Sunday, 30 July 2017

Random Ramblings on Stereotypes & Making Friends

(This post probably does not have a point)

So a while back, I did an AMA on living in Japan on my Dayre. This was one of the questions:
Have you been able to make good friends with Japanese? I've heard they are notoriously difficult to befriend and can be very fake and insincere.
And my answer:

Funnily enough, my closest friends in Kyudai were Japanese people. I think that there definitely is a culture gap but the Japanese people are as fake and insincere as Singaporeans, Americans, Malaysians, Chinese nationals and pretty much any nationality. 
There are unpleasant people but I don't really think it's a culture thing?
That said, I do know a lot of people who have struggled with making friends in Japan and I think (like totally personal theory because I'm not them) it's due to:
1. Not seeing the Japanese as people/human but bringing your own set of expectations. This is especially so if you (general you) form stereotypes from anime or jdramas which aren't really that close to reality. 
2. Expecting others to adapt to (and understand) you and your culture. While I do believe that cultural differences make it slightly difficult to make friends with Japanese people, I don't think it's significantly harder than say, making friends with British people or Hong Kongers or South Africans. You are basically trying to be friends with someone else from a different culture and who operates with a history and a set of assumptions different from you. 
So for me, I find that as long as I just think of the people around me as people and not some strange and foreign race, then the cultural challenges are surmountable. Most Japanese people that I've met are happy to explain stuff that I'm not used to and are very forgiving of my social gaffes. 
(For some reason it seems like people tend to view Japanese people differently from foreigners from other countries, like it's a magical anime-like place which I guess gives it a reputation of being hard to fit in and stuff when people realise that things are not what they expect?)
For some reason, this question stuck in my head. It's been something that comes up every now and then (I have blogged about making friends in Japan before), and well, I don't know why or how some of these stereotypes even come about.

Anyway, I met up with a couple of friends (guess I should clarify, they're Japanese) a few days later and when I was telling them about this question and answer, their reply was basically:

"I think it's less of a stereotype issue than a language issue."

So from their point of view, it's less of a cultural barrier than a language barrier. Which might be true for a lot of cases, because Japanese is not an easy language to learn (well, a foreign language tends to be difficult in almost any case. At least for me).

But despite their answer, I kept thinking: what about the stereotypes?

And then I was reminded of something that happened last December. I'm not sure if I mentioned it here, but an acquaintance on Facebook was ranting about the Japanese and as far as my friends and I could tell (his English wasn't that good and it was even more rambly than this one), he was upset that no Japanese students were interested in some event he was involved in and that he felt like the Japanese weren't interested in being friends with foreigners (so I'm guessing the "standoffish and hard to make friends stereotype, even though the exact words weren't used).

In that particular case, I actually had an in-depth conversation with some of my zemi friends (you know how it is, you spend a lot of time together on a project and eventually you all have to take a break and talk about something else because any more and the reputation of being "that weird group that debates about Pokemon GO very loudly in the library" will become permanent) and they had a slightly different take. My position back then, as it is now, is that people are people.

My friends focused more on the specific incident, but they also pointed out that while Japanese people may not be particularly eager to go for events for the sole purpose of making friends with foreigners, most of them aren't opposed to making friends with one either. It's like how in Singapore, I didn't go out of the way to find events where foreign students would be in attendance and go there to make friends, but instead just made friend with the people around me, which ended up including a sizeable number of non-Singaporeans.

So yeah, I guess after all this rambling, I wouldn't really change the answer I gave. I'd probably add in something about needing to be able to speak Japanese if you want to make as many friends as possible, but at the core of it, people are people. If all you see are stereotypes, then it's not really surprising if you don't ended up making many friends.

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