Exactly 2 years ago, my airplane landed in Japan, the beginning of my Grand Japanese Adventure. I feel that this moment needs to be commemorated somehow, and so I have saved this, my 50th blog post, for the occasion. A lot happens in two years, and I’ve managed to catalogue a lot of my more exciting adventures on this blog. While the blog is largely for you, readers, family and friends to keep up with my adventures and misadventures in the land where the sun rises a little too early, it’s also for me: an online journal of sorts, an attempt to bottle my experiences lest they fade away too quickly into the dusty annals of memory.
Next week, I’ll be heading to Canada for a vacation, and as I count down the days, I’ve started wondering how much I’ll discover I’ve changed when transplanted back “home” after a 2-year time warp. What kind of reverse culture shock will I encounter? How much of an alien will I look like to everyone else? To prepare myself, and any of you reading this who will be seeing me back in Canada, mentally, I am concocting a list of a 10 ways I have changed, or perhaps more accurately ways Japan has changed me.
1. I take pictures of my food. I used to think people who took pictures of food were ridiculous, and I still do. But now I am one of them. Particularly if the food before me was an epic cooking/baking accomplishment of my own, or is displayed particularly creatively or cutely, or is something I’ve never had before, or is something I haven’t had in forever, or just in general looks delicious. There are so many reasons to take pictures of food! What have I become?!?
2. I frequently abuse the English language, with Japanese-English flair. For example, you may catch me saying “Let’s ~ing.” As in, let’s eating. Or let’s karaoke-ing. Or let’s speaking English. At first I would cringe every time such grammatical abominations passed from anyone’s mouth. Then I started saying it in jest. Now it just comes out.
3. I run red lights. All the time. And never, ever stop when the light is still just yellow. When I drive in Canada one day I will definitely have to cut this habit out immediately. But in Japan, it’s just the way of the road. It’s like how people make excuses for speeding by saying they are “just going with the flow of traffic.” I go with the flow of traffic. And the flow of traffic runs red lights. It’s somewhat of a hobby of mine to count the cars that run it behind me.
4. I have developed a weakness for all things cute. Nobody really hates cute things, I don’t think, but I’ve never really cared either way. Now, cute is the new cool. Cuteness is necessary for daily life. Cuteness substantially ups the odds that I will buy something, support something, attend something, etc. I used to absolutely abhor pink; now, while I still won’t be caught dead in anything pink and frilly, I do own and often wear a pink T-shirt, because it features one of my favourite characters, a cute reindeer named Chopper.
5. I have a heightened appreciation for multiculturalism. Growing up in Canada I had the virtues of a multicultural society beat into my brain from an early age. But being surrounded by it – by people of various ethnicity and heritage, by an awareness of my own motley roots – I never thought too much about it. Living in Japan, a society that seems to be desperately clinging to homogeneity even as it slips from their fingers, makes me realize how great a society in support of multiculturalism really is, especially for visible minorities. Mosaic FTW!
6. I have a heightened sensitivity to racism.This is somewhat related to the last point. There are many different perspectives out there about racism in Japan amongst expats – some complain about it incessantly, some claim it’s unintentional and thus meaningless – but it exists and we’ve all encountered it. I know all countries have elements of racism, and as Japan goes expats – at least Western/Caucasian expats – have it pretty good. I suspect when I am back in Canada I will retain this heightened sensitivity, as I am now deeply aware of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of everything from mild unintentional prejudice to full-blown malicious outbursts.
7. I will travel for leaves. I’ve always appreciated the colours of the seasons, but I’ve never traveled specifically to appreciate how something looks in a certain season. If there are Autumn leaves or Spring cherry blossoms to be appreciated where I happen to be that’s great, so why would I need to go anywhere else? Now I can say I have traveled upwards of 2-3 hours, minimum, simply to appreciate a particular scenic view of a particular season. I have also been known to regularly check the news for the leaf report (in Fall) or the cherry blossom report (in Spring).
8. I am suspicious when someone gives me a compliment. I had no real problem accepting compliments before. Now, every time someone comments on some aspect of my appearance, particularly clothing choice or hairstyle, I am immediately suspicious. What do they mean? Do they think my clothes are inappropriate? Is my hair too strange? Back in Canada if I got a haircut and nobody said anything, I’d be upset. Now, if nobody says anything, I am relieved. In Japan criticisms are often masked by compliments, so I suppose I’ve developed a bit of a complex about it. General compliments are the worst: “You look very nice today.” What do you mean? Which part of me? What have I done wrong? Is there toilet paper stuck somewhere? *explode*
9. I have high expectations of politeness. Canadians in general are known for being fairly polite. So I didn’t have much problem adjusting to the expectations of frequent apologies and expressions of gratitude. But Japan takes it to the next level, so much so that I’ve come to expect it. A good illustration is traffic – in Canada a wave is common courtesy if someone lets you in, in Japan it’s a quick flash of the hazard lights. In Canada, a wave is nice, but not necessarily expected. In Japan, if I let someone in and they don’t flash their hazards, I can feel the anger boiling up inside. How dare they not acknowledge the kindness I’ve done for them! Shame! I’ve heard from other expats who’ve visited or returned home to the West that the lack of politeness is a hard thing to adjust to. As one friend said about entering a shop, on a trip to Canada, “The staff didn’t even look up! Where is my chorus of ‘welcome, highly honoured guest?'”
10. I have a repertoire of enviable secret ninja skills. What with the home of the ninjas being just up the hill from me and all, I couldn’t help but absorb some of their powers. I can’t really elaborate on this point otherwise my skills wouldn’t be very secret, would they? So you’ll just have to take my word for it.