Culture shock. It is something that over 70% of travelers and those living abroad experience. So that does not mean everyone feels it in their life, but then why does everyone assume it will happen to you? Perhaps the answer is that we are often confusing culture shock, to homesickness.
Culture shock is a sense of confusion, longing for home, and feeling alone. Longing for home is more than just homesickness. Longing is a strong desire to return to the familiar and have things be as they were and make sense. When you are in another culture, things can be confusing because none of the customs make sense, nor are they relevant to you. Longing for home, does not mean homesickness.
Homesickness is being sad because you are away from your family or home. When one goes off to college, they tend to go through the waves of homesickness. Things are different, things get tough, and the familiar support groups are not so easily accessible, so therefore, one suffers from homesickness.
Too often do we confuse culture shock, with homesickness. As soon as someone over here says that they miss their family, friends, food, TV shows, or what-have-you back home, it is immediately equated with culture shock. But is it really? I miss my pets and my family, but does that make me a culture shock sufferer? Of course not. You wouldn’t tell a college student, who missed their family that they are suffering from culture shock, because they live in the same culture, just a different location, and are missing the familiar. Culture shock includes a lost sense of identity, which is why it is such a serious thing, and why my program offers specialized support to those suffering from culture shock. An identity crisis is something to not be taken lightly.
I suffered from culture shock when I studied in Tokyo two and a half years ago and witnessed my friends suffer worse than me. It is also something that happens gradually. One symptom is of missing your family, which is usually why people are so quick to cry out culture shock, but culture shock includes a wide range of symptoms. You start to keep to yourself, feel depressed, often find yourself feeling frustrated or confused, you become OCD, you also start creating a ritual for yourself daily, you stop talking with people even those close to you, and when you do talk to someone, all you are talking about is home. You start to question things, such as, who you are, why you are doing something, and what your purpose in life is. THIS is culture shock. Homesickness has 2 symptoms, depression, and cleanliness. Nowhere is there a sense of identity being taken from you.
Reverse culture shock is something that happened to me when I came back from Japan. I was only in Japan for 4 weeks, yet coming back home, I did not know who I was. It took me over 6 months to find myself again. I wanted to tell people about my adventures in Japan, but because I had posted everything on my website, no one really cared about what I had to say. I was excited to see people, but no one was as excited to see me. I would get to school ready to continue my studies in Japanese, and yet, no one else had any motivation to do anything. I felt that the America I knew, was taken from me and I was living in an alternate universe. In Japan, I knew I was American, and could call myself that. But in America, I didn’t feel American, yet I was not Japanese. I was in a 3 world where only travelers from abroad understand. It wasn’t until I took a class on SLA learner motivation that I was able to study up on the subject of identity and culture shock. I chose to give a presentation and research project on cultural identity and discovered that mostly everyone who had studied abroad before, was also struggling with finding themselves after returning home. They felt they were not from America, nor were they from the country they traveled to, but they were all in an in-between place, and they will remain there, until they discover who their new self is.
Reverse culture shock affects more people than initial culture shock does. About 90% of people who return home, catch what is known as “the bug.” They have a lost sense of identity and by traveling to different cultures they feel they are more easily able to find where they fit. I caught the bug. I desperately wanted to travel to so many locations in the world, but I couldn’t. So I just went to places in the US with my husband. The bug is real and is hard to get rid of.
That being said, culture shock has the same effect on people. They feel that they don’t belong in that country and need to return home, only to discover that they don’t belong there anymore either and need to go somewhere else, because they are in an in-between place that cannot be reached. You see, culture shock is a much much deeper issue than just simply “being homesick.” The cure for homesickness is to talk to people you miss. The cure for culture shock doesn’t exist. It is a never ending wave most suffer through.
I am not suffering from culture shock. I have my days where I just don’t want to do anything, but I had those days in Arizona too. I also have days where I just do not want to talk to anybody, and I had those days in Arizona too. I also have days where I miss my family and pets and friends, but in Arizona, being a married adult, I also had those days. You know if you are suffering from culture shock. It is not something that you think about. If you think it is culture shock, it’s not. So before you are so quick to call me out for missing my family and tacos as culture shock, make sure you fully understand the difference between being homesick, and suffering from culture shock.
I know this isn’t my typical post but I have something on my heart I want to share. I also apologize for the length, it is sometimes not easy for me to articulate what I want to say in English. My thoughts also get jumbled and don't seem to make much sense, but I promise you, I really am trying to say something important. Such is the struggle of a second language learner.
I was reading Purpose Driven Life during my lunch today and something I read really struck me. “You look the way you are for a reason.” I don’t know why, but that never really occurred to me before. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Everything. Even the small things like dropping something. I believe there is always a reason for the things we do. With always believing that, I never stopped to think about appearances. I never wondered why we look the way we do, or why my sister prefers short hair to long hair, or why I am blonde when my father has darker hair than me. I just accepted the fact that we all look different because we can’t all look the same. That would just make identity a mess.
After I finished my lunch, I really pondered on this for a while. Why do I have blonde hair? Why do I have blue eyes? Why did I stop growing at 12? The answer? God. God has a reason for all of it. If I didn’t look this way, I would either have a different husband, or no husband at all. If my husband was shorter, I don’t think we would be together. We all have preferences whether we choose to admit them or not. It is not shallow of us to think this way, it is how God made us.
I thought about where I am and how my appearance affects my daily life in Japan. Sometimes I get the cold shoulder and other times I get treated special. People are more willing to be patient with me when I speak Japanese, and give me more kindness because of it. Appearance makes a difference.
Then I thought about how I got to where I am today. I thought of my life and growing up, and how my appearance affected my life then. To be honest, apart from my husband, there were not many instances in which I was positively influenced by other based solely on my appearance. Why is that? Why would Japan have a more positive influence than America, a country most known for its cultural diversity? The answer…God.
God is everything good. There is not a speck of evil near God. Lack of God is where sin comes in. (I am not trying to condone conceitedness I am merely proving a point.) Do you honestly think for one moment, that God, the creator of ALL things, would make a mistake when creating you? He WANTS you to have blue eyes, He WANTS you to be 4 foot 9, He WANTS you have brown hair. God wants all of it, because He made you. He thought about you, He planned you, He mapped out your life. You look the way you do because He has a future planned for you, and He understands that appearances do matter however small of a degree that is. Maybe I have blue eyes and blonde hair because He knew I would be coming to Japan. Maybe if I had brown hair, I wouldn’t be having the same experience. My husband has brown hair and he gets treated differently than I do here. Everything is for a reason, and yes, even how you look is for a reason. If knowing I look the way I do because of God, then why is that so hard to accept? What about your appearance is hard to accept?
The chapter goes on to ask some reflection questions about personality and health, but those things don’t bother me. I love who I am. I am happy with how God made me. Think about it, could you really imagine yourself to be any different than you are? It is impossible because God already perfectly made you. Sure I don’t have the most likeable health, but it is all I know and it is not going away anytime soon, plus my condition never really was hard to accept. Then I started thinking about my appearance, and I found where I stopped accepting who God made. I love my blue eyes. Wouldn’t trade them in for the world. The thought of wearing colored contacts abhors me. Who would want to change their eyes? I love my blonde hair. It isn’t the most healthy looking hair, but that has nothing to do with God and everything to do with climate and product, and…well… I guess I have a part to play in that as well. >.> My skin isn’t happy with me at the moment but that is what make up is for. (Seriously, I have all kinds of rashes and dry spots and it is driving me crazy! Any advice on how to handle humid winters will be accepted with love and gratefulness.) Plus, I look younger without make up on, and I kind of don’t like being mistaken for a high school student while out shopping. None of those things were hard for me. I knew there was something there stopping me from believing God made me this way for a reason, so I kept searching. The reason I struggle, the real reason, is my weight.
For years I was anorexic. Years. At least 10. I let the numbers consume me. I don’t know what I was waiting for or wanting. Was I expecting that the next time I stepped on the scale I would weigh nothing? I knew it wasn’t realistic so why did I keep obsessing? The answer is the lack of God. I stopped trusting in Him. I stopped believing that He knew me and created me. I forgot about that along the way. I just eventually came to a point of knowing that I will never become what I want. (Also, being in Japan where things are Kilograms certainly helps because it feels like you suddenly lost like 50 pounds.) Since coming to Japan, I haven’t really struggled too much. I honestly didn’t realize I stopped my old habits until my husband said something to me about it. Sure I have weighed myself here and converted it to numbers that I understand and would always get upset, but the longer I went without doing that, the more I started to care less and less about the numbers.
You could say that I am recovered, but I am not. I still hold on to that part of me, just in case I let go for too long, or need help getting back to how I was before. But why? What good is that going to do me? I know that God made me, I know that God loves me, I also know that God put me in Japan and I have never felt more at home. It is because I have not fully accepted who I am. God doesn’t want someone who is 90% on His side, because that isn’t really being on His side at all. That is just saying when the time comes, you will choose the other 10%, and God doesn’t want that. Neither do I. So I am here, to break free of that 10% I keep holding on to, and break free of the doubt that I am not perfect, because God made me perfectly. There is nothing to dislike. I am should embrace it, smile about it, feel happy; that is what God is doing every time He looks at me. I am wonderfully made in Him. Perfect in every way. You are too.
Did you know that God made how you look for a reason? If you do, then great! If you don’t, then what can’t you accept?
So, I started typing this, I didn’t get very far, the teacher sitting across from my desk dropped a bottle of blue pen ink between our desks. He wasn’t able to reach it so I grabbed it for him. Little did I know, it had opened and me grabbing it, completely covered my fingers in blue ink. We spent the next 20 minutes trying to scrub the ink off our hands, all the while he was profusely apologizing for having dyed my fingers blue. My thumb nail is outlines in a beautiful blue now lol. He felt soo bad. I told him not to worry about it because I like blue anyway and this was an accident. Plus, I was thinking about painting my nails after work anyway so now I have an excuse to do so. Hopefully that covers up the blue. Unfortunately, everything is basically blue now, the carpet, the desk, 5 white rags that will never be white again, the chair, his lunch bag, and a few papers. I don’t think it got on any of our clothes because we are wearing black suits so we should be fine there. Anyway, it was just a funny story I figured I could share with you. Now to the actual reason for typing this post.
After being in Japan for 6 months, I have been able to debunk quite a few stereotypes Americans hold about Japanese. These listed are all the ones we could come up with on the spot. After being here a while, you start to forget what some of them are. So if you think of any other ones, please comment and tell me so I can add them later to another post. Let me know if you agree or disagree with any of these.
1. Can’t Drive
I don’t know why Asian people drive so terribly and slowly in America, because I have yet to hear of a car accident. I read/watch the news frequently, and they don’t mention any accidents. In Arizona, there was an accident every couple of hours it seemed like. Here? Not so much. Actually, I did here of one accident. However, it involved gaijin hitting gaijin, or gaijin causing the accident by stupidity. Conclusion? Gaijin suck at driving and Japanese people are excellent drivers.
2. Really Smart
I know that a lot of people expect Asians to be good at math and other subjects, but to be honest, they really are no different than American students. They virtually act the same. The only difference is what the cultures put up with. For example, here, they let students scream and run around in the hallways, even playfully beat one another up. In America, that would never happen. There would be so many detentions issued. Speaking of detentions, that is not a thing here.
Many students fail their classes. When I say many, I mean most. In all my classes, there was always one or two people who just always failed and never really did well, in Japan about 50% of the class fails and never does well. They seem to not care about it either. They are still going to graduate, the only thing that matters is if they can pass the entrance exams to their college of choice. So that means, if a student is wanting to go to college for PR or be a lawyer, they would care less about math or science classes because they don’t need them in their future. There is no such thing as required core classes here. All that matters, is that they get into college. Failing high school makes no difference in that decision.
Also, they don’t have homework. Students also don’t get tested until junior high. Not sure what school is for then if you don’t get tested on anything. Sometimes high school students have homework, but only if it is their personal choice or they were too lazy to finish their classwork. They mostly consider studying for tests as their form of homework.
3. Only Eat Rice and Fish
This statement is just ignorant and I am not sure why it is a stereotype. That would be like saying all Americans only eat French fries and burgers. While Japanese people do have a lot of rice and fish, it is not the only thing they eat. In fact, there are several beef dishes and pastries they eat too. I honestly think that everyone eats pastries from bakeries here because during lunch, each person has some form of pastry along with their meal.
Anyway, during the summer they eat a lot of rice because it is really hot out, and they usually just pack it in their bentos and mix it with stuff for lunch. In the winter, they have a lot of soup because soup is hot and outside is cold. I am down for this. It makes sense to me.
As a final note, there is a lot of fish here because Japan is surrounded by water. So fish is actually the cheapest “meat.” Americans have a lot of chicken for the same reason, there are a lot of chickens, and they are the cheapest.
4. Japanese are Shy
While this one might appear true when you first arrive, they are not actually shy at all. You might not be able to just walk up to someone and make instant friends with them like you can to Americans, but if you approach them, they will go above and beyond to help you. They won’t directly approach you unless they speak English or need something (you as in gaijin) but I see them talking to other Japanese people with no problems all the time. They get really excited when I talk to them in Japanese. They expect all Americans to be jerks and only use English. It is interesting to see their reaction. In conclusion, I think what we really mean to say is that Japanese people are just more quiet than Americans. They are by no means shy, just more quiet and have a higher respect for others in their non-insulated homes.
I know that Americans are very spoiled in technology and that we are becoming a “lazy society” but there are still some things that could make us even more lazy and it sounds just wonderful. This list if mainly of first world problems, but I found it interesting and hopefully you do to. This is, in no particular order, a list of things that Japan has/does and that America needs.
1. Japanese Toilets
Japanese toilets are magical. They have heated seats, they play sounds (sometimes music) they are a bidet but upgraded to have many more features, they are a sink, they fill up when you sit, and they have flush control so you can choose how much water to use depending on number one or number two. I also happen to like the squatty toilets. I like them because in the winter, you don’t have to sit down on a cold seat, it actually makes it easier to do your dumping, plus, it is more sanitary. There is no need for seat covers or toilet paper, and no butt sharing germs. I have a thing about butt germs, so having the option to NOT be exposed to it is great.
Not everywhere has the special magic toilets, but my home does. The only thing I wish it would stop doing Is the auto turn off in the middle of the night. Sometimes it stays on because one of us went to the bathroom right before going to bed, but there are mornings when you play Russian runlet and hope the toilet seat is warm and not cold. When it is warm, it is super nice though.
2. Remote Controlled Everything
They have remote controlled lights, AC, fans, basically everything can have a remote. Some more expensive rice cookers even have remotes. I love it for my fan. It is just great to be in another room entirely, and controlling what happens to the fan without getting up. The AC remote is my favorite. You can control the entire unit by a remote. Even set a timer for when it should turn off or on. I don’t use it separately as much during the winter, but in the summer I always kept the remote by my bed so I didn’t have to get up when I wanted to change the temperature or something. Super helpful.
Lights have dimmers and timers on them. I don’t use my light remote as much because I only controls the kitchen lights, but you can program it to do all the lights. I am just too lazy to try and figure that out. So for now, I don’t really use the light remote.
Bath and showers are even controlled remotely. Although, this remote is not removable so they just install more than one unit. I use that all the time. I can control my bath water in the kitchen. Super cool.
3. Doors Impossible to Lock Without a Key
There is absolutely no way that you can lock yourself out. If you did, you either broke something, or climbed out a self-locking window or something. There is just no way to lock the door without the key. There is no lock on the other side to turn, you have to use the key to do it. Everything with locks is manual which makes things easier to manage. There has never been a story of locking yourself out of the house. If you try and tell Japanese people a story about locking yourself out of the house, they can’t comprehend it because it is just impossible to do here. I love it!
These are basically convenience stores but they do so much more. You can pay bills there, you can ship things there and they will hold the packages for you, you can pay for deliveries there, they are tour guides, printing service, online shopping center, basically anything and everything can be done there, except getting any kind of gas. They have gas stations, and they have combinis. In America, they are one in the same, but in Japan they are separate. I have been to my combini by our house so many times, I know the people there by name. I also know who will be working what hours. They basically know what we like and don’t like and don’t even bother asking us repetitive questions anymore, such as, do you want a receipt? I always take receipts by the way.
5. Visual Door Bells
This may not be that lazy, but it can be. Visual door bells are great because you can have a full conversation with the person on the other side, and see them. I have gotten religious people and sales people to go away by telling them I am not opening the door. All this while not having left my living room. There is even a way to see everyone who knocked on your door while you were out, so you can check if you missed a package or someone important while you were away. It is more convenient than lazy, but the fact that I don’t have to answer the door to talk to the person is just as lazy as they get. As a side note, the newer models follow the person after they ring the doorbell so there is no way of hiding from it.
So there you have it. Some of the things that I will miss dearly upon return to the US. The only thing I miss back in the US is Universal Wi-Fi. There is no Wi-Fi anywhere except Starbucks. In America it is everywhere. But, I guess Japan makes up for it in the fact that their speeds are super speeds in comparison so I’m ok.
Yesterday was my JLPT (Japanese language proficiency test) N3. The highest level is N1 and the lowest level is N5. N5 is basically survival Japanese. You only know enough to ask where the toilet is, yet don’t know enough to understand the directions given to you. N4 is conversational Japanese. It errs more on the basic side and you are only able to talk about topics you know much about or like due to lack of vocabulary. N3 is getting into more abstract conversations and you are able to complain or problem solve in Japanese. N2 is introductory level into to translating official documents for businesses and such. Fluency starts to take shape in this level and the speaker/learner is able to read books without much difficulty (lots of kanji in books). N1 is near native level of competency though everyone I have met who has passed N1 believes their own competency to be at least N3. Yet they are able to interpret (which is nearly impossible to do from English to Japanese as the sentence structure is completely backwards) and they are able to translate for the government. Now that you have a background in understanding the levels, you kind of have an idea of where I am at with Japanese. So here is my recount of yesterday. Or as my husband would call it, Story time with Jeny.
My test was scheduled to be at 1230 but the doors opened at 12. Since this is Japan, that basically means to be there by 12. So I left my house around 1100 to catch the 1113 train and be on my way to the bus stop in Takasaki. I hadn’t had any breakfast so I stopped by the conbini along the way to purchase something to eat for breakfast as well as for lunch, as I was going to be there for the entire day. I also bought a little candy for myself for after the test.
The bus stop was actually easy to find because there were people there directing where we needed to go. I was not expecting that. After our 20 minute bus ride, and arrival, I quickly realized that out of the hundreds of gaijin testing that day, I was the only one who was American. I felt like a gaijin among the gaijin. I was so freaking nervous for this test, that I had to force myself to eat my waffle I bought. I felt like I was going to vomit, but still I forced that over sugared waffle down.
The first section of the test was surprisingly easy. Afterwards, I did realize the mistakes I made on some of the questions by hearing other people talk about them, but there was nothing I could then! My bubble answer sheet had already been collected. I just hope that I go enough answers correct to be able to at least pass that first section. It felt oddly easy. At times, I would look up just to see if other people were in the same ballpark as me in their answers, and this one guy had none of the same answers. Either he was very off, or I was. To determine this, I peaked at his answer for one that I was very sure of and he got it very very wrong. I looked at another person, and they got that same answer also wrong. Either that word is really hard for them, or I was thinking that it meant something else. But after looking it up afterwards, I was totally right. So I guess they were wrong?
After the first section I started studying grammar for the next section. My worst section. I downloaded an app that is basically an online flashcard so I can study anywhere and not have a pile of useless flashcards that I have to hand write myself, when there is a plethora of flashcards already made to choose from. They even have a JLPT folder. The app is called Study Blue. I highly recommend it for studying a foreign language. I digress. I ate half of my sandwich and got back to the test.
The first part was pretty easy, the second part, was awful, the third was not bad, but then all the other sections after that were all the same format. I have no idea why they bothered to call it a separate section complete with sample questions and directions. It was all the same. It was basically, read this, and answer the comprehension questions. All of the other 3 sections were just like that. No difference.
I finished that test really fast, but that was on purpose. I quickly answer questions then mark them on my answer sheet, so that when I finish answering everything, I will use my left over time to brew over each question I marked. Otherwise, I would be wasting my time and quite possibly not finish, which is what sadly happened to the guy in front of me as well as one of my friends. I looked up to the guy in front of me and saw that he still had an entire section of uncolored in bubbles and there were only 5 minutes left. I wanted to tell him to just start coloring bubbles! Any answer is better than no answer.
That section was supposed to have lasted 70 minutes, but it totally felt like 40. I don’t know where the other 30 minutes went, but we didn’t use them to take the test, that much is for certain.
We had another break, and I used it to eat the rest of my lunch and talk to my friends in English. The next section was listening so there was nothing you can really prepare for. If you didn’t get the vocab or grammar before, then there is no hope for you at that point.
It was also at this point, that I surprised myself with my candy I had completely forgotten I purchased for myself. It was a pleasant surprise that I used to eat just about all of them. Brain sugar. I stood just right outside my testing room eating my candy when the Japanese monitors were telling us to get back into our rooms because we had 10 minutes left. He really insisted that I sit down now because taking 10 steps was just going to take at least 60 seconds for each step. A little ridiculous. I stood there until my candy was gone.
The next section I was totally awake for, then after the stupid break of 1 minute piano music, I just couldn’t get my brain to focus right. I completely screwed up the 3 section of the listening part because up until that point, we had been turning the page after the example questions, for some reason, there was no page turning. We needed to use that page to take notes. It took me all of 3 questions to figure this out. There were only 3 questions for that section too. So totally failed that part. The 4th part was a bit of a redemption for me because it was pretty easy for the most part. Then the last section came. Consisting of 5 questions. I had been testing for 4 hours, and my brain just decided it had had enough of Japanese and shut off, right around question 3. I started thinking, “Hmm, what should I do with JD after this?”…….”WAIT! What was the question?!” They don’t replay things for you either. I tried to make my brain focus by telling myself to focus, then I heard them say, “number 5.” “Wait! What happened to question 4?” I looked at other people’s test and they had a bubble filled in for 4, I had totally missed it! I didn’t even hear it! In my shock for missing number 4 I missed number 5. DANG IT!!!!! I frantically started looking at what other people were answering, the guy in front of me apparently gave up as there were no bubbles filled in, the guy next to me had very different answers than I did, but the guy on the other side of me, had about the same answers, so I copied his 3, 4, 5, and 6 for good measure. 7, 8, and, 9 were incomprehensible to be, as my mind had shut itself down. It basically was, “well, those people sound like they had a nice conversation. I haven’t filled a number 3 in a while, I choose 3.” Or, “You know, 1 sounds like something I have heard before. I’ll choose that one.” I totally failed this test.
After 4 and a half hours of torture, my mind literally hurt. I came home, and my eye was throbbing because my head hurt so bad. Which literally happens to second language users. Your brain will actually hurt and shut off because it cannot stand straining itself anymore. When that happens, there is nothing you can do to stop it. You can try all you want, but even easy phrases that you have always known, will just leave you. Your mind is forcing the break.
Good luck language learners! May your brain strength never fail you!
So, there are a few things that I did not expect I would miss so much, while living in Japan. I did not include things that I knew I would miss before coming to Japan, such as milk and pizza. This list is a collective list of 5 things that actually surprise me in terms of how much I desire them.
WARNING! There are some items that not everyone will want to read about. So, feel free to skip over those which are not appealing to you. I will not be offended, as I will not know about them.
1. Wheat Thins
I have no idea why I crave wheat thins so much, but there are no other crackers out there that sound more satisfying. Before we went to Costco, the first thing I thought, was that there would be Wheat Thins. I scoured that store, there were no Wheat Thins. Munster cheese, but no Wheat Thins. Please send me some Wheat Thins!
They have only 2 types of tampons here. Ones that are essentially normal (I say “essentially” because they just plain aren’t good absorbers), and ones that are basically just the cotton part, that comes with this special glove for you to insert it with. Why would you make something like that? And who is freaking buying them?! I bought them on accident, because I can’t read everything in Japanese yet, and only saw that I could have a box of 60 tampons for less than the box of 25. I quickly discovered the reason when I opened the box to find lots of little cotton sticks and disposable finger gloves. My first thought was, “Am I supposed to assemble them?” but once I figured out what I really was supposed to do I about vomited. Seriously, why would you sell that?! No wonder there are no tampons in Japan! That product is freaking everybody out.
3. White Chocolate Reese’s
I never really craved them to begin with, and now that they are nowhere to be found, let alone the regular ones, I suddenly have a huge hankering for them. Why you ask? Simply because they aren’t here! Just like the wheat thins. I never once craved them before, but for some reason, because they are nonexistent, I just HAVE to crave them. Well too bad because they cost like $20 online and I am not about to pay $20 for nostalgia, craving-satisfying purposes.
4. Sketch books
This was something that really just annoys me. They have art club, I have students who draw the most elaborate pictures all the time. Yet, I cannot find sketchbooks. Where are they buying these things? When I stayed in Tokyo, all the art stores included the drawing section. For some unknown reason, all the art stores I keep finding here, sell lots of fabric, beads, stickers, yarn, and everything else, but sketch books. They even have the charcoal pencils BUT no sketch books. I just you just use the pencils for drawing in the air or something.
Normally, this wouldn’t really bother me, but as a hobby of mine is book binding, I kind of need the sketchbooks. It is really difficult to find sketchbooks. WHY!!!!! We did eventually find an art store just for painting and drawing, so I do have sketchbooks now, they just don’t come with the thick board backing. Which, as a bookbinder, you use when binding books! UUUUUUUUUUUGGGHHHH!!!
5. Scrapbooking supplies
I only ever scrapbooked with my sister and that was like, once or twice a year or so. I never really got into the hobby. So why do I miss those supplies so much you ask? It has everything to do with point number 4. I book bind, and since a cover is what makes 50% of the book, I kind of need something to cover the board. I can’t just have a plain old slab of cardboard on the cover. Especially if I am giving it to someone else. Apparently, I never realized how much I relied on those supplies until they were gone. Not only does this include the paper, but this includes glue as well. There is a special glue you need to use when binding and I have always only ever found it under the scrapbooking section. I have looked for the glue here, but they don’t have anything like it. I suppose that I may have to just order from Amazon or something.
Ok, so this last one is not exactly something I miss as they have it here. It really should say that I miss affordable yarn. You get maybe one ounce of yarn for $5 while in the US you can get 5 ounces for $3.50. HUGE difference. The only strange thing, is that the specialty yarn, (i.e. fuzzy, sparkly, sock yarn) is really cheap! Sock yarn is SUPER expensive in the US. About $6-$9 a skein, and you need 2 of them to make a pair. (Why they sell it like that, I will never know) In Japan, it is $2-$6 a skein. Why don’t we have this price in the US? I think I shall be making more socks and fluffy scarves in the near future.
You might be asking, Jeny, isn’t it cheaper to just buy scarves and socks from the store? Such as the dollar store? And I would answer you, Sure, sure. But how often can you hold up your foot to someone and scream out “I made this!”?
I hope you enjoyed my post on the 5 things I miss in Japan. I am sure that if I asked my husband to make a similar list, which he would be including things like food and various other dairy products that he could have if it were in Japan.
After having observed and skated in more than one location, I have figured out some things, and can safely say that I have figured out the reason for why Japan has always been one of the top countries when it comes to figure skating athletes. Here are the reasons I have found:
1. More people skate than in America
2. There are no crazy moms
3. Coaches don't yell
4. Students actually practice for hours, on their own
5. Classes are a thing here
6. They still do figures
I usually am not nostalgic about such things, but for some reason, there are just some items that you wonder why they just do not exist in Japan. They don’t hurt anyway by existing, why do they not sell them? I guess, people just don’t like them? I really couldn’t tell ya’. Anyway, here is my collective list, of 5 items that are nearly impossible to find in Japan.
I don’t know what it is about crayons, but they ain’t here. I guess, people are just afraid of the wax or something? Candles are hard to come by as well, but at least you can locate them. I have yet to locate crayons of any origin or brand. Perhaps the wax texture just makes people gag.
This one I knew coming in that it would be hard to find, I just didn’t expect it to be THIS hard to find. Japanese don’t usually eat cereal for breakfast, or breakfast at all for that matter. If they do have cereal, they tend to mix it with yogurt and not so much with milk. That being said, you typically only find corn flakes, and other variations of said corn flakes. Even the imported cereals involve corn flakes. They just love to sneak corn into everything don’t they.
They have plenty of pens, and I mean plenty. They also have lots and lots of mechanical pencils, but finding a plain wooden pencil is just not something people use anymore. They are all into this mechanical pencil stuff. Even for little children, they only wooden pencils are these HB types, which make it easier for kids to write kanji (Chinese characters), because the lead is mixed with charcoal so it is softer. Even at my school, it took someone an hour to find a pencil for me. They finally located a box of them, hidden in some storage room they totally forgot they even had.
4. Plain or lined loose paper
Normally, I wouldn’t have noticed this. However, with book binding being one of my hobbies, I kind of need this loose paper in order to continue making things. I went to so many stores and even craft stores looking for sketch books even to no avail. I ended up just buying an actual notebook of lined paper, only to find out that they don’t line both sides, and that the paper is super thin. So I went in to folding over 100 sheets of paper in half, thinking that I was only going to fold 50. That was long afternoon! Thankfully it was cat day on Animal Planet with Japanese subtitles. Woo! English!
5. Normal sized spoons
Japan has two sizes of spoons: sauce spoons, and tea spoons. I went to have cereal my first day, only finding wide sauce spoons. I go to the store looking for some spoons but could only find either really tiny spoons, or wide spoons. There is no in between. Unless I want to buy baby spoons with rubber coatings. Plastic spoons, on the other hand, are normal sized. So why can’t reusable spoons be normal sized???
That is it for this post. If you have a suggestion or question about Japan, please leave it in the guest book section. I look forward to hearing from you!
I went Ice skating Saturday for the first time since the day I departed for Japan. I thought things were going to be difficult and that I wouldn't remember much or my body just couldn't handle it, but all of that was wrong. Am I sore everywhere? Yes. Do I have blisters? Oh yeah. Did I fall and nearly kill myself? A bunch of times. Would I do it again? You bet your munchkins I will!
The journey there is quite the ordeal. The rink had practice time from 1:10-2:40. However, because the rink is in Nagano, and I live in Maebashi, I would have to travel "state lines," as it were, to get there. Nagano is the prefecture just north west of Gunma. I had to leave my house around 8:50 or so to catch the 9:03 train to Takasaki, then transfer to Yokokawa, in which I would take a bus up a mountain about 3000 feet above see level to arrive at Karuizawa, Nagano station. But my journey doesn't end there. I was still 6 miles away from the rink. I wasn't about to walk there. That would have taken me 2 hours. Though, I probably had plenty of time. I arrived at Karuizawa station at 11am. I basically just took pictures and shopped at the station for a bit. I even bought lunch, not that I ate any of it because I was so excited, but I still bought food none the less.
After about an hour, I stood in line for a taxi and took it to the rink. That one taxi, cost me more than the entire round trip. Once at the rink, I couldn't believe I was there. I didn't believe it until I was actually inside, and on the ice skating. Which brings me to point number one:
1. The smell is exactly the same.
I am not sure what I was expecting, but I thought the familiar rink smell, was something significant to AZ rinks. I never realized that all rinks in the world smell the same.
As soon as I walked inside, I felt the familar cold, and was greeted by the smell. I was so overcome with happiness, that I had to lock myself in the bathroom because I just broke down sobbing. I had finally made it to the place where all my worries and all my troubles dissappear for that moment on the ice. I could feel myself returning to normal. It was like God was assuring me that He had this planned from the beginning, and wouldn't put me somewhere where I couldn't be myself. He created me. He knows that skating is as every much a part of me breathing is to life.
After composing myself, I went to watch the other skaters who were taking turns practicing their programs, because they have a competition next weekend and the weekend after. While watching them I noticed something,
2. They skate to the same songs.
It was a surreal feeling watching them skate the all the familiar songs that the kids from back home skate to. I thought there would be differences because of the culture, but I guess when it comes to skating internationally, there are no differences really. Listening to their songs actually made me think more about creating a post on the top ten songs to never skate to.
The last program before the public skate time started, was an adult ice dancing couple. It was really cute!! I felt proud and exciting knowing that adult skating is also a thing here.
3. Admission prices are cheap.
At first, I thought it was rather expensive, $12 to skate for an hour and a half? But after talking to the worker, he told me that the price decreases when you have your own skates. So it really was only $6 for an hour and a half of practice. I was rather impressed. I am accostumed to practice times being $12 for 30 minutes.
4. Japanese skaters are serious.
I knew that Japan has had very good skaters throughout the years, so has America, but what I did not expect, was that all of the skaters would be good! There were people doing quads and triples. HUGE ones, I might add. And here I was, doing singles. I think only the 5 year olds were doing their single jumps. I was amazed at the amount of dedication they were taking to jumping and spinning. They would do the same move, over and over and over, until their coach claimed they did perfection a certain number of times in a row. I saw one guy do at least 8 quad toes before he moved one to other jumps. It was amazing.
Their spins they would do over and over also. However, they spent more time working on Jumps and various moves than they did spins. Watching them do their moves made me admire their coaches hearing abilities. There were at least 30 people doing serious jumps and spins and here was this one girl, trying to do back power pulls and I could hear this coach teller to sit back and get off her toes. How he heard her scratching the ice is beyond me. Speaking of Japanese coaches,
5. Japanese coaches don't ever raise their voices.
My coach would always yell at me from across the rink to either stop doing something or start doing something. Japanese coaches, stand and watch silently or follow the student closely. During public times, they did group lessons. One half of the students worked on Jumps, and the other half worked on spins. If they wanted to work on moves, they saw coaches individually. The coaches would calmly state their direction and stand back and watch the skaters jump, then tell the student what they did wrong or right. If they did it right, they told them to do it exactly the same. Then again, then again. Until the coach was satisfide that the student knows how to do it.
Besides the normal sounds of skating on the ice, and general talking, it was a rather quite skate.
6. Posted rink rules are not enforced.
The rink rules are that you just skate around in a circle and never really do anything else. You don't go backwards, you don't spin, you don't jump, so I was kind of afraid that I wouldn't be able to do anything. I was also planning on pulling the gaijin card if I needed to because I really wanted to actually practice, however, the posted rules were not at all what I witnessed happening.
The rink was "split in half." Half of the rink was reserved for jumping practice, and the other half reserved for spinning. The outer rim is for those who can't skate or those who are practicing moves. I saw a couple adult skaters doing their best to practice some 3 turns and edges. People are really skilled to be skating in Japan because, as I said before, there were at least 30 good skaters doing a bunch of stuff at a time. The fact that the adults were able to do their edges without hesitating was impressive to me.
7. Free skating is done in turns.
They have a sort of line system when it comes to spins or jumps. Each person has their turn and if you miss it, then you mess everyone else up and get nasty lazer eye stares. Because these skaters were doing mostly triples and doubles, the amount of speed required to achieve those jumps is significantly higher than I am used to. I really had to book it on the ice if I wanted to keep my place in line. I have never done so many jumps with such high speed before. My coach would be proud of me for jumping while being scared out of my mind. Also, I am a clockwise skater. The only other clockwise skater was a 5 year old who was just learning how to do a lutz, so that doesn't really count as she stayed by the rims of the rink to practice it. Everyone else was counter clockwise. not only that, but they have amazing accuracy in spotting their jumps. I do not have this jump spotting skill, so every time I went to jump, I had to quickly break away from the line, so I can get myself going in the other direction so I could jump. I think I only accurately spotted 3 jumps out of the many I did. On the bright side for me, I was able to do my lutz going the same direction as everybody else. After I did my jumps a couple of times, the other skaters kind of figured it out that I jump the other way. So whenever they saw me in the line, they sort of separated more so that I had my own space to jump. I think they realized that I suck at spotting. *Sigh* such is the curse of a clockwise skater.
8. Zambonis are driving the same.
I don't know why this really impressed me, but for some reason, I expected the driver to be on the other side of the zamboni, driving it the other way. However, this was not the case, He drove it just as anyone else would in the US. I found it interesting though. Since we are on the topic of zambonis,
9. Ice resurfacing is an art.
They take great care in making sure the ice is sufficiantly smooth. They don't just leave holes in it from either hockey or figure skaters, they take the time to patch it up after every session. Each practice session has a zamboni resurfacing scheduled. You would never see something like that in America. Arcadia should take note. Although, I do wish they would have resurfaced half way through the practice session. With 30 skaters constantly jumping and spinning, the ice gets messed up rather quickly. Also, the shear number of people on the ice, made it start melting. When I had gotten off the ice, I was expecting to have to wipe ice off my blades but there was just water. My entire boot was covered in water and so was the bottom of my pants. That being said, I still like the fact that they take such great care of their ice.
10. Locker rooms are actually used for changing.
In the US, locker rooms are used for storing stuff, while everyone took turns changing in the bathroom. Well, in Japan, there are showers, and a sink, but no toilets, you have to go somewhere else for that. While I was getting my boots on, people come walking in to the locker room and just start undressing and changing into skating clothes. Quite shocking for me to all of a sudden see so many women and girls in their underwear. Once they changed, they quickly headed out the ice to put their skates on. It was strange. The locker rooms were actually used for their intended purpose? What is this world coming to?
That is all for now. I look forward to what else Japan will teach me.
1. Highschool Baseball
Currently, there is a national baseball competition for all the high schools in Japan. My school came up second in the entire prefecture. That basically means we are second in the state. The team that beat our school was defeated during the national competition. It sounds like something that would not be serious, but it is on like 5 channels all day. I am pretty sure that in America there is a law that prohibits children from being on national television for profit, but here, I guess it is ok.
Behind my desk at work, there are teachers watching the tournament on the internet. They are even cheering. High school baseball is super serious here. Much like college football in the states.
Recently, there was a world bowling championship in which 6 Japanese people were a part of. I watched it, and it was actually pretty amazing. One person got a score of 299! She was getting consistent strikes, then on the last frame, she suddenly had one pin left standing. It teetered, almost toppling over, yet it held its ground. You could hear the disappointment in the crowd as she walked away with 299, winning the competition.
The international bowling competition was on television for about a week. I watched it every evening. It was strangely captivating. At work, and even on the streets, I would overhear conversations about the bowling competitions. I think it was held in Vietnam this year.
I know that karaoke is a Japanese word, well actually it originated from Chinese, but the karaoke we know is from Japan. Karaoke is a pretty popular thing back home, but not nearly compared to over here. Karaoke bars are basically on every corner in Japan. There is a huge one in Maebashi. And I mean huge. About the size of your average mall. It is just filled with rooms for you and your friends to party together and karaoke. My dad, would probably be out of his mind with excitement with the amount of places to do karaoke. There are so many parties and gatherings and random get together that almost always involve a karaoke bar.
Now, I have not been to one here, but from what I have heard, they are basically just personal rooms with a private window to order drinks and snacks, or a vending machine. They even have solo rooms with headphones, so you can do karaoke just yourself.
4. Wearing Socks with Sandals
These socks I am talking about, are not like your average crew or ankle socks. They are almost like stockings for your feet. They come in various designs and colors. I highly recommend you look them up. It actually doesn’t look half bad.
The reason they wear these socks with their sandals, has mostly to do with their culture. It is customary for many businesses to have indoor shoes. Many people wear sandals or various other open toed shoes to work during the summer time, but exposing your toes is considered taboo. So women will wear these fancy socks while the men will wear just plain crew socks with theirs.
It is also customary to remove your shoes when entering certain establishments or homes. Bare feet is just as offensive as showing too much cleavage so they constantly wear socks. So they might as well wear fun socks if they have to wear them constantly. Although, you can see through a lot of these socks and pantyhose so I am not quite sure why they take offense to bare feet, but hey, it is a different culture.
5. Unnecessarily Wearing Face Masks
Normally, when you see someone wearing a face mask, it is because they are sick, and out of curtesy, they wear this mask to prevent others from also being sick. Or, they work at a place where they are in constant contact with other people, and are trying to prevent themselves from getting sick. However, then you have an entire group of people, who just love the face mask look, and will wear them simple as a fashion statement. They have character masks, flavored masks, scented masks, and even ones that you can attach accessories to. I haven’t seen so many unnecessary mask wearing in Gunma as I have in Tokyo, but it is still common practice that nobody bats an eye towards.
I hope you have enjoyed my updates thus far. I will kind of keep posting in this manner, unless something really amazing happens that I want you all to know about. I figured this type of updating gives people something to read with general interest rather than personal interest. Leave a comment or send me a message if you feel differently.