The last two years of experiencing Japan have gone by quickly. I have lived in three apartments, in three cities, and have worked in three offices. I have gone to comic conventions, over-indulged in chocolate, ate and survived multiple super spicy ramen challenges, and showed up in a Kamen Rider movie (a crazy story for another time).
So now, like last year, it’s time to look back on the year(s) that was, look back at what worked, and what didn’t. Break out the hot chocolate and marshmallows!
Two Things that Worked
One thing that has become a constant habit is jotting down notes on a daily ToDo list. I don’t have a car in Japan so having a list of chores is very convenient. Sometimes my list contains nothing more than “groceries”; sometimes it has important activities like “blog post deadline” and “pay bills”.
Having a ToDo list helps me to combine chores while out and about. It allows me to focus on the present tasks at hand. I always try to leave a little buffer time around weekend events to explore the back streets of Tokyo hoping to find something interesting.
Another thing that I got accustomed to, that at first was particularly uncomfortable, is being treated carefully. When Japanese people first meet me, whether a restaurant server, a shopkeeper, or a possible business client, they don’t realize my Japanese proficiency and treat me as if I have rudimentary or no Japanese language skills.
You can see the uncomfortable look on their face as they mentally try to recall their grade school English. This is usually followed by very awkward conversation of “Japenglish” and a struggle as each person tries to accommodate the other. In the end both parties wind up confused about the topic of discussion.
I’ve learned to avoid this by starting off a conversation with simple greetings. While most of us are not proficient icebreakers, saying hello and introducing yourself is a good start to get a conversation up and running in true Japanese.
Two Things that Didn’t Work
My Japanese has gotten lazy. When I was studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test I had a great deal of variety in sentence construction for every form of politeness. Now, after a couple years of speaking mostly informal and semi-formal Japanese, I’ve realized I fall back onto certain grammatical patterns and simple terms. While this isn’t normally bad, it’s not great.
Recently I’ve had to write emails and sit in meetings where a very professional form of Japanese is required, and I’ve forgotten a good deal of those key words and grammatical phrasings. Now I have to make a constant effort to throw in a few JLPT grammar points in my daily conversations and emails in order to keep them fresh in my mind.
A different aspect of everyday life in Japan is cooking, and it has become a hobby of mine (see here and here). A device I miss from my life in America is the dish washing machine. Just knock the heavy crud off your dishes, stick them in the dishwasher, throw in some soap, and hit “go”.
In Japan, kitchen space is a luxury that means there is no room for a decent sized dishwasher. This has resulted in me having on and off again battles with dried curry, cheese, and oatmeal stuck on all my cooking utensils. Thankfully my sink has a clear line of site with the TV. Therefore my twenty minutes of hand-cleaning and inspecting each item goes by fast.
All-in-all, being flexible is an important characteristic when moving to another country. At first the culture and habits that you’ve accumulated after so many years in your home country may clash with that of your new country.
I’ve heard of foreigners getting into trouble and alienating the people around them because they are so rooted in their perception of how things should be, based on their culture. Stubbornness and pride tend to blind people of the possibilities and fun opportunities of immersion in a foreign culture. But if you let go it makes life a great deal simpler and more fun.
I think I can count myself lucky. I’ve met interesting people and have tried some interesting things. That plus my dozen or so hobbies have kept me busy. With each month that passes it seems like my list of things to try just keeps getting longer! I just hope that some of the things I try are blog worthy. Well, here’s to another year!
Software Engineer and Blogger at TalentHub
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.
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