While Where Next Japan’s main focus is travel, and awesome events around Japan, through posts like Expat Postcards: I hope to provide an understanding of what everyday life is like for expats living and working here. In many ways, some might find it surprisingly similar to what they left at home.
Zac rescued me. 2 months into my job in Ibaraki, far from my coworkers, I had taken to stalking the local JET teacher forums in hopes of meeting someone, anyone. Invited along to one of their weekly dinners, I asked him if any of the teachers were part of/had started some kind of hobby group.
“Is there a book-club?” I asked.
Zac’s snort was my reply. I learned to play Magic The Gathering and Werewolf instead.
Being an expat in Japan, especially in the towns with several English schools, can be a very inclusive experience as you eventually get to know most of the other non-Japanese nearby. This can be both supportive and restricting. Other foreigners share information and clothes that fit, while alleviating some of sense of being so utterly culturally different. Sometimes, however, this leads to a life lived in a “gaijin bubble”, as all your friends are non-Japanese, speak no Japanese, take trips together to Costco, and eventually get an experience they could have stayed home for.
The flavour of the gaijin community changes depending on the people within it. There are a lot of young, fresh college graduates, between 21-26 years old. It’s not a shock that the most popular kind of club is the one with music playing. But, this too can change abruptly. Living in Wakayama when one of the big schools went bankrupt saw a large number of young alcoholics head home, and a different crowd arrive who preferred hiking and Settlers of Catan. Having or developing a diverse range of interests is probably the best way for long-term expats to align with social adjustments.
Back to the book-club.
James rescued me. He and a group of other young teachers, fresh from their Humanities degrees, had formed a monthly book reading group. We’ve read fiction and non. Australian literature full of passion in the outback, and understood Japan better through Dower’s Embracing Defeat. There are lots of debates as no one ever seems to read the same book.
Many different types of people come to Japan. Some absorb the language like breathing and disappear into rural inaka and are never seen or heard from again. Some spend their weekends (and occasionally weeknights) in gaijin clubs in Osaka or Tokyo. Then there are those who like a mix of both, and a good group to get into geeky, heated arguments over books with.