I have officially been in Japan for a month now so I thought I’d write a blog on the culture shock I have experienced so far. I want to state some things I’ve noticed that are different from what I’m used to, I will try to inform everyone who might come across this. I want to try and split it up into a few sections; (1) The culture shock I have experienced, (2) The things I appreciate in Japan, (3) The things I appreciate in Australia, and finally, (4) small cultural differences that I have found interesting.
The culture shock I have experienced
I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced massive culture shock. But I have found lots and lots of things that are what distinguish Japan from Australia and other western societies.
I came to japan knowing how helpful people are and how they go out of their way to help. I think I probably underestimated this if I’m being honest. I have celiac disease which is not popular among Japanese people. They are not that educated on my dietary needs because not a lot of Japanese people have it. I spent a day with my councillor and his children. We went to a 焼肉店 (Yakiniku [Japanese barbecue] Restaurant) the restaurant had a salad bar. I went to get some salad. We asked the workers if there was gluten in any of the dressings. The worker has brought out a sheet and confirmed that all of the salad components had bits of gluten in them. So i went to sit back down, not really bothered by not getting a salad and then a worker brought out a salad that had been specially made with no gluten. Things like this really surprised me. I just went ahead and was thinking of going without a salad which I was completely fine with. But when the waiter brought out the special salad for me without me asking. I guess the small acts of kindness that show the way that people go out of their way to assist surprised me.
Japan is a collective society. They focus on the collective rather than the individual. This was quite noticeable to me within my first week of school. Mistakes from an individual are seen as failures to the collective. In school when the teacher asks a question there are no hands raised. I remember in english class the teacher got the students come up and answer questions that were written on the board and then she would mark them. Whenever there was an incorrect answer, most people went quiet or they laughed. Making mistakes can be embarrassing but we see them as opportunities to learn from. Making mistakes seems to be terrifying in front of the collective.
Japan Isn’t a multiculturalist society so it’s easy to tell apart the 外国人 (foreigners) like me. But from what I’ve noticed, Japan has quite a strong view on who is Japanese and who isn’t. I’ve noticed that you kind of need to comply to 3 factors to be Japanese. Language, Culture, Appearance. If you can speak the language and follow the culture but don’t look Japanese you technically aren’t seen as Japanese. I was shown photos of my host sisters preschool and there was a child who was half Japanese and half white. The girl was probably born in Japan but when my host mum pointed her out to me she said ‘foreigner’ even though this little girl was most likely born in Japan. This was a new concept to try and get my head around as Australia has people from many different cultures.
The things I appreciate in Japan
Ive come across so many things within a month that I want to have back home in Australia. I thought I’d list some!
- コンビニ (convenience stores) – More than 50,000 convenience stores can be found across Japan. There are an absolute abundance of these in japan. and like the name suggests – they’re really convenient. Heres a map of your basic Konbini on the left and on the right is the amount of Konbini’s that are in Eniwa (where I am living).
2. Vending Machines – They are everywhere and they are so amazing. They’re very cheap and they sell all sorts of stuff. Eniwa is a small town so I’ve only come into contact with the ones that offer both cold and warm drinks along with ones that have snacks.
3. Japanese toilets – Ok, this is a little weird but Japanese toilets are amazing. I need Australia to follow suite. They have heated seats, bidets and the toilets are pretty much self cleaning. Public bathrooms are also amazing. They’re so clean. Japanese public toilets also have a button you can push that plays some sound to cover up any other sound… However, I’m trying my best to stay away from the traditional squat toilets.
4. Shoes – This one has a special place in my heart. Like a lot of other asian countries, the Japanese take their shoes off while entering a house, School or some restaurants. (Mum, if you’re reading, I need you to reinforce this rule) It makes the space feel cleaner.
The things I appreciate in Australia.
I’ve rambled on about Japan for a while so I thought I’d mention some of the stuff I especially appreciate in Australia.
- Multiculturalism – I guess this never really fazed me why having a multiculturalist society has different affects to that of a cultural pluralistic society. I have been exposed to many others who don’t look like me. So I’m desensitized to the way that people look. It always feels a little strange when I walk into a room and I get all eyes on me or when I walk to school and see primary schoolers staring at me.
2. Causality – Australia is a pretty casual country and I think coming to Japan has helped me realise this. Japanese as a language has many levels of formality I try to do my best to speak formally but i feel awkward when i use the wrong word or form. You can say a different word 6 times depending on the formality.
3. Humor – Japanese humor is actually different to Aussie humor. Aussie humor has a lot of sarcasm, dark humor, self deprecation and jokes to the expense of others (all in good fun!). On the flip side, Japanese comedy is not based around the expense of others. Japanese comedy is characterized by its use of slapstick, wordplay, gags and contrast of absurdity for no reason.
Small cultural differences I find interesting
This part is kind of dumb. These are the small things I have noticed or other things that have been pointed out to me.
- Small gestures – There are a lot of gestures that exist in both Australia and Japan and convey the same meanings. A few of the ones i’ve found different are
a. Pointing to yourself
When I point at myself for some reason I point at my chest. But in Japan people point at their nose. It is an incredibly small difference but it was an interesting difference to notice. I want to try and research why there is a tendency to point at the nose and not the chest.
b. Marking things.
Ok this one had me a bit confused. When I started school I noticed that instead of the ✓and X while marking things correct and incorrect, Japanese use a ◯ and ✓ instead. So, this means that in school when I would participate in english and help people mark things I was marking everything on my peers papers as incorrect…
c. someone asking you to come towards them
This also confused me because it looks like the exact opposite message it’s trying to convey. When I want someone to come to me, I stick my hand out, palm facing upwards and I move my arm/ wrist in circular motions towards my shoulder. In Japan it looks like they’re trying to get you to go away. The person’s hand will be palm down with fingers out front. They will drag their fingers inwards to their palm, then flick them back out straight again. The flick outwards is more noticeable so i thought for a while people were telling me to rack off…
2. 挨拶 greeting(?)
The word aisatsu means greeting in Japanese, however, it’s more than just ‘hello’. From what I’ve been exposed to, aisatsu are daily phrases. I hear these phrases every single day. A few example of aisatsu are: おはようございます (good morning)、こんにちは (hello; good afternoon)、 こんばんは (good evening)、お休みなさい (good night)、さようなら (good bye)、行ってきます (I’m off!; I’m leaving)、行ってらしゃい (You’re off!; Take care!)、ただいま (I’m home)、お帰り (welcome home)、お疲れ様です (you’ve worked hard; you must be tired)、ようこそ (welcome)、いらっしゃいませ (welcome [used in restaurants; stores])
These phrases are said every day. In the workplace, at home, at school, in a restaurant. everywhere lol.
3. beauty standards.
This isn’t on the whole topic of beauty standards but rather some odd things I’ve heard. I was riding the bus home and two students were interested in having a chat so I talked to them. One of the students said 顔小さいね to me that I was confused about that but just went along with it. A week after that I was at a rotary event and the risette (American exchange student) got the same remark. I recognised it and asked “what does it mean is it like a compliment or…?” she said yes but we both didn’t know why. So we turned to a rebound student and asked the same question. The rebound told us that a lot of japanese have rounder faces so to have a ‘small face’ is a good thing. But I reckon the smaller your face is the more severe your RBF is so…
I have tried to expose myself to all of these new experiences and I’m so glad that I have discovered a lot of new things. I can not wait to come across many other new and interesting cultural differences.