I’m a useless expat, an expoop. Except for the simple Japanese I learned to help me get by in Tokyo, and the unavoidable cultural dunk I took in the deep waters of the Bizarro World that is Japan, I am completely useless.

I did not learn karate, or take a course in floral arrangements. I didn’t become a certified sake expert or create, glaze and bake my own pottery. I didn’t make friends with tons of Japanese people. I didn’t venture out into the countryside to mingle with farmers on a regular basis, or go trekking up mountains to make nice with deer and the occasional bear. I didn’t learn how to play the taiko drum or serve Japanese tea with all the grace of a Geisha. I didn’t do any of that.

I spent four years, in chronological order: “loving” Japan, “teaching” English, hating Japan, locking myself in the apartment, taking anti-depressants, having no sex drive, getting off anti-depressants (and finally “getting off” again), learning how to cope (sans medication) with my surroundings, volunteering at a church to make onigiri for homeless people, making dates for coffees and lunches with friends, scheduling dinners, parties and dinner parties, planning for overseas vacations and longing for my regularly scheduled returns to New York.

I was one hell of an Expoop!

And what of the useful Expats?

Useful expats don’t just jump into the deep cultural waters of Japan’s Bizarro World, they dive in, head first, smiling all the way down. These people throw themselves into their new world, learn how to do and make things, learn how to converse with locals, travel to rural areas, make friends with Japanese neighbors and colleagues, schedule outings, not just to museums or expat friendly restaurants, but to local eateries and nameless bars. They regularly attend Japanese plays, theater and musical performances.

Some of these useful types were my friends. And because of that, I got to see Japan through their eyes, going everywhere from tiny restaurants in suburban settings with no English menu and no English-speaking staff to the opening of the Armani flagship store in Ginza. I envied their freedom while I remained loyal to my expoop friends. I wasn’t cool enough to hang with the real expats.

Useful expats tend to work full-time–though I know many gainfully employed expoops. They are the men whose jobs brought them to Japan. They are the women married to these men who choose to work full-time. They are the women whose jobs brought them to Japan. They are the men married to these women who also choose to work full-time. They are the single men and women who came to Tokyo because of their jobs. They, quite literally, are the movers and shakers of the world.

We expoops remained in our little world, our tiny bubble populated with new babies, new expoops that need befriending, old complaints that need discussing. We play baseball in Tokyo, traveling from base to base, taking cabs or trains along the way, marveling at it all, but not reaching out, at least not reaching out too far.

As a gay man without the ability or desire to have a child, I tried befriending more women whose maternal clocks had either not started or had completely stopped, or who, like me, never really had a “clock” to begin with. It was easier–but not easy–to try life as a real expat with these women. I’d feel like cock of the walk because my Japanese was almost always better than theirs. I was the go to guy. I was Senor Guide. I was Mr. Kick Ass. But that was all pretend.

In the end, I’d go home, make dinner and watch TV or read, and wait for my partner to get home. He told me stories about money and markets. I told him stories about spending money and supermarkets, and told myself that tomorrow, I’d be a useful expat. Tomorrow just never came.

Advertisements