What’s your name?

Baye McNeil

What brought you to Japan and which parts have you visited?

I was escaping that post-9/11 atmosphere in NYC and in the USA as a whole. It had taken on a dark energy that I found repressive and sickening.

You’re a New Yorker. How would you compare living in Tokyo to living in the Big Apple?

I don’t live in Tokyo, but in the neighboring city of Yokohama (see below). But I have spent a lot of time in Tokyo. By comparison, I would say Tokyo is cleaner and safer and more efficient, especially transportation-wise. But it’s much bigger and A LOT more crowded in Tokyo, and MUCH less diverse. There’s a lot of culture and entertainment in both, but I think the culture here is less inclusive. I hate to make such facile comparisons though. Once you’re acclimated to the environment in either place, doors open, and discovery becomes a regular occurrence. I learn something new about Tokyo almost every time I visit there, and I’ve been living in Japan 13 years.

Yokohama Japan

What has been the biggest adjustment for you?

The biggest adjustment by far is from being someone who can virtually disappear in a crowd to someone who is not only incapable of disappearing but is so conspicuous as to draw attention and in many cases fearful responses. Your days of being just another person are over once you take up residence here. Some respond to perpetual conspicuousness differently than others. My response initially was fine but as the years proceeded, and I felt myself to be assimilated as much as a conspicuous foreigner can here, when the behavior didn’t subside a single iota, it was very difficult to adjust to that reality. It’s still an ongoing process, in fact.

How was the process of obtaining a visa?

Very easy. If you have gainful employment here, the process is a breeze. Japan is very friendly to people coming from “Advanced” nations, when it comes to obtaining a VISA. If you’re coming from developing or underdeveloped nations, it will likely be more difficult. I’ve heard horror stories from some of my friends from African countries, for example.

What kind of industries or occupations would an American most likely land a job if they were looking to work in Japan?

The most likely would be as an English instructor, because it’s still a need the country is seeking to satisfy. But there are also many business opportunities for the foreigner who can get a firm grasp on the language.

Train Travel Japan

Some travelers have found it difficult opening a foreign bank account as an American. Have you experienced this?

No I haven’t. My first bank account was opened with the assistance of the company that had initially hired me and brought me to Japan. After that, and once I’d made a few Japanese friends, they helped me through the process of opening an account. The third bank was a bank that targeted foreigners so were prepared to make the process easy for foreigners and/or English friendly.

Japanese employees have a reputation for being hard workers. Can you tell us some workplace differences you’ve noticed being an employee in Japan versus an employee in the United States?

It’s totally different. Where to begin? Well, there’s an expectation that you have joined a sort of family, and a family that works together, thrives together. That has its advantages, this kind of thinking, but it also has some drawbacks. Leaving the office before your co-workers is often awkward. Staying late is the norm. Eating together is the norm. Exercising together is normal. Looking busy even when you aren’t is the norm. Speaking to coworkers according to their age / seniority/ junior (modifying your Japanese accordingly for each) is the norm… It’s just totally different.

What perception do the Japanese, that you’ve met, have of America and American culture?

Depends. Most have a fairly negative perception. We’re English (only) speaking, overeating, sugar-loving, burger-munching, Trump-loving, gun-toting, spree-shooters. But we have cool music, cool clothes, blond hair and blue eyes (the caucasians ones, which is the image of an American) and cool slang. Business-wise, we’re respected as global leaders, though.

If you had a friend planning to spend only 24 hours in Japan, what would you suggest that he or she see or do?

Personally, I dig the hot springs and would recommend to anyone coming here to spend a night in a Japanese ryokan (small family owned hotel) with an onsen, somewhere in Kusatsu or Nikko or Hakone. The experience is awesome. Utterly relaxing and “Japanese” in a traditional sense. Particularly Nikko, because while you’re there you get a feel for Japan, see some of the finest temples around, and monkeys are all about roaming freely. It’s pretty cool.

Baye McNeil Japan Workshop
Baye is originally from Brooklyn NY and came to Japan in 2004. He is the author of two critically-acclaimed books on life in Japan for foreigners, columnist for the Japan Times, teacher and lecturer on diversity and multiculturalism in Japan. Keep up with him at BayeMcneil.com