Google+ Sandra's Stories: Rule breaking deviants

Monday, 4 February 2013

Rule breaking deviants

Living in Japan has been an incredible experience. Every day is an exciting adventure and I’m constantly being challenged to discover new things. However Japan wasn't the easiest place to get used to. The language barrier is difficult, of course. But it was actually the small, unimportant things that were the hardest… like the fact that I can’t eat at my desk at work. Or on the streets, on trains, or in department store food courts.

At first I really wanted to fit in so I tried my best to follow all the subtle social rules. I didn’t jay walk; I avoided speaking loudly; I always apologized to others when I entered a lift; I thanked people numerous times after they did something nice for me; I gave up blowing my nose in favour of sniffing; and most difficult of all, I began eating only at approved venues and times.

A hot food stand at Ebisu station...  But you're not supposed to eat at the station?

It seemed like there were rules for every moment and every situation. Trying to follow all of them, I started feeling really repressed. Holding back all my natural instincts stressed me out and I felt like a lifeless robot. I could feel my hair turning grey with all the self-restraint.

Finally after a visit from my sister and a few well placed “you’re turning into a weirdo” comments, I realised that I was losing my mind and that I couldn’t do everything right all the time. Other foreigners told me that I needed to loosen up and that I shouldn’t try to be perfect. My Japanese friends agreed. They told me to stop worrying because no one expects me to act like I’m Japanese anyway.

So I gave myself a break about following the rules. I decided that I would continue trying to follow them, but not to the point where I felt like I was losing a piece of myself. Giving up was a great decision. It has made a big difference to how comfortable I feel in Japan.

Now after almost two years in Japan, I find the rules humorous, instead of feeling crushed by them. When I’m out and about, I enjoy spotting other deviants. It’s a rare occurrence, but if I keep my eyes peeled it’s possible to catch locals breaking the rules. It gives me a thrill when I see a local doing something which is completely normal overseas but considered to be bad manners in Japan. The other day I saw a lady on the train sneakily eating bread out of her handbag. When she realised that I’d spotted her eating in public she looked guilty and embarrassed. We both knew that I’d identified her for what she was: a deviant.

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