Living and working in Japan

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Fri, 3 Jun 1994 08:14:02 JST

Mike Salovesh writes,


What's interesting in what you say, though, is not its detail about
Japan. You give what feels like a good summary of US expatriates I
have seen all over Central America, and to a lesser extent in
Mexico City. Embassy folks live on the donut's sugar everywhere, I
think. And corporate mid-level execs do the same, but are in a much
more vulnerable position. Distance from the corporate center means
that they're sidetracked--when they return, they almost have to
start from the bottom all over again. (And without the advantages of
living on the sugar!)

Keep talking, John. Maybe we can all get a cross-national comparison
going! How does that resonate with folks out there who know the
Philippines, or Germany, or (roughest cases of all) the corners of
the Commonwealth? (It's only when you dig way below the similarities
that you come to realize how alien Canada is for us USians, and vice
versa, e.g. Or how familiar the expatriate life anywhere is to those
of us who have been expats someplace else.)

I'd love to see that cross-national comparison done. I note, however, that
Mike gets focused immediately on the expats in the sugar. I'd like to
know about the expats. I'd also like to know about the independents and
the folks in the hole. The shape the cross-cultural encounter takes is
strongly shaped by the basic economic and living conditions under which it
occurs. From experience working on a telephone crisis line in Tokyo, I'd
hazard the suggestion that "culture shock" is typically manifested by
expats or well-off independents. Lower independents and folks in the hole are
too busy with basic logistical problems to wallow in angst about cultural
differences. (I'm being deliberately provocative here.)

Looking ahead, it would also be interesting to apply the results of this
comparison to looking at the history of anthropology. Thinking about my own
experience. Going to Taiwan in 1969 with grants that paid US$300 a month (but
rent was $20/month and food and other basic expenses about $100) meant feeling
"rich" relative to the natives. It helped, too, that since foreign academics
were relatively rare and the ROC very interested indeed in maintaining
friendly contacts with the USA, people in positions of power were on the
whole very hospitable. Even with adjustments for inflation, a researcher with
a similar grant will be less well off than most Japanese in Tokyo. That
certainly means a very different relationship to "informants."