Nearing the end of my ninth month abroad in Tokyo, I feel as though I have attempted to immerse myself in the culture and everyday life of young Japanese people as much as possible. However, this is not to say that my gaijin-ness (foreignness) is no longer a central theme in my daily interactions with Japanese people. Even though my mother is Japanese, the fact that I do not look very Japanese (at least according to Japanese people) and the way that I speak, dress and act sets me apart rom other young Japanese women.
I have joined multiple sports circles, which are the main social activity for university students, found two jobs teaching English to Japanese housewives and school students, and have been living with three Japanese girls in a shared apartment since arriving here in spring.
So how are experiences of young people in Japan different to Australia? One thing that stands out for me is the concept of time; especially ones free time, and the need to be perceived to be constantly busy. The daily schedules of many Japanese university students are so jam-packed with circle training, social events, part time jobs, seminar trips, and taking up to twenty courses per semester, that people are often completely booked out for months in advance. When setting a day to go out for dinner with a friend from one of my circles, she said her next available Sunday was in eight weeks!
The concept of free time has a completely different meaning here as well, as not necessarily something that one deserves as a result of working hard, but rather something that when indulged in, can indicate laziness. For me, it is a big thing to give up a whole weekend for circle activities, whether it be for playing or just watching other teams, but this is simply a given for Japanese students. This is probably due to the fact that throughout their teenage lives, their time was either spent doing club activities, at cram school or studying for university entrance exams so they are accustomed to being busy all of the time. Even sleeping for eight hours is considered indulgent, and many students I know survive on four or five hours a night.
This is just one example of the many differences in values and ways of thinking that I have experienced during my time abroad that have deepened my understanding of Japan, and its culture and people. In particular for me as a half-Japanese person raised in Australia, this experience has been particularly identity-affirming and has allowed me to see where I ‘fit’ into Japan.