Shinjuku Stories: Episode 2

While I was in Japan I got to do some amazing interviews with friends, and so I have another episode of Shinjuku Stories that I'd like to share with you! This one is a little more lengthy but delves into a lot of the problems that international students commonly faced in Waseda University. Today's speaker is half Japanese, half English. I hope you enjoy! x

Disclaimer: All interviews are anonymous!

Q: So what's been your overall feeling about your study abroad so far, and how would you say that experience has impacted you. 

A: It's impacting me a lot because it's my first time living independently. It showed me what I'm capable of and not capable of. I'm more independent than I thought I was but I also know where I'm not; I know what my weaknesses are but it's not necessarily a bad thing to have those weaknesses.

I know that sometimes things are not my fault. I've been careful with my money and how I use it, but student life is hard. No matter how careful I've been I've still been out of pocket, so being in Japan I haven't really done much fun stuff. Luckily for me, I've done that fun stuff before but for a year abroad you should have fun at the same time. I believe I haven't had that at all, but I've had a lot of fun meeting people you know? Foreign people mostly.

I can't do all the things that I'd like to because money holds me back. Unfortunately, we can't just hang out in the dorms and watch a movie, we always have to go out to a coffee shop and pay 500 yen for a tiny drink or something. [Interviewers Note: Waseda Dorms do not allow visitors]

It's not my kind of thing because I've budgeted so much for this trip. Depending on the month, sometimes I can spend a thousand yen a day, sometimes it's only 5 or 6 hundred if I want to be okay. But that's me still being short on rent so I've learned with my money that I'm not the problem and that's cool to know. I know that I can live on my own and I also know that if I live in Japan in the future I need somebody here with me like a partner. That would stabilize me and get me through everything, I think.

Q: If money wasn't a problem how would that have changed your experience? 

A: If money wasn't a problem I'd probably be having a lot more fun. I would still be upset about how segregated we are from Japanese people so that wouldn't change that but I would probably be happier. I probably wouldn't be as depressed but I'd still be upset because we're not meeting Japanese people. There's only so much time we have to do things so some things are upsetting but in the end, I don't regret anything. 

Q: I noticed you mentioned that you can't meet Japanese people. Would you say that that's your biggest issue withWaseda? 

A: Yeah, I can't meet any Japanese people. It's so strange that you're surrounded by Japanese people, yet there's no opportunity to meet them and honestly, I don't really think they're interested in meeting me. I guess that's number one. As for the teachers, the some of the teachers are helpful and some are not. That's another big struggle. I honestly believe that every single class is useless except for the comprehensive Japanese course and maybe my kanji class. All the other classes are kind of a complete waste of time and effort. And they expect way too much from the student for a one-credit class. I feel like in one of our classes we do nothing in class but we get sheets upon sheets of homework and I don't understand why. I think Waseda needs to revamp their system and ask 'Is this homework going to help the students learn?'. So that's the biggest issue I have with Waseda. I feel like they haven't thought things out properly as to what would actually help the students learn. 

Q: Are you facing any problems with Japan as a country and society? 

A: So, because I'm really Western, I actually found it really hard to find a job because I have a nose piercing so my original issue was something superficial like that, I had a nose piercing and I had to take it out I was kind of sad but as soon as I took it out I got a job. 

Um, there are some racial issues but it's not all the time. I'd say like 30 or 20% of Japanese are really interested in knowing me but the majority are kind of too scared of me. They think of you more like an alien or even like a betrayer. And I think in that sense I got treated worse than a regular foreigner. One could easily say 'Oh that person's foreign so they won't understand' but with me, because they know I'm Japanese. they expect a lot from me and if I can't speak it properly, like even my own family even my cousin, they completely shut me out. They will say stuff in front of me like 'Oh why are you talking to her she doesn't understand a thing. Stop talking to her'. 

And they don't want to adapt to you. But I also think it depends on the people. In Tokyo, it's a bit different. Tokyo is much "in the bubble" and I never had a problem when I was on holiday here because I came with my family friends, but I think meeting people who are Japanese, like, they have no interest. And because I'm Japanese they're like 'wait... you're Japanese but you don't know it? What a joke'. And I get that vibe so I'm not comfortable meeting Japanese people sometimes because I feel like I have to prove myself. I do feel that pressure of being Japanese and not meeting their standards and I'm cracking under it already so I want to go home.

Q: Do think you'll ever feel like you truly belong?

A: I think that really depends on my circumstances. If I make friends. If I'm in a good area. There's a lot of ifs. I think it could happen. I'm not saying all the doors are closed for Japan. I mean I'm closing the door for Tokyo for now. I'm a bit sad to say that the door is closed for Tokyo, you know, I don't want to say it's closed but I think it's pretty much closed... Because I am Western. My thinking as Western and I'm too scared to speak the language because of the judgment. I'm terrified. So I guess it's kind of closed unless something random happens and I come out of my shell but I really don't see that happening. It's all about my confidence and my linguistic ability. I wouldn't want to bring up a child in Japan.

Q: Why is that?

A: It's just too different. The personalities and senses of humor are different. I think Japanese are very disciplined but I was disciplined as well. The reality is if you're part Western you're never going to make close friends. There's a family I know and they're Japanese but they've lived all over the world and have a lot of cultural experience. They have a daughter who's very hyper and excited who made everyone laugh and I thought it was great but she didn't seem very Japanese. In Japan she sticks out like a sore thumb. She sticks out to Japanese people and they're more about being the same over here.

If you want your child to be independent and strong I personally don't think that Japan is the place. It's kind of hard to word this, but my mom didn't want me to grow up in Japan either. She didn't want me to be so inhibited. She wanted me to be informed about the culture but she didn't want it to affect my personality, she wanted me to be confident and open.

When I younger, I was always fascinated with knowing I was Japanese. Growing up I thought I was more Japanese than English, so I think how my kids are raised is going to depend on how much of the culture I introduce to them. Because coming here, I see how Western I really am. I didn't realize all the traits that I have that make me not fit in as much as I thought I would. I think my kids would have the same issues that I have being here. I feel like I don't belong anywhere. 

Q: What would you say is the biggest benefit of you coming to Japan?

A: Finding myself. I'm still finding myself but it happened quite quickly here. I've learned so much in my 4-5 months here and it's been a rollercoaster. I feel like I've gone out of the box a little bit with my learning by studying abroad. So I'm understanding a lot more about friendship and long distance relationships, I just feel like I've learned so much. I don't regret anything. I know my limits, and I've learned what I like and what I don't like. And I know when it's time to go home.