5 Things in Japan that I Really Got Used to
By Alex Sturmey
I recently wrote an article in which I talked about some of the things I don’t think I’ll ever get used to living in Japan. However, despite this, there are aspects that not only did I get used to but also that I’m slowly starting to love. So much so, that whenever I go back home, I get some strange second-home sickness. Or, maybe that’s just me suffering from Fami-Chiki withdrawals (I can quit at any time, honestly… ).
1. The royal welcome
Whenever you walk into a store you’re greeted with a resounding chorus that would put the cast of Les Mis to shame. The shop staff will all call out “Irashaimase” in your general direction. Loosely translated it means “welcome to our store.”
I didn’t know whether or not to say hello in response. Sometimes, I hit back with my own cheeky “Irashaimase.” Not only does this assert my dominance over the store, but I also end up welcoming them… to the shop, they are being paid to be at.
I’ve come to love it. It’s like my own little royal announcement that, as the prophecy foretold, I have arrived to buy my bento and iced coffee; as well as free a dragon and slay a princess or something like that.
It’s gotten to the point where I get a bit upset when I go back to the U.K. and someone isn’t loudly announcing my presence. Instead, all I get are crazy questions like: “How did you get in here? I closed the shop an hour ago.” Is it so hard to request a little Japanese hospitality?
This doesn’t stop at entering stores. At a restaurant at home, it might be considered rude to shout at the top of your lungs when you want to order something. So we end up having to do a kind of eyeball dance with our server trying to catch their attention. It’s so much simpler in Japan. Either I can call people over to me, or have the luxury of summoning someone through the press of the button — like some kind of food-ordering wizard.
2. Nomihodai and letting it all out
Let’s not beat around the proverbial bush here. For one, what did the bush ever do to you? And secondly, we all know that in Japan, overtime is king. The idea of working and sleeping at your desk is a pretty common idea within Japanese society. Not leaving before you boss leaves is often an unwritten rule. This makes it very difficult when you want to use the bathroom.
In Japan, it seems to be commonplace to take every opportunity to get in a few drinks.
In Japan, it seems to be commonplace to take every opportunity to get in a few drinks. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be invited out for drinking parties practically every day of the week (to nomikai, literally: drink meeting. Why can’t we have more of these in the office?). Unfortunately, I was also expected to turn up the next day with a smile on my face and not wanting to smash every bright object in my immediate reach.
3. Holding on to the past
Japanese people, sometimes to a fault, have a near-fanatical love for everything Japanese. Although it gets a lot of flak, I’m really starting to warm to it.
A million parts of the past are kept alive today. If I see a video of some old Japanese crafts, I can be assured to find, if not a place where it is still being made by hand, a place where I can buy those handmade products nearby. Temples and shrines all over Japan are well maintained, and the country seems to add UNESCO sites every day. Someone should probably tell them you don’t get a medal for the most entries.
Not that it isn’t annoying to be stonewalled at the office with the “we do it that way because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
4. The necessities of the weather
I have a pretty difficult relationship with the weather here in Japan, ever since it went out to buy cigarettes when I was nine and never came back. Now, I’m starting to accept it, although, that might just be Stockholm Syndrome.
The weather defines the festivals, holidays and small talk. You have to learn the words atsui and samui, for hot and cold respectively, if you want to fit in. It’s a nice little community effort. A reminder that you’re all in this weather hell together. Though, perhaps, I just hang around with people that like to torture me.
5. The freedom of limited emotions
Everything in Japan can be placed into two main categories: kawaii (cute) or kowai (scary). Sometimes you even get a cheeky, kimochi warui (bad feeling). You also have to accept that every food you eat, will — and always is — oishii (delicious). Frankly, I’ve found it has made my life so much easier. It really simplifies the language.
For example, if something doesn’t bring me so much joy that it ascended me with a flurry of emotions and transported my heart to new levels of love and acceptance. It’s just cute. A food doesn’t evaporate on my tongue to tickle my taste buds into an explosion of flavor. It’s delicious. See? Easy.
Did you agree with the items on this list? What sort of things have you gotten used to about living here in Japan? Are there some things that you don’t think you’ll ever understand?