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. So...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 ...you 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!