On Being Depressed & Social Awkwardness in Japan

One of the main reasons my OCD is in remission here is because the Japanese are so forgiving. In Britain, I lived forever in fear of persecution by outside forces because of mistakes I was sure I was making through ignorance. But in Japan, there’s a comforting sense that things will work out OK regardless of my lack of understanding of practical concerns. – William Bradbury in The Japan Times

Whilst never diagnosed with depression, I have always been a glass-half-empty kind of person, a bit down, a bit depressed. I rarely talk about it, because I often feel that mentioning it, breathes life into to it, and sometimes, despite the wisdom of self-help books, talking about it doesn’t help, talking often magnifies the problem, making my situation seem worse than it actually is in reality.

William Bradbury’s quite excellent article, in a recent edition of The Japan Times prompted me to write something. Bradbury notes how his OCD is remission in Japan, because ‘the Japanese are so forgiving’ and goes on to note that:

Japan is a comfortable stomping ground for socially awkward people. Serious character and personality defects go unnoticed or are put down to foreigner status, and rather than tarnishing your self-image, they can even help you romanticize yourself, with a bit of imagination.

I can recognise much of myself and my experiences of being physically disabled, certainly socially awkward and, at least in an on-off relationship with depression in Bradbury’s article. I would go further, it is not merely that Japan, at least in its foreigner population, tolerates eccentricity, it positively encourages it. Also there are two other factors at play.

The first is to do with boredom. There is a large component of depression that is to do with boredom. A person that is bored is capable of doing anything and everything, and usually does. It is simply impossible to be bored in Japan; buildings are many stories high, convenience stores are open 24/7, and just occasionally the earth shakes or the wind blows during typhoons, just in case you are getting too comfortable. Boredom is impossible.

The second thing is this: along with the encouragement of eccentricities, Japan is also a place that does not allow you to be anti-social. If you are in say a bar, even on your own, you will be encouraged to talk, perhaps even flirt with fellow patrons, something which would be unthinkable in Britain at least. If Japan has one commandment it is this: ‘Thou Shall be Social!’

All of which is very good for a person who experiences depression. Isolation fosters depression, but Japan will give you every opportunity to avoid depressive episodes. I’m not going so far as to suggest you move here if you have depression, but if you did have depression, and are wondering what to do about it, well I leave you with William Bradbury’s words:

The modern world of self-help books has many mantras — “Change your life,” “Be the person you want to be,” “Get your priorities straight” — but here in Japan, the character isn’t seen as being so malleable: People are what they are. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is based on perception. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is all about going against your nature and changing the wiring of your brain, whereas in my experience, many Japanese tolerate their nature, for better or worse.



2 thoughts on “On Being Depressed & Social Awkwardness in Japan

  1. A thoughtful piece. Impossible to be bored in Japan? I wonder, but so far I’m not. I think there might be an alternative dynamic going on, though. Being a foreign fish out of water here, there is actually a lot more room to swim against the current, and that’s comforting for misfits like me.


  2. On Being Depressed & Social Awkwardness in Japan | Demo Site

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