In case you didn’t know, I lived in Japan for four years. I know! Where did that surprise come from. It’s not like I have ever posted about it before. Ever. Never. Not once. Not even these times here. Or here. Or here… or this one here. (Pst, that’s not even half of them).
Living in a country so long is bound to leave its lasting impacts on your life. Living in a country from 22 to 26 is bound to really mess things up for you in terms of being a functioning adult in either country. Oh, you just graduated from college and now you’re moving to a country where you don’t really speak the language that well? Good luck learning how to do anything like a normal adult! Oh, you’re moving back to a country in your mid-20s and still don’t really know how to do things on your own like, you know, set up a cell phone? Have fun not looking like an idiot when buying one.
Sometimes, though, I find myself loving the little Japanese ways of doing things, or the weird habits that I didn’t even realize I picked up.
1. Chopsticks are better than everything else.
I can’t use a fork and knife anymore. I mean, I can use them, but it’s really awkward and the entire time I am complaining about how difficult it is. Why am I sitting here trying to shovel slippery salad pieces onto a fork and then awkwardly bend over to spoon it
into my mouth? Maybe I should use a spoon. Or, you know, chopsticks. Where I can lightly grab a piece or five of lettuce and delicately lift it to my mouth like the graceful goddess I truly am inside? Actually, using chopsticks involves a lot more picking up your plate and shoveling it into your mouth than you realize. BUT IT’S SO MUCH EAISER.
Yes, I know you ca’t really eat a chicken break or a big ol’ steak with chopsticks. But guess what, I don’t really want to eat those things anyway. I’d rather slice my meat up into pick-up-able pieces with a nice knife before I eat and then just casually munch away rather than saw at it with a stupid table knife for half of my dinner time.
2. I can’t stop bowing.
Probably one of the biggest cliches that we have about Asian countries is the bowing. And, I won’t lie, it’s totally true. The bowing is pretty ridiculous. There was a time I was sitting on the subway with the last seat in the car open next to me (because, you know, foreigner) and these two women started having a politeness battle over who got to let the other person take the seat. “You take the seat,” with a bow. “Oh no, you have it,” with a deeper bow. This went on until the next stop, when someone else got on and took the seat, solving the issues for both these women.
I am now one of those women.
Someone opens the door for me? Shyly smile at them and bow fifty times the entire time I walk through the door. A car stops to let me cross the road? Hold my head up to my face, shaking it slightly and bow up and down like a chicken the entire time I dash across. Someone gives your a compliment? Shake your head incessantly, denying what they said while bowing your head over and over. I bow in greeting. I bow in leaving. I bow while listening to people talk. I can’t stop. It’s weird. Please don’t make fun of me when you see me in public and I bow at you because you did something nice.
3. I say adjectives rather than sounds.
This one is a weird one. When speaking Japanese, they don’t really say, “brr” when it’s cold or make shivery noises, they don’t sigh and wipe the sweat from their foreheads when hot. They say it. When they’re scared, they don’t yelp like a dog and punch you for jumping out at them, they say it. When they’re embarrassed, they don’t blush and laugh awkwardly, they say it.
What is “it”? The adjective. If I think about what I am saying in English, it is really weird. But when I say the Japanese, it seems completely normal at least to me. Probably not very normal to those people who hear me talking to myself. In Japanese. Here are some example situations:
Go to wash my hands and the water tries to burn my skin of, “atsu, atsu, atsuiii!” (hot, hot, hotttt!) I am walking around and run into something, as you do when you’re me and clumsy as all get out, “itai!” (pain!) A song comes on the radio that reminds you of a time along past, “ah, natsukashi.” (remembering). A huge car drives up next to me, shocking me with its exorbitance, “dekai!” (huge!) A loud noise happens, nearly causing me to pee myself, “bikkurishita!” (surprised!).
4. Less is more.
Everything is really big in America. Like, unnecessarily so. Why do you need stairs to get into your car? Why does your house have to take up thousands of square feet? Why do you need a hundred different cereal options?
When I first moved to Japan the lack of variety killed me. I longed for my choices, I wanted nothing more than to stare at that same cereal aisle I now loathe, pondering which deliciously sugary crap-fest I would get to pile into my body this week. Now, I walk into stores like Forever 21, see the huge amount of variety and endless racks of clothing and I leave. My brain can’t take it anymore. Where do I start? How do I find the time to look over all the options?
I was asked the other day to go buy a bunch of greeting cards for my mom and it took me an hour. An hour. I spent an hour reading each card trying to find the perfect one because there were just so many of them. I spend half my time shopping on my phone Goolging the best options. My search history is full of things like, “the best shampoo for curly hair”, “truly unscented lotion”, “best bottle of X wine”, and “best shaving cream”. SHAVING CREAM!
5. My feet are babies.
My poor, dirty feet. My delicate little paws. My sad, black, princess pads. I don’t even know what I am saying anymore. Anyway, wearing shoes inside sucks. It just does. Everything feels dirty now because my feet are dirty. My bed feels dirty because, even though I brush my feet off constantly before putting them under the sheets, it’s not fully clean. I constantly run to plush surfaces to wipe them off, playing a weird version of the floor is lava with myself and the dirt.
In Japan, I had to sweep once a week, and that was mainly for hair reasons. I never felt like there was dirt on my feet, and I never mopped. You heard me right, in the two years I lived in that apartment in Sapporo I never mopped it. Why? Because my floors were never dirty enough. I also had people over all the time who complimented me on how clean my apartment was, so it’s not like I am a dirty pig who is okay with living in filth (I totally am but I’m not okay with letting other people witness this trait).
Now that I am back in the land of, “Screw you, I’m wearing my shoes inside!” my poor feetsies are so dirty and tainted. Oh well, I’ll get used to it. I wore slippers inside for months, but now I have given up and I’m “toughening up” my feet, so to speak. Maybe one day I will be able to prance around the backyard barefoot again.
Japanese people wear shoes to the beach. Like, with socks.
6. I wish that everyone would shop talking to me.
Americans talk too much. There, I said it. My foreign friends would joke with me about how Americans can just talk to anyone like we’ve known them forever. I laughed, thinking to myself that they are just closed off isolationists who hate people. But since I’ve come back to America, strangers talking to me or being anywhere near my bubble, makes me uncomfortable.
In Japan, everyone gives you your space, ESPECIALLY if you’re foreign. No one talks in public, people just let you go on about your day. The cashiers are essentially robots and if anyone talks to you in line it’s because you’ve dropped a coin on the ground.
Everyone and their mom wants to talk to me now. Cashiers rant to me about how overrated Star Wars is while I am buying a bunch of Star Wars stuff from the dollar spot because I have no self-control and that lunch box was cool, man. Guys in line randomly talk to me about stuff I don’t care about and I look for ways to pretend I have forgotten something and slip away, running to another checkout line without them noticing. A waitress kindly asks me a non-food service related question and I laugh nervously, making sounds rather than words (oh, now you’re okay with that functionality, brain).
While I am definitely still very American in a number of ways, there are aspects of my personality that are very much Japanese now. And I am 100% okay with that.
What are some ways that you act differently after traveling? How about certain mannerisms that are distinct to your culture? Are there ways you are Japanese? I’d live to hear about it in the comments!