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Oh, how naive I was during my first few days in Japan. On my last day, one of my coworkers told us that someone had jumped in front of his friends’ train that morning. Smooshed. His friend was unhappy because his train was stopped, and he was unable to get home because of it. All I could think, though, was how sad that was. The poor guy.
I sort of understood it. Japan was (and is) a very conformist society. Sure, we hear about “crazy Japan” from the outside, and if you hang around with the anime/otaku crowd like I do, you get to see more of the creative side of Japan. But it’s the everyday life of the everyday people where the conformity really starts to show. Every morning, the trains and train stations were a sea of men with black (or gray) hair, in black suits and black shoes. Men who wear suits and work M-F are called Salarimen.
It might seem good to be able to go to work, look snazzy in a suit (and maybe tie), and have a steady job. Sure. But Japanese society forces you into these roles. The men are the breadwinners, the women stay home and take care of the children. It’s socially acceptable to wear pink, and tight jeans on your days off, and have a Hello Kitty phone strap as a man, but when you’re at work, you have to look the same as everyone else. You have to do your job, and go out drinking with the coworkers after, neglecting your wife and kids.
I’m generalizing, yes. But it’s also very true. If you want to stand out, or go another way from the norm, it’s going to be hard in Japan. People will pressure you not to. And you won’t be allowed to go to a psychiatrist or talk out your feelings. When you don’t make enough money, your wife starts to hate you, and you are pressured by society to either fake it, or find another way. You get into debt, and you suddenly realize that your life is devoid of passion of any kind. No passion for the work that you do. No passion for your family, or your life. From grade school, where you were taught to be the same as everyone else, to middle and high school, where you had to wear a uniform and the focus was on how well you did on placement exams and how good your test scores were. You’re not encouraged to be you, or pursue your dreams.
Maybe that’s why pursuing your dreams and being unique is such a big theme in Japanese manga. I certainly think that that’s why so many of the salarimen that I saw on the trains looked so lifeless. As if someone had come along with a hose and sucked the life right out of them.
One of the students in my class that night at training had told me how boring his job as a banker was. That, coupled with the suicide and the faces of the men that I saw around me on the train made me wonder. Years later, I still believe in the conclusion that I came to then; that the depression rate among adults in Japan must be really high. I’ve since experienced many trains delayed by a suicidal jumper. Once, I was on a packed, humid, excruciatingly hot train coming home from Sensei’s studio, and a few stations before mine, it stopped. We were stopped, just right in the middle of the tracks between stations, for 2 1/2 hours, while workers cleaned up from what the speakers announced as a “human accident.” They weren’t fooling anyone, though. I knew what it was. We all did.
Perhaps the scariest thing, though, was that after years of enduring that, too, I stopped thinking about the jumpers and what had been so awful about their life that they’d chosen to jump in front of a moving train to end it. I was just annoyed at being stuck on a train for a few hours, my time being wasted.
Pretty sad, huh? I am glad that back in the beginning, in my first few days in Japan, I was still innocent enough to worry about what had bothered someone so much that they’d committed suicide. I hope that I can keep that feeling, and no longer be so jaded.
As for work, it flowed smoothly that last day, and I was sad to have to leave the building that was already becoming familiar. My permanent school was much closer to home, though. Just a quick jaunt on the Nanbu line and one express stop over on the Odakyuu line, about 45 minutes door-to-door (the commute to Shibuya was twice as long), and I’d be at my new school, Seijogakuenmae.
I went home that day, with dinner plans with the girl that I’d met on the train on the way from the airport, Nicole, but plans fell through because she didn’t yet have her cell phone. So, I ended up going with my other roommate Ang, to the Post Office. It was daunting, but I had a lot of packages to send out to friends from my excursions to the anime shop a few days before, so it was a necessary evil!
I went to bed that night with a bit of trepidation for my first day of real work, but it was just one day to get through before the weekend.. before I met one of the best friends that I’ll ever have. I could do this.. right?
See you tomorrow!!! I exist on your comments, so keep them coming.. please? 🙂 I need them as encouragement while I edit my book because, oh man… editing is a lot more time-consuming than I had thought!
I’m not giving up, though! Nope! My dreams of publishing a book, and then a manga, and moving to Hawaii are definitely, definitely coming true!!