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A Tale of Two-Faces

I struggle with anxiety. I’ve always been a bit of a “worry-wart,” but actual anxiety struck right before I was about to graduate college. It got to the point where I wouldn’t want to leave the house; I was irritated all the time; I didn’t want to do anything but stay inside and watch TV all day.

What’s the “real” world like? What kind of a job would I get? Would I find a job in the field I want? Would I find a job that I’ll like? Would I even find a job period? What if I’m a complete failure? Questions like that still keep me up at night- especially the last one. “Fear of failure” is a huge anxiety trigger for me. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so if I find that I’m good at something I like to work hard to get even better at it. However, if I find that I’m bad at something, I don’t even want to try to get better. It sounds ridiculous, but somehow that equals “failure” in my head so I just walk away from the situation.

I feel ya, Charlie...

I wrote in a previously blog post about homesickness and how it happens to the best of us. What I didn’t expect was to feel like such a failure so early on in my journey here in Japan. I’ve lived here before and felt so comfortable here. I thought since I knew the city and had friends here to help support me, I’d be fine. I thought I’d be extra fine since I’m familiar with Japanese culture. I know Japan can have some irritating customs, so I thought I would be better equipped at dealing with them since I knew what to expect.

But the other day, I felt completely taken aback by the culture shock I felt when Japanese friends I knew and trusted played the “two-faced” game with me. I say “two-faced” because in the US that’s exactly what it is. However, in Japan, it’s just the way they communicate. It’s called “hon-ne” and “tatemae” in Japanese, “what you’re really thinking inside your heart” vs. “what you actually say.” I know this is a thing. I’ve done it to people and other people have done it to me. It’s nothing new. It was just such a surprise to have my friends do it to me.

Maybe I expected too much from them? I assumed we could be open and honest with each other since we were somewhat close…but I guess that was too “American” of me to assume. If I sound bitter it’s because I sort of am. How can you say one thing to my face, and then turn around and say the complete opposite behind my back? How can you misunderstand me so badly? People change and grow (especially people my age)…what did you expect?

But more than the bitterness, I’m frustrated. I’m more frustrated with myself more than my friends. Why does it bother me so much? Why am I so stressed by this situation? I don’t really have an answer other than a combination of culture shock and anxiety. The culture shock is for obvious reasons (I knew this custom existed, but I wasn’t expecting it from certain people even though I should’ve); the anxiety is because my expectations for myself weren’t met. I was so sure I would be fine (especially with people I already knew). Essentially, I thought I was already “good” at living in Japan and getting along with Japanese people. Therefore, it’s a failure on my part.

Ugh, I sound ridiculous. Logically, I know it’s not a “failure.” It’s just a part of life and dealing with people (especially those from other countries). However, that thought doesn’t make me feel any better. It just makes me more frustrated with myself. So that’s why I’m writing this: cathartic stress-relief.

Some capybaras relaxing in a hot spring. Be relaxed. Be like capybara.

I won’t lie: I feel slightly better. There’s still a bit of bitterness and frustration, but hopefully it’ll go away with time. I also hope that time will ease the culture shock and allow me to work on getting better at playing that “tatemae” game. If I want to live here for the rest of my life, I’m gonna have to get good at it!

© 2016 by That Voice in my Head - Meagan Finlay

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