I was drinking with Sandy in the park recently. It was dark and naturally we were on the swing set.
“I’ll just never be happy here,” she said.
“Congratulations,” I replied, “you’re finally Japanese. Here, have a chu-hi. It’s got real lemon flavor.”
Then we kampai-ed as our swings passed, which is hard to do without spilling. The great thing about Japan is it has these little dirt plots that serve as corner parks, complete with rusty jungle gyms and broken see-saws where you can drink at night. I guess theoretically kids could play there during the day too, if the population hadn’t all died off. Anyway I figured it kind of worked in our favor.
“It’s all the rude people,” she continued, “and dead-end jobs.
“Ah, you’ve just had too much booze. Know what we should do?
“No, really. I’m going back Seattle,” she said.
“We should switch to beer, is what,” I said. “Jeez Sandy, you’re the only one left.
“I just need to save some money.
“Heh, I remember when you were saving to come here.
“Well that’s irony for you,” she said.
Everyone who can leave Japan eventually does—-it’s a constant, like the speed of light. There’s an arc—-move to the country fresh-faced and exited, travel around taking pictures and trying to speak Japanese, then reach an apex where you realize why there’re so many stray cats, then begin the descent into Japanese marriage and a punishing job, or packing up and leaving.
Okay, so Japan’s a scam, but that’s probably obvious. The internet image of a nation with a low crime rate, concern for others, politeness, sexy women, harmony with nature, respect for the elderly—-it’s all a stupendous fiction. News organizations recirculate the same rumors over and again, based on observations from the Meiji era. Oooo, a country on the other side of the earth where everything’s perfect, how delightful. There’s only one reason anybody’d believe it: because Japanese people are massive liars convinced of their own hype, and because it’s so easy to mistake difference for exoticism. Okay, that’s two reasons, so I lied. But still, it doesn’t mean Japan’s a bad place. It’s pretty great on weekends and holidays. Only that, if you come from a first-world nation, you’ll eventually realize it’s no better than where you used to be. But hey, that’s life. You probably should’ve stayed with your high school sweetheart too.
The 60-40 Rule
It’s no secret that humans are programmed to be restless. If we were happy with everything, we’d still be living in caves with dial-up internet, eating raw fish. Dissatisfaction is the fuel powering the engine of human progress. Oh, that’s definitely going on my Christmas cards next year. But really, ask people about their jobs, spouses, or living situations, and you’ll get a hefty list of complaints lickety-split. And a few good things. Hey, that’s why mankind invented country music and beer, right? Osaka could use a honky-tonk too, I figure.
Anyway, I’d like to believe the universe has some equilibrium, so that good and bad balance each other out fifty-fifty. But given the human proclivity to see things somewhat cloudily, most things seem to appear more like 40 percent marshmallows and 60 percent shit. There’s probably a margin of error, but you get the idea.
So here’s the problem: Everyone moves to Japan about 90 percent positive, if not more. That’s way too high. I know you love Japan, but if you can’t also immediately name ten things you absolutely hate, then you don’t have a clue about the country. Since Japan’s still a place on earth that conforms to the laws of nature, then living here means it’s gonna go from 90 marshmallows down to 60 shit balls. That can’t be good. Put another way, living in Japan is like walking down the street and stepping in 50 percent more poo than you expected. Hey, you can’t argue with math. Which is why I majored in English. Happy days.
And here’s the challenge: learning how to love Japan after realizing it’s killed your unicorn and served him sliced atop a bowl of ramen. Yeah, I’m still working on that one. He was so cute too, what with the little white horn and rainbows shooting out his bum, and now he’s floating on a layer of grease and tears, looking all tender and juicy. Well, no doubt he’ll be delicious sprinkled with some golden sesame and pickled ginger.
And then, just like that, we were in Haneda airport, me and Sandy and her half-Japanese half-Filipino best-friend Makiko. Years of life in Japan, all boiled down to two buddies and a couple suitcases full of cheap paper fans and rice crackers for the folks back home. We stared at the floor tiles and tried to think of meaningful things to say.
“Have one last beer?” I proposed.
“Nah, I gotta go,” she said. “I’ll miss my flight.”
We smiled and waved as she went through security, then everything got misty and by the time it cleared Sandy was gone. That’s the problem with having gaijin friends; they all end up leaving. Damn foreigners. Makiko and I stood silently for a minute, then turned and did the only thing we could. Went and had giant bowls of airport ramen with a side of fried gyoza and a bunch of beer, and it was amazing.