Anytime you move, there are bound to be changes. I remember just moving from one side of town to the other in Kansas being pretty significant. We had to learn where everything was on that side of town and allot more time to driving if we wanted to go the the main mall (which was a whopping two floors!)
I did find, though, that moving to the other side of the world involved a few more changes. I moved from the U.S. to Japan in the summer of 2016. I really thought that I knew what to expect. I really had no idea. As I’ve reflected on my experience this last year and a half, I thought I would share a few of the things that I found surprising.
Culturally, the no shoes thing is no joke. It’s considered extremely rude to wear the same shoes inside that you wore outside. At most schools and works, people have a different set of shoes that they leave at work to change into after they arrive. This rule even applies in public places! If there is carpet, your shoes should be off. I was severely scolded for wearing shoes in a fitting room right after we moved here.
2. Japanese Writing
There are three writing systems here. We learned 2 before we came, which have 96 characters. The last one is kanji and there are over 6,000. Kanji are the characters taken from Chinese like 日本 (Japan.) They are everywhere around here and it’s hard to get around without (at least) an elementary knowledge. We’ve been studying them like crazy since we moved here!
Here’s a simple tutorial:
3. Food Variety
There is actually a decent amount of American fast food restaurants here like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and KFC. To buy ingredients to make American stuff is expensive, though. Sugar and flour come in tiny, extremely overpriced bags and there are no instant mixes of anything. If you buy the Japanese food and ingredients, though, it’s surprisingly affordable.
Driving is a challenge. First of all, they drive on the left side. (American here!) That’s not really the hard part, though. The hard part is that the roads are tiny and often steep. The side mirrors actually fold in so that you can scrape through little streets. Many roads are two-way with only room for one car at a time. Japan is also tied for the title of “the hardest place to pass a driver’s license test.” It took me 3 tries and a a practice lesson to pass, and I’d been driving for 10 years! Also, because there isn’t much parking, it’s completely okay to just pull over, put your hazards on, and run into the store. By the way, toll roads and parking are super expensive. Toll roads can save you time, but it can also cost a lot. The first time we drove into Osaka, it cost us $60 in tolls (one way!) and over $20 in parking!
There is very little crime here so almost everyone leaves their house and car doors unlocked. Kids as young as 4 walk to school on their own or ride the trains there. Items are left outside on display with no one guarding them and employees don’t follow people around in suspicion. If you drop or forget something, you can expect it to be where you left it. I once left my cell phone at a convenience store and retrieved it 3 days later.
Have you ever visited Japan or another country different from your own? What did you find surprising?