TOP 10 THINGS I MISS ABOUT JAPAN

Holy Moses it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged!  Things got a little crazy after I got pregnant.  Twenty weeks of severe morning sickness (and a husband that was gone through most of it), followed by a big move back to the states has knocked me out of the blogosphere and everything else. I’m still catching my breath and catching up on life!  I’m sure I’ve neglected friends during this time, and if you’re one of them- I’m sorry!  We are FINALLY settled in the DC area, and with 2 more weeks before Baby Girl Patton is due, I’m just happy to be not sprawled out in suitcases anymore.  We’ll be here for a year while Travis learns Thai and then we’ll pack it up and do the big continent-to-continent move all over again, heading to Bangkok for 2 1/2 years.

We are LOVING being back in the states now.  It’s nice we get to see family more than once a year.  And we love the DC area.  Our neighborhood is full of American flags, old town houses, gas-burning lamps, wavy window panes, and the stomping grounds of some of our founding fathers.  If we’re going to be on hiatus in America, this is a great place to do it- we feel so patriotic just being here.  Oh, and the ease of being in familiar territory!  I can read a menu and get a bag of organic apples for less than $3. The DC Metro map looks like Candy Land compared to Tokyo’s.    Seriously, folks!! But Henry’s favorite toy right now is a Japanese Yamanote line train that makes the same sounds and jingles as the real one in Tokyo.  It’s SO WEIRD hearing it back in the states!  So far removed from the life we have now. The sound of distant dream-like memories.  And happy as we are to start our next adventure, it does make me a little sad and miss our life in Japan.  It’s where we spent our first years of marriage, had a son (in the Year of the Dragon!), made friendships to last a lifetime, explored countless temples and concrete jungles, and embraced a culture so unique and impermeable.  We’ve had plenty of downtime and family time over the past couple of months to shift gears try to re-Americanize ourselves.  I’ve been overseas for 5 1/2 years total now, so as you can imagine, there are a lot of reverse culture shocks with moving back.   I’ve had some time to reminisce and compare the US with Japan.   I owe it to myself to properly close out the Japanese season of our lives with a personal account of what made Japan special to us.

In no particular order, here’s what I’ll miss most about Japan:

1. THE PEOPLE. There’s no culture as refined as the Japanese.  And that’s a fact.

My sweet retiree students
My sweet retiree students

They are the most polite, considerate people in THE WORLD! The way they are completely silent on a crowded train.  The way they work with such efficiency and cheerfulness.  The smiles, the bows.  The patience and humility.  The unwavering following of the rules.  Yea, the unbend-ability gets annoying at times, but it’s what makes Tokyo tick the way it does.  With a population that big, take the lack of structure and cultural niceties away  and you’d have Cairo.  {NO THANKS!}   I love the Japanese.  I will miss their elegance and dignity.   And their goofy non-cynical sense of humor.

I’ll deeply miss my Yokota family.  😦 They were there for us through it all.  It’s a friendship bond that only people who live so far from family will truly understand.

2. THE SUSHI. sushi {insert snobby sushi face here} No cream cheese, tempura crispies or fancy sauces necessary.  Just high quality, fresh ingredients done the right way.

3. THE VENDING MACHINES. vending machineEverywhere. My first ride on the DC metro and I was asking, “where are the damn vending machines?!”  You will not die of thirst in this country or lack of options- hot, cold, carbonated, non- they’ve got it all.

4. THE DIAPERS.  mooney I’m still mourning the loss of Japanese diaper brands 😦 Any American moms have advice on good overnight brands?  {If you suggest I try cloth, we cannot be friends}

5. SOAKING IN JAPANESE ONSENS (HOT SPRINGS) onsen

6. A SEASONAL CULTURE.  IMG_5732We like to pretend like we’re seasonal in America, but only if it’s convenient 🙂  Embracing the changing of seasons is largely commercialized (it’s time for pumpkin spice lattes, apple cider doughnuts and candy corn m&ms!) but let’s be honest… we can have practically any fruit, vegetable or flower almost any time we want it in the states.  Which is awesome in some ways but poisonous to our already overly-indulged, impatient culture.  In Japan, sometimes waiting for seasons to come sucked- strawberries in the spring, peaches in late summer, persimmons in the fall, etc.  But to the Japanese, the changing of seasons is sacred and deeply  celebrated.  When the Cherry Blossoms bloom ten days out of the year, it’s celebrated in a tradition that spans centuries- and it’s magical!  Followed by tulip season, azalea season, hydrangea season, sweet olive blossom season, and all the fruits and produce that go along with each.  Everything in its time.  And it makes you appreciate things all the more when you have them.

7. SIPPING SAKE AT THE SAWAI BREWERY. (say that 3 times)  IMG_1763eOne of our favorite scenes: fresh mountain air, overlooking the Ome River.  Crisp, cold sake.  Hot bowls of ramen.  Friendly, tipsy Japanese country-folk in the surrounding tables, shouting “kanpai!” It was what we did our first weekend in Japan, our last weekend in Japan, and countless times in between.

8.  THE 100 YEN STORE.daiso2AKA- The Daiso-  Japan’s version of “the dollar store”-  filled with amazing, must-have, meaningless junk.

9. SAFETY! pedestriansGoing back to #1- the people make the country  safe.  It’s a culture that prides itself on honesty and respect and this translates to a lower crime rate.  Sure, there are bad eggs everywhere, but we consistently  didn’t lock our car doors for over three years and never had any  issues.  {I’m not advocating negligence; just making a point here}.  I’ve known people to leave their iphones on a crowded train only to retrieve it later when the train circles back around.  Since we’ve moved back, I’ve had to retrain myself to keep a guard up. Travis has already had a credit card snatched.  I had an attempted Craigslist scammer.  I’ve also had to just stop watching the news since I’ve been back.  My third trimester crazy/irrational/anxiety-filled hormones just can’t handle it.

Drivers in this country also SCARE THE BEJESUS out of me.  Coming from Japan (where I saw fewer accidents in 3+ years than I have in the 2 months I’ve been stateside), people generally drive slow and follow the rules.  It’s hard to escape the crowds in Japan, so they’ve spent their whole lives yielding, developing patience.  American drivers go WAY TOO FAST!  It terrifies me to drive the speed-limit and look in the rear-view mirror of our vintage volvo to see a giant SUV inches from my tail.  And then honking if I don’t switch gears and go the nano-second that the light turns green!  There’s less love for pedestrians too.  A few weeks ago, my cousin and I were almost hit by a car by a rude and impatient lady while trying to cross the street when it was our turn!  It was a reminder to me that I have to be more on guard and aware of my surroundings now.  With the exception of natural disasters, America is less safe in just about every way!

10. TULIP SCHOOL. (affordable government subsidized daycares!)

IMG_7066
Henry’s class on his final day of school

In our final months in Japan, Henry went to a Japanese nursery school 2-3 half days a week.   It gave me a break during my sickest times when Travis was gone, and it gave Henry a chance to interact with kids his age and learn some Japanese.  Japan is a lot like France and other European countries that provide government subsidized, quality care for little ones.   It was a little weird at first with the lost-in-translation moments with the teachers.  The arbitrary changing of clothes.  The way they send home the wet diapers (trash is a personal responsibility in Japan!)  Now  that I’m stateside again, and seeing that part-time preschool costs about the same as college tuition,  I’m realizing what a luxury this was for both of us!  I’m not going to find a Tulip School in DC.  The goal of these schools is not to start kids on an early  reading program.  It’s for fun, socialization, and for teaching kids how to be courteous and considerate of others from an early age. The older kids often serve the younger ones at lunchtime- (which–by the way–is not chicken nuggets, mac-n-cheese, and peaches in heavy syrup.)  It’s things like fish, rice, salad and fresh fruit.   And they actually eat it!! Henry was a little apprehensive at first, but he grew to love this school and the teachers.  Ultimately, I think it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach their children right from wrong, but group dynamics are important and valuable for kids too.  I can’t help but imagine what the long term effects would be if the US had a similar investment in its little ones before age five.

I said top 10 but I lied… there’s actually one more.

11. ANONYMITY (whenever I want it)

This is a funny  one, but I’m kind of a loner sometimes.  I find joy in losing myself in a big city where I don’t have to talk to anyone.  It’s not just the language barrier–Japanese people mind their own business.  For Americans, friendliness is often nosiness in disguise.  It’s come as a huge culture shock to me coming back to the states and not being able to escape the multiple conversations a day I’ll have with strangers about my pregnant belly.  They all go something like this:

STRANGER: Hey, when’s the baby due?!

ME: November

STRANGER: Ah. Boy or girl?

ME: Girl

STRANGER: First?

ME: No, second.

STRANGER: Ahhh, so you must be done after this one!

Don’t get me wrong. As a Southerner, I appreciate friendly, courteous people.  But the absurdity of these personal conversations with strangers make me want to respond with a personal question.  Maybe something like,  “Hey- do you buy or rent?”  “Are you married or divorced?” “Are you saving for your retirement properly?”  Bizarre, isn’t it? And don’t get me started on the unsolicited drive-by parenting advice 🙂

I’ll leave you with this terrible commercial as a way of saying, Japan- stay Japanese!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. tokyo5 says:

    >a lot of reverse culture shock

    I experienced reverse culture shock when I visited America ten years ago:

    http://tokyo5.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/reverse-culture-shock/

  2. I really liked your blog, thank you. I’ve been wanting to go to Japan as long as I can remember. Reading about it through American eyes and your sense of humor makes Japan seem not that far away.

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