Just five months after moving to the Japanese countryside, I’ve already fulfilled my secret biggest wish – to be interviewed by a local newspaper.
Sure, they got my name wrong and called me ‘Eric’. And sure, I haven’t actually done anything to warrant appearing in a newspaper besides being a foreigner who moved to a small town in the Japanese countryside. But I am a foreigner, and I did move to a small town in the Japanese countryside, and surely that’s achievement enough for one lifetime.
Why Am I In The Paper, Then?
No, I wasn’t joking – I’m literally in the local paper because I’m a foreigner who moved to Nagiso. That’s the entire reason.
Which I find kind of hilarious – “Foreigner Moves To Place”. But I suppose it is newsworthy in a way. I’m currently the only non-Japanese person living in Nagiso, as far as I’m aware. And while big cities here have their fair share of non-Japanese residents, the countryside is still very unused to the presence of foreigners, with our strange looks and unpalatable cuisine.
What Did They Write About Me?
My wife and I recently got a call from a local journalist, who said he wanted to interview us about our reasons for moving to Nagiso, and about how we found life here. We agreed, and a few days later he visited our house for an interview.
It’s a very short piece, and I won’t bore you by translating it all. It’s mostly about how we both started to really like Nagiso after coming here a few times on hiking trips (which is true), and then eventually decided to move here (which is also true).
In the interview I also made an impassioned speech to the journalist about how I used to teach English, but that my current job is translating/interpreting, and that I’m interested in working in non-English related fields, learning about organic farming, and exploring how I could contribute to building an eco-friendly, sustainable community in Nagiso in these uncertain times of global pandemic, economic crashes, and encroaching climate change – this was edited down to “he wants to find work teaching English and translating”.
I know, right? While most Japanese people I encounter don’t just think ‘foreigner = English teacher’ (and while I’ll be the first to admit that the tiny article about a nice foreign man and his Big City Japanese wife moving to a small town probably didn’t have space for an impromptu eco-socialist monologue), I have sometimes struggled with the feeling of not being listened to, or not being taken entirely seriously, due to being a foreigner.
(we’re getting into slightly self-pitying introspection territory now, so consider this your off-ramp)
Japan is still a very homogenous country, with many Japanese people basically never interacting with foreigners. And like I said, most who do just treat us as normal people. But I have also endured more “Why did you come to Japan? Can you use chopsticks? Do you like sushi? When will you go home?” rapid-fire interrogations than I can count over the years. And sometimes people just…don’t really listen to you if what you’re saying clashes with one of the many preconceptions they have about foreigners.
(I’m not the only person I know who has an experience of asking for directions (in japanese), only to be told “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English” (also in Japanese))
All of this is just here to say: I can be a bit sensitive when people here treat me differently. Obviously I am different, in a way, as I come from a completely different culture to 99%+ of people here. But it can get tiring when people assume things about me, or say things like “I thought western people liked…” as if all westerners are part of some dairy-enjoying, wearing-shoes-indoors hivemind. Or when people listen to me say “I want to look for new jobs unrelated to English, and find ways to contribute to the local community”, pause for a moment, and write down “this man just cannot stop teaching English”.
But Things Are Looking Up
I am optimistic, though. I mean, not in terms of the current global pandemic, or the future economic situation, or our chances as a species of averting a climate apocalypse. Obviously I’m not optimistic about any of that. I mean I’m optimistic about me – the centre of this universe of ours.
Over the last couple of years my Japanese has gotten good enough to make friends, work, volunteer, and so on, entirely in Japanese – which means that I’m no longer stuck only being able to find work teaching English. I’ve taught English for many years, and still quite like it, but don’t see as the thing I want to do for the rest of my life. I also like translating/interpreting, but I also want to explore new things. And now I can.
I’m also settling into a community that has been extremely kind and welcoming, and that by and large doesn’t just treat me as the nice foreigner in town. And once human beings are able to go outside and do things again ten years from now, I’m going to throw myself into looking for clubs and events and volunteering activities to get involved in.
So yeah – I’m looking forward to finding out where this whole “Foreigner Moves To Place” thing goes. Why not stick around, and find out with me?