Even though I have studied Japanese for 2 years and thus know my fair share of cultural customs, my first time was a complete surprise. Constantly, I kept exclaiming とてもびくりした！(I’m so surprised!), which was always answered by a wide smile.
The Japan I visited was so rich in culture, filled with wonderful people and beautiful landscapes. I lived with the family of my very generous friend Noriko, in a tiny village by the sea called Shimotsui, near Okayama. I had worked hard, saved my money and could finally find the opportunity to visit my friend; thus the surprises started:
1) The first thing I noticed, was that everything, truly everything was small! The roads were narrow, the cars were built so that they used the least space possible and the houses too were tiny! The people too, were very small. I am not a tall person, but in Japan, I felt like a giant. Once, I entered a convenience store and simply had to grin to myself because the shelves reached my shoulders. In Australia, I always have to stand on tip-toe to reach the upper shelf!
2) Everywhere, in shopping centers, in schools, even in Japanese homes, there are electrical toilets! Often, they are heated and have about a million buttons. Okay, I am exaggerating a bit…. But there are buttons for putting on music so that other people don’t hear you make any uncomfortable noises :), for putting up and down the toilet seat, for washing you with a spray of water (I didn’t try that one 😉 …. Anyway, that was fun, and I have to say the Japanese are just good at technology!
3) I am talking way too much about toilets! Another surprise was the amount of vending machines. Even in Shimotsui with its population of 6000 people, there were not one but several vending machines. Noriko told me that her friends from the city were surprised, because Shimotsui’s vending machine’s were not illuminated at night. Again; Japanese technology!!!
4) There are really not many people who speak English, which I found truly wonderful because I could truly practice my Japanese and really experience Japanese culture! However, for people who come to this country without any prior knowledge of the language should be aware of this fact, especially if you go to a smaller town or village.
5) Everything is sooo much cheaper in Japan, especially the food! In comparison to Australia anyway….
6) Japanese people eat everything so fast! I found it very hard to keep up! (Maybe also because I also ate with chopsticks) 🙂 But in France, we eat very slowly, maybe sometimes too slowly…
7) I knew the Japanese were polite, but…. wow. I went to a train station in Okayama, a big city, and everyone was standing in a line to wait for the train. Even when the train arrived; nobody pushes, nobody jumps the line. It’s amazing. I’ve heard that it is a bit different in Tokyo, however…
Additionally, in Japan I have truly been able to experience おもてなし(omotenashi); which means the heart of Japanese hospitality. In Japan, the customer is king, and the Japanese do everything they can to help you.
9) There are so many useful things! Let me explain: I am walking with Noriko’s mother and her sister Yukko towards a concert hall in which we want to see a performance. It is raining so naturally we have our umbrellas. When we arrive at the hall there is a metal bin in which you place the umbrella, then take it out again and find it wrapped in plastic-allowing the hall to stay dry. In a bus, you pay at the end, while a machine calculates how much your ticket is by how long you travel. Cool, no?
10) Lastly, I was amazed to find so many French inscriptions everywhere; on T-shirts, bags, mugs, washing cloths etc. (often it was written incorrectly). France is further away than Australia, but I still found a lot more French things!
Photos by Charlie Espalotta