Japan Reflection (Halfway)

I have not updated much recently because I’ve been studying for my exams. I am taking 8 courses here in Japan as well as 3 university level courses at my school in Canada. Exams are pretty much killing me.

I realized that I had passed my halfway point last week, and it feels really enlightening to have made it this far. I remember my first week here, and thinking to myself, “How on earth am I ever going to make it 5 months?!” The first week was the most difficult. I was nervous and apprehensive, and basically regretting all my decisions that brought me to Japan.

“Why would I ever choose to live in a country where I don’t know the official language?! I must be completely nuts!!”

Some people have told me that I am so brave to be living here alone, but honestly, I don’t feel it. I feel scared, lost, a little hopeless, and sometimes I just want to scream. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE this experience and I feel especially fortunate, but as they say, “You can take the girl out of Canada, but you can’t take Canada out of the girl!”

There are some times I just want to pack up and go home. They don’t do things here the way they do in Canada!! Everything is different! Nothing is familiar!!!

But, you know, just because something is different and unfamiliar, doesn’t mean it’s bad. I have learned to adapt to my new environment. I have made friends, and I have experienced things I never in a million years ever thought I would ever get to experience.

I went through a lot as a teenager, I was depressed and didn’t have many friends. Looking back, I always dreamed of escaping. But then, I started making friends back in Canada, I went back to school, and now I feel I’m on the right path. There was a feeling in me when I started my first day of college, that I knew I was doing the right thing. This all feels right. I’ve never felt this way before.

Coming to Japan has made me realize there are so many other lives and other cultures that I haven’t even began to discover. I want to travel to other countries, and meet new people, and learn about why people do things the way they do them. Honestly, what could be more enlightening than going to a foreign country and learning the language, or learning their way of life?

I still think I’m completely nuts, but the experiences I have had here, and the friends I have made will last me a lifetime.

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Differences Between Japanese and Canadian Culture (That I Have Noticed…And Have Been Told About)

Canada is an individualistic culture and Japan is a collectivist culture. This quality alone makes for a very large difference between how Japanese and Canadians live their lives. Now I am not saying that all Canadians live a certain way and all Japanese people live a certain way, but there are some commonalities that may be noticeable to foreign people when they visit a different country.

For example, some of the differences I have noticed:

  1. Canada = Not okay to be quiet. In Canadian classrooms, I have felt there is a pressure for students to answer questions even though they may not know the answer. If a teacher or professor asks a student a question, they are usually expected to answer it or to say they don’t know the answer. There isn’t an option to not answer the question. It is much more frowned upon to be quiet because in this culture it may come off as rude or uncaring.
  2. Japan = Not okay to be wrong. It is much more frowned upon for Japanese people to be wrong than to be quiet. For example, Japanese students, in my experience, tend to be quieter and take longer to answer questions. I have been helping teach a class of Japanese students and they take much longer to answer the questions I ask. This can be disconcerting, but I have been told that it is normal behaviour in Japan. Japanese students also usually talk to their friends beside them before they answer questions to ensure that what they are about to say is right. This can be a much longer process but is understandable knowing that it is frowned upon to be wrong in this culture.
  3. Eye contact is not so important in Japan. In North America, it is paramount to have good eye contact with people because this comes off as being confident, self-assured, and respectful. In Japan, it is not as common. It is actually seen as more respectful to not maintain eye contact with the other person for too long.
  4. Bowing. I had heard of Japanese people bowing before I came to Japan. This is a very common greeting, and it was the first thing I noticed when arriving here. People don’t normally shake hands so much with me here. We usually bow in order to show respect for the other person.

There is a common phrase I have heard people say to me a few times while being here in Japan.

“The nail that sticks out too much always gets hammered back down.”

So, basically since Japan is a collectivist culture, it is much more common for people to follow the crowd. The good of the group and group values take precedence over the individual. I do find myself trying to fit into the group more so here and get a little nervous if I feel I may stand out. An example, I went to Disneyland a couple of weeks ago with a few other girls. They were dressing up in costumes, and I didn’t have one since I’m only in Japan for a total of five months. The girls wanted me to get a costume because they didn’t want me to be different from the group. It is much more important for everyone to follow the group because it makes people more comfortable. Where as in Canada I find that if I didn’t have a costume it wouldn’t be a big deal because it may not have made me comfortable. My individual values would have been more important than the group, thus the group would wear their costume and not worry about whether everyone was wearing a costume. I’m not saying that one way of thinking is better than the other. Because I was brought up on individualist values, they feel more comfortable to me, but that’s not saying individualist is better than collectivist thinking.

I want to find out why people live the way they do here. I feel like the pieces to that puzzle are starting to fit together. With living here, I now understand why certain things are honoured here and certain things aren’t. These experiences I’ve talked about in this post alone have opened my eyes in so many ways! I want to keep my mind and my heart as open as possible!

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Slurp your noodles!!!

I have visited this restaurant a couple times since I arrived in Japan. I came here on my first night when the people who picked us up from the school invited us out to dinner! It was nice eating here, but I was very tired because of the 10 hour flight and the time difference! The restaurant is usually very quiet, and the staff has been extremely helpful! The menus are only in Japanese, but there are large photos which makes it easier to choose something!

In a couple of the photos you can see that people can sit on the floor while eating their food. I have seen this many times here.

Another thing I have noted is that Japanese restaurants are not lenient when it comes to substituting food. The people I have talked to, and the restaurants I have been to, this is not done. I am not a picky eater, but there was a time when I wanted to substitute a small side dish for a couple pieces of shrimp tempura, and my friend looked at me like I had ten heads. She had never heard of anyone doing something like that, so I have always left my mouth shut if there’s something I may not like. Usually if you at least try the food, it will make a good impression! It is rude to leave things on your plate, so try to finish everything! The portions of food are also a lot smaller here.

Oh, and if you are eating noodles, slurp away!! It is a sign of respect. In Japan, if the cook can hear you slurping your noodles, it shows that you are enjoying your meal!! This is something that takes some getting used to!!

Japanese Toilets (Oh, The Horror!!)

Golden rule for Japanese bathrooms?? Bring a handkerchief!! (I’ll discuss that below…)

When I first arrived in Japan this was my first experience of a Japanese bathroom. The first toilet I saw was the traditional Japanese style in the top left.  I had never heard of them or seen them before, but they are fairly common in the places I have been to here. Usually a Western style toilet is marked, to allow easy access for people who are not familiar or comfortable with using Japanese style toilets. It is interesting to note that these toilets go from Japanese style to high-tech Western style.

The next set of photos are taken inside of my school’s washroom.

The first is of the handle of the high-tech Western style toilet. Another interesting feature of this toilet is that the seats are normally heated, so a nice surprise when you sit down! This particular bathroom has three Western style toilets, and the rest are the traditional Japanese style.

Another interesting thing to note is that all bathroom doors and garbages in buildings are normally all open! There are no bathroom doors when coming into one, so it can feel a little too open. It has taken me a little bit of getting used to because it almost feels as if there is no privacy since people can hear everything. But if you are self-conscious of being heard, you can play some music while you go! Problem solved!!! (I think…)

Oh, and another thing! Bring a handkerchief or small towel!! It is not common for Japanese bathrooms to have paper-towels or hand dryers. I had to resort to drying my hands on my pants whenever I went places for the first week I was living in Japan!!

Just a little cultural knowledge of something I never thought I would find so fascinating when coming here!

 

Tokyo Disney Resort (Disneyland!!!!)

Oh, was it an early day today. I don’t know what on Earth possesses people to get up so early! I had to wake up at 5am to get on the 6:30am train. It took us about 4 hours to get to Disneyland, so arrived around 10:30am. I was glad to be with my friends because we had to take 4 trains to get there.

The trains we took to get there resemble subways in Canada, so I just call them subways above ground! Anyway, to say I was a little excited about disney is an understatement!!

This is the first view we saw upon arriving at Tokyo Disney Resort. We walked for what felt like hours to the front gates. I think it was only about ten minutes, but the little kid in me was jumping up and down! We picked up maps for the park which were in both Japanese and English.

We got to meet Tigger and Eeyore, and we took our photos with them. There were park attendants following the characters around helping to take photos for everyone. Mickey Mouse waved at us, but the lineup to meet him was closed so we weren’t able to do that.

We walked through a pathway that led us to the rest of the park. We saw this statue upon entering which is Walt Disney in front of the famed Cinderella castle. There were a lot of souvenir shops, and Halloween themed places. The first ride we decided to go on was Pirates of the Caribbean (obviously, since it is one of my favourite Disney movies.) I tried to take some photos while inside, but it was too dark. Sadly, the Jack Sparrow at the end did not turn out because the boat started moving as I took the photo of him. Overall, it was interesting to see the different scenes that were made into the movie!!

Obviously this was the first ride I went on at Disneyland. One of my favourite movies.

Below is a piece of Aztec gold I “stole” from the Pirates!

After this we got tickets for a ride called Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which is a rollercoaster on the mountain. We had to wait about an hour for the ride, so we decided to grab some lunch and went to other rides while we waited.

After lunch we went to Snow White’s Wishing Well and rode a ride called Snow White’s Adventure.

After Snow White’s Adventure we walked over to It’s A Small World. We passed the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall (restaurant) from Alice in Wonderland.

After the It’s A Small World ride, we went back to Big Thunder Mountain. We had received a fast pass, so we didn’t have to wait in line for very long. Then we decided to venture through Cinderella’s Castle.

Cinderella’s Castle (walkthrough) – We waited for about a half hour in line, and then we walked through Cinderella’s castle. The last room was beautiful! There was a glass slipper that people could try on, and take photos around it. The room also had a beautiful chandelier and a throne that people could sit on.

After that we went to wait in line for the Monsters Inc. ride. This line was really long, and it started to get cooler as the day was beginning to get darker. The sun usually sets around 5pm in Japan. The Monsters Inc. ride was a searching game where you had to find Monster hats in the dark, and shine your flashlight on them. This ride was a lot of fun, but the waiting time was almost 1 1/2 hours long! The next ride we decided to go on was Space Mountain, which was pretty scary. I have a fear of the dark, so for me this ride was a lot funner than I had expected it to be! You can’t see a thing when you’re on this ride and it swerves back and forth which was unsettling!! I have a fear of the dark, so this ride was a little scary.

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After Space Mountain, we went on Big Thunder Mountain one last time because we had tickets from the previous ride. It was starting to get late after this, so we decided to get some food. After the food, we only had a small amount of time left until we had to catch our train back, so we decided to look through some of the shops as you first walk into the park.

All in all, this was a very fun day, and I felt very fortunate to get the opportunity to go to Disneyland. I had never been to Disney before, so this was a dream come true for me! I finally made it home around midnight, and I went straight to bed!

There is a light show and parade that happens at night, but we had to make the train home so we weren’t able to stay for the whole thing. All the floats in the parade are lit up with lights, and Cinderella’s castle is lit up as well!

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Hitachi Seaside Park

I took the train (by myself for the first time!) to get to a place called Katsuta, and then we took a bus to Hitachi Seaside Park. This place was BEAUTIFUL!! First, we walked over to the field of Kokias (the red plants in these pictures).

Then we walked to the Pacific Ocean, and saw a glass house. This was made into a restaurant.

After sitting inside the glass house, we walked over to a little amusement park and decided to ride a few rides. The one I was most nervous about was the ferris wheel because I am terrified of heights!

One thing I noticed is there are a lot of dragonflies in Japan! I see them everywhere, but haven’t noticed many where I live in Canada. You’ll notice that in the photo with the Kokias there are a lot of dragonflies flying around!

That concluded our adventures for that day, and I didn’t get home until about 10pm. I very proudly took the train home by myself, even though it was in Japanese. I got a little nervous about missing my stop but I was able to manage on my own!