Sala Talk


I feel lucky to be here but there are also elements from home I deeply miss. I never realized how much my culture was a part of me, both negative and positive attributes. There are fundamental aspects of myself that make people here uncomfortable, and no matter how hard I try to be socially abiding. Sometimes even just the fact that I look different is enough to make Japanese people anxious. People here are quite kind and there is a general worry for everyone’s well-being which is at the forefront of people’s minds. There is a desire to be helpful and informative.

People here generally want to assist each other as much as possible and there is an emphasis on making every interaction a positive one. This is an aspect of Japanese culture that growing up I always appreciated. The consideration and quietness in social settings is comforting for me at times. As a child, my Puerto Rican family always joked about how I wasn’t really all that Puerto Rican because I was so quiet, so I never imagined how differently I’d feel when I was here. In Japan, my differences are the first thing people see; I’m reminded that my quiet isn’t the same as Japanese quietness and my direct honesty with my opinions or emotions is startling to the people that I’ve met here.

Of course, I am speaking VERY generally. However, when there is a trend in my interactions, I like to analyze why, and hopefully, someone might find this interesting or useful.

Coming to this place, where there is an emphasis on maintaining proper social interactions, where it is less common to see people being loud and laughing with their full chest, where sitting in silence at the dinner table is common and even expected, it makes me miss my vibrant Puerto Rican – American life. The parts of myself I used to hide when in white-centered spaces want to spring out of me here because when you are displaced and attempting to form new connections, the anxiety pushes your default nature to the surface in inelegant ways. My natural programming is to be talkative, so it can feel very isolating as a Hispanic student in Japan. I miss sitting in a sala with friends or laughing until my sides split at the dinner table. When there is silence while at a meal, I feel like I’ve missed the opportunity to truly get to know the people I’m in the presence of.

I never realized how integral to my being this simple way of interacting was and never imagined how difficult it would be to find it elsewhere.

This disconnect has led me to find other ways of enjoying my time, mostly by taking the time to sort out who “Miriam in Japan” really is. Am I the same? Can I be? There are times when it is a bit suffocating being so different from everyone else, but at least here no one is actively malicious.

Conversely, I’ve found another aspect of my Puerto Rican-ness that translates quite well. Although we are bright and happy people, I think a lot of our inner happiness is not just sustained by connection with others but also an appreciation for simplicity and comfort. Japanese people share this love for the homey and warm sensation of a good cup of café or a stroll in a park. I was deeply happy to learn that maybe a smidge of the Jíbaro mentality can be found elsewhere. Life can be simple and full at the same time; I truly believe that, and I suspect people here do too.

I hope this message can comfort someone, especially my fellow Latino/a/es that might feel a little out of place. There are many ways of connecting and existing, so don’t feel discouraged if your way doesn’t sit well with everyone you meet. You’ll find the right people, and until then, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and maybe even how to feel more confident in your own company.

I’ll be learning more about these little cultural parallels or divergences more, I am sure, but in the meantime, we can’t stop exploring! After all, isn’t that an equal part of the joy of travel?