By the second week, the interns are very aware of the cultural differences between Japan and their home country.
There are a lot of norms in Asia, and some that are specific to Japan, that a lot of us are having a hard time adjusting to. As we all want to be respectful of the culture here as foreigners, we’ve been faced with the challenge of fighting our immediate intuition in order to adapt to the Japanese culture here.
For an example, in Japan – it is considered rude to eat or drink in public. Being used to eating my bagel and drinking my coffee on the go, it’s been extremely frustrating to have to wait until I arrive to an appropriate location to drink or eat anything. This norm means that I can not eat my energy bars during my commute to work and I can not bring my cup of coffee or tea with me while I walk around the city of Tokyo.
Something that still surprises me is that here, people walk and drive on the left side (rather than the right). Not only is it shocking to see cars on the wrong side of the street, but Japanese people are very insistent on walking on the left side of the sidewalk and standing on the left side of escalators to allow for people in a rush to pass by them on the right. Living here, I’ve had to make a conscious effort to make sure that I am on the right side of the sidewalk, escalator, and road.
A pretty shocking aspect of Japanese culture is how vegetables and fruits aren’t readily available. Produce is considered somewhat of a luxury here, and fruits and vegetables are noticeably expensive.
Being aware of all these things that are unique to Japanese culture has made it possible for me to know how to avoid some of the big cultural “no-noes” of Japan.
A huge source of this information comes from the Japanese students that I have been teaching. Even though my role in the program is to serve as their mentor and educator, I have learned so much from my students. I am forever grateful for their patience with me and their willingness to help me better understand Japanese tradition and culture.
The majority of my second week has been a matter of trying to get into the routine of waking up early, trying to entertain students during their time in the classroom, then exploring as much of Tokyo as I can before I decide that I am exhausted and head home.
I am excited to settle into my routine and share my experience teaching in Japan in the next blog post! I am hoping that by then I will have gotten into a comfortable schedule and have a better understanding of my role (and impact) as a teacher.