Now that I’m back in Japan, I’m reminded of why I want to be here: It’s so different! And often those differences are in the little things. Every now and then I run across something that really makes me think, “Whoa….I’m in Japan!” A few of them are notorious and even people who have never been here know all about them: Toilets with control panels like they’re about to blast off to the moon, anime everywhere, neon everywhere, neon anime everywhere and people who dress like they’re on their way to a photo shoot every day. But there are also some things I wasn’t expecting, things that in their foreignness, their uniqueness, their utter strangeness loudly proclaim “this is Japan”. And if you’re willing to listen, I’ll let you in on what they are.
About a month after coming here I got very sick. I had a really high fever but I didn’t want to go to the doctor because I felt it would be too much trouble. “So what if my brain cells are slowly burning away” I thought. “I can’t be bothered”.
Well after two days of running a fever of 39 degrees Celsius I got tired of feeling like my head was about to cave in so I (wo)manned up and went to a clinic that had English-speaking staff. Long story short everything went fine and I was being a big baby, but look at this medicine!
I mean it worked like a charm, but what’s up with having each medicine separate? Look, the fever meds aren’t even in a pill! It’s just white powder.
What, was I supposed to snort this? Cause that’s exactly what I did…just kidding. Or am I?
I, used to the North American way of the One Pill to Cure Them All, find this somewhat troublesome. It makes me feel like I was on the verge of death or something, having to take all these different medications.
Creepy Colonel Sanders Statues
When I was a child, I used to go into my mother’s clothes drawer and mess up her clothes, so to stop me she stuck a scary clown night-light on the drawer handle. I never went near the drawer again. Since coming to Japan I’ve eaten KFC all of twice, and this is why:
Come on Japan, this is just bad for business. That thing is scary. But maybe this is the reason why many Japanese people are so slim?
Pushing on the trains
If you ever come to Tokyo, try not to take it personally when someone shoves and pushes you into the train car without so much as a sumimasen or gomen nasai, like you’re a stubborn piece of overhead luggage. This is the Way of the Trains. It’s actually quite civilized and efficient if you think about it. Every train everywhere is crowded* and if we all took the time to say sorry to one another as we pushed each other out of the way so that we could catch the train two minutes earlier, or to get off in the five second window that the doors stay open, we would never get anywhere now would we?
*Your actual experience may vary, but I’m probably right.
No heat in the corridors.
This is a real pain in the winter. Central heating just isn’t the cool thing to do here in Japan. Instead every room gets its own AirCon unit that heats or cools the room. It’s fab because I can control the heat in my own room in my guest house, but that run from my room to the bathroom, or my room to the kitchen is murdah in the winter, and so is waiting for the thing to start circulating once I turn it on. And don’t get me started on the mental tug of war that ensues if I need to use the little girls’ room in the middle of the night. It’s the epic struggle of the ages: Warm bed vs. full bladder and freezing, dark hallway. Of course, full bladder and freezing dark hallway always trump warm bed in the end, but I relive this horrible night time battle every time I walk through the adult diaper aisle in a pharmacy. One day, one day soon, I might crack and start wearing them to bed, and don’t you dare judge me!
The “oouuuh” noise Japanese people make
It’s hard to describe, but trust me it’s weird. It’s like the North American version of “huh?” or “whoa”, but it’s a drawn out sound halfway between “oh” and “eh” with an upward inflection at the end. The sound somehow seems too masculine for a woman to make and too feminine for a man to make, and worst of all I think it’s contagious. Sometimes when I’m talking to a student and they tell me something interesting I catch my lips trying to purse into the position it takes to make that noise, so that my “oh?” of surprise comes out kind of messed up like a half-hearted attempt at the real noise. But I fight it and I will continue to fight it because although there are many things that I think are great about this country…this is not one of them.
The truck blaring a creepy voice that announces garbage pick up or something.
Listen to it here. This truck sometimes wakes me up and it’s just disconcerting. I don’t know what she’s saying, but the tone of voice is just so dead and robotic and…post-apocalyptic. Every time I hear it feel like I’m in some kind of sci-fi movie and the truck is announcing who needs to report for sterilization or something, (I assume that in the future there will be a population crisis and maybe 20% of the population will need to be sterilized every once in a while). That’s probably not what she’s saying but, damn it doesn’t sound like it. Am I wrong?
Really narrow roads
This one really freaked me out when I first came over. The above road is theoretically a two way street. There is a noticeable lack of sidewalks. Sometimes when a car is coming I have to stop and flatten myself against the nearest building. I don’t know how it works, but it does. When two cars meet up, they somehow manage to squeeze by each other. I am amazed every time I see it. It’s like those cartoons where a man jumps from a diving board into a glass of water, except this is real life. I guess it helps that the cars are generally much smaller here, and that more people take the train than drive.
These are only a few of the things that, while mundane for those who were born here or have been living here for a while, send shocks of culture down my spine even today, and even though they’re strange and some are downright annoying, I know that once I leave this country I will secretly look back on every one of these little quirks fondly as if they were mischievous yet lovable children.