A few collected things about living in Japan

Posted on 18.03.2014

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I’ll be writing many of these, but I need to keep recording them as I go. I have a few things for today, and will add to my list for later as the things come.

For now, here are some of my random things that I’ve collected:

Umbrellas in the snow
weather-japanI’m not quite sure I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around this. I’m thankful I got here just before Tokyo got hit with the most snow it has seen in 40+ years. As I just spent 4+ years in Germany, the amount of snowfall we got wasn’t anything special. What WAS special about it was the lack of infrastructure in place to handle the amount of snow.

Apparently, Tokyo doesn’t own a snow plow? Because they’re not Hokkaido? I don’t get it. But the streets had to be literally shovelled. Either by men who work for the city or the residents. I wasn’t home to see it and don’t yet own a shovel, so I have no idea.

Another thing I saw was a lot of people wearing hooded jackets walking in the snow with umbrellas. I asked a few of my students about this, and they said that people didn’t want to mess up their hair, or are just used to carrying umbrellas for the rain. I would prefer to walk with my hands in my pockets and with my hood tied snugly around my head. Umbrellas take up too much space, and too many hands when you are trying to navigate and keep your balance on snow-covered roads. You couldn’t pay me to carry a damn thing in that much snow, I need those hands to catch me when I slip and fall.

toilet control panel. No such thing as a left-handed ninja...

toilet control panel. No such thing as a left-handed ninja…

Warm, singing toilets
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to pee in silence again, after the deluge of flowing water and songs that I’ve been hit with on the toilet every day since my arrival in Japan. I understand the idea of modesty, but I also don’t mind hearing people nearby ALSO doing what I am doing.

In the same token, living in an uninsulated house in the winter has made me really appreciate the electrically warmed toilets that are the other part of the singing toilets. There is really NOTHING more cruel than a freezing toilet seat at 5am when you’ve just come from a warm bed. I don’t care where we go from here, but one of these will always be ordered no matter where we are, if we live anywhere that is not Thailand or the middle east. My ass is effectively spoiled. And I am ok with that.

Vending_machine_of_soft_drink_and_ice_cream_in_Japan-1Never being thirsty, even if the heater is always on
I will forever appreciate a beverage machine or three on every other corner. I will also always appreciate the fact that you can get warm drinks from these machines in the winter, or any time. And that they are not wildly overpriced, or all coke products, or all carbonated. Or full of sugar.

Thanks for that, Japan. This is effing great.

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Never being thirsty, EXCEPT for when the heater is on in your house:
I’ve learned this one over the past few months: you WILL get dehydrated sitting near a space heater in the winter. This was literally ON the list of ‘Things to keep in mind when you move to Japan list’, but I didn’t quite understand it until I was here and in it: in the winter when the heat is on, whether it’s a space heater or the heat in your office, you are going to be super dehydrated and you won’t even notice until your throat gets dry. I’ve got an empty water bottle ready in every room of my house, and at work for when I need it throughout the day.

On the other hand, the dehydration makes it REALLY easy to NOT need to waste my 5-minute break between classes on a 2.5 minute trip to the toilet. Because yeah, I timed it.

*And now for one that gets no photo:
They are not being rude, they just can’t properly express it in English:
A few times already, I’ve had someone say something to me that sounded really rude, until I remember that I’m in Japan and that never happens in customer service here. What is actually happening is that someone is trying very hard to speak to you in English, in order to be more hospitable, and making poor word choices. As an English teacher, I hear it every day at work and have to correct it to be a more tactful or ‘native’ phrase.

This is different from the very honest Germans, who don’t often get the word ‘tact’. They know the word in Japan, just not the correct phrase to use it, so the direct translation happens, which sounds rude. Always. I have to keep reminding myself of that one. And teaching tactful phrases, one class at a time.

The best place to practice your Japanese is at the grocery store
This is only my personal observation. My Japanese level is below that of an infant and I can only ask 3 questions so far:
Is this _____?
Where is the ______?
Do you have ______?

And I can’t even understand most of the responses I get, aside from the answers of yes or no. But as Japanese people don’t often speak to strangers (it’s a lot like Germany in that respect), the best place to have a reason to speak to people is out shopping in stores. I spend most of my time in grocery stores looking for vegetarian things for the boyfriend, and I can’t read yet… which makes for a hysterical, long trip, every time. But it also gives me an excuse to speak to the workers and hear all of the varied responses.

If you recall, this is exactly what I mentioned doing a few years ago after I moved to Germany and was learning German… in cafés. 🙂 Customer service is really the best excuse to practice your polite second language!

In other news, I DO take online Japanese lessons and just got my Japanese books in the mail… so hopefully my Japanese will start to improve. I really should take more lessons, it’s just hard to find the time.

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Posted in: Culture shocks, Japan