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How I got a Japanese visa

My horrible experience at the immigration office filled me with a kind of desperation. I had another three months to make this work, but I wasn't any closer to finding a job. Not a regular one. The woman who owned the apartment I was staying in came by once a day. She often asked me about my job search. I explained that I was looking but wasn't having much luck. She gave me an occasional proofreading job so I could get by. Eventually, she explained that she only agreed to let me stay temporarily. I suspect that her sudden desire to kick me out came from the neighbors complaining about me playing the guitar at night. I had an acoustic guitar, which I brought with me from the US. I didn't think it would be so loud. One night, I heard a banging on the door. When I opened it, there was an angry woman in pajamas yelling at me in Japanese. I couldn't understand anything she was saying, but I knew my guitar was driving her crazy. I stopped playing in the house for years after that.

Japanese culture is one of repression. I'm sorry if any Japanese people are reading this and feeling offended. It's not my intention to offend just to tell the story as I perceived it. Almost everyone here suppresses their thoughts and feelings. Maybe it's because the social imperative is never to imposition others. That's why people are constantly living on eggshells. The sempai/kohai system of social order solidifies it. The senpai is the senior or elder, and the kohai is the junior. One must never defy one's sempai. The problem with this system is that it introduces mental illness. Repression acts as a pressure cooker that eventually explodes if the container is not built to hold the steam. This is particularly hard for people from other countries. Most of the planet believes in speaking their mind. One of the only places where one cannot question their superiors is in the military. So, in many ways, Japanese society is a remnant of its warrior past.

In the first decade of being here, I tried my best to follow the Japanese way. I kept my head bowed low and did not question my superiors. I went above and beyond to fulfill my duties without expectation, praise, or recognition. Above all else, I worked very hard to maintain social harmony. All it did was crush my soul. In my silence, I found myself becoming smaller and more insignificant. Selfless toil is self-destruction for the western mind. It's detrimental to the Japanese as well. This may explain why the rate of suicide was higher than in most places in the world.

Refraining from playing the guitar was not enough to appease the owner of the apartment. She also didn't like the fact that my girlfriend Yuki would sometimes spend the night. A few times, my ex-girlfriend, Yuko, would also pop by for a visit. The apartment owner never said it, but I think girls coming over bothered her much more than the guitar. She was a very conservative woman and preferred that I behave according to her conventional ways. She gave me until the end of the month to get out.

I called up all of my friends from the university who had been exchange students, including Yuko. She was the one who was able to help. The others didn't know what to do. Yuko introduced me to a fellow Okinawan named Osamu. He was a fascinating character who was very friendly and active. Although he looked like a mobster, he was a kind person with a heart of gold who introduced me to his friend Shogo.

Unlike the repressed residents of Japan, Osamu and Shogo lived by their own rules. Shogo didn't mind having a roommate despite his apartment being incredibly small. My bed was a futon on the floor next to his bed. What's strange is that he welcomed me into his apartment even though he was madly in love with Yuko and knew that she was my ex. Every day he tried hard to win her heart. I feel bad that she and I often hooked up in his place when he was away. We hadn't gotten back together as a couple, but there was an animalistic attraction between us.

That's how I lived for the next six months or so. Vince and Lynn, my two friends from the university who had also traveled to Japan, had both found jobs. In those days, and probably today, being blonde and somewhat attractive was more potent than educational background or credentials. Japanese people have some kind of fixation on white people. Maybe it's because of Hollywood, which portrays white as the ideal. They have bombarded the world with images of aristocracy, power, wealth, and beauty. These are things that Japanese people admire. It also fits into the hierarchical social construct. After their defeat in WWII, many Japanese began to see whites as superior and feel themselves as inferior. This is much like a sempai-kohai relationship. Of course, this does not apply to everyone. I am speaking in generalizations.

For other races, Japanese people believe themselves to be superior. This is particularly true of other Asian groups. With regards to African-Americans, how Japanese society treats us depends on how an individual sees us. Within Japanese society, there is a group of people who have deep admiration for African Americans. This usually comes from their love of music, dance, and sports. As it is with white people, the image is born from American media. For the rest of society, we are seen as inferior. So, despite having identical backgrounds as Vince and Lynn, it was much more difficult for me to find a job than it was for my friends.

Lynn told me of an English teaching job offer she turned down because she had already taken another. She gave me the number and told me to call because they were looking for someone. I called the number and set up an appointment for an interview. A week later I went to the school. The owner greeted me at the door. She was a very intimidating white American woman named Lena. Although we would become friends later, she seemed like the type of person who made a point of keeping others at a distance. Her demeanor was something like Ursula the Sea Witch from the Disney movie Little Mermaid. Unlike the other places where I interviewed, I could tell right away that she was not racist. I did not feel the unspoken doubt that comes over people's faces the second that I walk into the room before they've had a chance to ask one question.

Unfortunately, she had hired someone to fill the position that she had offered to Lynn. But she was willing to let me work part-time on a trial basis. That was unacceptable to me because I needed a company to sponsor my visa. To stay in the country for longer than 90 days, a company had to vouch for me. Rightfully so, Lena refused to sponsor my visa because she didn't know anything about me. She told me I would have to work for at least three months for her to trust in me enough to become my sponsor. I needed to change her mind. A flash of an idea came to me. I could see very clearly that she was a businesswoman and appreciated added value. In exchange for her sponsoring my visa right away, I offered to work for free. Her eyes grew big with surprise. She needed the help, but she couldn't afford to hire another person. The offer was too good to pass up. We had a deal.


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