I went to Osaka today to meet a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while. He’s also Austrian and has been in Japan for 5 years now. It was very interesting to see him again, I remembered him as a lighthearted and fun person, and while he is still outgoing and philosophical in all the wrong places, he has changed quite a bit.
He seemed very tired and exhausted; the last time I met him he was working for a brand new little Japanese start-up, but because there were discrepancies in their views on how to conduct work (something much more grave than simply working hours), he quit. Since then he has opened up his own company with quite a lofty idea behind it, but because this is not a product that can be sold, but is more a way to build a community, he has troubles getting people interested.
All these experiences have made him quite cynical, and he even admits that. He told me a few stories, and a large complaint of his is that the Japanese are not friendly at all. Apparently, in a business setting, they expect you to fit in perfectly, without making any mistakes. This is of course impossible, and the fact that nobody tells you that you have just overstepped a line is not conducive to learning how to do it better the next time.
As to my objection that as an obvious – meaning: non-Asian – foreigner, there is always a certain bonus you have and people must realise that you cannot understand every single nuance, he said that was not true. The Japanese accept a number of mistakes, but if you have made one too many, they simply cut you off without further explanation or apology. Yes, even if that means they are losing business.
He is right, I have seen that with the very first real estate agent I went to this year when I looked for a new apartment. I am not aware of a mistake on my side (other than refusing to get a mobile phone), but at some point he apparently thought I was more trouble than I was worth and he stopped responding to my inquiries altogether.
I am very sad that my friend has become so cynical and negative, and I hope that’s just a phase and that it will be better once he finds acceptance with his new line of work. But as there is another friend of mine who has had similar experiences as a foreigner in Japan, I wonder what I will have to say once I have been here as long as they have. I have been a cynical asshole for long enough, I would really not like having to go back to that stage of my life…