

Much like overcoming language barriers, the aforementioned process of developing a healthy social life is prolonged, and somewhat slow at first. That said, it’s probably more difficult for someone like me who is not naturally outgoing. What I’ve learned in the past couple of months that I’ve been here is that it’s hard to become relevant in people’s lives. I’ve been hanging out with people as much as I can, but each time I do see people, I’m the one doing the inviting. I’m not yet a relevant enough variable in these people’s lives for them to call out to me. It’s not like we don’t have a good time when we go out, and unless they’re busy, they don’t turn down invitations to do things. But, when it comes down to it, these people are more important to me that I am to them at this moment. I just moved here. I’m basically a stranger to these people. The gulf is even wider if they’re Japanese–I’m a foreigner! They can’t just speak to me normally like they do with their other friends. My Japanese sucks! They need to talk slowly!

The same goes for meeting up with people that I knew over here when I was an exchange student in 2009. That was a whole two years ago! Sure, it’s fine and good to keep in contact over mixi and Twitter, but that’s no replacement for real life interaction. Not even close. And given my poor language skills, relationships couldn’t really progress beyond simple chit-chat when I was here two years ago. In short, the thread between me and some of these people is very thin, and developing that into a healthy friendship–along with powering up your language skills–is tough.

But it’s worth doing. The last thing anyone wants to be in Japan–or anywhere–is alone. Not putting yourself out there or doing things with other people is a formula for misery in the long run, so it’s better to hit the ground running, and develop a strong social life. It’s kind of slow going right now, but in a year I suspect things will be running quite smoothly.

Either that, or I’ll be shacked up in my apartment watching anime under a blanket.

11 thoughts on “JPN Rush: Ningen Kankei

  1. I had the unfortunate habit of throwing myself head-first into social situations where I knew my Japanese wasn’t up to scratch. Actually, I say it was an “Unfortunate Habit” but honestly I relished the challenge and loved pushing myself, occasionally tapping into a rich vein of things I’d learned and put it to use. I think the more unfortunate habit was stopping occasionally when I knew I’d failed to swear at my own incompetence in English :/

    It’s definitely true that the most important thing is reaching out to people, and in my experience lots of people are willing to at the very least have a quick chat. Well, except conbini employees. Once, after three or four times of people taking out their English homework next to me on the train I tried talking to someone who did it. That ended up being a pretty fun train ride and taught me some things about adjusting desu/masu form speech to plain speech.

    Of course, for the super confident there’s always 「始めてみた、桜が咲きました」or something to that effect. Or even 「やらないか」. Although if those lead to a greatly improved social life and mastery over the Japanese Language, let me know which bars you’re hanging out at so I can hit them up.

  2. I’m later than late, but I’m just seeing that you’re in Japan–interesting read. I haven’t kept in touch with your progress. It’s weird seeing this after I’ve been reading your blog since I was like 12, because I feel like it’s some type of epic of a man reaching his dream.
    If I wrote you a letter, would you write back?
    I’d send this in an e-mail, but I don’t know it, eep.

  3. >>InazumaKick

    What kind of social situations specifically?

    >>Azures

    My email can be found on the “General Information” page. It’s a pretty straightforward address.

    1. Uhm off the top of my head, Mahjong parlours, Izakaya, that one chick who shut me down in Akiba and being invited back to a friend of mine’s house for a cup of tea and attempting to talk to her family. In Kansai-ben no less. Oh, and asking a drunk-to-the-point-where-she-was-having-trouble-standing-up lady if she was “daijoubu”. That one also kind of comes under “Conversations I am woefully underprepared for”. HEY! YOU ARE NOT JAPANESE! Gee, really lady? :P

      Ahhh, natsukashii~

  4. You’re a braver man than I. I’d be scared shitless about embarrassing myself and giving foreigners a bad/worse name. Hell, I swung by Japan town in San Francisco for a movie once and even THAT was too much for me.

    Screw it. I’ll just hole up here in the states and kick it with the Mexicans. They don’t give a shit. :P

    1. Yeah, you have to get over those feelings. So long as you keep your head on your shoulders and think through what you want to say, you’ll be fine. It also helps to befriend some patient Japanese people.

      1. Yeah, you’re right.

        BTW, if you now have an apartment, that must mean you have a job to support it. Where are you working?

  5. I think you put over the difficulty of adjusting to life in a new country really well. It is difficult, I’m sure, but it sounds like you’re making the best of it, especially considering you’ve only been there a couple of months.

    Of course, a lot depends on the people you bump into on a regular basis, and it sounds like you’ve landed in a situation where there are few people in the same boat as you – the more of them the more likelyhood that there would be someone that ‘clicks’ with you.

    Anyway, it should like you are doing all the right things so I really hope it works out great.

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