Stepping out of Your Comfort Zone
Living in Japan is hard. I know, i’ve experienced it myself. When I came to Japan for the first time, I fell in love with the country. But the wonder from that two-month love affair disappeared when I came back to Japan to study.
“Ever since I left Japan, I've wanted to come back, but why isn’t it all sunshine and roses?”
My homesickness gradually evolved into attigation towards anything and everything.
“I can’t find proper cheese anywhere,”
“Oh my god, rush hour on the train sucks,”
“You’re just being an jerk while smiling at me you choose one”
The complaints became an avalanche of thoughts which would play in my head over and over again. It’s not like all my thoughts were invalid, but eventually the negativity wore me down and I started to resent every moment I spent in Japan. In turn, I retreated into my own bubble.
You might have heard of the bubble before, also known as the foreigner bubble. It wasn't what you might typically label as the foreigner bubble since it just included myself; but it was very much a bubble and I (a foreigner) was very much stuck in it.
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What is the Foreigner Bubble?
The foreigner bubble or also referred to as the expat bubble is what many foreigners living in Japan find themselves in. Sometimes it’s by accident, and sometimes it with intention and some people will go to lengths to not ending up in this so called bubble.
The foreigner bubble doesn’t necessarily mean you only intermingle with other foreigners. It can also mean that you are having trouble adjusting to or understanding Japanese culture, daily living norms or connecting with Japanese people in general.
So, how do you go about escaping the foreigner bubble?
I’ve always thought of that question as being a bit too binary. You’re either in or you’re out - wait - then how can I even tell when I am out and what’s so good about being out of it anyways?
To solve this conundrum, I would like to redefine what it means to escape the foreigner bubble. Instead of in/out circumstance,
The foreigner bubble is typically created because of bad experiences and a general hesitation about melding into the culture. Instead of focusing on how to get out of the bubble, you should focus on interacting with the environment around you in a positive way. This will help you foster a healthy relationship with Japan.
Foreigners are often stubborn about their own values, or what they believe is right. Japanese people have their own values, and they will often clash with your individual truth. If you are dead set on your values as being the universal supreme truth you will never be able to understand the culture and see the color in areas that you see as black and white.
In addition, the foreigner bubble isn’t an exclusive phenomenon to foreigners living in Japan. It can happen to anyone living in an unfamiliar country. In a broader sense, it can happen even if you are living at home. If you don’t feel comfortable where you are, you tend to stick to yourself and in a way you create your own personal bubble.
The Language Barrier
Arguably, the biggest barrier between foreigners and Japanese people is the language, but I personally believe it is an overblown barrier. Making friends isn’t about speaking the same language, it’s about connecting with another human being which can be done with or without words. You can also check our Ultimate Guide to Making Japanese Friends.
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Tips on How to Escape the Bubble
There are a lot of nuances involved with making Japanese friends. We actually wrote a popular post about the topic here on BFF Tokyo. Small things such as cultural nuances are simple to miss. These cultural differences can cause frustration, and make someone take up a “them vs. us” mentality. This won’t help you make any friends and make you latch onto foreign allies
Even Japanese people have trouble making friends. Many keep friends from their childhood and don’t make new friends in their adulthood because it is more comfortable to keep those relationships rather than form new ones. We all know the work hours in Japan are crazy, thus resulting in a lack of free time, especially when it comes to our social lives. Therefore, it is hard to make new friends.
Inviting people to our houses to get to know someone is common in Western countries, but in Japan this custom is not practiced to the same degree as it is in the West. Hanging out with your friends usually means making plans to go out someplace. This problem seems to typically be associated with those who live in the Tokyo area, as I have heard from people who have lived in the Kansai area that they haven’t experienced this problem.
Then there is the concept of uchi-soto. Uchi-soto refers to the how Japanese people separate their relationships with people. Being polite with strangers, keeping opinions to yourself, mitigating problems: these are all “soto.” In Japanese, soto is actually the term for outside; and in this case, is how one acts when you are talking to people not within your “uchi” circle. Think of the uchi circle like your ring of friends and family, where you can put down your guard.
A Japanese person is more honest with their uchi circle, and usually speaks their mind unlike with people they consider being in their “soto” circle. This can cause some conflict with foreigners who typically don’t adhere to the uchi-soto mindset.
Being a foreigner doesn’t mean creating friendships with Japanese people is impossible, it just means that it will take some effort.
Events in Tokyo
There are many interesting events both foreign and Japanese happening in Tokyo every week that you do not know about. Come see what Tokyo has to offer on our article on events in Tokyo.
Volunteering not only leaves you feeling all nice and bubbly, your contribution to the community goes farther than you think it will.
Hands On Tokyo
Hands On Tokyo comes from personal recommendations; I’ve heard only good things about them. Hands On Tokyo organizes a variety of activities you can participate in, all you have to do is sign up on their website and pick something on a day that fits with your schedule. One of the frequent activity is to go to a nursing home and interact with the elderly patients. Other events include teaching English to disabled children. No experience required, all you need to do is show up with a smile and an eagerness to teach.
Tokyo Rivers Friends was founded with the goal to organize regular monthly clean ups of Tokyo area rivers. A barbecue or picnic will cap off the day of hard work. Check out the link for more information on how you can get involved.
Make Use of Your Language Skills
Your inability to speak Japanese could be what helps you make friends. There are always people looking for language partners, and there are a ton of sites online help you do so. Also, your local government might put up language exchanges in places such as community centres.
Online is the best place to start, I recommend you check out this language-partner finding sites for more details. You can check out our guide to learning Japanese and our list of online Japanese lessons.
Italki connects students and teachers from around the world, but you can also find a language partner on their message board. Just put in the language you want to learn, scribble out a quick post, and pretty soon you will be in contact with another like-minded individual.
Connect Through Hobbies
Hobbies are a great way to make friends. Why? Because it is simple to pass the small talk and dive right into your shared love of soccer, for example.
There is a diverse range of activities going on at Meetup.com. There are meetups available for non-Japanese speakers as well.
Here are a couple of ones which caught my eye:
A yoga group for yogis in Tokyo
Learn to improv!
Reframing the Bubble
I'm going to be honest, there were times when I wished I had never to Japan. Making an effort to reach out and interact with my community tremendously helped me get the most out of my stay. It’s nice to look back to a few months ago and be proud of the progress I have made. I hope the tips included in this article will help you escape your own bubble.
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