The cross-cultural forum has for the past 8 years been an event where foreign residents and Japanese alike have a chance to give speeches on some very difficult topics. This year’s Cross Cultural Forum, held on January 29th, was no easier, with all the presenters, myself included, presenting on the theme, “What is Happiness?” Not an easy question to answer, even in English.
After the standard introductions, our first presenter was a Jamtso Tenjin from Bhutan, a country well known for its policy of Gross-National-Happiness(GNH). In addition to giving us a rundown on GNH and its basic tenets, he also went into detail about life in Bhutan, and how people live much the same as hundreds of years ago. But what really took me by surprise was his devotion and admiration of the king of Bhutan. In the news you hear about the king’s popularity, and he does come across as a good man, but to hear it directly from a Bhutanese citizen made it very clear how much he actually means to his people.
Next, Roi Yang-yang from China gave a presentation on what constitutes happiness to younger Chinese. Though she started off on the education system, and how until college more than happiness, the lives of Chinese students are devoted to study and work; she eventually moved into talking about love and marriage. She explained how, for many educated, independent women in China, marriage is becoming less of a priority. Apparently, for these career-oriented women, happiness has become less about having a family and more about having a successful career. Clearly as the world changes, so too do people’s definitions of happiness.
Following these was the Seika Nishi Middle School International Exchange Club, talking about what happiness is to middle school students. By polling their classmates, the club was able to get a lot of feedback on what these kids are looking forward to most in life. Of course there were the standard hopes and dreams; a nice family and enough money, but there was also some surprising elements too. I was a little taken back that the most popular activity for middle school students was “sleeping.” Now don’t get me wrong, sleep is wonderful! But for that to be your favorite part of the day seemed a little depressing, especially for all these young kids.
Bringing up the rear was yours truly, and I had decided to talk about how for many people, immigration is the key to some kind of happiness. In particular I introduced how folks like myself don’t fit into the traditional immigrant role; those looking for work, freedom, or reunification with their families. Instead, I felt that there were special reasons for us coming here to Japan specifically. Namely; the thirst for adventure and new experiences, a love of Japanese culture or history, feeling more comfortable in Japanese society, and the attention that we foreigners receive in Japan.
The first three are fairly self-explanatory, but I’d like to explain the idea behind the last point; that many of us foreigners like the attention we get in Japan. And whereas in some countries this attention can turn to hate, in Japan most of the attention is fairly positive. Japanese people see you and want to talk to you; myself and many friends often get people coming up to us to strike up conversations while walking around town. Of course it can get annoying when you just want to be treated like everyone else, but I do think that many foreign residents do, to a certain level, enjoy being “special,” and being representatives of their country.
The whole event was a really interesting insight into what happiness is for so many people, from Bhutan to China, to Japanese middle school kids and even myself. Hopefully next year’s topic will be just as thought provoking.