I'd never settle for less

The next fews days are destined to be rather significant.  Tonight I get my first well-needed interactive glimpse in a one-on-one English session with my first Japanese "student."  For the month that I have been here, I have felt occasional instances of alienation.  Even being around a few English speaking people, it sometimes isn't a supple replacement for the usual every day cheerfulness you may be used to passing along to your fellow patrons at the supermarket, or on a run through the park.  The lack of cheerfulness here can be a little unsettling.  No one looks each other in the face when passing.  No one smiles to each other, or genuinely says "good morning," or "how are you?"  People here are bound to their small groups and personal bonds and/or obligations to their very specific segregations.

I acknowledge that my feelings, in many instances, are almost entirely centered around the noticeable fact that I am a different race.  I live in Japan, and I am not Japanese; therefore, I will never be treated as if I am Japanese.  The country is very traditional and nationalistic.  I'd never really expect to be treated any other way on a more consistent basis.  But in Japan's defense, they don't really acknowledge each other either.  Customer and service relationships are traditionally bound through overzealous obligation, and in these regards, it doesn't really matter what race you are.  Service is an efficiently mechanical mechanism that gets you in the door, product in hand, money in tray, and out the door in a record amount of time.

Aside from the obligatory customer/service relationship, I have been cautiously interested in the differences among "white people," while here in Japan.  I used to think that being in a foreign place held a sense of egotism, but it just can't entirely be the case, even though some stipulations beg to differ.  It is strange how being a minority in a foreign country seems to encourage your sense of curiosity among the few people like you.  I have ran into white foreigners countless times, and each scenario is almost always identical: don't look them in the face, don't acknowledge you saw them, try to avoid being seen in the international supermarket, and definitely don't become their friends.  More and more you realize that attractions to be friends with a foreigner, and the expectations that some Japanese people have for you to automatically do so, are competitively something that you must try and avoid at all costs.  My only inclination why, is that everyone is trying much harder to emerge with the culture, and succeed in being just a little bit more Japanese than the next white guy.  It's a bizarrely back-assed way of becoming everything you really don't want to be nor will ever be, quicker than the other guy.  It's all rather sad really.

On a separate note of further race dissection here in Japan, "white" does not necessarily mean "American," and there are many other Western cultures here than I had ever really imagined.  I'd always been aware that there were other foreigners here--Australians, Irish, other Europeans--but this time around there are noticeably more "white people" than before.  I can remember being back here in December and occasionally seeing only a few "white people," and never once thinking that they were anything other than American.  Of course, "white people" stereotypes are just as prominent among the Japanese as they are among the Chinese and the Koreans.  Americans, though the nicest of the bunch, are still loud and obnoxious, and their women are always easy.  The Irish and Australians tend to be rowdy and like to drink a LOT, while the Europeans are generally snooty and ungrateful occupants of their country.  My only thoughts are that I really should start eating more apples when I move through pubic spaces in spite of my advantage.  (An American intern here told me that a Japanese man told her she was "not cute" for eating an apple, while walking at the same time.  It's been dully noted.)



My other bit of significant news is that for the past 3 months I have been training for a half marathon. Three months is far too long to train for such a race, but with my move here to Japan everything has shifted a bit informally.  For the better.  And as long as I have been running, it is hard to believe that our half-marathon is already here, October 19, 2008.

I started running a few years ago when things had seemed to go a little astray in my life, and I felt that I not only needed to get back in shape, but maintain some kind of consistent control in my life.  Since then I have been compulsively running non-stop.  Last August I couldn't even run a mile.  This Sunday I am destined to run 13.  I am anxious.  I am proud.  This was a goal I set out to accomplish before I said goodbye to my life back in the States.  This was the one last thing I wanted to prove to myself before I changed my whole life around and ran away to Costa Rica to forget everything that has happened to me this year.  And somehow, someone heard everything I had been screaming for, and as much as I have been complaining about this race on Sunday, I am so honored to be running this race in Japan, with someone that I have been running for, for over a year now.  I was always running this for you.  And as quickly as I realized that my running, and my running away from trouble are metaphors of each other, I have realized that I don't need to run anymore.  "I thought I'd never stop running" is a phrase that has been spinning through my head as of late.  And I wasn't saying it because I had lost the will to run.  I was saying it because I am no longer anxious to run away.

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