As cliché as it is, it’s quite true that you never know what you have until it’s gone. I knew Japan was going to be drastically different than the US, and I thought I was ready, but in reality, I wasn’t.
Here’s a list of the top three things I took for granted the most and how they have affected me in Japan.
1. Communication issues
I knew my Japanese wasn’t the best, but I’ve been studying it for two years, that’s going to get me pretty far, right? Wrong. I feel like a grown baby. Reading and writing is one thing, but speaking and listening is another. My host parents have to say every sentence slowly and clearly using grade-school-level vocabulary and grammar in order for me to understand them. Even then, it’s still a toss up whether or not I’ll be able to answer their question.
The biggest issue with communication, however, is knowing that there are hundreds of Japanese people around me at any one time, and I can’t speak to any of them. Sure, some speak English, but they’re usually either 1) too shy to use it or 2) it’s the same level as my Japanese and gets us nowhere. The language barrier is a huge hurdle and something I underestimated coming to Japan and took for granted in the US. On the bright side, it has inspired me to work harder at learning the language so that I will, someday, be able to have a full conversation in Japanese.
How could transportation be an issue? Japan is known for its extensive railway system that works by utilizing some sort of wizardry. While this is true, a 40 minute commute to campus every day isn’t something I’ve ever experienced. In the US, I lived a 3 minute bike ride from my first class. That’s a huge change. And if 40 minutes isn’t long enough, what makes it even longer is having to stand the entire time because the train is so crowded there aren’t any seats. Not only are you standing, but if it’s during peak hours, you’re most likely pressed against five other people. Talk about lack of personal space.
This is a photo of Shinjuku Station in Shinjuku, a special ward in central Tokyo, at 4pm. It’s not even rush hour, yet there’s tons of people.
I came to Japan knowing that I was extremely picky when it comes to food. If you live on your own, this won’t be an issue, since you can get just about every type of food here; however, I chose to live with a host family for my first semester. That means I have to eat all kinds of food, even if I don’t like it. Not only do I not want to be rude, but I genuinely do want to try every type of food I can, and while there have been a few meals I could have done without, most have been delicious. Still, I wish I could walk three minutes to the dining hall to get a burger and fries.
This is what a typical dinner looks like, little brother’s arm included.
These three points have had a great impact on me since I arrived, but as time passes I’m adapting. Japan has been amazing so far, but as with any great change in life, there are both ups and downs. I’m greatly looking forward to riding this roller coaster for the next 10 months.