Culture What?

Returning to Japan after 8 years has been an interesting experience. I wouldn’t call it culture shock, more like cultural re-acclamation. There are so many oddities and nuances that I forgot about. I understand them but it’s taken some reacquainting and re-learning. I can see why many people claim Japan has the most distinct and unique culture in the world. After living here for 16 years, there is still so much I learn – the good the bad and the sometimes bizarre.

First of all, getting used to Japanese work culture has been somewhat of a shock. People here work too long. Not too hard, just too long. I love Japan but working for a Japanese company full-time is not an experience I’m willing to attempt. The company owns you, and boss-employee etiquette dictates that you stay at work longer than your superiors, even if you have absolutely nothing to do. People here are great about respecting my time, but the higher up guys literally arrive before I do at 7:00 AM, and continue working after I leave at 9:00 PM until who knows when. And I have a 4 hour break in the middle of the day!

The other aspect of cultural re-acclamation I’ve gone through is in the language. My Japanese is pretty darn good for someone who’s not Japanese, but I’m still learning a ton. I have gained a new understanding and appreciation for people in the US or elsewhere who don’t speak English as their first language. Basic conversational and survival skills in another language are easy, even intellectual conversations can be learned if you know enough big words. But what I’ve realized is that expressing your personality in another language can be so challenging. It’s hard to be witty and quick and fully comfortable when you’re always thinking about the right word to say next or trying to remember that last word another person said. It is possible, but you have to be comfortable making mistakes and be willing to make a fool of yourself. Many times I’ve tried to be culturally proper and not make any mistakes in Japanese, but I’m realizing that it’s more important, and people appreciate you more, if you just have some fun.

At the same time, there are so many aspects of Japanese culture I love. People here are extremely loyal. My friends from elementary school (who I reconnected with on facebook) are currently organizing a reunion for me when I go back to Ueda where I grew up. Another friend whom I’ve known since before preschool came to visit last weekend from Tokyo and slept on the floor of my tiny tatami room. My Japanese big sister was going to drive an hour and a half each way to come see me until her family’s plans changed. I love that once you’re friends with someone, you remain that way and stay involved in each others’ lives.

I took this picture of my friend sleeping in our tiny tatami room :)

I took this picture of my friend sleeping in our tiny tatami room 🙂

And people are respectful. I don’t want to imagine cleaning the mess a group of 350 American high schoolers would make in a dining hall. In Japan, all the trays are neatly stacked and the plates organized so it’s easy for the workers to clean up.

By the way, the high students who left a couple of days ago were great. As predicted, there was much giggling and chuckling and everywhere I went I heard my name whispered. But I made friends with some of the students, got my picture taken with many, and had a really good time.

Skiing with Australian Guests

Skiing with Australian Guests

Overall, it’s been a great experience. Unfortunately, living and re-acclamating here brings me no closer to answering the simple, yet extremely complex and unanswerable question, “Where are you from?”. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to answer that and I’m fine with it. Here’s to continuing to learn, grow, experience, question, adventure and love, wherever we are from, wherever we are, and wherever we are going.

Great Powder

Great Powder


Shiga Kogen

I made it to Japan! Crazy it‘s been over 3 years. Trying to speak business Japanese again I feel my lack of practice acutely. However, it is excellent training for my potential tour guide job in Las Vegas next summer.

The entire train ride to Nagano I stared out the window and thought back on all of my memories here. So much of my life was lived in and is shaped by this place, maybe without me even realizing it. Growing up I lived between two worlds, now I live between three but that doesn`t mean I don`t still feel connected here.

On the way to Tokyo I got a first class ticket on my grandma`s stand-by passes, which definitely eased the transition. I couldn`t help but compare my luxurious wine-sipping and almond-munching journey to some other not so first-class trips I`ve taken recently, namely taking buses across 5 African countries. Both were memorable in very different ways. If the journey is the point my African travels were doubtlessly more fruitful. If it`s about staying alive, my Japanese trip was probably a better choice. I think I like something in-between.

In many ways, I feel like December was sort of a microcosm of my new, somewhat whimsical life. I started the month in Kenya, finishing my research on greenhouses and aquaponics in Nairobi. I then returned to the US for two weeks to pack my things and move back home before traveling to Cabo with my family. And on the 31st, I arrived in Japan where I`m working at a hotel for two months. I`ve been thinking and praying for a while now about how I bridge the gap between these distinct (and far) places that are all so important to me. I haven`t found the solution, but for now I`m getting to go back and forth between all of them.

In Japan, I`m working at the front desk of a hotel within walking distance of a ski resort. The hotel is in Shiga Kogen, a really cool national park/ski resort complex where they held a lot of the Olympic events in 98. Since I have a 4-hour break in the middle of the day, I`ve taken advantage of my free season pass and gone snowboarding 3 out of the last 4 days. The snow is excellent and as you can see, the views are stunning. I`m learning that working in a hotel is a lot of work, but the people are great and I`m learning customer service from the best: The Japanese. Life is good, I can`t complain.


The view from the top

I have to say one more thing before I close. Tomorrow my greatest childhood nightmare comes to life. A group of 300 Japanese high schoolers is descending on our hotel and I am the only foreigner within a several mile radius. I`m sure there will be ooing and ahhing by high school girls and I`ll be treated somewhere between a celebrity and a junior high crush. I really hated that as a kid. Now I can take it all with a grain of salt and have some fun.