“Getting Japanese people to make friends with foreigners is like a box of Pringles. Once they pop, they can’t stop. But opening that can is really hard,” says Dariush, an Italian-Iranian who grew up in England and now works as a schoolteacher in Tokyo.
“In Japan you really have to make an effort. People can be friendly only after you’ve made the effort. You’ve got to talk to them a few times and make sure they’re not `scared’ of you anymore. You always have to initiate. I find that if you invite them out for drinks once, they’ll ask you when the next one will be.
“Being a foreigner comes with perks. It gives you a scapegoat. You get to play the `gaijin card‘ whenever it’s expedient to do so. Be warned though; it can also backfire. Suddenly you’re left out of meetings and drinking sessions after work because Japanese people assume you don’t understand anyway, since you don’t speak the language. So you feel secluded as a result.
“Here, people follow rules. If someone says something’s bad, everyone’s like, `ok it’s bad’. But they don’t question why it’s bad. Conformity is good to have because it allows you to belong. If you lack confidence or unsure of yourself, then you can still conform and belong to a group.
“That said, there are still certain people who need to be individualists and do their own thing. That’s how you get the Einsteins and the da Vincis of the world.”