InterNations Featured Blog
Matt: Gaijin Chameleon
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Japan, etc.
I was actually born in Korea, but when I was one year old I moved to America and became a US citizen. I’ve lived all over America in 5 different states and a dozen different cities before moving to Japan in 2008. I’ve lived in Fukuoka prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu since 2009.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I have a YouTube channel that is now becoming more popular, but early on I was annoyed with the limitations of videos. To give the same amount of information I can convey in a blog post would take maybe 10-15 minutes of video. A video that long would take 20-30 minutes to shoot and then maybe an hour or two to edit. And then, it still wouldn’t be as comprehensive as you can make a blog post. Plus, once a video is uploaded you really can’t go back and edit or add new information. So I started a new blog to supplement my YouTube channel in early 2011. My two rules are I only write about something that interests me and anything I write must be funny as well as informative.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Tell us about the ways your new life in Japan differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I had moved around a lot before I arrived in Japan so I was used to uprooting and replanting. Aside from the language there wasn’t anything major that surprised me. The longer I live here the more I discover and learn. Maybe the biggest differences are how Japanese people typically just quietly accept things, where I’m always asking, “Why?” or “Why not?” and the relationships between men and women seem a bit archaic at times. Oh, and Japanese variety shows are absolutely insane!
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Japan? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Mentally you have to be like water. If you can just go with the flow, then life has to work really hard to shake you. I’ve always been like that, so mentally I don’t think I could have been more ready. There are some things that I could have maybe brought with me that are difficult to find in Japan, like a can opener or something, but that’s trivial really. The biggest thing is language. I studied French for 8 years and then up and moved to Japan. French is about as useful in Japan as gold bars are to a drowning man. You can never have enough Japanese before coming to Japan.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I did an interview for a local cable news channel that was interviewing foreigners living in Fukuoka. When I arrived for the interview they were surprised because my American name and my Korean face don’t match. They asked me where I was from and I said America. They looked confused at this answer so I told them that I was born in Korea. They immediately scribbled “Korean” next to my name.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Japan?
- Be realistic. I see a lot of people imagining Japan as this sort of fairytale place with schoolgirls in short skirts, sushi joints on every block, and wacky insanely entertaining antics. While there is some of all of that, Japan is much more normal and all of the stuff you imagine about Japan typically only makes up a small fraction of reality here. Don’t come just because you LOVE anime or manga. Anime and manga of course often portray exaggerated reality or really just pure fiction. Everyday life doesn’t match up and if you want to be the anime character with the bleached hair and bad attitude that everyone secretly relies on you’ll be in for a rude awakening.
- Learn Japanese in this order: 1st Katakana (It’s used for all non-Japanese based words and a lot of onomatopoeic sounds, so first learn how to say English words in Japanese.) 2nd Hiragana (Hiragana is the basic alphabet, but you should learn it quickly because most words use Chinese characters and Hiragana’s most useful as a base to learn Kanji.) Kanji (You need to know around 2000 kanji to read a newspaper. That sounds like a lot. It is a lot… no one said learning Japanese was easy…)
- Make mistakes, get lost, talk to strangers, try the weird things on the menu, and remember where they keep the western style toilets.
How is the expat community in Japan? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The gaijin in Japan can be a mixed lot of course. Many fall into the tourist category even if they have been here for a few years. Some people have trouble adapting long term and are toxic to be around, but that has less to do about Japan than their personal character. Others know so much more about Japan than you and they like rubbing that fact in your face. But the ones who have been in Japan for several years are typically very warm and great people to be around. It’s always nice having a good conversation over a few cold beers. Larger cities will hold higher populations of course, but you’ll be surprised where you’ll randomly run into an expat!
How would you summarize your expat life in Japan in a single, catchy sentence?
Japan is my home, but I’m not interested in being Japanese, I’m interested in being me.