Expats in Japan

The people is what has made Japan a special place to me. I’m not talking about the polite and courteous way Japanese treat tourists although I love that about Japan. It’s about the people I’ve met: people like me who moved here in search of something else but also people who live here whose paths, luckily, have crossed mine.

There have been a great many and there have been many greats. But if I were to choose a few of the most interesting, it would be these five.

M is an Irish woman who moved to Japan at least 20 years ago to be an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). She eventually married a Japanese man and now has two children. She gets acquainted with or befriends the ALT in her children’s school by inviting them over at her house for tea or dinner.

I thought she’s just friendly and it’s something that many people do, but I just found out recently that it isn’t and the reason why she does it is because when she was a young ALT there was a woman who helped her a lot and now she’s doing the same thing. I think it’s wonderful and I hope I can do the same thing someday because she’s been such a great support and I would’ve gone crazy years ago if not for her company and advice.

T is a Polish man who I just met recently. Before he moved to Japan last year in September, it was his biggest dream to live here because he loves Japanese anime and manga. He had so many interesting stories to tell. One was about his grandfather who was exiled to Siberia twice. He also escaped twice. Both times he returned Poland from Siberia on foot. It was such an incredible story I still can’t believe it happened and how and why.

J and I go to the same church. He’s from Myanmar, which, when he left, was still under military rule. It was a scholarship that made it possible for him to come to Japan. Without it he could never have left, but even then it took months before he finally could. When he first came here he was so impressed by the cleanliness, the quiet, and the peace. I thought I had it bad in the Philippines. Goes to show how much more I need to learn about the world.

K also goes to the same church. He’s a Japanese and a persona non grata in some countries in Asia because of the things he had written when he was a journalist. I can’t remember all the details but he isn’t welcome in South Korea and Taiwan (and also maybe China), and he interviewed Imelda Marcos and even saw her famous shoe collection.

A is a Japanese university students who, two years ago when she was in high school, took English lessons from me. She’s different from most Japanese girls her age and she’s not afraid to show it, which is amazing and takes a lot of courage to do in a country where standing out is unacceptable and can lead to bullying and isolation.

Thankfully, she wasn’t and isn’t bullied but she doesn’t have friends at school. I don’t think she minds though, and I think she’s happy that she doesn’t meekly follow an unspoken rule that doesn’t make sense to her.

She’s admirable. In fact, a lot of people I’ve met are admirable. I’m so lucky I know them because every time I learn a little something about the world and its peoples through our interactions, conversations and even the silences in between.


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