A few days ago I celebrated my 23rd birthday by going to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. More specifically, one of my childhood dreams had been to go to Harry Potter World. I even started rereading the series in preparation.
My birthday plans happened to fall on a day that our dorm was scheduled to have our last meeting. Originally there were four of us planning to go (a perfect number for theme parks) myself, my American friend, and two of our Japanese friends, one of which who is roommates with my American friend. As the day drew closer, my friend’s roommate backed out of our plans, stating that she had to study for her upcoming job test (understandable). She also noted that there was a dorm meeting and that everyone is supposed to go.
To put it plainly, I didn’t care and I still stand by my decision to skip the meeting. In addition, nowhere in our orientation packet, online communication system, or LINE group for our dorm did anyone tell me there was an upcoming meeting on this day. I found out a couple days beforehand when the dorm resident assistants placed sticky notes on each of our doors in which we were supposed to indicate “Yes, I am coming to the meeting” or “No” and “If no, why?” I marked that I wasn’t going because it was my birthday and I had plans to go to Universal Studios Japan (USJ). I didn’t give it a second thought when I placed it outside of my door until the next day, when my American friend told me that her roommate was “freaking out”.
Apparently, in the point of view of my Japanese resident assistants and friends, this meeting was supposed to be mandatory. I was confused since at no point in our rule book (or any other communications) did it say people were required to attend these meetings, other students have skipped these meetings before, and the meetings usually consisted of the RAs passing out papers, reading them aloud, and asking if we had any questions. On average they took about 20 minutes.
But my dismissal of this meeting didn’t merely have the effect of me “skipping”. It was seen as defiant to authority, and therefore unbelievable. I was bombarded with texts from my American friend about how my RA was freaking out because I wrote that I was going to USJ on my sticky note; apparently last meeting another student skipped since her parents flew in from Iceland to visit her – this was also not an applicable excuse. My friend’s roommate told her that “everyone will go” and that “we need to go to,” otherwise our dorm caretaker will be angry with the RAs. Apologetically, we said no, we still wouldn’t come. This spurred a fresh wave of panic, prompting my RA and my friend’s roommate to try and come up with excuses for my friend as to why she wouldn’t attend the meeting. They even considered telling the dorm caretaker that my friend had gotten into an accident, but ultimately decided not to since they wouldn’t be able to provide him with any proof of her injury or visit to a clinic.
To me, this still just seems unbelievable. What’s so wrong about telling the truth? To make things worse, if it hadn’t been for my American friend telling me all of this, I would’ve never known. Neither my Japanese friend nor RA said anything to me, before or after the meeting. Even when I spoke to the dorm caretaker, he did not seem angry and did not yell at me. But I know there was a lot of things that happened behind the scenes.
I had an excellent birthday at USJ, and all said and done I’d make the same choice again. But all of this trouble forced me to confront the fact that sometimes there are cultural differences that I will never fully understand.