I have been studying Japanese for a little over a year. Or, should I say, 私は一年から日本語を勉強しました。Over that year, I’ve learned a lot about the Japanese language and culture, and the more I learn about it, the more I’m suffused with a sense of profound sadness.
The Japanese are about as different from the US culture as one can get and still be developed humans. Their language is backwards from English, their religion is entirely different (in fact, they have two, bolted on to each other), their way of looking at the world is completely foreign to us, and, well, it’s not an easy language or culture to crack. I often wonder whether it’s worth the battle, but I forge ahead anyway, somehow.
But the honest truth is, American culture and Japanese culture are, to me, very similar in how foreign they are. The only real difference is, I’m fluent in English. I’ve learned a lot by immersion, I suppose, but at the end of the day, I don’t understand Americans either.
In some ways, though, Japanese is more appealing. In Japan, I am a 外人, or gaijin, which means “outsider”. I will always be an outsider. They may be outwardly accepting, they may welcome my money, they may appreciate the fact that I am making an effort to understand their culture, but at the end of the day, I am and always will be an outsider. As has been pointed out, this has some serious drawbacks in Japanese culture – but it has some rather cool perks, too. That’s neither here nor there.
In American culture, I am, as well, an outsider. I always have been. But the difference is, I have white skin, I speak the language, I was born here. So people expect me to understand and integrate with the culture, in the same way that the Japanese would hold a native Japanese to a different standard than a “gaijin” like me.
But I don’t. I’m an outsider.
I wonder often if I would be better off trying to move to Japan. At least there people don’t expect more out of me than I am capable of giving.
The thing the WCG took away from me that I can’t get back, and there are only a few things that fit into that category, is the ability to integrate with the culture amongst which I was born. I can’t. I never will be able to.
And then the WCG destroyed its culture, leaving me homeless.
Sure, I can go through the motions, I can pretend, I can try to act like I’ve integrated. But it’s exhausting, and that’s all it is. Pretending.