My GLI Global Theme and Challenge is dealing with Human trafficking and global awareness. My experience in Japan gave me a chance to see one of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo, and the ability to look further into global cultures and see how they treat information gathering as well as communication.
Due to being in Tokyo, I was able to gain an eastern perspective on America and realize how selfish our culture is. While we talk a lot about individualism and making sure everyone is ‘accepted’ as different, we always seem to focus on the individual, not the collective. If we have our individual rights that don’t ‘hurt’ someone else, then we do not seem to care. However, in Japan, they care a lot more about the collective. For instance, in America we have a hard time being quiet in public, not disrupting class, not talking over each other, and waiting in line, and stealing bags, bikes, or even CHILDREN that are left unattended. These are common in most areas of the united states. I find this very discouraging. However, in Japan, specifically in Tokyo where I stayed, these issues are not really an issue. Why? Because everyone thinks about everyone else. You are not loud because you could be bothering someone else. You do not steal wallets, or purses, or bikes, or kidnap kids, because that is just not okay to upset someone else. You also stand in line patiently, get up on the train so elders can sit down, and be quiet in public places and on public transportation, because it is rude to your fellow citizens if you are not. These things show how much society cares about what other people think and feel in Tokyo.
Despite all these things, there is a down side to that exact mind set as well. Since the mind set is ‘you before me’ in Tokyo, often molestation cases go unreported. This is extremely the case in public transportation. I believe the statistic I got from a Japanese Professor of mine was that 1 in 5 women are molested on the train. Though that number is skewed because most do not report it because they do not want to take up someone else’s time during the day. Things like this would not be stood for in America. There is still yet a silver lining. Because women do not report these things, often a man will step in if he notices and ask the other guy to stop. This is not always the case, society has its flaws, but it does happen.
Beyond that. I have also realized how universal racism towards foreigners is. Japan hates foreigners even more than Americans do. We pretend to be okay with foreigners, we even have advocacy groups and active groups helping to incorporate foreigners in our country because, technically, most of us are at least partial foreigners when it comes to ancestry. However, in Japan, they want you to fit in, they want you to blend and do as the collective does, and most foreigners do not do that. Naturally these points I mention are extreme cases. But they are still cases. I was called on not just one occasion a ‘baka gaijin’ which literally translates to (rudely) “Idiot Foreigner” this is a derogatory term for anyone who is not Japanese and does not necessarily understand the culture. Does that mean I did something to piss these Japanese people off with my excessive loudness or rudeness? No. Not necessarily. I was called this name twice because I was wearing a rather gothic style shirt in a public area when out with friends both times. This earned me a very nasty look from two old men, separate occasions, who then proceeded to say I was an idiot foreigner. They of course probably did not account for the fact that one, I did hear them and two, I do understand a bit of Japanese, especially mean words. So yes, Racism is still a thing even in foreign countries, it also made me realize how silly ‘white washing’ in American films are because Asians do it too. Yes, they watch American films, but have you ever actually seen a movie, drama, or play from China Japan or Korean? The actors are… Japanese Chinese or Korean. They don’t really let in foreign influence. Yes, I did model in Japan, but I never became famous and was not even signed to an agency, I was just freelance and paid 10,000 yen each day I worked. That is roughly less than 100 dollars USA money. Which, for a model, is not that much. For anyone really since I was working eight hours a day. So Racism is pretty universal.
I feel like I have a better understanding of how Japan deals with such topics versus America. For instance, Japan has a lot of gang related issues. Despite this, they do not really talk about it. You do not even mention the Yakuza, and you sure as heck do not show off tattoos in Japan. Yet, world wide the sex trafficking and human trafficking is largely impacted by gangs in Japan. Japan does not talk about the bad points of the society though. They do not really talk about it at all. Americans are quick to point out the faults in our society, quick to judge and diminish our own worth, but Japanese people hide all the bad stuff. They only talk about the good things. This was something I found interesting. They promote their country in a way that sweeps all the negativity under the rug, so unless you are actively looking for it, or very aware of their culture, you do not actually see it. This conclusion led me to understand why human trafficking is so big in Japan; Its ignored.
I feel my experience in Japan did not fully help my leadership skills to be honest. I did do a lot of translating for some foreign exchange friends when talking to Japanese people, or even explaining cultures and cultural gaps, but I felt more behind then I ever have in my life. There was definitely a steep learning curve in Japan and that made me kind of have to take a back-seat approach and learn more than lead. I think the time I got to lead the most was in a culture class I took. We were discussing the idea of individualism, the American view, versus collectivism, the Japanese view. An American student did not understand how one could ignore their own needs and really think about others before them. He was a classic example of a bad tourist, even if he was a nice guy by American standards. Japanese people that I talked to did not like him because he was loud, obnoxious and self-centered. When I talked to Japanese people, they said that he was what they imagined Americans to be like. That hurt. During the culture class where we were discussing these differences I was given the chance to talk to him and express why the views were different. He finally understood how the Japanese people could put others before themselves, but I don’t think he ever actually embraced it as he was still just as loud and obnoxious as before. Yet, still, I feel a few other foreign exchange students from other countries were also very avid to hear what I had to say because after class I got more questions about the different views and ideals. This was really my only chance to play ‘leader’ as I kind of ‘led’ a cultural knowledge moment.
The questions I have now are more based on how I can more aptly get people to understand Japanese culture, so that when they go over to Japan they better represent a positive American vs. the stereo type of loud and obnoxious. However, also the idea of how one could better traffic knowledge about sex and human trafficking to japan without it being totally rejected.
Over all though I must say my experience in Japan was extremely Positive. I had a lot of fun, made some good friends from around the globe, and gathered some knowledge from all kinds of countries about different issues and why they are an issue in those specific countries. This increased my cultural knowledge for not only America and Japan but other places as well like Sweden, Norway, Germany, Ireland, South Korea, and the UK. My room mate was also from the States, so I even got a state to state different view point. That was also a lot of fun. We did a few different things and honestly most of my adventures were outlined on a blog, but I will add a few photos with captions here just to keep things interesting.