Moving to another country can take some getting used to. There are big differences, like the language barrier, and there are also small trivial things you may not even think about, such as whether or not to say “bless you” after someone sneezes. Since moving to Japan I’ve gotten rid of a few common habits and picked up plenty of new interesting ones.
- 1. Shoes off! If you’re entering a house, a dojo, a room with tatami flooring, or even some restaurants, make sure you have some cool socks on because your shoes will be left at the door. While I usually took my shoes off at home in the United States, it took a while before I was finally used to repeatedly taking them on and off for various social events. I had to pay attention in my half-asleep morning stupor to make sure my socks matched because I never knew when I’d need to walk around in them. Even when having a picnic or enjoying the scenery outside, people often lay big picnic sheets over the ground and remove their shoes before sitting down. The indoors of buildings are much cleaner for this though, and you feel a lot better when sitting on the floor knowing that your clothes won’t get mud on them.
- 2. Sort that garbage! In the US, my schools only had two trash bins: recyclables and everything else. My school in Japan has at least four trash bins, sometimes more. Burnable trash, non-burnable trash, PET (plastic) bottles, and paper. Luckily there are pictures on most bins to help figure out where to throw what as sorting what to throw out can get complex.
- 3. What’s the time? 19:00!?
I had previously only ever known the 24-hour clock to be used for military purposes but it is standard in Japan, so I got used to reading it real fast. Train schedules, TV programs, and events are all written with the 24-hour clock, eliminating the need to ask “AM or PM?” when your friend says they’ll meet you at eight.
- 4. Stop by the convenience store for any and all needs. I don’t know of any other place in the world where I can get a hot meal, withdraw money, pay a bill, buy tickets to Disneyland, print a copy of my notes, and pick up laundry detergent at three o’clock in the morning. They’re conveniently located on every corner, sometimes literally across the street from one another or just a stone’s throw away, and are always open.
- 5. Point card collecting! My keyring in the US had a little supermarket rewards tab that I could use when shopping for a tiny discount, but that is nothing compared to all the rewards cards I constantly use in Japan. You could call it an addiction. I’ve gotten free drinks at the convenience store, free books at the bookstore, and countless coupons at the karaoke parlor all thanks to the tiny cards I keep tucked in my pocket that accumulate points each time I stop by a shop. Similarly, some stores and the train network have a prepaid card you can use to speed up transactions, that work across multiple shops and locations!
- 6. A caring community! Even though Tokyo is a big city, everyone in the local community seems to know each other. In the US I don’t know all of my neighbors and I rarely see them, yet when I walk to school I make sure to wave at a number of local store owners every day if they don’t call out and wave to me first. Even strangers I’ve never seen before might offer a friendly “konnichiwa!” or similar greeting if we pass on the street.
- 7. Stick to the left! In the US we drive on the right side of the road. In Japan, it’s the opposite. Cars drive along the left, and the general flow of pedestrian traffic usually has people walk on the left side. When going up or down an escalator people will stand on the left side, while the right half is reserved for people in a rush running up the steps.
The world awaits…discover it.