So, it has been a year now, of living in Japan, and I thought I would talk about somethings I have gotten used to and somethings I haven’t gotten used to. I will also touch on identity as well.
Let’s start off with something that no matter how many decades I end up living here, I will just never come to terms with. There is no way you are going to make me accept that this is a thing here, and I cannot get used to it ever. The garbage. What is so wrong with throwing things away? It wouldn’t be so bad if Japan didn’t wrap everything at least 3 times. You can’t just buy a box of cookies. You have to buy a box of individually wrapped discs of baked sugar. Not only has Japan made your gluttony apparent by having the numerous emptied plastic packages stare back at you in shame, but Japan has also caused you to waste trees by creating more trash.
You also cannot just buy any old trash bag either. No. You have to buy your area specific bags. They are really small, and don’t stretch. If you get a package, you have to use more than one bag to throw away all the garbage. You have to throw things away in plastics, then you have both plastic and glass bottles, you have cans, you have clothing, you have paper, you have milk cartons, you have burnable, you have non-burnable, and you also have those items that just do not fit in a stupid bag so you can’t throw it away! For the items that don’t fit in a bag, you have to call someone to come pick it up, pay them, then wait for them to tell you if you called the right company or not, because not all companies collect the same type of items. We have a broken suitcase that just cannot be tossed. I don’t want to pay someone to get rid of it, so it is just staying in our place, useless, and broken.
Well now that you understand that everything must be separated and that every day is a different trash day (and I do mean everyday), let’s talk about exactly how you throw away your junk. You aren’t able to toss it into the correct bin, no. You have to wash it first. Why?! It’s garbage! Who cares! Someone does, because if you don’t throw away your garbage correctly, it gets returned to you. It actually gets returned to you! I am not joking. So you have to wash all your garbage, and once it is all nice and clean, you then have to separate it according to category. I will admit, I am getting to the point of not caring anymore, and if it is small enough, I will shove things inside or between something else so that it can be thrown away without cleaning it or separating it. (Our trash bags are transparent). Let us take a plastic bottle for example. You have to clean out the inside and make sure it is spotless, then you have to throw away the caps (some cities require that you have a separate trash bin for just the bottle caps) then you have to take off the label. Then, and only then, is your bottle ready for bottles day. Which only comes once every 2 weeks. Great. You know what? Just smash it down really good and shove it inside an empty cereal box. I am not having a plastic bottle sit around here waiting for the right trash day.
The reason they actually started separating trash and have removed all publish trash cans is actually because of a crazy movement in the mid-90s. There was a group of people (I don’t remember what they were called) that really wanted to end the world, so they would plant bombs in public trash bins. Many people were killed or injured because of these bombs. The psycho people from this movement were eventually taken care of and to prevent something like this from happening again, they removed all public trash bins from existence. Which makes sense. I am totally ok with that if it means my safety. However, they took it one step further and decided to have every human separate their trash so that there could never be a possibility of bombs being planted. Seriously though? You need to have people separate garbage so strictly in their own homes for fear of them planting a bomb on themselves? I think that is a little too far with that one.
Now that I have thoroughly upset myself by talking about that, let’s talk about something that I absolutely love about Japan. This is something that is just not in the US yet. I have heard that they are in very random parts of California, but as I have not witnessed them for myself, they do not exist. Electric toilets. And not just any electric toilet, but the electric toilets, that use the water to fill up the tank as a sink. That is so innovative and a great use of water. With America being into a conservation mindset, I am surprised that we don’t have them there. It saves space, and money. You don’t have to pay twice to use water. You just flush and wash your hands with the same water used to fill up the toilet. You don’t have to flush, then turn on the sink to wash your hands. I think it is awesome. Plus, with the electric toilets, the seat is warmed. So when you sit on it, it feels nice and cozy. Wouldn’t you rather have a pleasant toilet experience than an uncomfortable cold one? In the winter time especially the heated toilet seat is a dream. Your butt is not assaulted with an ice cold seat when all you are trying to do is your business. When the seat is really cold, it causes you to hurry, and makes going to the bathroom feel like a hated chore. Shouldn’t using the toilet not be so difficult? That is why the Japanese electric toilets are the greatest feat of all time.
After being in another country for so long, you start to develop a new sense of self. I know that when I go back to the US soon, I won’t be the same. There are of course going to be annoying things that just pop up all the time because I have been in Japanese culture, but there are other things that cannot be seen that will be different. I identify with the Japanese culture much more so than I identify with my Arizonan culture. Americans are very flamboyant and loud, and quite often rude. When I think back on the people of America, I most often first think about how rude and loud they are. Japanese people are more down to earth. And if you tell them something that they don’t necessarily agree with, they don’t show their offense by hurling insults at you. They simply respect your opinion and go about their day. I have had many debates with my JTEs here, and never had we ever ended a conversation in anger or hurt feelings. We all just respect that we have different views and move on.
Japanese people are much more respectful and polite. They are also not so loud. Which, since I am an introvert, I value quite a lot. It takes a lot out of me when I have to constantly interact with loud people on their level of energy. I can’t constantly keep it up. At least in Japan, I can keep up.
My love language is gifts, and I am in the perfect country. All they do is shower each other with gifts. I went on vacation, here is a gift, I am moving soon, here is a gift, you waited for 30 minutes to talk with someone at our company, here is a gift, you forgot to pay your bill, here is a gift. Everything and anything has a gift attached to it. Sometimes, I give a gift, just to get one back. That is also something that they do here. If they want you to give them something, you have to give first. My desk has a bunch of pennies in it, and randomly, I will give a penny to someone. They are big on good luck charms here, so I tell them the phrase “find a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck.” Then they think I have given them a great talisman because it is good luck from America and gratefully accept the penny. Of course I also teach them that Abraham Lincoln is inside his memorial. Then they get out their magnifying glasses and stare at the back of it in amazement. All I have to do is wait about 20 minutes, and there will be a gift at my desk. It is always equal in value to how they felt about receiving my penny.
I also like that Japanese are very much into traditions, and not so much into modernity. They value their history and heritage and don’t see the need to change something if it works. I like innovations of course, but I don’t see the constant need for them like most of Americans do. Japan has wonderful inventions, but they only use them if they absolutely need them or find them useful. Such as the electric toilets. That is really useful. (see above^) In my experience, they don’t go crazy over the next best car, or the next best TV or phone, not even computers. Half of my students don’t even own a computer in their home. They use the school’s computers to study if they need to. (They have their electronic dictionaries they don’t really need a computer). Their philosophy is that if it’s not broken, then don’t fix it. America’s philosophy is that if can be more exciting, then do it. That is just not something I agree with.
Of course there are things that I don’t agree with such as causing students a great amount of unnecessary stress with their studies, or being so freaking strict on millitarianism, for the most part, I identify more with the culture than I do with American/Arizonan culture. This is not something that can be understood unless you have spent a lengthy time abroad. Anyone who has spent quite a bit of time abroad will agree with me, that other cultures influence and change you.
Before this post gets headed to the dark side, I think I shall end it here. I look forward to another year in Japan, and I feel extremely blessed to be here now, doing my dream. Some days I wake up and cannot believe that this is real and that this has actually happened to me. I live everyday with praise and thanksgiving to God for allowing me to be here, and for placing me in the most perfect location I could have ever asked for. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds.