5 Steps to Heal Frustrated Foreigners in Japan

Alienation. Isolation. Language and cultural barriers. Do you find these terms to be relevant to your personal self? Do you believe you suffer from perpetual gaijin disorder? Have you known yourself to frequent the phrase gaijin smash? If so, to get to the root of the problem, you may need to take a long hard look in the mirror. You don’t need to be another one of those frustrated foreigners in Japan. It only takes a few moments to reflect and put together a plan to pull yourself out of that slump.

Does this feel familiar? It’s 4:00 a.m. and you’re wide awake staring at your ceiling. You hear a bottle shatter off the wall outside your apartment complex. Laughter follows, accompanied by words you cannot quite make out. As you sit up from your futon, a jolt of pain zaps your lower back. You reach over for your phone and look for a reply to the last text you sent. The lump in your throat reemerges and you feel your heart begin to sink into the pit of your stomach again. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back.

Step 1) Identify: The Problem is You

Did you view the clip above? Because truer words have never been spoken. Take a look at that phrase:

No matter where you go, there you are.

-Buckaroo Banzai

Have you heard those words before? Well, I certainly hope so. They’re from none other than the courageous musically talented test pilot neurosurgeon nuclear physicist himself, Buckaroo Banzai. Now let’s take a moment to think that over. No matter where you go, there you are. At first glance, it might be easy to dismiss this as some Yogi Berra double talk, but if you look past that, I believe you’ll find something much more deep.

No matter where you go, no matter what you do, there you are. You. You’re always right there with yourself. There’s no escaping it. There’s no outrunning your problems, because where ever you go, you bring your problems with you. And over time, your problems will begin to magnify other undesirable aspects of your life, until you begin to loathe those things as well.

Life can be hard. We all struggle with our own inner turmoil at different stages in our lives. Sometimes we think we are making the best decision of our life, only to have it fall back on us, twice as hard. It happens. The first thing we can do is take a step back and evaluate just how we came to be here. Remember, most frustrated foreigners in Japan didn’t get that way overnight.

Step 2) Ask Yourself: Why Are You Unhappy?

If there’s something deep down that’s eating away at you, it’s your duty to yourself to question it. It’s not always so easy to pinpoint. There’s plenty of undesirable situations people deal with in life: disrespectful coworkers, lazy management, an apathetic partner. It’s important to be able to identify the root of our unhappiness. There’s always something more we can do to improve our lives. It’s just a matter of whether you actually are going to put in the effort to do something about it or not.

If you are working as an assistant English teacher, and your co-instructor glares at you and walks away when you present your lesson plan, do you think they really have it out for you, or perhaps they are just hesitant to trust you? A bad past experience or even a simple misunderstanding can bring people apart, so it’s your duty to build trust and nourish that relationship.

Do you often find yourself getting fed up with Japanese social norms and constantly gaijin smashing your way through life in Japan? If so, then perhaps Japan isn’t the right place for you. You made the decision to come here, so it’s your responsibility to behave like everyone else. If something as silly as social norms bothers you, then perhaps you need to dig deeper within yourself. See which part of your anxiety is spilling over into the other parts of your life and question it.

Step 3) Accept: We Have Limited Control in Life

It’s easy to let things get to you. As of writing this, COVID-19 is still very prominent, and life can already be hard enough sometimes. Understanding we don’t have control over certain aspects of our lives can help up maintain focus over what we do have control over. Nitpicking and complaining about every aspect of our lives will gain us nothing but additional stress and anxiety, and yet some people still do it anyway. A handful of frustrated foreigners in Japan even go as far as to complain about compliments they are sick of receiving. Perhaps you are familiar with the following:

You can use chopsticks?!

Sure, but most people can…

You can say Arigato?!

Well, I’ve lived here a few years…

Wow, you are so cool!!

No, I just have a big nose and a foreign face…

That kind of small talk can happen quite often, but instead of resenting it, just accept that people are trying to make an effort to get it know you. You can’t control how others will behave and perceive you, but you can control how you behave and how you are going to interact with them. Just like how you can’t control the assignments you are given at work, what you can do is take the initiative by accepting additional responsibilities to level up your career and put what you dislike behind you.

Step 4) Plan: Doing the Best with What You Have

Instead of getting wrapped up in your insecurities, try to focus on what you can do to improve your quality of life and upgrade your feeling of self-worth. Are there extra curricular activities you take part in? Just because you are in a foreign country doesn’t mean you can’t join in on events in your local community. You can always check with your local city hall for upcoming events. Many Japanese cities have their own public gymnasiums and pools. Many of these public facilities are free, or at least extremely affordable. It’s also quite easy to approach one of the local sports groups request to join. Volunteer work is another a self-fulfilling and rewarding option.

It only takes a little bit of effort each and every day to start piecing your plan for the future together. If you are one of those frustrated foreigners in Japan, who is sick of working as an English instructor, and yearns to one day work as Japanese translator, then you’ll need to start by studying each and every day. You may have studied prior to coming to Japan, and while we are all have varying degrees of ability, evaluating one’s self can be extremely difficult. To really follow through with what you want, start by making due with what you have.

For a potential translator without experience, you may need to scrape the bottom of the barrel for any freelance jobs you can get. If you still can’t get any, don’t fret. You can also offer free services. Anything you do will eventually become something to add to your resume or portfolio, and over time, you’ll start receiving bigger and better jobs. If you find yourself in this, or a similar position, then it’s time to put some energy into bringing those dreams into fruition.

Step 5) Evolve: Be the Person You Want to Be

Deep down, we all have an idea of who we want to be. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut some days, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know who you are. Focus on the person you want to be and take the appropriate steps now so that you’ll always be pushing yourself forward in the right direction. It’s a very empowering feeling to be doing the thing you’ve always dreamed of doing. Even if it’s not quite what you pictured, so long as you are on the path headed in that direction, you’ll feel energized and committed to your purpose.

Whether it is becoming more healthy with diet and exercise, learning a new language, leveling up in your career, putting together a business, or even just having a creative outlet, starting now and owning what you want is always the first step. The phrase fake it until you make it may come to mind, and impostor syndrome can feel very real, but so long as you keep at it, you’ll get there. If you truly feel like your desires forever out of reach, or just unrealistic to begin with, then perhaps take another step back to reevaluate. Consulate with your friends and family to get some input.

Remember, we are all exactly where we are in life right now because of the decisions we made. It’s important to own those decisions, accept we are responsible for our own happiness, and move forward to build a bigger brighter future for ourselves.

If you truly believe you in desperate need of some form of counseling, please click here to take a look at TELL’s website. TELL offers free anonymous and confidential professional counseling, psychological assessments, as well as offer community-wide programs to spread public awareness about mental health issues.