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  • 執筆者の写真Mutsumi Gustavich

The Challenge of Being Different in Japan

Living in Japan, I often feel the difficulty of deviating from the established norms.

From the moment of birth, we are placed on societal and conventional 'rails,' set by someone else's standards.

These rails are designed to create an army of salarymen, hard-working robots in essence, who later realize their purpose is to dutifully pay taxes.

Parents, teachers, and bosses teach us not to deviate even by a millimeter from these invisible tracks. Stepping outside and having a sense of self is almost treated as a wrongdoing.


This perception began to change a decade ago with the rise of Instagram and YouTube in Japan, introducing lifestyles beyond that of a salaryman.

It seemed as if more people were living in ways that were true to themselves.

However, even this shift felt limited to me.

In a country that loves templates, these new categories seemed bound by invisible rules as well.


Take, for instance, a company that promotes a new way of working.

It appears like a progressive, white-collar business, offering unique employee benefits and seemingly leaving everything to individual discretion.

The employees there are confident in their excellence, but such environments, I believe, are prone to cult-like mentalities.

In one such company I know of, employees unknowingly dress similarly and carry a similar vibe.

Outsiders might call this culture, but there's an underlying fear among the employees of being categorized as less competent if they step out of line.

They hold back their opinions, aligning with pre-set answers, and even unconsciously idolize the company's leader, adopting similar mannerisms and speech patterns.


In my work, I often interact with influencers.

Before meeting them, I viewed them as impressive individuals living in a glamorous, global world.

However, upon closer observation, I realized they too lived in small boxes, surrounded by similar possessions, makeup, and social circles.


It's as if they deliberately place themselves in these categorized worlds, prioritizing how they're perceived by society.

Isn't this symptomatic of Japan as a whole?


As a child, I felt alienated by the friend groups formed in school.

Although I had close friends, I never belonged to a specific group, preferring to float between different circles.

I wanted to talk about fashion, love, anime, travel, and future aspirations, not just stick to one topic.

My lunchtime habits of eating with different groups earned me the label of being 'different.'


Since then, I've always enjoyed thinking for myself but despised being categorized.

My parents, typical Japanese, dreamt of me attending a good university, landing a corporate job, and marrying someone with high educational credentials.

At 19, I shattered their dreams, choosing my path and eventually changing jobs eight times.

I thought I could be myself in the workforce, but no matter where I went, I had to conform to the 'village' norms, always feeling like an outsider.

This alienation led me to achievements that others hadn't realized….


I can take pride in being different, yet I also feel a profound loneliness in Japan, constantly wondering why I can't just silently follow the rules or why I always have questions.

Life would be easier if I just followed the rules without question.

It's like learning to give up is a form of comfort.

But I cannot accept anything that threatens individual freedom and rights.


Japan, a country where everyone speaks a unique language on a small island, is prone to becoming a 'village.'

The buzzwords 'Diversity & Inclusion' are thrown around, but many don't understand their true meaning, leading to half-hearted efforts that don't yield results.

No matter the efforts made under the guise of 'Diversity & Inclusion,' they don't seem to work.

Is this due to the deep-rooted culture of conformity in Japan?

Even those who have lived abroad or travel extensively can't seem to shake off the inadvertent effects of this 'Japanese-ness.'

Many young parents are enthusiastic about teaching their children English and raising them free from gender stereotypes.

However, the problem of why Japanese people struggle to excel globally isn't in these surface-level efforts but in the comfort zones they cling to.


Realizing this, turning inward to question 'Who am I?' is perhaps the first step to breaking free from this cult-like society.

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