So, I haven’t written in a while. I guess my excuse is that I’ve been too busy planning my future adventures..
I mean, stressing over my future adventures.
Anyway, I decided I want to write something about my life in Japan.
Japan was an adventure, to say the least. It was my first “out of North America” experience, and yes, talk about ‘BAM,’ culture shock.
I want to write about the 5 GOOD things that shocked me the most while spending my three, long months there.
- The language! This was the first thing that almost made me regret my decision to fly there altogether. I promise you, there is absolutely no English anywhere. No English signs, no English maps, and definitely no English speaking people. It’s not the type of language that you can attempt to dive into, either. No Latin origin means no words that you can haphazardly sound out. Ever want to feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone? Go to Japan. Since Tokyo is one of the largest, and most tourist popular cities in the world, you would think there might be the slightest bit of English. Not a chance.
- The food! Sushi. Ramen. The Japanese LOVE their food. They love to go out to eat A LOT. It’s not just going out to order one dish, and possibly dessert. It’s going out to order about 10 dishes, and dessert. I found it especially difficult in deciding what to order when we went out (about 3 or 4 times a week) because I have a fish AND shellfish allergy. Yup. Talk about living in the wrong country. I became quite skilled at avoiding pretty much any authentic Japanese restaurant, except Coco’s (a family style sit down restaurant), and an oh-so-favorite Indian restaurant that I cannot remember the name of. Throughout my stay, I had a difficult time grocery shopping on my own, as I had to guess what the labels on food packaging said. I became better at reading the kanji by the end of my time, but still had to guess a lot (this also falls under #1).
- Driving! Oh boy. Where do I begin? For starters, the driver’s side AND the driving lanes are completely opposite what they are in the U.S. This was extremely scary my first couple of weeks. I never crashed, but there were a few instances where I turned into the wrong lane in intersections. Also, I had never driven a manual car before. Not successfully, anyway. One of my day to day tasks was to drive a manual truck. Let’s just say, that after 1,000+ stalls and bumps into fences and doors, I managed to be quite the skilled truck driver (we’re talking about a truck that is about the size of a Ford Ranger). It’s something I actually have on my resume.
- The hospitality! Japanese people are so giving, and care a lot about the well-being of their friends and family. My employers were some of the most caring people I have met. Whenever I went out to dinner with them, they always paid. They were constantly ordering sweets to put out for us employees to nibble on in the offices. Also, they took me on day trips to hike or explore the Japanese culture. At the end of my visa, when I was leaving, they gave me a large amount of gifts as a farewell and ‘thank you’ for my time and effort. I always felt appreciated.
- Japan has countryside? Believe it or not, Japan is not all hustling and bustling cities and towns. Where I lived, Nasushiobara, was about five minutes outside a small(ish) town, in a beautifully set farm. My job was to assist with the everyday care of a horse farm, as well as groom and ride some of the horses. It was like home (I grew up in the middle of nowhere, basically), with the soft noises outside, helping me sleep. Definitely, if you one day decide to visit, make sure to go outside of the cities, as well as inside!
Another thing that really shocked me, that I could write about all day, is the culture in general. Japan, and Asia, is known for its strict up-bringing of its children, and its focus on staying very traditional. School is no joke, and conforming to society is a must. Everyone must blend, and not stand out. When you are in Tokyo, you notice the things people will do to try their hardest to stand out. This anti-conforming is a fairly new thing, that my generation (the 90’s) is bringing about. We seem to be more about change, and not sticking to traditions. I think that this is an extremely difficult issue for Japan, and Asian cultures, to realize and accept, because it means going against thousands of years of traditions and family values. One example of this anti-conforming, is the ‘unwritten’ rule about only wearing slippers indoors. Some of the workers that were around the same age as me decided they did not always want to take their shoes off to go inside our housing units (dorms/apartments). Sometimes, they would run in with muddy shoes, grab an item from their room, and run back out, leaving a lovely mess for those of us without slippers to step in.
Also, isn’t it a massive stereotype for Asian people to be extremely clean and articulate about their belongings? I have never met messier people in my life. Those that I shared living space with, you guessed it, never once cleaned up after themselves. They would leave rubbish everywhere, as well as coats and shoes. I found myself taking care of their stuff more so than them.
Mold is a huge issue, due to the humid climate. This being said, you would think that they might do more to prevent mold from growing. Nope. There was pretty much always mold everywhere I went. Kitchens, sitting rooms, laundry rooms, shower and toilet rooms, and floors/walls in general. It was fairly unsettling, making me never feel 100% clean or comfortable.
I do not want anyone to think that I am bashing Japanese culture and life. I loved the time I spent in the country, but had my dislikes, as I’m sure everyone has about their travels. It was one of the best experiences I have had, and I learned so much during my stay.