Searching for My Elusive Self through the Happiness of the Japanese: An Essay by Eric Ocampo (10 Years Ago)

This essay was written almost a decade ago by my older brother Eric (who is 30+ yrs. old now haha). Found this while cleaning my old email inbox. Thought it would be great to share his thoughts. : ) When you thought I was already deep.. apparently there is someone out there who is more pensive / reflective than me, haha. This essay will give you an idea where I am also coming from. : )


The vivid images left on me by my first encounter with Japan had an indelible print that sparked me inquisitively in learning more about its idiosyncratic aura. That was about 5 years ago when I was still lushed with innocence about the workings of everything surrounding me. Upon graduating from that stage of being filled with undulated awe and mystique, I resolved to myself that one day I will be back for more and to discover what really caught my fancy in the world of ninjas, samurai, and recently, of playstations and cutie cars, not mentioning, the girls who look like real anime pulled straight from mangas.

I was blessed on several occasions for having been granted opportunities to seek my interests in this land of blossoming fushigi-ness and inevitably to become seduced by its charm and natural beauty. Needless to say, the more I spend my time idling around and “watching people” float by, I find myself attracted more to its impeccable imperfection of being such. And this feeling never failed to rest upon me until I reached the point where I was thrown into a tailspin of deep reflective tendencies which brought me to pedestals equaling that of the great philosophers, priests, and the honorable homeless man doing a stand-up monologue satirizing Japan Inc. and the train employee who banishes them from time to time. Later on in this self-proclaimed odyssey, I realized that the charm that captured me was the same urge that is propelling me deeper in knowing more about my own self even until now. It is my early awareness of the fact that I belong to this greater order of mankind and that I am in continuous search of my life’s purposes. Moreover, I have come to realize that only by knowing my own natural inclinations, deepest desires, sweetest passions, lofty dreams and indomitable wills that I can find more reasons to live a good life. I would now try to guide you to the same train of thoughts that led me to discover myself and this philosophical treasure I have right now. These encounters with sort of moments of “enlightenment” come from the fact that it became my liking to watch people and wonder about life…

First of all, I would like to make it clear where I come from and provide you a little background of me. I am 21 years of ripe maturity. I was born and raised in Manila, 2nd in a brood of 4 consecutive boys, 1 girl and two adopted boys. You may just only imagine how big my family is, in fact, there are around 13 people in our house including our maids and a driver. Wow…you must have gushed to yourself…but allow me to have the benefit of the doubt first. In my country, the Philippines, the typical middle class family has around 3-5 children on the average with both parents working and the household has at least a maid to help in cleaning, cooking and taking care of the children. Believe me, we are not that rich compared to the average Japanese household, but I guess that this is all about lifestyle or living differences between countries which allow us to have this kind of social arrangement. Given this information, one could only suppose that I was culturally shocked when I first came to Japan seeing that here everything is small, including the families. Having been raised in this kind of environment where I learned to live with my noisy brothers and a cuddly little sister under the loving care of my parents plus the fact that my grandparents are with us sometimes, it was at first hard for me to make the decision to go away, find my own future and chase my dreams. But no, it appeared as if I had longed for this freedom and I believe that I need to be away to appreciate more the fact that I have a family and to be able to see the differences to be greatful for many things in life. I accepted this both as a challenge and a responsibility, promising myself that I will never go home a failure. I hope these are enough to give you a glimpse of my character as I further my writing here.

Right now, I am learning about the culture, language and society of Japan and I am starting to see the colors coming out from my palette of life experiences as I begin to recognize the differences between them. Among the colors, I really like pondering about white and black because without the other, I believe, the other can not exist without the other *(because white is white there is black and that both are relative to each other). We can not define what black is without knowing what is which. So in short, in its application to my life, I would first postulate with all due respect that I compare the Philippines to color black and that Japan is color white for obvious reasons why. Being able to know the differences and understand them right now makes me privilege to be able to paint my life better experiences that would enrich me as a person and make me strong enough to survive any life’s tragedies that would come upon my way. Going further, again with all due respect, I see that Japan lacks the color black. Rising from the ruins and ashes of World War II and zooming up the economic ladder of prosperity, the Japan of today, is still trekking the mashiro kosu and so I think that this explains everything that is currently shaking the society of Japan. The generation of today, as one could see from the rebelling fashion trends and styles popping up like mushrooms everywhere, is filled with unrest and that stressed has accumulated in them. I could only emphatize with the rising numbers of otaku, hikikomori and other juvenile-related phenomena and crimes happening right now. Maybe, you would rebut by saying that Japan right now is in recession and it is difficult nowadays to live compared to the time before the bubble burst. But hey, please shut up for a while, and be grateful that there are still not much homeless persons and street children here in Japan than other countries specially in Asia, say for example my country. That still many of my fellow men and women are craving for the dollars and yen as they sacrifice being away with their loved ones washing other peoples’ butts and doing the Kitanai, Kitsui and Kiken jobs for other countries in the hope of providing their families back home a good lifestyle and be able to send their children to good schools which would bring them good future. Add the fact that a lot of young, beautiful, and charming girls from my lovely country yearn for the Japanese dream of being Japayukis. They would at sometimes a very young age, tender with smiles, voyage to night clubs dancing and singing to the happiness and delight of the Japanese men and cater to their need for some warm talk about mundane things, blissfully unrelated to work. My aunt was probably just unlucky that she fell into some bad people’s hands. I just imagine how to cradle of the world rest on these people’s hands supporting the society which is longing for warmth and human touch. Pardon me for being quite emotional about this but I could not help saluting these brave people who are heroes in their own respect.

Here in Japan, as I take my train everyday, I always wonder what goes on at the back of the minds of the salaryman. I wonder what they are thinking about life in general. Are they happy deep inside their hearts? Are they satisfied with their work? Do they feel pressured by their families and the society? What does is really feel to be a Japanese? These are the questions that flood my mind whenever I catch somebody looking afar, as if trying to look and reach for happiness. Beyond the same-colored and boring tones of suites they wear everyday, I meditate on how they are able to find meaning in their lives and what motivates them to work like this. I ask, “Are they for real?”, or “Are they simply the same machines that their companies are making?” This thinking leads me to think about my own sense of happiness and what I really want to do in life. My perspective now gives me a good place where I could evaluate my aspirations and hopes for life. The reflections I arrived at tell me that I would not probably want to lead this kind of life where something seems to be amiss. Recently, the bandwagon has been about living a “slow life”. Many Japanese are finding contentment in doing simple and creative things as if stopping the pressure from working hard. I must admit that I also ask myself, “What for do the Japanese work this hard and what do they care for?” Is it for money, social status or stability? I believe that it is good to work very hard but if the balance between work and play is put aside then it can be dangerous, even fatal at times. Only in Japan is it that I find it peculiar that a lot of people jump off the train platforms when life’s pressures and worries seem so heavy a burden and that often crimes involve deep-rooted social angst or problems. Some even entangle perverted psychological behavior such as stalking and morbid massacres of schoolchildren. These cases are unimaginable to happen to occur a lot in the Philippines. Mostly, crimes occupy petty reasons such as no food to eat, no money to pay for hospital bills or tuition fees, et cetera, which indicate material motivation for the incidence of these unlawful acts. We can only see differences in the society if we carefully look at the problems arising from different places. I believe that no matter how we stop these events to appear, if they are bound to happen as a natural reaction of itself to its surroundings, we can only learn from them. That is why changes in society proceed because of turning points like these. It hit me here that crimes spring up as manifestation deeper social problems and I believe that we should not miss the point of asking why they occur in the first place. I asked again, “How could Japanese be really happy?” as I continued my journey…

I am lucky also for being blessed with a good opportunity of working in an English school despite the Asian color of my skin, as you may know, most Japanese has this fondness for Caucasian people and that anything Western is good and Kakkoii and so it is difficult for Asian native speakers of English to find a secure and stable position in good-paying english schools. Maybe it is the fault of Beckham and Tom Cruise that we are being alienated from being equally capable of teaching English. I do not blame anybody for this because I understand that this must be the result of the cultural conditioning of Japanese which I speculate stems up from years of isolation and growing up in a uniform way of thinking. In spite of the amount of money being channeled to English education and the hiring of JET teachers, why is it still the proficiency level is pathetic? Maybe the Japanese have yet to realize that English is not the property of Western countries only and that they need to learn how to communicate with other people before thinking about perfecting their accent. Truly, a global and multicultural approach to English education is the only way to pull up Japan from it present competency level. There are still a lot of issues we will encounter if we discuss this topic about language because the growing popularity of English poses some serious dilemma to Japanese language itself but I will not delve deeper to that. Among the students studying English and showing enthusiasm for improving their language skills are obviously women. This is an important point to make because this suggests something about the society too. Traditionally patriarchal Japan confines men to their workplaces until they get out of their offices for another round of meeting to be done in clubs and bars and so this leaves women to have more time and power to devote their time upgrading their skills in English or cultural exchange classes. For me, English symbolizes freedom to these young and promising women who are actually the harbingers of change in the society. As they learn about different cultures, way of thinking, and lifestyles, they begin to question themselves as to why are they such and so they develop this tendency to escape Japan, live somewhere else, and hopefully marry their stereotypical gaijin man of white-skin and blue eyes and make a hafu. One could only be surprised at the number of pick-up lines posted on websites and printed on free papers around by both the Japanese women and Western men alike. Forgive for this but if you ask me if they really work, you better ask yourself dude. It is just sad that many prey on this “weakness” and longing of the Japanese women for affection and liberation. English has really become as status symbol here and I really wonder whether capable Japanese feel happy or proud when they can speak English flawlessly or be able to communicate confidently. I could feel that during my English lessons, temporarily the Japanese are lifted off and taken somewhere not Japan. They are ambivalent towards being themselves, although they like the material stability or affluence you may say, but they are quite unhappy too with the consequences of living such a worry-free lifestyle. Many are now discovering the joys of living simply according to one’s needs with sample material possessions. Many young Japanese are backpacking and travelling all over Asia and the world and they see that there is an alternative way of living happily apart from the “Japanese” way. For me, they are the truly happy lot for being able to see the many sides of the world and the different shades of white and black present in this existential world. I also began to appreciate my experiences back in the Philippines as a good foundation for my greater understanding of how things work around me. I have a good feeling now that I am quite fortunate for being able to realize all these things here and being empowered to choose whatever path I decide to take. Right now, there is this mutual feeling among the Japanese and foreigners that they want to exchange places and I am kind of guessing that there is the possibility of Japan becoming a nation of non-Japanese as Japanese women marry foreign gentlemen and Japanese men marry charming foreign women. And all of these for the sake of happiness…

I am also absorbed by the fact that working in NGOs abroad for community projects in poor areas and participating in international cooperation activities have become popular among the genki morimori septuagenarians. I only muse whether they are concerned about helping others to feel happy themselves being the giver in this helper-receiver relationship or they are just doing this owning to the fact that they are capable of giving or they just want to see happiness in other people’s smiles and faces by their generosity. In my opinion, being happy because you make others happy is the more erai than being happy because you think you are doing or acting good. Japanese are known as godfathers in Asia for their ODAs and generous scholarships bestowed upon angling students from developing countries. I just wish that the intentions of doing so are pure in that they are for the betterment of the current world order and in developing good and friendly relations among countries.

In my insatiable thirst for understanding my own nature and source of happiness, my interactions with the Japanese have proved to be of great help in discovering myself and learning from the differences existing in our world. I found out that it is not enough that we only strive for what is good for ourselves but to realize later that we also need to reconcile this self-betterment to the betterment of those around us as well, otherwise, the needs to satisfy both would only become a threat to each side’s existence. This course I took opened my eyes and mind while I searched for my purposes in life in order to pull out enough motivation to inhale my next breathe. I sincerely hope that by sharing my life’s discernments in this journey called life towards happiness the Japanese may be happy and contented at heart as well. Perhaps, only then that I could be happy…

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