Thursday, October 11, 2007

30 years

Today is October 11th but to no one else but me it is a landmark day. Even Tetsu sort of just said "Oh". Today I am celebrating my 30th anniversary of living in Japan! Remember, I am 52 not 60 years old so I've lived longer in Japan than I have in America. So, how true a foreigner am I?

For one thing. A "foreigner" in Japan can never be Japanese. Since everyone is going to look at me and treat me as a foreigner anyway, I'm not going to try to become Japanese either by completely changing my mannerisms or by law. I have American citizenship and always will.

But I do do many things the Japanese way in order to live peacefully in my neighborhood and family (I have a very traditional husband). In the little things that don't matter however, I stick with my American ways. Since many people are interested in what Americans think and are like anyway, why disappoint them, so I am overly friendly with strangers, my clothing tends to be a little louder than my Japanese neighbors, I answer the telephone with "Hello" or "Good morning!" I am slightly dishonest when someone calls trying to sell me something and will speak to them in a more pronounced foreign accent than usual "I'm sorry, I'm a foreigner. My Japanese isn't very good." Usually the salesmen give up right away or in some cases they'll hang up just hearing that first "Hello!" I guess you'd say I use my foreignness to my advantage.

There are times when I've felt that knowing the two cultures is a curse. This is usually when I'm disgruntled with some custom and I grumble that I'd be better off not even knowing the way things are done in the States, I'd probably be more contented. To know that one way is weird but to be able to do nothing about it and look at the other way with envy all the time is a very miserable way to live. There were times when I wondered if giving my children the opportunity to see two cultures was just going to make them unhappy with life in general.

I'm sure my American friends and family would say I've become very Japanese and a little strange. I serve my brother first and he thinks I'm nuts. I don't buy sleeveless blouses or anything with spaghetti straps or that is tight not only because my figure doesn't do it justice but because people my age don't dress like that in Japan. I don't confront people if I disagree with them and have picked up the Japanese custom of being vague and at the same time cooperative. I have an American "friend" here in Japan whom I've exchanged words with just because she thinks I'm too Japanese and need to take a stand on issues that I close my eyes to. She sees me as being hypocritical. I think of myself as being accepting. Her words "You're just too Japanese!" I found somewhat hurtful.

It used to bother me that I'd hear the same line from Japanese friends too. "Tanya is more Japanese than real Japanese." or "Gee, sometimes I forget that you're foreign Tanya, and am amazed at what great English you speak!" Those comments were supposed to be compliments but I took it as "why do you think being Japanese might be better than being what I really am?" Nowadays, I accept the compliment as it was meant to be.

Sometimes I wonder if could ever go back and live in the States. This is a moot question since Tetsu has no desire to spend more than a week in the States. Even that is stressful for him. "These crazy American customs!" But I think I probably could. As I said, I'm really very adaptable.

Definitely my 30 years in Japan have meant I've had an interesting life and that's probably true for people who know me and live with me too. My mother constantly has said how enriched her life has been because I've always told her about Japanese life, the different customs and my thoughts in general. Tetsu too, seems to think I'm his personal walking commentator on American life and he is constantly asking me what Americans think about this or that issue. Hey, mister! I haven't lived there in 30 years! But he comes to his own conclusions about what Americans think just by seeing my reactions to things. (Is he being misled...?) And I think my kids too, have gained from having parents from two cultures Just being able to have traveled to the States every summer of their lives is a plus right?

By the way, that picture at the top is one of the first pictures of me after I came to Japan. Look what 30 years has done to me! It sounds like a long time but actually the time has gone by quickly. Hey! "Home is where your heart is!"


Quilt Pixie said...

Never having put down roots anywhere (the longest I've lived in one place is 7 years, in the house I'm currently in!) I cannot imagine 30 years... completely beyond my comprehension.... :-)

Hedgehog said...

Happy Anniversary! Love the way you included your letters at the end of this post, too!

anne bebbington said...

Tanya - I think you've struck exactly the right balance between your native and adopted cultures. Your first japanese picture made me look twice as I first thought it was Leiya. From all your posts the one thing that shines through is that you seem generally very happy and that means that your chameleon act has so obviously worked. Well done - I'm sure adapting to two totally different cultures would be nigh on impossible for some people - you have mastered it beautifully :o)

anne bebbington said...

ps - love the letters at the end

Colleen Eskridge said...

Tanya, thank you for sharing all of your experiences with fellow bloggers.I would have thought the young you...was any young American girl..and yet you have adapted to Japan.I feel you are making the best of both worlds.Love your letters..they are so nice.I do think it is hard to adapt completely, to a culture other than your own.I have certainly enjoyed most South African experiences...but its not home for me.I think I could live here forever and it still would feel temporary..if that makes sense. Thanks for sharing. Colleen

Shelina said...

Tanya, I think my life has been enriched because you have lived both cultures - so I am sure you have been too.
My mother recently passed the halfway mark of being in the states. And even though I reached my halfway mark at 18, I think my life was enriched by knowing other ways - I was able to pick and choose the best of all cultures and leave the rest. It does get confusing sometimes and sometimes other people don't get that my way is better.

Mel & Seigo said...

Hi Tanya,

I think I've posted once or twice in your comments, but do read you daily.

This post really struck a chord with me as I understand a lot of what you've experienced, but also know I have a lot more to learn. I hope you'll allow me to gain some knowledge from you...30 years is a long time!!

I've been in Japan on and off since 2000, but we've just recently decided to build a house here, so it seems our roots are set. Exciting but scary times ahead!!

Thank you again for your inspirational post,


Mrs. Goodneedle said...

This was a wonderful post! You have indeed adopted the "bloom where you're planted" philosophy and are an excellent American ambassador in Japan!

Lazy Gal Tonya said...

Home IS where your heart is. very sweet.

JudyL said...

I think my life is enriched just by reading your blog. I find it very interesting to read how an American has adjusted to living in Japan. You do have a very interesting life and I appreciate your sharing it with us.

Buffie H said...

You can be a foreigner even in your own country these days. Some small towns are just awful.
What makes you a foreigner anyway? We are becoming such a multicultural society worldwide that we all need to be a little more accepting of each others uniqueness and culture. If you can live happily and in acceptance of another culture whilst at the same time remaining true to yourself and your beliefs and your community accepts and values that, then perhaps your friend needs to have a good hard look at her acceptance of others, even of her friends. She might just learn the value of your strength.