This is my first time Traveling outside of North America, so I was well warned this would be a big change, and while in a lot of ways it was, in more ways it’s kinda the same. As a world, we seem to talk about more about cultural differences than similarities. I was well prepared for things to be starkly, even unforgivingly different, but the girls at my Japanese university are much the same as the girls in my home university in a lot of ways. To be fair, I’m not new to the language or culture as I have been studying both since I was 12. I think it’s definitely different for everyone, but for me, I feel at home here.
Before coming to Japan, I was losing motivation in school and was simply burnt out. Now classes haven’t started yet here, so I’m not saying those feelings won’t come back, but coming here and finally seeing Japan in person, has rekindled my motivation and passion for my education already, and I haven’t even been here a week. I think the true differences between America and Japan lie in the routine and expectations Japanese people live by. Before beginning my journey, I had some idea of the routineness that existed in Japanese culture and worried it might be one of the things that I didn’t like, but I was wrong. In America, there is no set way of doing things. No expectations. You can do anything, and for you that’s great but for everyone else, it can kinda suck. In America, there is no set way to handle a misunderstanding or accident, no set way of talking to people. In Japan, there is a set way of doing most things, and it feels natural. If there’s a misunderstanding, both parties apologize even if it was clearly one person’s fault. If you are asking for special treatment at say a restaurant, it’s expected that you are appreciative and apologetic. Most Americans probably feel uncomfortable about this. We are used to a self-centered way of living. And that’s ok, that is one way of doing it. But coming here, the expectations and unspoken understandings are something I unexpectedly find comforting and freeing in a way. Knowing how every interaction will go and knowing that if you follow the flow you won’t step on any toes and everything will go smoothly is very reassuring. It gives you space to think about other things.
In addition, everyone is very nice in my town. Of course, I’m sure there are grumpy people everywhere, but with how safe it is and how much trust there is between Japanese people, everyone is very open and ready to help. If you get lost you can ask anyone for help and they will likely go off their path and take you there. There’s a sense that everyone’s kinda looking out for each other. Like me and another random man ran into a crosswalk to help an old lady who’s chair’s battery fell out while she was trying to cross. This is normal in Japan. People instinctually will ask if you’re ok if you fall or seem lost. Of course, it may not be that way everywhere, but that has been my experience so far.
I guess for all those nervous about having to worry about all the customs, don’t worry, Japanese people are very patient and you will learn them quickly, and if you’re anything like me, you will come to appreciate them.
In my next post, I plan to talk about the bathing situation here and something exchange students might need to know if they plan on living in a dorm. Don’t worry, It’s not as bad as you might think.