Visible and Cultural Differences | #3

One thing I was not quite prepared for is being a visible minority. I know that everybody has a different experience in this respect, but mine has been nothing but humorous.


The other day I was waiting with some friends to go up an elevator to a restaurant. The door dings and out comes an old Japanese man who walks straight towards me, asks where I’m from and says “You are very handsome” before turning and walking away. I’ve received military salutes and compliments from people I’ve never seen before. I get surprised looks when people see me speaking Japanese with friends, and I get asked for pictures with strangers almost every time I go out for the day. The requests usually come from junior high school students on school trips, but plenty of my University students have done the same. The only real negative is that I get handed English menus and people speak English to me by default – but that can’t really be helped in an area with so much tourism.


Before coming here, I had never been out of the States. The obvious result of moving to the other side of the world is experiencing a different culture, but I didn’t realize which aspect of my daily life would be different. Lists take too much space and there isn’t a super effective way to organize so many small things so let’s just pretend that the rest of this post is coherent.


My toilet has a sink on it. I hang my clothes up outside to dry. Baths; not showers. Nobody crosses the street until the signal is green – even if the road is empty. Very few places actually let you pay with a card, so I have to carry cash (I usually don’t in America). Tipping at restaurants is weird and frowned upon. Walking and eating simultaneously is pretty rude.


Deodorant doesn’t really exist in the form that America uses, but there are alternatives. Customer service is incredible. Cities are very clean, but there aren’t really any trash cans outside of buildings. There aren’t very many gyms, and the ones I’ve seen are usually small or expensive. Fitness seems to be a niche here, not perceived as a necessity. The body type here is much thinner. Because of that, I’ve received a lot of flattering notes and messages asking about fitness and advice and things. I suspect that a lot of Americans get a really inflated ego after coming here.


Fashion is very different. The clothes tend to be more loose-fit, girls wear dresses and skirts much more often, and all students below the university level have uniforms. People often wear face masks here too.


Going grocery shopping is really different. Foods that I had thought before were just “stereotypical” Japanese foods turned out to not be so stereotypical. By that, I mean that Japan really has a completely different palette. Supermarkets have a ton of fish, squid, shrimp, rice, various types of Japanese noodles and plenty of matcha-flavored snacks. I had a really hard time finding some things that I had assumed were commonly consumed worldwide – for example, bread, cheese, milk, cereal, lunch meat, ground beef, chicken, turkey, oatmeal and various fruits. Some of these things just uncommon, others are basically impossible to find. I have tried 6 or 7 different supermarkets and still haven’t been able to find oatmeal. That being said, I have been embracing the change and eating a mostly Japanese diet.


Work itself has been going really well. I have been reading online about better approaches to ESL teaching and it seems to have helped. The students are slowly starting to open up and seem more excited, and I have been hanging out with many of them outside of class. I’ll talk more about the local community next week.


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