I’m halfway my internship! I’ll be back home in one month and four weeks exactly 🙂

I think I’ve been writing quite a lot so far, but it’s slowly becoming more difficult to write down what I’m doing. Edit: Okay, I’ve written a huge page again, never mind.

Life in Japan just continues and I’m getting to know some people that I hope to meet again sometime, maybe in The Netherlands, maybe somewhere else. What is most interesting is to see how people deal with Japan: Everyone responds differently to Japanese culture. Yesterday, I described it to someone in a way that I thought was quite nice, so I’m going to repeat that here.

If you think of your culture and Japanese culture as two sides of a road, you can plot your cultural behavior against the time passing (sorry, I can’t help myself).

In fact, this corresponds nicely to the fact that, here, they drive on the left side of the road 😛 Ideally, if you’re moving to Japan, your adaptation to the culture would be something like this:

Of course, it doesn’t work that way, that’s why I said ‘ideally’. You’ve got your own way of doing things and it can be really awkward to encounter differences. For example, here it’s customary that people pour drinks for each other, especially the younger pouring drinks for the older, or students for their teachers. At some point during a meeting, yesterday, I asked for the cola and someone took it and moved in my direction. I then took it from his hands… and froze when I realized he had intended to pour the drink for me. I looked at him and asked “Uh oh.. now what do we do? If I give it back to you it’s awkward, but if I pour it myself it’s awkward too, right?” Fortunately, everyone laughed and I explained that it’s just strange to me. Basically, I feel that I’ve been doing something like this:

Sometimes I’ve tried to adapt, other times I really didn’t and held on to what I thought was ‘right’. I know it’s not appropriate if you’re going to live here for more years. But right now I feel most comfortable when I keep reminding myself that although I’m not a tourist and I do want to be aware of what’s customary and what not, I don’t need to change too much. I try to be respectful and I take the time to explain things when they are strange to me, for example the pouring drinks, so that people know I’m not being rude intentionally, it’s just weird for me.

If you’re going to live here for a longer period, you need to adapt to be comfortable, but you need to stay true to yourself as well. I’ve met two persons who’ve been in Japan for 3 and 5 years respectively and their movement up to now seems to be this:

Although both are trying to figure out how to deal with this huge gap between cultures, I think the one on the left got the bad end of the deal. He’s been here for three years and when I talked to him yesterday, he was just so angry. It seems like he’s rejecting Japanese culture, finds everything horrible and frankly he told me he’s going to leave soon. Unless I’m mistaken and this is a phase everyone goes through (culture shock can take many forms), it kind of looked like he didn’t learn a lot about himself. Not that I’m such an expert, but I try to keep talking and thinking about things.

In fact, I’ve been thinking about something: Yesterday evening there was a meeting with the house residents. This meeting is after dinner and sometimes also guests join for dinner, but of course they (we) don’t join the meeting. So we were talking outside the lobby and the house mother and father’s kids were playing at the pool table. They were really loud, screaming and yelling. Now I know that I talk loudly. Yes, I know that, I’ve always done that and I stick to the story that it’s my bad hearing, while in fact it’s my enthusiasm.

Well anyway… when someone asks me to be more quiet while there are actually screaming kids in the room, I will not agree. So, basically I said “But the kids are making more noise”. He then repeated his request and gave some lame excuse about the kids I didn’t really catch. I then repeated myself “The kids are making more noise than us”, after which he said “Can you please be more quiet thank you.”. At that point, I walked away and went outside. It really pissed me off, but I decided not to make it worse. If I had continued talking loudly just to make a point, it wouldn’t have helped, and talking quietly after someone just forced a “thank you” onto you, well I don’t do that either. So I walked away, and he got the message I guess, because after a few minutes when I went back inside, I saw him (so maybe he’s the father of the kids) bringing the kids upstairs for bed. Good. I’m not sure if I made my point, but he nodded at me, so I think I did.

At the same time I realize that it’s not that great to criticize someone else’s kids. It’s not easily done anywhere, but in NL it’s more accepted to say something about someone else’s kids than in Japan (and that means something, because in NL it’s not that easily done either!). In fact, I’ve read (if it’s not correct, blame the author, not me) that here, it’s up to the teacher to discipline the kids. Mothers will even request the teacher to do so when the kid is, for example, not doing well in school. Fortunately, my house’ mother, father and family (they live on the third floor and the students live on second and fourth floor) have lived in the USA for a while, so I’m not too scared of having remarked that the kids were loud. In America people will probably yell at you if your kids are annoying 😉

I sent a package for Marcel’s birthday through the mail on April 20th and so far it didn’t reach him. In fact, yesterday, the package was returned to me and I discovered what had happened. At the post office, they asked me to write down the to and from address, both on the front, first ‘from’, then ‘to’. I should have known that this would go wrong.. In fact, this happened to me before when I was twelve and wanted to send a postcard to a penpal in the USA. What happened? Well, someone put the bar code stickers over the ‘to’ address, thinking that the first address was the recipient. (Ignoring the ‘from’ and ‘to’ that I had, in fact, added to the addresses)

Remarkably, the package reached The Netherlands. It even reached Eindhoven. Also, it reached his street. But the bar code sticker that had been put over the ‘to’ address, covered the house number and the mailwoman didn’t pull off the sticker to see the house number. So they tried to find him by name, failed because it’s a student house so it probably doesn’t have name tags outside and then decided to just return the package.

At first I was angry. How lazy can you be?!? But maybe this whole culture thing is getting to me, because then I thought of it from the other person’s perspective (that’s what they do 24/7 here): I can also imagine that this post office in NL has had issues with people complaining about damaged packages so maybe now when they have a choice between figuring out the address and thereby damaging the package or returning the package, they go for the safe option of returning it?

Maybe I’m thinking too much..

Some other things:

  • Toothpaste with ‘mild mint’ (mairudo minto) flavor tastes like the Hubba Bubba pink chewing gum.. You can buy that chewing gum at Albert Heijn, if you’re curious what I’m talking about. This flavor really scared me the first time, that just can’t be good for my teeth…
  • Bars in Japan don’t have a terrace :O 🙁 :'( *cries* It’s just too crowded for a terrace, everything is stacked on top of eachother. You can see some pictures below taken at Dema….something station and you can see that stores, restaurants and other facilities are often at second, third or higher floors.

I was invited to a German seminar tomorrow, but I would like to go to lake Biwa as well. So I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do yet.