“I went from being a hotel manager to a convenience store clerk in a matter of months when I moved to Japan with my wife. We were living in Turkey, where we had met, when we decided to raise our child in her home country (she’s Japanese). Since I was up for a challenge and thought we could always go back if things went south, I got on board. Plus I had a positive image of Japanese people and felt confident that having worked at a five-star hotel in the United States could get me somewhere. But after six months of honeymoon period, I suddenly found myself facing the harsh reality of unemployment because of my very limited Japanese. It didn’t matter that I could speak Turkish, Hebrew, English and a little Italian. All my credentials in hospitality in the U.S., Israel, and Turkey meant nothing. Although I did get an offer to be a part-time bellboy.”

“So I swallowed my pride and enrolled in incredibly expensive Japanese classes with our savings and money earned from my ‘arubaito’ (part-time job) at a convenience store. It’s insane. 2-3 million yen to attend language schools in Japan. You can study medicine for 5-6 years in Europe for the same amount. I also took it in stride whenever customers gave snide remarks or laughed and said, ‘Hey gaijin (foreigner)!’ while I was behind the cash register. Eventually I got hired by a hotel, talking to guests in front desk. But they didn’t renew my contract because I wouldn’t do overtime. Good thing I found work again at a bigger and more famous hotel, where I had better chances to prove myself. Sometimes I feel like foreigners are subjected to double standards in Japan. Guess we just need to work hard and prove our worth.”

Mesut C. Dogan is the founder of Super祭りwhich offers authentic Japanese traditional experience at festivals. For more, visit his site: https://supermatsuri.com/

“I tried so hard to assimilate into Japanese society. But what I couldn’t accomplish in three years, I was able to do in just four hours at a 祭り(matsuri) or local town festival. It took so long to adjust to their way of thinking, to understand what made them tick. I almost quit a few times after witnessing discrimination and racism (I worked in the hospitality business and would sometimes see how complaints made by foreign guests at hotels would be dismissed right away because they’re ‘gaijin’ and don’t know the culture, while Japanese guests get an apology, followed by huge discounts). Good thing I didn’t pack my bags and get on a flight back home to Turkey, because all it took was some mingling, dancing, and curiosity. Suddenly, I met all my neighbors during the festival I attended. I talked to them and learned a great deal about my community. I say ‘my community’ because for the first time, I was accepted as a member of society. They welcomed me with open arms. And it’s all because I asked questions about the ‘taiko’ drums, the street performances, how things worked in their culture while they were in a festive mood. I guess timing really is everything. Japanese people don’t normally open up or teach you stuff with patience and kindness. But in that moment, everything had changed. It was the magic of ‘matsuri’. So then I left my hotel job and now I dedicate my time promoting traditional Japanese culture and heritage through these festivals. They’re actually declining in number so I’m helping preserve them. I’m also trying to encourage tourists and foreign residents to join because this is one of the best ways to break the ice. Bottom line is, don’t be discouraged. Don’t get angry and give up on your dreams. There’s always a way.”

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Finding diversity and inclusion. Breaking down barriers one post at a time. Stories and snapshots of foreigners making their way in Japan.

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