Here are a few 外人 (“gaijin”=foreigner) musings from my first MONTH in Japan!
Yes! First MONTH! Can you believe it’s been an entire month already? I can’t. On one hand it kind of feels like I’ve been here forever, but on the other hand, I feel like I’ve hardly been here at all, like I only got off the 新幹線 (“shinkansen”=bullet train) yesterday. Sorry for the sporadic Japanese lingo, I figure the more I type/write and the more I see, the easier it will be to eventually recognize and write kanji on my own. So please excuse my selfishness!
Well then, without further ado, and in no particular order, let’s jump right in to my list of thoughts from month one in Japan! Both the good, the bad, and the somewhere in between!
Brace yourselves for a long one folks, because I gave up on being concise (just ain’t my style) and I have a lot of thoughts from 30 days of Japanese existence.
- I’m basically having a custody agreement between laptop keyboard usage; Japanese keyboard during the week, American keyboard on weekends.
- I have spent so much time learning to adjust to the Japanese style keyboard on my laptop at work that I keep typing in the wrong spots on my American keyboard on my laptop at home.
- Yes, this is a true problem. It makes writing emails, blog posts, etc. take much longer than necessary because I have trained myself to use the different keys. The quotation marks and apostrophe, for example, are on the top bar where the numbers are on my Japanese keyboard, when on my American keyboard, those keys are easily accessible near my right hand. Not the end of the world, but also makes a difference when I’m using language software or something and type the wrong answer by mistake and it gets marked as wrong. Or when I’m writing blog posts at work (not at all what I’m doing right now…) and it takes forever because I keep MESSING UP THE STUPID KEYS!
- The Japanese keyboard also does not recognize when I make spelling mistakes in English, so LEGASP, I have to be my own spell check. Oh the horror! Whatever will I do without a machine to check my spelling for me!
- I will never quite understand the Japanese玄関 (“genkan”=entryway).
- Or the obsession with shoe removal, anyway. I understand it to a certain extent, like if your feet are terribly muddy, then yes, by all means take off your shoes in the glorified mudroom and prevent the rest of your house from suffering from the tramp stamp of muddy footprints.
- BUT…the Japanese take the whole shoe thing to a whole new level. Not only are you supposed to take your shoes off in the genkan. You are also supposed to:
- not step on the part where your shoes go unless you are currently putting your foot into a shoe, and
- also not step on the raised area where your socked or slippered or bare feet go if you are wearing shoes (the horror!) and
- turn your shoes around after removing them so that they face the door and are therefore “easier” to put back on.
- A few flaws I have noticed or that I personally feel are wrong with the system:
- Say you’re in a hurry, you’ve already put your shoes on, and what do you know, you forgot your keys back in the house. You have to then remove your shoes (the right way, mind you), go through your 襖 (“fusuma”=sliding doors) that divide your genkan from the rest of your house, find your keys, and repeat process.
- repeat process as many times for as many things as you keep forgetting.
- For me this is sometimes as many as three times in one morning.
- Case in point this morning I forgot both my keys and my lunch bag, and had to go back on two separate occasions for both.
- Case in point number 2 was garbage day last week (more on garbage later). I knew it was garbage day, so I went downstairs with garbage in tow to get rid of it. Couldn’t figure out where exactly to put it (my trash disposal sites are very poorly marked, and nobody had trash at the designated marked spot behind my building) so I brought it back upstairs. Went back downstairs to go to school. Saw where the garbage went so had to go all the way back up to get my garbage, in process doing shoe thing all over again.
- For me this is sometimes as many as three times in one morning.
- Sorry Japan, but when I forget things now, I just trample around my apartment with my dirty shoes, grab what I need and go. Removing my shoes every single time nconveniences me terribly.
- On that note I’m good about the shoe thing with other people’s homes. Just not my own.
- On another side note, I’ve improved the situation a little bit in the sense that I at least made a rudimentary key hook out of a curtain hook to hang on my shoe shelf in my genkan. At least fixes the key issue, because otherwise I literally forget my key until after I put my shoes on every single time I leave my house.
- The Japanese also apparently have slippers for just about everything…
- Inside slippers, sleepy-time slippers, BATHROOM slippers (yes, bathroom…), you name it.
- My predecessor left me a pair of inside slippers. I never use them.
- I also noticed a pair of slippers hanging out in the bathroom. I kept looking at them, wondering, “Why the hell are there slippers in the bathroom? What could I possibly need those for in here?” Upon further googling and interwebs searching, I discovered that apparently, when you go to the bathroom, you are also expected to remove your current slippers and put on bathroom slippers so that the bathroom doesn’t get dirty.
- I also discovered upon my inter-webs search that when you try clothes on in a store, you also have to remove your shoes in the dressing room….oh shoes. Why must they be so complicated.
- Fruit…oh my poor beloved fruit…
- So, I discovered yesterday (before I actually committed this sin in front of others myself), that apparently, people here don’t ever eat fruit with the peels on. Not apples. Not peaches. Oranges and bananas obviously make sense, you can’t eat the peels on those unless you want to make yourself sick, but GRAPES? Come on now! YES, apparently people here will peel GRAPES! That is absurd! How long does that take, and why do you hate fiber so much, Japan?
- Additionally, you can’t just munch on an apple or piece of fruit with your mouth like any other normal person from the West would. You have to peel it first, of course, then slice it as well to make sure it’s perfect. Apparently they think it’s a barbaric way of eating to just bite into it like we would.
- As a gaijin I am *legally* required to carry an absurd amount of documents on my person at any given time.
- Passport: This is just about the only one that makes sense to me. It says, “Yeah, hey dude! I’m a foreigner and I’m here! Cool, right?”
- Resident card: Still makes sense. At least it’s small enough to fit in my wallet with my other cards. Ok, so now we’ve established that I’m both a foreigner and that I live here. Now what?
- Bank Book: Technically I don’t think this one is legally required, but I didn’t know how important it was until somebody mentioned it last week at prison camp. Basically, unlike in America, a bank book is not just for writing down and keeping track of your purchases, but also has all of your bank account information on it, so you need to guard it with your life at all times to protect your moneys.
- Little Blue Book that basically says that yes, I am a foreigner working in Japan: Is this really necesarry? It’s about the size of my passport, but I already have two other documents saying that I am allowed to be here! *Sigh* Fine Japan. You win. Require my body weight in documents for me to live here.
- The toilets in Japan are smarter than I am.
- Really though. I wish I had taken a picture of what the toilet in my hotel room in Tokyo looked like. First, imagine my surprise when upon first sitting down on my hotel room toilet, it starts making all these bizarre “whirrrrrrrrrr” noises at me. I looked around frantically. “Is the toilet flushing itself before I even did anything? Is it attacking me? Did I break it?” I thought to myself as the whishing sounds continued. Alas, no, it took me much too long to figure out that the toilet makes more sounds to cover up the sound of your peeing. Or whatever else you’re doing in there.
- In addition to sounds, some toilets also have fancy functions that make your going experience more pleasant, I guess. Such as the bidet, which squirts water up into your butt. I admit I’ve been too afraid to ever try using it. They also have seat warmers, and a whole slew of other buttons that I have no idea what the purpose is for. For some toilets, you don’t even need to pull a handle to flush! You can just wave your hand over a sensor mounted into the toilet or wall, and poof! All done!
- On the flip side to the fancy toilets…
- Are the primitive monstrosities known as “squat toilets.” Designed for a more “natural” bowel movement, squat toilets are literally just a toilet built into the floor. A hole in the floor. That you squat over. They’re really quite awful. I would love nothing more than to go back in time and strangle the person who invented these annoyances that are otherwise known as toilets. Who ever thought that this was a good idea? Maybe if you’re a man and you just to pee, then whatever, I guess it’s not that bad. But for ladies, they are an extreme pain in the behind. If you’re wearing a skirt, it’s easier, I think, but I don’t wear skirts. It’s nearly impossible to wear pants and balance yourself enough to the point where you don’t end up urinating all over yourself or missing the squat toilet altogether and getting things where they aren’t supposed to go. I was actually quite determined to never have to use a squat toilet during my time here, but unfortunately that dream was not fulfilled. I attempted them twice, once at prison camp before I knew that there were Western style toilets right next door, and I semi-drunkenly had to use one at an arcade/karaoke/bowling alley place the other night when the Western toilet was occupied. Needless to say it did not end well.
- It’s really hard to cross the street without a cross-walk without feeling like I’m going to get completely run over.
- As someone from a country where we drive on the right side of the road, learning how to navigate roads without dying in Japan has been a bit of a learning curve. I’m extremely used to looking to my right and expecting cars coming from the right to be on the far side of the road, likewise when I look to the left for cars to be coming from the right on the side closest to me. Even after a month, the topsy-turviness of the roads is still a struggle for me. I keep thinking I’m in the U.S. and that it’s the same, and I start crossing the street only to be almost run over by a car coming from the side that I don’t expect it to be coming from.
- Vehicles also have the right of way in Japan, which does not make it any easier. More often than not, I start crossing the road after I am sure that no vehicles are coming, only to be nearly crushed by a car zipping around a corner at light speed. Do they care that they almost ran you over? No, of course not! It’s not their fault, it’s yours! How dare you try to cross the street even when you technically have the light! Who cares about whether the crosswalk says you can walk or not!
- Garbage and garbage and garbage galore and then some more.
- Japan is very serious about its garbage. Perhaps a little too serious. I’m lucky that I live in an urban area where they’re not as strict, but I’ve heard horror stories about people in the inaka (countryside) areas where the trash is even more specific than here.
- Basically there are around 4-5 categories of garbage. Burnables, normal plastics (ペラ), PET bottles (platic bottles for drinks and stuff), and then the non-burnables, which go out once a month in my neighborhood. Apparently there is recycling, but it’s little more than a myth to me at this point because I can’t figure out when and where it goes. You also have to buy special stickers for larger items, such as desks, any kind of furniture, etc, and arrange a special pick-up time for them.
- As a further note about garbage, you are also expected to wash your garbage. Especially PET bottles. Sorry, Japan, for not knowing about this the first time I took out my trash and failing to remove the paper labels from my PET bottles and removing the caps.
- I also may have resorted to hoarding my trash in my closet the first two weeks that I was in my apartment. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out when the burnable garbage went out. So it just didn’t go out. That is until I finally saw a sign at another dump spot in the wee hours of the morning on the way to prison camp.
- Why is everything so tiny, Japan?
- Come down the hobbit hole into my hobbit sized apartment, everyone! I have a hobbit sized, one-burner kitchen with zero prep space! That’s because hobbits are close enough to the floor to just use the floor as prep space! I have a hobbit sized washing machine for hobbit sized clothing, which guess what? ALSO DOUBLES AS ADDITIONAL FOOD PREPARATION SPACE! I have a hobbit sized refrigerator, perfect for a hobbit’s weekly amount of food. I also have a hobbit sized bathroom sink of shame, right at a nice low level for a hobbit such as myself! I have a hobbit sized closet perfect for one hobbit’s worth of clothes, maybe two hobbits if you really squeeze. And I have a HOBBIT SIZED BATHTUB! It’s perfect for practicing being in the fetal position when I experience my first earthquake and cry for my mom!
- Most people are exceedingly friendly.
- Nobody is ever rude to me when I get lost and need to ask for directions. In fact, one kind gentlemen saw that I was confused when trying to catch the bus the other day and went out of his way to attempt to talk to me and help me figure out which bus I needed. A kind woman in my office did all of my cell phone plan research for me. The office staff also goes out of their way to try to talk to me. The JTE that sits next to me is helping me with my Japanese daily diary and teaches me new vocabulary words and kanji when they come up in conversation. My vice principal is adorable and is always checking on me to make sure I’m okay. As an example, on the day I moved into my apartment and was finally able to get my bags out of my school to my house, he went around all day asking people with cars if they could give me a ride. Because worrying is the “Japanese way.”
- You can’t turn off the shutter sound on Japanese cell phones.
- I’m actually kind of happy about this because it makes it real easy to tell when someone’s trying to take a creeper photo of you. Which I actually appreciate.
- Trains are nice and peaceful and quiet…
- There is certain train etiquette in Japan. Basically meaning that you don’t answer your cell phone on a train and don’t carry a loud conversation. Makes for a very peaceful environment on the way downtown and back home.
- Crime is practically non-existent.
- To put this in perspective, at home I wouldn’t be caught dead walking by myself on a poorly street at midnight, one, two in the morning. Take that back, I would be caught dead because I would have been strangled or something a quarter hour into the excursion. Here, I have unfortunately had to walk the mile and a half or so back to my house late at night by myself several times due to missing the last buses. The first few times I basically did what I would have done at home, which is don’t acknowledge anyone, walk at the speed of light and GET OUT OF THERE as fast as my little legs will carry me. I also went out of my way to take the longer, but better lit hill back up to my house for fear of criminals hiding in the vegetation in the dark, sketchy, steep alleyway that leads directly to my house. But I took my time and braved the sketchy hill the other night. And guess what. I didn’t die. And I’ve heard from my predecessor who lost her phone four times that if you do indeed lose your phone or wallet in Japan, it will turn back up on your doorstep shortly!
- Cigarette and alcohol vending machines really do exist.
- This one is still weird to me. Maybe not the cigarettes so much, but the fact that Japan just trusts minors to not buy alcohol.
- Beauty salons are everywhere. absolutely everywhere.
- Better hope I never get the words for hospital and beauty salon confused (byouin vs. biyouin). Otherwise when someone asks, “which one?” and I say, “The one by my house,” They’ll take me to the family salon across the street from my place or the barbershop next door instead of to the hospital when I break my leg falling down the sketchy hill by my house. But seriously there are a grand total of at least six beauty salons and barbershops during the short ten minute walk to my school. It’s kind of ridiculous.
- So are vending machines.
- There will literally be vending machines smack in the center of a grassy field in the middle of nowhere.
- Everything I need to survive is on my street within a two block radius of me.
- The six beauty salons, not one, but TWO hospitals, a pizza hut, a Swiss cafe, two bike shops, three flower shops, a book store, what I suspect might be a tea shop, a grocery store, a conbini, a vending machine, about a dozen vending machines in fact, a scooter shop, an udon shop, a tonkatsu shop, some other restaurant, a pharmacy….
- I can use my aircon as a chair on my balcony.
- the perk to my hobbit sized balcony is that because I can’t really fit a chair, (what I think is part of) the aircon is conveniently and awkwardly situated in a spot wedged between a column and my sliding door that is perfect for sitting.
- My apartment’s tiny size means that nothing is ever too far out of my reach, plus there is less to clean.
- Need water? Great, walk four steps to the kitchen. Need to pee? Walk five steps to the toilet. Need food? Right there. Dining table? Also triples as a computer desk and a work desk! Curtain rods? Double as a shelf! Want a snack after I get out of the shower? All I have to do is open my shower door! Need a sweatshirt? Walk two steps to my closet! Want to go to sleep? Just launch yourself across the room onto the futon (soon to be sofa bed)!
- Cleaning the whole places takes a grand total of about five minutes. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
- My adorably and laughably small bathtub is the perfect size to build a hobbit hole over.
- I seriously want to get some water-proof craft supplies from the store and construct a realistic hobbit dome over my bathtub. How cute would that be? And appropriate. In fact, why not go all the way and make my genkan the hobbit hole entrance? OH I HAVE TO DO THIS NOW!
- Because all the houses in my ‘hood are really smushed together, it’s super fun to creep on neighbors from my balcony!
- The creeping is endless. I can creep on the people at 7/11. I can creep on the people below me. I can creep on the people in the high-rise apartment building near the beach. I can creep on people walking down the street. It’s oh so much fun.
- I can see the 7/11 from my balcony.
- Brings me back to point number 21, but it’s terribly convenient. It’s kind of like having the dining hall right next to Vandy at BC, or having the City Convenience across the street, it’s kind of bad when everything is so crappy, cheap, and wonderful all at the same time.
- I love my school, teachers, and students, and really that’s the important part.
- They’ve all been wonderful since I got here. I was worried about how I would be compared to my predecessor, but I don’t think I need to worry about that anymore.
- I get to wake up to the most amazing views ever! how many people get both mountains and ocean all at once?
- Look to the left on the way downstairs to see mountains, look to the right to see the ocean and the Akashi Kaikyo Ookashi (bridge). It’s kind of like having the best of both worlds (a la Hannah Montana song).
- Japan is the nerd paradise that I dreamed of.
- Which is good for my inner nerd, bad for my wallet. I may have to go back to the used goods stores near school to see if a dragonair pokemon stuffed animal I spotted there a few weeks ago has been sold yet…
- No matter how strange it is, I love being immersed in a new culture.
- Japan is strange to me. It is now, it has been since the day I arrived here, it always will be. But I love it. I’ll look back on this one day and remember all the crazy adventures I had that a lot of people never will. How many people can say they took selfies with deer?
- My language is getting better by the day!
- I was able to read half of the instructions on a food box the other day! I understood everything the bus driver said to me on Saturday! I was able to hold a brief conversation with one of the women in the office this afternoon! I was able to navigate Japanese Amazon and talk to the delivery guy that came to my door! This will be an ongoing battle until the day I leave, but slow and steady wins the race.
To those of you who are still around, congratulations! You’re a trooper. You made it through eight pages of nonsense! I’m sure this list will only expand the more time I spend here, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me as I navigate through my new life here.
Next step along the journey…figuring out how to get a haircut! It’s a real concern that I have.
Also stay tuned for my travel-to-every-prefecture-before-I-leave-Japan project! Who knows, maybe this weekend I’ll go to Himeji or Okayama or something just to say that I went? Four prefectures down, only 43 more to go! Let’s do it!
Until next time, everyone,