by Joseph Precker
A reader writes: “I’m tired of hearing about the ‘problems’ of the corporate executive, or the ambassadors or the yuppie career women and the wives who go from the American Club to bridge to ikebana to parties where they’re photographed by Bill Hersey (who’ll sell copies to send home to their posh suburb newspaper). What about those of us who are serious about learning Japanese, about Japan, about the way real hard-working people live and struggle? ‘English teachers’ are often dismissed or looked upon with contempt by those who are ‘in.’
“Even some of the ‘helping people’ (who should know better) look upon those of us who are young, poor, worried about paying the high rents and getting a working visa—or even a continuation of our student visa—and trying to arrange a future that will allow us to stay in Japan, learn more, work more and maybe, sometime in the future, use our knowledge of Japanese and Japan back in our home country—well, we’re often looked upon and treated as if we were flotsam and jetsam, part of the ‘Roppongi scene’ . . . we have many difficulties here—schools, jobs, friendship, love, marriage, children … but most of all, MONEY!
“There are a few do-gooder organizations that give out scholarship money each year (usually only to women!), but too little, too late, to too few—and as part of the social/society scene. Have they ever helped many of us to get Mombusho scholarships or Japan Foundation grants or help to explain the complex (devious?) ways of making it all happen in this unusual place? Those of us who know Japanese well can usually manage (although opportunities and deadlines are hard to find out about even then). But lots of my friends haven’t mastered ‘bureaucratese’ as yet. . .
“I don’t have one question, but many. I guess what I’m saying is, why don’t you, the Weekender and the ‘international community’ as a whole focus more on us, ‘the next generation’?”
Well said! I’m all with you. The times are changing, the scene is changing. When I first appeared on the Tokyo scene, almost 25 years ago, the foreign community consisted primarily of businessmen, some with families; “carpet baggers” who were trying to make a quick killing (some of them ex-military men who had decided to stay on for one reason or another); a relative few scholars, serious about Japan and the Japanese; and very few “young people” from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, the USA. Among the “young people” there were few who were serious about learning Japanese or about Japan. They were often trekking to Nepal or on the way to some guru in India or running away from home and college and responsibility or believing that Zen or aikido or tai-chi or judo opened the path to Heaven.
The situation has changed dramatically. Now, many young people arrive in Japan already knowing how to read, write, speak Japanese—or else with sincere interest in learning quickly and well—plus great interest in Japan, Japanese business, Japanese scholarships, Japanese science and Japanese creativity. Yes, there are still some seeking God—or gods— or “peace of mind” or Zen or retreat, but somewhat more seriously . . . Generally speaking the young people coming now—and often staying—are worthy additions to both the foreign community and to Japan, since many of them will serve as effective bridges between Japan and their home countries in the future.
If Japan is serious about “globalization” and about the values of diversity and creativity, then these young people will be making important and valuable contributions to Japan, to their home country and to the world at large. Welcome!
Why are the problems—the very real problems of these young people—not too frequently aired in public places? For one thing, these people have less access to the media than “establishment” people— except for letters to editors with all the attendant problems. Next, these young people are often amazingly resourceful; can make “chance acquaintances” into friends more quickly; understand “networking” without even knowing or using the fancy yuppieish word (without having been told “how to do it” at some of the posher meetings); tend to be less competitive and more helpful to their peers than some of the “in people”; and are frequently more flexible (although youthful rigidity can be harder to break down than the later versions).
Dear Writer: you are right! These people deserve more of our assistance and attention!