Note: “Gaijin” is the Japanese word for foreigner.
In an effort to avoid jetlag from my week-long jaunt to Japan, I took two carefully-timed Benadryls on my flights to San Francisco and Baltimore so I’d be back on a normal East-Coaster’s sleep schedule. No, I’m not above exploiting a drug side effect, but on the plus side, no allergies on the trip home! My plan somewhat worked–I was super peppy for the 4am drive to school and for class (“What guys?! It’s 9 pm in Japan!”) but crashed before I could accomplish anything I had planned. So here’s what I’d meant to post about the trip yesterday, stay tuned for more in future posts.
THINGS JAPANESE PEOPLE DON’T DO:
Lock their bikes. I saw a bunch of people riding these sweet little cruisers through the streets of Tokyo–they ride on the sidewalk, which is much safer for them but means you have to dodge a grocery-toting grandma at any given time. Anyway, when you get to the Lawson (Japanese convenience store), you park your bike outside the store and leave it while you shop. Need to run another errand? Just leave your groceries with your bike and grab them when you get back. No one is worried about someone jacking their bike because it doesn’t really happen in Japan. Seriously, you know how fast that bike would be gone in the U.S.?
This made me want to hug every Japanese person for cultivating that “community of trust” that people are always talking about, but of course that would have been super awkward, since randomly hugging acquaintances is another thing a Japanese person would never do.
Let you be the last one to say thank you. The politeness of Japanese culture is something I knew to expect, but even so I still had culture shock at the degree of consideration woven into Japanese custom that you simply don’t see in Western culture. It’s analogous to the difference between saying “thanks” and “thank you very much”…but more intense. It ranges from bowing to people you meet to show respect, to taking your shoes off in the home, or taking things with both hands (one hand is rude), or pouring a drink for someone else before refilling your own glass, or even using the right level of politeness when speaking (there are several built into Japanese, from one for familiar friends and family, to normal-polite for everday, and extremely polite for the elderly or someone else you respect).
Of course this is all what I could pick up from a few days in the country–the nuances of Japanese courtesy are so varied that all I knew was I felt extremely accommodated the whole time I was there. And hopefully my attempts at politeness didn’t crash and burn, but even if they did, something else the Japanese don’t do is:
Make you feel rude/dumb, even though you probably have been. In Japan you are never made to feel like you committed a faux pas, even though you keep asking how much everything is and you just tried on a cloth gift bag because you thought it was a scarf. They will never look at you like you’re crazy, or say “No, we don’t have schoolgirl-panties-vending machines here, you insensitive racist.” (Note: I overheard someone ask this, I didn’t ask myself, I promise.) My host family was so hospitable and understanding, even though I really had no idea what I was doing, and I can only really say “thank you” and “soy sauce” in Japanese.
All in all, my trip was lovely, AND I got to eat real ramen. More later on why I went to Japan, and what I actually did there!