Organizing the behaviors that differ between what I’m used to and what goes on in my part of Japan.
There’s such a large spectrum of bizarre things that the Japanese do. Well, bizarre to me. Let’s be clear: I hail from a middle sized city, close to another very large city, with a very Americanized social structure, mixtures of races and cultures, and I was raised in the ‘burbs. Just about anywhere I go, people seem to do strange things. It’s no surprise that Japan was odd to me.
Thankfully, I was prepared for many things when I first flew over. Customs like changing into house slippers in people’s homes, some restaurants, and schools. Or etiquette for onsen bathing and proper introductions between people. Other things I knew about but didn’t fully understand their scope until I experienced them first hand, usually when making some silly social mistakes. Things like how no matter what people say, unless they have an understanding of the literal nature of the way we speak in the west, is taken as an indirect way to say something completely different. An example is when I ask my company branch something, I get the oddest, loop around, response. It takes me a day to think about why I got the response and what I need to respond with in order to get to the heart of the question. むずかしね。Difficult. But it’s all about maintaining the ‘Wa’ here.
Beyond the many business oriented social rigamorole, there are many behaviors that peak my interest. The rate at which things are built here is astounding when compared to what I’m used to seeing back home. Not that construction workers at home are lazy or ineffective. In Japan, they appear to work at near lightening speed. A friend and I were driving on 159 and saw the base of a house being built. She challenged that in a couple weeks, there would be a fully finished house standing there. Sure enough, she was right. Road construction is equally impressive. I wonder what their secret is…
Little things like the amount of squatting people do on a regular basis is a constant source of glee for me. When the students have a big meeting and are allowed to squat for a period but not sit for whatever reason, they all look like a bunch of cute little frogs chillin’ on rocks. Or sometimes when someone squats and is thinking real hard about something, they look like they are taking an imaginary poo.
Only 3 weeks till I fly home for my August break! I’m trying to stay as busy as possible to help time fly and to soak up as much as I can of a Japanese summer. Festivals everywhere you turn, parties and izakaya (imagine a bar with awesome food and drinks but with private, closed off seating areas instead of regular bar or pub) outings, trips to cities/towns. I haven’t had the time for a lazy day at the beach yet! And I’m surrounded by beaches within 40 minutes on almost all sides. They aren’t the cleanest beaches however. Oo side step back to topic!
The streets in Japan are, typically, immaculately clean. Even during a huge festival, towns people are hard at work gathering the junk left behind. It shows so much pride. In contrast, their beaches couldn’t be more trashed. It may be that no matter where you are around the world there will be trash that washes up on the shore. In my experiences on the East Coast of the States, either towns people or hired city workers patrol the beaches for trash. I’ve even found myself reaching for the few bits of trash left behind.
Rarely have I come across a beach littered and water clogged with junk as it is here in my area of Japan. And it’s not as though they have too many beaches to monitor. Much of Japan’s shores are cliff-sides or cemented barriers to protect from tsunami’s and such things. What little beach they do have is left to fend for itself. No boardwalks, few seaside eateries, and few clean areas to lay down a blanket. There’s glass, plastic containers, dead fish, long rope, clothing, and more. It’s like someone took a Walmart and dumped its contents into the Sea of Japan.
Being the beach bums that we are, my friend Nicole and I have discussed coming to one of the beaches for the sole purpose of doing a clean up. Secretly, we hope that our efforts will embarrass the people who live there into taking more pride in their lovely little beaches. In the defense of some towns, I have seen a beach where the debris had been collected into large piles along the shoreline, though I don’t know if it has been or will be removed. It could also be the case that no one bothers to clean the beaches until August, when kids have their summer break and most families take their vacations. But it’s so hot already! It feels like a sin to be so close to the ocean and have such disrespect for a beach that could be helping hundreds or thousands of people relax (and spend money at the town’s establishments!).
With love – M