Friday, 17 April 2015

The Japan Files ~ International Parties

I believe it's been said many times before but for the foreigner living in Japan, when attempting to make friends, it can go one of two ways. You're either inundated with popularity - girls and guys desperately clawing at you in order to bask in your presence because of that foreigner magic. Or you're met with the stone-cold reality that making genuine friendships in Japan is harder than it should be; maybe even that the natives are so intimidated by your "other-worldliness" that they flee at the mere sight of you. And sometimes there's a happy medium, but the longer I live here - and it hasn't been long mind you - the more I'm starting to realise that as with anywhere else in the world, it's really important to choose your friends. And choose them well.

The amount of friends I have in Japan is okay for me. I was never a social butterfly but obviously, I'd taken a giant leap by moving halfway across the country, which meant I had to start the process of building relationships all over again. So I turned to the sanctity that was the internet and started researching, and I turned to my coworkers who obviously knew more about my new city than I did. As a result, I was swiftly invited to a relatively common event for foreigners in Japan known as the international party.

The clue is in the name really but in Japan, these types of parties are designed to bring foreigners and Japanese people together to exchange culture, life and language. Sounds innocent enough. I recall a similar event at my university back home where all the international students were invited to such an event where they could meet and mingle with other international students so as not to feel entirely isolated in their new world. In Japan however, it's very easy to find yourself in familiar territory. We foreigners have found ways of finding each other and building support networks, whether it's through work or other means. We always find each other. But despite the 1000 to 1 ratio of Japanese people to foreigners living in Japan, there is still a little bit of a divide. And as a result, the international party and various other international or global events were born.

Now, I've not been to many of these parties but I do feel that they usually go one of two ways...

The English Opportunity Spectrum

Japan's first language is Japanese, I'm sure you're aware, but in order to take itself out of this Japanese mentality, over the last couple of decades or so, there has been a push for people to learn English in hopes that Japan - being so closed off from the rest of the world for so many years - might become a little bit more global. (And now, especially with The 2020 Olympics dawning, the necessity for English is probably going through the roof). But with English-speaking foreigners scarce in number, there is often very little opportunity to use English. So when there's an international party, it's not uncommon for those practising English to flock in large numbers. They're often breeding grounds for students of English in particular, looking to test their abilities. It has been my experience that a genuine interest in the person is often misplaced and that people talk for the sake of talking in English as oppose to having a conversation and just taking the time to get to know someone new. It often feels a little bit disingenuous.

The Undercover Dating Spectrum

It is no secret that foreign men are popular amongst the women in Japan. I have come across various women who are either curious, interested or hell-bent on dating a foreigner. Stories pollute the internet. And even though among the international parties, I've been to, there has been a mixed crowd, it isn't uncommon to find a lot more women in attendance. I do not mind my own company - on occasion, I crave it - but I have actually felt forgotten during one said event where I was actually the only foreign woman and I bore witness to my male counterparts cavorting with members of the opposite sex in a manner that I could only really describe as international speed dating. Heck, some international events actually promote themselves as such events, some even reduce the price for foreigners and women to gauge more interest. It is no secret that Japan wants to know its foreign residence but I'm presuming there are those that would rather get to know each other on a more intimate level. But, again, I suspect it's inevitable if your throw men and women together in a room (and especially with alcohol lighting the flames as well).

That said, I'm not trying to dissuade people from attending these events. If I had to pick a relatively safe place to meet people and make friends, I would suggest attending one of these. It's reduces the sleaze factor that is commonly found at clubs and bars, but also almost entirely eradicates the anonymity and uncertainty that people come across when using the internet to form relationships. International parties are also time-restricted so even if there is alcohol involved, over-drinking (and general stupidity as a result) at the party establishment is unlikely.

Recently, I've actually found an international party that I really enjoy going to but this is because in my opinion, it actually fits the definition of an international event. I walked in during my first time and came across not only Japanese people, but people from all over the world, all sharing a common language, but coming from different walks of life. (There were still aspect of The English Opportunity Spectrum lurking about but I suppose I can't expect anything less from an English school). I actually ended up forming friendships at that event and since then, I've returned a couple more times and fully intend to do so in the future.

As a result, I think as with anything, it's all about trial and error. It's important to find something that suits you and I think as I get older and deeper into my experience of living and working overseas, I'm looking at the important things. As I might have mentioned before, I came to Japan alone and I knew how important a support network was. At my previous company however, I pretty much walked into a really big one. As I am now, my current company is much smaller and even though they are like a second family, I'm aware that they each have their own families and responsibilities that must come first and consequently, they cannot always be a crutch for me.

Unfortunately, I cannot speak much for the countryside but I do know that the bigger the city, the more the variety. And this not only goes for people and international parties obviously, but general activities and opportunities as well. So if I had to give someone advice, I would definitely say put yourself out there. But a with any social event, have your wits about you. Japan is a wonderful place, but it's still important to be at least a little bit savvy.

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