Japan – A lonely country

When I left Japan in 2008 I kept saying I would come back, do it all again, I wanted to come back by myself and find my place in the big city of Tokyo but I just couldn’t see it: living as a single women in Japan is a challenge, a nightmare.

Would I go back there now and settle? Probably. It’s different now, I have Robb and he gave me more confidence and showed me that I didn’t need as much as I thought to be happy. So I would go back but I wouldn’t live in such a big city, not like Tokyo where you loose track of time, of yourself.

Now a bit of background for those of you who might not know me: in 2008 I was studying International Business in France and 282_17871386169_8535_nwas required to do a 3 month internship in a foreign country. Where most of my class chose European countries, I was one of the few who decided to go far, to set myself a challenge. So I looked far, got offered an internship for an architect in New-York that seemed alright but I’ve never been a big fan of the US. Then came the offer from a firm in Japan, Tokyo, named Value Miners. It was about banks, softwares, etc… but really all I thought was: “Japan… That sounds challenging! Hell yes!
At that time all I knew about Japan was that they were hard working, that it would look good on my resumé and some stuff about animes like Evangelion. So when I took my flight there in May, even after reading many books about this country, I wasn’t ready for what was waiting for me at the airport.


It was another world, it was just so hard to explain. It started well, I got an appartment near the company, something simple, I had 282_17702191169_9351_na Chinese colleague which made me feel like I had some kind of an ally, another foreigner in the company. I started to make friends, meet some expats, meet an amazing Japanese woman who would speak French perfectly and then time kept going and it all went wrong.

I offended more people than I thought I would by not doing what they expected, offended many men by not acting like I should have according to them. The night of my birthday I offended my Mexican host by hugging goodbye a Japanese friend and received a text telling me he didn’t want to hear about me again, bam, 5 friends down. Offended my direct superior somehow and had to find an appartment by myself, without being paid, in the space of a week-end, all that still for my birthday. It all went 282_17871326169_5146_ndown a terrible path. And somehow I wasn’t so depressed about it. Was it because my family was supporting me? Was it maybe because I just didn’t get it and it all seemed so surreal? I just moved on, kept going. I kept my 2 friends nearby and kept living the fast life in Tokyo with 2 women that were probably as lonely as I was.

320_22333716169_6978_nOne day we went for a night out with a couple of French guys and that’s probably when I actually understood what the life of a single western woman in Japan looked like. Those guys used a strong French accent and that was it, they could easily go home with a beautiful young Japanese lady. But when it came to a Western woman, the attention wasn’t the same. The stare, the look, the smiles, they were all there, but that invisible barrier between us & those men was strong.

What was it that was stopping those guys to come and talk to my beautiful friend, her & her gorgeous figure, those amazing blue eyes? Fear.

No I am not joking. I have asked many times and never expected an honest answer until one day in a bar. That barman told me clearly: you, Western woman, you are scary. You have a temper, you live under different rules, it’s just too much. Of course… Japan!

320_22333691169_5072_nJapan, a country with so many rules, why would love be different? Why wouldn’t it be ruled by obligations like the rest?
I am not saying that you, ladies, won’t meet your beautiful Japanese man like in your favourite drama, I am only saying that this man will probably be a bit different from the norm, won’t be your average Japanese guy, because this Mister Average will probably look at you and think “Introducing her to my parents… Living with her temper… Teaching her my language… And how will I live with the shame?”

Okay… I’m overdoing it but you get the point. So that was it, my life was about meeting Japanese guys that would not dare to ask me out, having a drinks with foreigners that will look at the beautiful Japanese girl passing by and jump on the occasion to ask her out and 50 year old men that would offer me to get married so I could get a visa, my option weren’t looking good!

But then, again, I was only there for a couple of months and it 282_17871401169_9150_ndidn’t matter so much then. All I like to remember about Japan is the kindness of the locals, the beauty of the country and the amazing culture. I will remember the old man that tried to teach me a bit of Japanese every time I came back from work. I won’t forget the people that were trying to get a glimpse of me passing by every morning. I will definitively not forget the camera crew that tried to film me because I was a gaijing and that I had to avoid in the little street of Tsukishima. I keep a happy memory of Tokyo and Japan, of the cultural choc, the amazing food, the traditions.

But Japan is a lonely country.


8 responses to “Japan – A lonely country

  1. I get what you mean about offending people while working in other countries. In my experience you can win these people back, but it definitely takes time and patience. it took me almost 5 months to convince my coworker not to hate me, and now we get along really well!

      • I don’t really know why she had it in for me, but she had decided that I wasn’t doing my job well enough. On the other hand she had no qualms with my boyfriend (we taught at the same school). It took about 5 months for me to convince her that I cared about the job and that I really wanted to have a good working relationship with her. Then after that it was peaches!

      • Well done to you! It’s good that you changed her mind. When you are a stranger to their new world people tend to stick some cliché to you very quickly, different region, different country, doesn’t matter… So I guess it’s about getting them to know you enough to forget aboutit!

  2. Good post. Found it very interesting. Never worked in Japan, but I spend some time in Africa. You are bound to make cultural mistakes as an expat, it seems that in Japan those rules could be stricter. Most of Africa is very laid back on those things.

    • Thanks Luke!
      I think in Japan they grew up with so many rules it makes it very complicated to them to understand why we don’t know them.

      In a work environnement they are more forgiving, in a personnal one not so much.

      I heard the same about Africa, more laid back, where did you experience this, is it similar in the all continent?

  3. I’ve just had similar experiences in Myanmar. Here if someone is older than you they are never wrong and you must do add they say even if it ruins your plans, puts you in danger or costs you money. Any display of emotion is unseemly and turning down food is offensive – even if that food is boiled chicken feet at 7am.

    I also felt that while I offended many, the same behaviours from my husband were completely acceptable.

    It was tough, but living within the community have us access to the culture that being a tourist would not, so no regrets.

    • Thank you for your experience Laura!
      Myanmar must be such an interesting country to live in! I’ve considered it for a while but finding a job didn’t seem easy.

      As you said: living somewhere else is tough but you access so much this way!

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