Gaijin Stories

These short stories are a collection of my experiences while living in Tokyo. I hope people wishing to learn more about Japan and gaijin in japan wishing to compare experiences will find them interesting. I also hope some Japanese people will find a gaijin's perspective interesting reading as well.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Bow ( 4 )

I remember when I was in my early teens, I could run and run and run. If I got tired I could rest for a few minutes, then I’d be ready to go again. In my late teens I realized that if I exercised too hard, my body would feel sore that evening. If I exercised extremely hard, I would feel very sore the next day.
Now I’m even older, so naturally my body “feels it” if I exercise too much, drink too much, or worry too much. When this happens, I tell the people around me. Maybe I want some sympathy, or maybe I’m apologizing for not being so cheerful and genki.
A few weeks ago my girlfriend called me “selfish”. “You’re always telling me about your pains and complaining about your physical condition. I have to worry about you and do everything I can to help you recover. I like taking care of you but you complain too often.”
Since my girlfriend is Japanese, and has never lived abroad, I feel I should try to understand her “Japanese perspective” before pushing mine onto her. 1-Japanese people rarely complain about things. 2-When Japanese people want something done, they’ll often express their feelings and leave it at that. With these 2 points in mind, I realized that when Japanese people do complain, they expect something to be done. I realized that I had unknowingly been putting stress on her.
After I explained my perspective, she asked if it would be ok if she complained about her health and physical condition everyday. Thinking it would be nice for her to open up and for me to be more in tune with her feelings, I said “sure”. She did, a lot. After a week of her complaining at least once a day, I’d had enough.
Because of our upbringings and, more importantly, our cultures being different, we had different boundaries. Our problem was that the line between when to tell someone about a discomfort and when to keep it to yourself was very different. Then, my girlfriend acted in a way less Japanese. To her, it was like I had explained. To me, it was not only less Japanese, it was obviously over-reacting.
But, if I think on the subject of over-reacting, I think more about gaijins trying to act like Japanese. When I lived in a gaijin house with 5 others, one nice American guy bowed deeply several times to our Japanese room-mates for mistakenly using some of her margarine. She got angry saying that us room-mates knew each other well, so casual apologies were sufficient. Such bowing was only for official situations where the relationship was either important or delicate.
Since then, I've seen many foreigners in Japan bow too deeply and repeat the bow too many times which has made Japanese people feel a little uncomfortable.
Anyway, I’m glad to say that my girlfriend and I seemed to have drawn a new line. I think twice before I express my discomfort and she doesn’t take my complaining so seriously.


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