Travel, Teach, Live in Japan

Tomodachi: Making Friends with Japanese
By:Kevin Burns

From Japan Living: Learn about living and working in Japan from those that do!
Japan Living:

Making good friends in Japan is difficult unless you work for a big Japanese company. Large companies here often have parties for their employees, they have baseball tournaments, take company trips together, and have teams that employees can join. If you are outside of that, for example if you are an English teacher here, or have your own business, it can be difficult to make good friends.

As well, Japanese are extremely busy. In my mind, they are the hardest working people I have ever seen. There is even a word in Japanese, karooshi, which means death from overwork. We don`t have a word like that in English, and I have never learned of a word like that in French. Is this unique to Japan? I don`t know, but there is definitely a reason for having that word. Japanese work so hard.

English teachers here, tend to become friends with their students. They are the people they see most of the time, they get to know them in their classes, and if their interests mesh, they spend time together after class. I frankly don`t understand the English schools that won`t allow their teachers to become friends with their students. It seems to be a natural part of studying English here.

Tadahiko has been my student off and on for many years now. Sometimes I think some higher power or God, has decided that he and I should be together. Whenever I have extra tickets to a baseball game, Tadahiko shows up and I ask him to go. He always seems to be there at the right time. He is a nice complement to me. I tend to be high strung and nervous and he is calm and quiet. Together we are both better people. I think we learn from each other. He is very serious. I am very humorous, yet he is funny in his own way too, and likes to laugh. Water puts out fire. Fire challenges water.

When we had our first baby, Tadahiko and Kazuyo did too. We both had boys. They played and cried together. We had baby parties and took pictures of them together on the sofa, both could not yet move very well. Now the two of them are on the same soccer team and we play street hockey together too. I am lucky to have Tadahiko as my friend. I think he feels the same way.

The style of friendship in Japan is different than in North America. One study found that an American man will reveal 80% of himself to a good friend, whereas a Japanese will reveal only 60%. If the American pushes for an American style friendship the Japanese man will feel uncomfortable. He feels like he is being pushed too much to reveal too much about himself. He doesn`t want to tell so many secrets or talk about certain things in so much detail. Yet if the friendship remains a Japanese style one, the American feels it is shallow. He wants to share and learn more from his friend. However the Japanese man is happy to have this Japanese style friendship with his American friend. Tadahiko and I have a Japanese style friendship. I don`t know how he feels about me because he doesn`t say. But he likes me and I like him. I would always welcome a North American style friendship, but I can accept a Japanese style one.

I think many Western men and Japanese women end up getting married because a man can have a Western style friendship with his Japanese girlfriend. Japanese women who can speak English, tend to be very open with their feelings, and open minded in general. By studying English, they have changed. They have become more international. Yet there are relatively few marriages between Western women and Japanese men. The numbers are climbing year by year I think, yet they remain lower compared to Western male and Japanese female couples. Perhaps this is due to what I alluded to before--that Japanese men will only reveal 60% of themselves. Western women are used to more, so they tend to marry the more Westernized of the Japanese men--the men who have lived abroad or spent a great deal of time studying English; and this is true of Western men marrying Japanese women too.

I do have one Western style relationship with a Japanese, and that is with my wife. She is great and like a Canadian has an opinion on everything. She isn`t afraid to express it either. She studied English very hard for many years before we met. She listened to and sang songs by the Bay City Rollers, but I forgave her for that! We share a lot. We laugh, and we cry sometimes too. But we love each other a lot. I am really lucky to have her too! She is very funny and fun to be around. Indeed, our stereotype of the shy, polite Japanese is just wrong. Japanese like Westerners are individuals and everyone is different. They are some of the nicest, kindest people you will every meet.


Copyright @ Kevin Burns. All rights reserved.


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