Saturday, August 21, 2010

When I first came to Japan...

The other day my friend and I were talking about how we couldn't believe I had been living here for 12 years. She said she had noticed some changes in me and after our little talk I got to thinking about my first few years here. are some things I realize/remember etc.

When I first came to Japan 12 years ago:

* I didn't have culture shock but I did have price shock! I remember going to a kind of cafe and a small (think ornate British style tea cup) cup of mint tea was $4.5. I almost walked out.

* My body was confused. I came in July from Vancouver (almost no humidity) and the humidity was so heavy here that everyday my body was expecting rain followed by a break in the humidity. It never came. It also gets dark here in the summer by 7:30 so I kept looking at the clock expecting it to be much later than it really was.

* I couldn't wear makeup. It was so hot and humid until November that the thought of putting anything on my face made me cringe and besides, I would have just wiped it off as I was using a cloth every few minutes to wipe the sweat off my face (if you come to Japan in the summer you will see that everyone carries around at least a small handkerchief though some carry towels). And by "wipe" I don't mean the dainty style of dabbing my face like Japanese women do. I mean I was taking off my glasses (thank God I wear contacts now) and wiping my face as if I just got out of a shower or like the "ojisan" (old men) do.

* I had never seen a cockroach in any place I had ever lived in and therefore the thought of having to deal with/kill them was so foreign to me. Now, I'm a pro at killing them and have come to realize that it has nothing to do with a dirty house but rather it has to do with living in Japan (though thankfully I only have to deal with them 2-3 times a year).

* My first winter here was a bit shocking. Where I live, it doesn't snow-kind of like Vancouver. It does get cold (sometimes it gets below 0) but there are vegetables growing, flowers blooming etc. What was shocking was that I was fine outside with nothing more than a sweater (I am Canadian!) but inside my house I was freezing!! I could never get warm enough. Cold wind blows in easily through closed windows! And there is no central heat so you have a choice of contraptions to keep warm but for the first few years it wasn't enough. Now, I'm not only used to it I love it and find it too warm in Canadian houses especially while sleeping.

* I couldn't drink cold green tea (the real stuff...not flavored or sweetened "green tea" products). It was way too bitter for me. Now, it is my favorite drink.

* I had hard time dealing with getting paid only once a month. In Vancouver I had 2 jobs so I was paid every week since they had different pay schedules. I was in shock and had a really hard time learning to budget my money.

* I was really homesick at Christmas time since not only was I far away from my family and traditions but really...Christmas in Japan is....well...not the same (I know I know....not a real shocker). Now, I love NOT having Christmas. Honestly, I never thought I would be someone to say that but it is true. I'm glad I don't have all the stuff taking up space in my home, no pressure to shop ( I do send a few things home but it isn't the same), no overspending etc.

* I was shocked at how small the portions are in Japan. I will never forget my first meal here with my boss. We ordered and after it came I looked around and thought the waitress would be bringing more...nope! Now, the opposite is true. I am SHOCKED at the how big the food is in Canada!

* I couldn't eat plain white rice-no flavor. Now, I love it. I couldn't taste the difference between 100 yen salmon sushi and 500 yen salmon sushi ($1 and $5). Now I really can and I'm not so fond of the 100 yen salmon sushi anymore.

* I was shocked at how quickly Japanese homes get dusty. You could dust here every day and still not keep up with it. I am thinking it must be the way houses are built or what they are built with. I remember 3 older friends (ladies in their 50's) went to my mother's house and one morning they got up early to clean her house for her but they couldn't find any dust....they thought she had just cleaned but mom said she cleaned before they got there- so about 5 days before. They were shocked.

* I would stare out my school's windows at the rice fields in dismay and wonder what the hell I was doing here. Now, I LOVE rice fields. Walking by one as the wind blows through it is so amazing!

* I missed so many foods from home but when I go back and try them I can't believe they were my favorites as my tastes have changed so much.

* I couldn't imagine that I would start to forget English. I remember listening to the teacher I was replacing explain how to use the washing machine. She was talking and then she was struggling to find the right words so she used her hands in a sweeping motion while saying "now we will make the water go away". In other words, turn this dial to drain the water. She was Canadian. I was shocked. Now....I'm not shocked. Now I struggle sometimes and the dictionary is my best friend. But living in a foreign country for 12 years and teaching "This is a pen." over and over....chances are will lose some English!

I still can't believe I have been here this long. I came when I was 27 and I will be 40 in October. I never could have imagined this life but I love it!


deeh said...

hi :)

how i wish i can also experience to live in japan or in canada.. :)

im an avid reader of your blog.. hope you are doing great. have a nice day! :)

FromJapanWithLove said...

deeh-hi! Where are you living? Both Canada and Japan are great! If you ever come to Japan I suggest November-May is best. And for Canada....depends where but summer in Vancouver and mid-late Sept in Ontario (beautiful fall leaves).

chinamommy said...

Amazing how much can change in 12 (short) years!! What a wonderful experience!!

kalai said...

your life sounds so interesting~~ i hope i get somewhere totally different~~

Nakamuras on Saipan said...

I can understand how you feel. After 30 years in Saipan I'm not "American" anymore. Next year we move back to Masaaki's hometown to retire and that will be it. I wonder how long it will be before I will blend right in there. I am so much looking forward to it.

Aries said...

I could never imagine living in another country for so long. I don't mind a vacation or two oversea but I get homesick very fast. I need to be around my family. I remembered I went to USA on my honeymoon, a 12 days tour, by the 5th day I already miss Malaysian food. You sure could adapt easily. Glad you like it in Japan.

Anonymous said...

Tks for sharing. I can relate to your story as I too hv been away from home for >20 years! =)

FromJapanWithLove said...

Nakamura! I just commented on your blog but not sure it went through. I was commenting on the gaijin wife post. Let me know and I can try again if it didn't go through.

Aries-I never thought I would be a person to live outside of Canada-no one really believed me when I told them I was coming here but it was the best thing for me!

achan said...

I hear you loud and clear!!
I just stumbled on your blog but it feels like I stumbled on my own experience, I came almost 12 years ago and will be 40 soon too!!! I never ever thought that I could end up livng here...I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog, and looking at your etsy stuff :D

Nakamuras on Saipan said...

Hi again! I wanted to respond to the post you left on my site- and wanted to make sure you saw it! thanks for a lovely comment-honestly! I am thrilled to make connections with people. Funny-we have a lot in common. My hubby has been away from japan for 30 years. he is and is not "Japanese". Some people say-"oh, Nakamura san is so traditional"...ha-they don't know. He is when he has to be. but I live with him. I'm glad though beause when we move to Japan in 2011-June or so, I won't feel so much pressure to conform perfectly. I've been to Japan dozens of times and I do ok. I know my "responsibilities" being the wife of a chonan-but-he is rather relaxed about things that many others get steamed about. Nice to meet you! thanks for posting on my blog-appreciate the advice!

FromJapanWithLove said...

achan-cool blog!! I was sorry to hear you are homesick. I have to say that I'm really not. Though...I don't imagine "retiring" (whatever that means as we have online businesses and aren't planning a traditional retirement) here as Japan (in my opinion) isn't great for older people. We are planning to split our time between Canada (up in Southampton, Ontario 5 minute walk from Lake Huron)and Japan at some point. Still....when I think of my thanks!

Nakamura! I see you posted it...thanks! Funny how your husband can be "Japanese"...mine really can't. He is also 6 ft 5 inches so he is constantly stared at when we go out as he is a giant here. He is almost uncomfortable in Japan and is basically treated like a foreigner. Can't tell you how many times he is asked if he is Japanese! When we go out...the waiters/saleclerk talk to me not him. Weird!

Don't worry about being perfect here-you will totally be forgiven for anything as you are a foreigner-some foreigners hate that as Japanese kind of expect we can't "get it" but I say (in my case) it's ok!

My hubby is also chonan. I don't know your situation but when I found out we had a big talk as there is no way I can ever live with his family (I can't imagine living with mine!) and he is ok with that as they have a stressful relationship anyway. Besides, I'm "chojo" or is that spelled "chojyo"? anyway,....we don't know what the future holds and we could end up back in Canada at some point so ... Guess we will cross that bridge when we come to it. BTW....when you say you know the responsibilities of being the wife of a chonan....I feel like I'm missing something. What do you mean?

FromJapanWithLove said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nakamuras on Saipan said...

Hi again! Here is what i have been taught about my responsibilities as "wife of chonan". Let me just say that my husbands family is very close. They all live within close proximity to one-another and they are also very close in relationship, visiting often and doing things together often. As wife of chonan I am expected to be the "leader" of events such as family dinners. For example-let's say we have a dinner and everyone comes over to MIL's house. I do not sit down much..I serve, serve,serve. sit, take a few bites of food with my eyes constantly looking to see if uncles glass needs a refill, we need more chopsticks, plates, glasses, etc. I also lead the cleaning-up effort (which means I do most of the work). I also ahve the responsibility of taking care of my MIL should she need to be taken care of. My FIL died the first year we were married. I do have a step-FIL but not sure if I have to take care of him- I'm guessing I probably would. Basically, I am mu husband's right-hand. Being the leader of family events (on the cooking, cleaning...etc. side). I also have to think of things men would not think of- like giving proper omiyage when needed and remembering who to give them to-over and above my "lower" sister-in-laws. I have the greater responsibility. These are just a few of the things that I have learned so far. I am not sure if it is the same all over Japan, but this is the way it is in his furusato. But honestly, I am ok with this. We talked about all of this before deciding to move to Japan. Masaaki asked me if I would be willing to take on this role as his family is very traditional in many ways (but in some -not so traditional). I agreed to this and am willing to do these things. Not everyone can. I also practice Buddhism and already have a few "Obosan" friends in Japan. I am and have been intensely interested in Japanese anthropology - so maybe this helps me (?) to accept these things. :)

FromJapanWithLove said...

Nakamursan! I see!!! That sounds very tradtional. And you are right...not everyone can do that and I am one of those people. His family is not so close....they live only 2 train stops away and we maybe see them only 3 times a year or so. He gets stressed if he is with them too long so I don't think he could ever live with them. But we did talk about it because I knew I couldn't be like a traditional Japanese wife and he said it was fine. I think his parents don't expect these things from me because I am a foreigner. And we have told them that there is a good chance that we could end up going back to Canada at some point-at least part time.

Reading your fail miserably at giving the right omiyage and my hubby is no better. Honestly I sometimes wonder if he is Japanese! When his parent's come to our place we have a buffet style meal so everyone helps themselves but both my hubby and I take care to give them drinks. His parents are still young...only just turned 60 and in good health so I guess we will just have to deal with these things when they happen. Thanks so much for explaining it to me!

maoiliosa said...

i always love reading about your life in japan, even if i don't comment very often ;). i really enjoy getting your insight into your new way of life and the odd little things that people normally don't even think about. it's totally fascinating to me! i'm glad you're enjoying life there and that you've found so much success! isn't life wonderful? :) also, i sort of always assumed (for no real reason, i guess) that you were around my age (26)... there is no way you are nearly 40 ;D.

Fernando said...

Hey! I guess it was too difficult to stay still and not change at all, specially when the cultures are sooo different!

I am curious about what you said about the roaches. You are telling me that in Canada - Vancouver...there is no roaches at all? Like never?

FromJapanWithLove said...

Fernando-I NEVER saw one in my apartment in Vancouver. I never saw one in my sister's apartment there either. I grew up in Ontario and NEVER saw one in my house or anyone's house. I'm pretty sure I would have remembered...I also wouldn't have been so shocked when I saw them here!

Melissa! Thanks hon! I don't feel (almost) 40! Not sure what that is supposed to feel like but I sure don't feel it! I'm told all the time that I don't look it. But when I think that a lot of the kids I teach could be mine...including the 18-20 year olds...well....that is shocking! I have a feeling I will be writing a post about this topic after I turn 40.

Lorna said...

Aloha! I came across your Etsy goodies awhile back and now pop in and out to read your blog. It's always so entertaining! You might have answered this in a post that I missed but how did you end up going there and teaching English?

deeh said...

hi again :) sorry for the long overdue reply... I'm from the Philippines but will be migrating soon in Australia. I'll take note all of your suggestions as traveling to Japan and Canada are listed on my bucket list :D

sabilablabla said...

Hi!! I just found this blog last night, and I love your post!!! Since I have some plan to continue my study overseas. Dunno where yet, but Japan is one of my plan. Guess, it always the best to be in your own country home, but it also precious experience and quite challenging to live in far place with completely different cultures.. Hope you 're doing great always! :D


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