What no one tells you about coming to Japan
11 weeks passed and I’m not sure if I’m used to Japan. I still don’t know much Japanese and I use more hand motions than words in my conversations with the Japanese girls on my hall. I can navigate the Metro fairly well, even without Google maps (not that I wouldn’t use Google maps, but if it stopped working I would be able to decipher the maps and ask people for help). I can confidently order food (with pointing) and I don’t feel so confused about what side of the road to be on. All these little things that were so jarring about Japan have become normal for me. I thought I should share all the little tidbits of Japan that I had wished someone had shared with me before I had arrived. These facts aren’t necessary to know beforehand and one could argue discovering these facts adds to the experience but I thought I might as well share them.
I’m sure everyone’s heard about Japan having a convenience store at every corner. If not, you know now. What I did not know about these conbini is that they also sell lunches or bentos. I can buy a box of rice, chicken, and some pickled something for roughly $4.00. Conbini makes me wonder why America is not doing the same but that’s besides the point. Turns out, when you go up to pay for your bento cashiers will say a bunch of stuff at you. Knowing no Japanese like me, you assume they are saying something about the price. They are. If you don’t catch a word of what they are saying no worries, you can look at the register for the total. After, they will say something else. The first time this happened to me, I had no idea what was being said and my cashier did not gesture to clarify, so I just shook my head no. I found out later that they were asking me if I wanted them to microwave my bento, free of charge. Next time I went up, I nodded my head and got a hot meal to take back with me.
Bicycles and Walking
Japan is an island country and much smaller than America. Tokyo is a very crowded metropolitan area. Most people take the train to go anywhere. If you have the train, a car becomes rather useless in the city. Most people in Japan have a bike. Which I had expected to some extent. I was not expecting so many people to be riding their bikes on the sidewalks. Be warned folks. One of the greatest truths I’ve ever heard was that drivers don’t like pedestrians and pedestrians don’t like drivers, but both don’t like cyclists. Some days walking to and from school can feel harrowing from avoiding cyclists. While on the topic of walking, you should know that cars are on the left side and not on the right like in America. I would have expected that to translate when walking but I feel like there is no standard side to be on when walking. Just follow along with what everyone else is doing and maybe generally stay on the left to be safe.
There are unspoken rules about escalators. I don’t know who came up with them and how every Japanese person learned them but they exist. The left side is for standing, the right side is for walking. Don’t do anything to mess that up because that’s just rude to those who’re trying to rush (I would know; I’ve been there). It’s amazing how neat Japanese people stand at the escalators. In America, people tend to clump in groups on the escalator and if it were to get crowded, I would expect jostling and pushing. Not in Japan. People stand in line here. I have to say this aspect of Japan I really enjoy because it’s nice not to have to fight to the front.
These are only three aspects of Japanese life that took me by surprise, but the list could go on. I hope you all have a chance to live in another country and find yourself stumbling through their normal as you try to find your own normal.