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Should We Pity the Poor Western Man ‘Trapped’ in Japan?

Parent's_day_at_Eirfan's_Kindergarten (1)

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

A recent article in the newspaper Japan Times has caused a commotion in Japan's resident English-speaking community.

Titled “Spare a thought for the Western men trapped in Japan“, the article documents how tough life can be for Western men who get work teaching in universities, get married, and find it difficult or impossible to return to their home countries.

The article uses the example of “Jim, an American in his late 20s”:

Jim… used to be a very passionate young man. He claimed he was a communist — a Stalinist, even. He would engage in endless political debates during smoking breaks and drinking sessions. He dreamed of graduate school, an academic career and, one day, even leading a riot. But instead, he got married to a Japanese girl and already had children by the time he graduated. She did not want to leave Japan and insisted he earn a stable income, so he ended up teaching English somewhere in the sticks, far from any big university. “It is only for the time being,” he insists, but it’s difficult to see how he will ever have the money or mobility to realize his dreams.

Olga Garnova, a Temple University student and author of the story, says, “Japan can be the best place in the world for some, but for others it can be a trap. And sometimes I think it’s far easier for Western men to be sucked into this trap than women.”

While Japan recruits temporary workers from China and other Asian countries to work, often very little pay, on farms and in factories, the vast majority of Westerners who come to Japan work as teachers. The goal is to move up the ladder from teaching conversational English to securing positions in colleges and universities.

The problem is, just as in North America, working conditions for teachers in Japan's post-secondary institutions have fundamentally changed over the past 20 years.

As Japan's population ages and birthrate declines, enrollment in colleges and universities has also declined. To save costs, administrators are opting to hire instructors on part-time contracts for lower pay.

This shift in working conditions has made it difficult for Westerners to establish themselves in Japan. But after spending time away from their home job market, it can be difficult to find a way back.

Even for male teachers who do find steady employment, Garnova suggests that life in Japan can be challenging.

The article touches on Japan's infamous long working hours, Japanese women's reported love of money, and the cultural divide that can confront some Westerners in Japan who are unfamiliar with other cultures:

Japanese men have it tough, but foreigners might have it even worse. Unlike Japanese, who have been raised in the culture of strict gender roles and long work hours, foreigners — especially Westerners — may have very different expectations, lifestyles and ideals.

What's the solution? According to Garnova:

Having non-Japanese friends and co-workers helps a lot. Not only can you use your native language, but the patterns of communication, expectations and levels of self-disclosure tend to be quite similar, and therefore it is often easier to build and develop relationships. The fact that we are all foreigners here “in the same boat” is a perfect icebreaker.

But perhaps the most important thing is to admit and fully accept that we can never fully assimilate in Japan.

Social media reaction has been mostly negative:

The Japan Times, an English daily, has occupied a central role in Japan's non-resident community for more than one hundred years. Before the Internet era the print version of the Japan Times was used by non-residents to find jobs, buy and sell items as expats arrived and departed from the country, keep on top of world events, and generally remain connected to the outside world.

As the Internet has impacted traditional media around the world, the Japan Times has been no exception. While the paper is still popular with English-language learners, readership has declined over the past decade. The paper sometimes attempts to generate clicks by printing outrageous articles.

One of the top-rated comments on the original Japan Times article states:

Instead of isolating yourself from Japanese people to protect your sanity, which this author appears to be suggesting, I would suggest a different approach.

People, after all, are not that different from each other. People all over the world appreciate, for example, things like kindness and honesty. So try to find those in Japanese people. And try to show Japanese people that you, too, have those qualities.

In other words, try to see they are the same as you, try to show you are the same as them.

Eido Inoue, an American-born naturalized Japanese citizen, is harsher in his criticism of the Japan Times article:

These I-don't-wanna-try-to-fit-in foreigners, with their own private lost decade(s) in Japan, prioritized alcohol, debauchery, and the English Internet. They were then forced to double down and say that yes, they CHOSE to not learn Japanese and do The English Life because that's the better path. Because not to affirm this would be to admit they wasted their prime years, having been given a unique and rare opportunity of life in another rich and wonderful country, and settled for less — the quick and easy and superficial route.

Jake Adelstein, an American journalist, crime writer and blogger who has spent most of his career in Japan, says moving back home may not solve these Western men's problems anyway.

  • UcanHaveit

    Marriage in Japan is “a business contract.” And NOTHING more.

    And as such “sex” outside of marriage, almost does not exist, in Japan. In one survey, “61% of Japanese males over the age of 40 stated that they are not involved in any kind of relationship. Almost 50% of girls aged between 16 & 24 stated that the thought of sexual intercourse was disgusting, and more than 25% of boys from the same age-group stated the same” (Morgan/Newton, Journey TV, 2014). The “Whole Thing” Is A Business, pure and simple. “First, find out whether the guy is marriage-minded. Next, decide if he’s the type to cheat” (Shoji, K, Japan Times, May 4, 2015). One woman, a successful musician stated, “I don’t think I’ll ever marry. What if he doesn’t earn as much money as I do?” Please, sweetheart. Stop right there and spare some poor bastard this loveless marriage.

    Sooo, What’s love got do with it?

    A Japanese woman is getting married for two reasons only. 1) For money. She’s looking for the richest guy she can scam into a business contract and looks, intelligence, and personality (don’t make me laugh) are of no consideration in this plan. She wants to get pregnant as soon as possible, and him “out of the house” working himself into an early grave, handing over every penny to her. In fact, the deal is this: At point of contract signing (the wedding night) the guy hands over and signs over, all his bank accounts and ATM/credit cards, to her. She is now “solely” in charge of the (his) money. Everyday She’ll give him his train money, and 4 bucks for lunch, and the rest of it is “hers to do with as she pleases.”

    Reasons for business contract, No: 2) To reproduce herself. Her job is to get control of the poor bastard’s money. And, either after this has been secured – or as a way of securing it – she gets pregnant as soon as possible. As soon as she’s pregnant that’s the end of sex; sex has served its purpose and they are now sleeping in separate rooms, with absolutely no emotional, or physical contact, for the rest of their lives. You may ask, “ohh come on, what about Japanese that have more than one child?” Well, yes. Obviously, when/if “she” decides that she wants another child, the first thing she will do is look at finances, and probably tell him that he needs to get a promotion and go from working 19 hours per day to 21 hours per day. After this has been achieved (secured) then what needs to be done, to get a woman pregnant, will be done. Because you don’t believe what I just said, let me give you another true story. The best friend of my ex-wife, had a son of around 3 years of age, when I met her. She told my ex` that she wanted to have another baby, but that she simply could not stand the thought of having to have sex with her husband to get one. The boy was still an only child and 11 years of age, by the time I left Japan.

    Much has been written by way of evidence that the human psyche, indeed, mental health and well-being is “dependent” upon healthy intimacy between human beings. Pease & Pease cite statistics, in their books, that people who have a regular, healthy sex-life are more active, more mentally astute, & get sick less often, than do those “going without.” Those with a more “spiritual” bent argue that when you are engaging in loving intimate sex, you’re accessing soul-source information; that your body’s vibrational frequency is going “off the charts;” that you are accessing the tree of life; that you are joining Kundalini energies and thereby strengthening them for/with each other. Psychologists observe and teach their students at universities that intimacy and a healthy sex-life is fundamental to human happiness, and health. Of the most disturbing elements of this topic, is that many sources who have studied repeat violent sex offenders, state that “every” single one of them: in “every single case,” running through the psychological milieu, of each of them, is one common thread: in child-hood they received no emotional/love energies from parents: no kisses nor cuddles, no healthy forms of intimacy.

    A most interesting – and, perhaps, cataclysmic – result of the above attitudes towards sex, intimacy and interpersonal relationships in Japan, is that it has seemingly created/creating a generic, genderless, worker-bee: It is seemingly Removing “Gender.” It seemed to become increasingly difficult for me to differentiate between man and woman the longer I stayed in Japan: they wear same generic soldier uniform, have the same haircut, speak with in/with a same panzy voice and tonality, and exhibit the same effeminate gesticulations. Could it be the case that the evolution of the Japanese robot has truly arrived in what remains of its human form?
    You may, also be interested in reading a related Blog Future Of An Illusion.

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