Today, April 12, is my 5 year anniversary of coming to Japan. In 2005, I arrived in Japan not knowing what to expect, thinking I’d try it out for a year, and see how things go. Well, it’s been 5 years now. I can’t say everything has been perfect, as there have been some ups and downs. But overall, it has been great.
In the past 5 years, I have done some things I never imagined I would have done, including climbing Mt. Fuji, eating raw horse (basashi) and eating lavender ice cream. There are some things I never want to experience again, such as eating octopus, seeing someone jump in front of a train, and going through culture shock (though this is only temporary).
But I want to talk about the things that once surprised me, but have become rather ordinary. I’ve become quite used to Japanese culture, and I expect these things to happen now.
- The hot and humid summer – Japanese summers are like stepping into a sauna. As soon as you go outside, you feel the heat and humidity throughout your body, and within 30 seconds, you start sweating. I wasn’t sure if I could get used to it, but I did. Whenever I tell people that I enjoy Japanese summers, they look at me like I’m crazy. I’ve always liked hot weather.
- Public drinking – In Canada, it’s illegal to have any open alcohol in public. It’s restricted to your own home or a licensed restaurant or bar. In Japan, you see people walking around with a can of beer or One Cup Ozeki (sake), and some will drink on the train. Public drunkenness is quite common, too.
- Customer service – Japan has got to have some of the best customer service in the world. If you go into a store, they will always welcome you with “Irasshaimase” and after you pay, they always thank you. They usually do this with a smile. They go out of their way to make the customer happy. In Canada, nearly every store clerk I’ve seen has a rather serious expression and often don’t thank me. I notice that a lot when I visit Canada.
- Pets are people – Okay, maybe not. But it seems like most people put clothes on their dogs when they go out for a walk. Small dogs are often treated like babies. They’re never allowed to walk, they’re always being carried. Or even worse, in a baby carriage for dogs. I’ve seen an elderly woman wrap her dog in a blanket and put it in her bag on the train. Maybe it was cold? I don’t think so. It was a hot summer day, and I was afraid the dog would get heat stroke.
- Wow! You can use chopsticks! – Yes, I can. I better know how, since I’ve lived in Japan for 5 years now. I’ve known how to use them since I was a kid, for probably more than 20 years. I have fingers and a thumb just like Japanese people, so my hands are also able to use chopsticks. I still get this comment, but I don’t find it annoying at all. So, if you’ve asked me, don’t worry. I usually expect this question.
- Wow! I’m amazed! You can read Japanese! - Well, I expect this from people I have only recently met. That’s fine, and I don’t mind it. However, I’ve received this comment from people I have known for several years. Some of you may be reading this Yes, I can read hiragana, katakana and some kanji. After 5 years, I should definitely be able to. Actually, I should be better than I am now. I need to study!
- Can you eat (insert food here)? – I get this question a lot, so here is my answer. For sushi and sashimi, yes, I love it. It’s also quite popular in Canada, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. For natto, I don’t like the smell, so I don’t even want to try it. For wasabi, same answer as sushi and sashimi. For octopus and squid, I’ve tried it, but don’t like it.
- Television – TV in Japan is quite different than TV in Canada. Evenings are dominated by TV dramas, sitcoms and reality shows in Canada. In Japan, they’re dominated by variety shows, including music, comedy, documentary, quiz style, and so on. You always see popular celebrities and comedians on these shows. Is it better? I find it more interesting, but others may not. My favourite show is “Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende.”
- Transportation – This is a kind of mixed bag. The good side is the train system. It’s absolutely amazing! I find it so easy to get anywhere I want. The system is easy to use, it’s efficient, and it’s the best way to travel. No wonder I’m exploring places by train. On the other hand, the bus system is very difficult to understand. There are no maps, each bus stop has a name, and even Japanese people find it confusing.
- Banks – Compared to banks in Canada, the banks in Japan are very slow and inefficient. In Canada, you wait in line until the next available teller is free, you make your request, use your bank card and enter your PIN, they process the request, and you’re likely to be done in under 5 minutes. In Japan, you take a number, wait, your number is called, make your request, they give you another number, wait, they call your number, ask you questions, then ask you to sit down again, give your request to someone else, you wait, your number is called and you’re done. Maybe 15 minutes total. I prefer using an ATM, which is what I almost always do. Which brings me to….
- ATMs – They are not open 24 hours. They are closed on Sundays. Well, except for convenience store ATMs, but you have to pay fees with those.
- Convenience stores – They really are convenient! In Canada, you need to drive to get to a convenience store, and they aren’t so convenient. They mostly have junk food and some household items. In Japan, you can find several convenience stores within walking distance of your home, and they sell hot meals!
- Cell phones – For the first while, I could tell that Japan’s cell phone technology was ahead of North America. Japan had cameras first, video first, and even video phone first. But now with smart phones becoming popular, such as the iPhone, Japan’s no longer ahead. However, one thing Japan has going for it is price. Cell phone services and packages are better than what I’ve seen in Canada. And cell phone coverage is much better, too.
- Broadband Internet – Speed! Japan has the fastest internet in the world. I’m happy.
- Cicadas – Back to summer. Around the end of July and through much of August, these noisy insects come out for one purpose, to mate. Did I mention that they’re noisy? They are very loud! But I like the sound.
- Bicycles – Japanese bicycles are cheap. In Japan, people ride bicycles to get from one place to another. All they need are cheap bikes. In Canada, they’re usually expensive. The big difference is that in Canada, they’re used for recreation, while in Japan, they’re used for simple transportation. They even sound cheap in Japan, rattling and squeaking all the time. But there are some more expensive bikes with electric motors to help with the numerous hills in Japanese cities.
- Signs everywhere – On the sides of buildings, there are large colourful signs. They are absolutely everywhere! In Canada, it would be considered clutter and unsightly. But in Japan, I think it gives character. I like it.
Well, there is a lot more. If you have more you’d like to add, please leave a comment.
The past 5 years have been an adventure. It’s been fun, and I’ve enjoyed my time in Japan. I’m hoping the next 5 years in Japan are even better!