Robert & Roberta Adair

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I think I use the term “friend” quite loosely…I fear possibly more in line with the Facebook generation’s definition of friendship than how I would prefer to define it. In our last newsletter, I just noticed that we used the term in three of our headlines or photo descriptions.

I don’t want this blog to be a vent. I want it to be honest processing with the hope that I will look back on it someday with a smile at how things have changed with more time, experience, understanding, and language. Yet…

I can’t shake that I have experienced and witnessed a profound loneliness in Japan unlike anywhere else or at any other stage of life. I have a deep fear that “authentic community” is unattainable for me in this country unless I look for it in places with a lot of expats (which isn’t appealing either). I also – rightly or wrongly – have an image of Japan as a country full of chronically, desperately lonely people…but without much of a model in how to or even desire (?) for change.

Perhaps some of this is because of what I perceive as constant unavailability. Some of the busiest people I know back home are also the most relational. Yet here there seems to be a constant chorus of “忙しい” (I’m so busy. The weekend was busy. You look busy. Busy, busy, busy.). And looking busy is a big deal here – I believe several notches over the US.

[side note: I was talking with a mom of an elementary school kid. She shared that she spent several weeks going to 1 to 2 hour-long meetings followed by 3 days of a lot of work to prepare a lunch for several hundred kids for a school festival. Noble, right. Yet – and I’m being totally American on this one – given the option of ordering pizza or even healthy bentos, being able to watch your kid in said festival instead of being in the kitchen the whole time, and having perhaps 20 to 30 extra hours to invest in people rather than sitting in meetings… Well, that side note just turned into a vent. What I’m trying to say is that while I want to admire hard work ethic and parents’ desire to serve their kids, it doesn’t seem to be doing any favors apart from masking the chronically loneliness of people around me.)

Vent’s summary: A hard work ethic and good “community spirit” < friendship and availability for people. (yes, I realize they don’t have to be pitted against one another…)

During our first months at current church, I would often go home and have an angry/hurt cry because people would literally turn their backs to me when I walked in to a room. Really. I was so eager and optimistic to get to know people. Again, I realize that the disaster and foreigner fatigue may have played a part as does the shyness of our particular region in Japan. But…trying to understand/making excuses for certain behavior doesn’t change the fact that it hurt. A lot.

Nor did this phenomenon stop. I just had lunch with 2 friends (I’ve known both women for 3 years and have spent a lot of time with both). During most of the meal, they sat turned to one another having a conversation between the two of them with me on the other side of the table. I could follow along a bit and tried to participate here or there – yet there was zero effort to try to include me. If I were to try to recollect how many times this scene has happened, I could feel like a bitter victim pretty quickly.

I can’t make the excuse either that it’s all because my Japanese isn’t great. I see this exact scene happen to Japanese people all.the.time. And I can’t think that being excluded – especially when in the same space – ever feels good for anyone.

I once heard that a definition of hospitality is making people feel safe and loved in your presence. I can say I often feel honored and thought of (gift-giving is huge). But this safety and love – which turns into friendship – is something I’m still searching and hungry for. And it’s something that I’m trying to believe is possible in Japan.

Originally posted on Adair Update...

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