How I Nearly Got Kicked Out of Japan

by mo on 04/30/2010

It’s been three years, I think this story deserves to be told by now.

It was April 2007. I had been studying abroad in Japan for 8 months now. I had lived with several host families, but unfortunately, this fourth and final family was a little bit full of crazy. Host mom had her own physical and mental issues, and in general just had a stick up her ass about, well, everything. She was hyper-obsessed with a fear of me doing something wrong and getting her (or worse, her daughter, who wasn’t even in the country at the time) in trouble. So I would get reprimanded for many horrible things I did, such as using Kansai-ben (the dialect of the area I had lived in for the past 8 months) instead of standard Japanese (not offensive language, mind you, just the dialect, typical conversation, the same way she and everyone else in a 50 mile radius spoke).

Adding onto whatever fundamental issues my host mom and I had with each other, the house did not have internet that I could reliably use, which became a point of contention. For quick things I would borrow their computer, but as my laptop would not connect, I would often go to downtown Kobe (Sannomiya) and sit in a cafe with wifi to blog, contact my family, etc.

I always sensed my host mom had issues with this activity, mostly because a) she would say strange things when I left the house, such as “it’s springtime, so all the perverts are coming out this time of year!” (I guess they hibernate like bears?) and b) I found out she was notifying my school administration I was doing this horrible thing. (It wasn’t even an internet cafe… it was a cafe with wireless!)
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Springtime, the season for perverts in Japan

If you’re wondering why the high school would even care… let’s just say it was a pretty ritzy private all girls’ school with its own extensive set of rules including:
• No going out in your uniform to any store after school (to prevent you from misbehaving and giving the school a bad rap)
• No going to karaoke EVER (one of the most common pastimes for middle schoolers and high schoolers in Japan, and clearly the cause of a lot of social disruption in Japan)
• No net-cafes either, apparently
• A slew of things that have to do with hair accessories (No wearing hair accessories that were not black hairties) that aren’t really relevant here
• No printing things at school (never really figured this one out. Not a single page, ever.)

Some of these rules are typical for Japan, some of these rules are excessive, even for Japan. I knew something was up when I confronted host mom about reporting my wifi-related-activities to the school and she got defensive and accused me of engaging in enjo kousai (often translated as “compensated dating” or “schoolgirl prostitution”) since that’s the main thing that apparently goes on at net-cafes.
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The infamous cafe where most of my illicit behavior occurred

So things were a little fishy, but generally going fine.

Until April 17th, when I awoke to find an email from my Japanese teacher in America stating that there were apparently some issues with my host family and they were very angry at me for breaking the rules AND for what I had written on my blog.

What?? Angry? No one ever told me… and what about my blog now?

It turns out that a couple of posts I had written doing some mild complaining about things like the lack of internet had gotten around, particularly back to America, where host family’s older daughter was studying. Some of her friends decided to tell my host family about it, and intentionally skew it to sound worse than it actually was.

So now I was left with no choice but to confront the issue, or risk being thrown out of Japan a month early.

What ensued was a lengthy crying-session by my host mom about how much I had hurt her with my activities and my blog, and the allegation that all this stress I had put them under forced her not to eat for a week (she never ate–how was I supposed to know this time was my fault?) I really had to ask, what words were exactly that hurtful?

Completely seriously, she says, “You use some really bad language on there. I heard it says the word ‘pissed’… now, I don’t speak English, so I don’t know what that word means, but I hear it’s a vulgar term for PEE!!”

This was the moment when I realized all was lost. This miscommunication was never ever to be solved, no matter how many times I told her that pissed=annoyed/angry. Instead, I apologized profusely, and put a password on my blog.

Things simmer down for a couple of awkward weeks with the host fam. Until one day at school, where I get pulled out of class, taken to the library, and the teachers in charge of exchange students sit me down at a computer and tell me to delete my blog. Now.

??!?!

Apparently, having a password on it makes it LOOK like I have something to hide, and people will be curious about it, because that’s human nature. Thus, the blog must be deleted. The school also made up a new rule about blogs and how students can’t make any that talk about people or have pictures that are “too big” or “too clear”.

After that blew over (moving my blog to a slightly different address seemed to do the trick), my host family decided to notify me they wouldn’t be hosting me after the next week. I had 3 weeks left in Japan. Host mom seemed to get a kick out of telling me I would probably be homeless for the last two weeks of my exchange. To her dismay, I emailed a previous host mom, and in under 5 minutes, I had a futon waiting for me. So much for me being the scum exchange student of the universe.

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Sometimes I felt rebellious enough to take my indoor school shoes out on the town

So I’m not sure what the take-home message is here… probably the following:
1) Living with host families sucks sometimes.
2) It’s better to have either your host family or your school on your side. When they both gang up on you, you’d better comply or your days are numbered. Also, pay attention to the subtlest clues that something strange is afoot, since neither party may mention that you’re in trouble.
3) Perverts come out in the spring, cafes are for prostitution, and pissed always means pee.

This post was a submission for the April 2010 Japan Blog Matsuriall about ‘Secret Japan’ hosted at Gakuranman.

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